ScienceSkepticism

Bisexual Species

I totally stole that title from the article that inspired this post. I just can’t wait to see how many unintentional hits we get from the buzz words in this entry.

We’ve all heard/read about homosexuality in animals, which seems to support the claim that homosexuality is natural, despite the obvious lack of synergy in the reproductive department. But the article Bisexual Species, in the bimonthly (how apt) issue of Scientific American MIND, put forth some thought provoking, if not highly speculative, ideas about this claim. It points out that animals that engage in homosexual activities generally don’t refrain from heterosexual activities. They are, in effect, neither homosexual nor heterosexual, but bisexual. And the same goes for “straight” animals. Sociologist Eric Anderson (University of Bath, England) puts it this way, “Animals don’t do sexual identity. They just do sex.”

The article points out that humans are the only species to apply rigid labels such as “straight” or “gay”, and insinuates that these labels may be somewhat contrived (I think the exact wording was “socially constructed”). The overall implication is that, although individuals (animal or human) may lean toward a particular sexual orientation, bisexuality of varying degrees may be more ubiquitous than we realize, depending on the circumstances. That is, “straight” people, like animals, may engage in “gay” activities, and vice versa, depending on the situation.

I consider myself “straight”, and I have friends that are both “gay” and “bisexual”. How valid are these labels? In reality, is sexuality fluid depending on the circumstances? (Please no puns about sex and fluid)

The article focuses on animal sexuality and identifies these key motivations for same sex couplings (in animals): conflict resolution, protection of offspring, limited availability of opposite sex partners, and fun. Here are some of the observations offered in the article:

Conflict Resolution

The article reports that baboons of both genders offer sexual favors to more mature or intimidating baboons of the same gender as a way to make peace or acquire protection. Another example is the Bonobos, who are highly sexual and, as a rule, favor neither gender. The article says that if a female Bonobo hits another Bonobo’s child, the two adults will resolve this conflict by copulating.

Protection of Offspring

Joan Roughgarden (Stanford) says, “…evolutionary biologists tend to adhere too strongly to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and have thus largely overlooked the importance of bonding and friendship to animal societies and the survival of their young. [Darwin] equated reproduction with finding a mate rather than paying attention to how the offspring are naturally reared.” Examples given include black swans, whose young are better protected from predators by two males, instead of a heterosexual pairing, and oyster catchers, whose polygamous partnerships produce more surviving young for the same reason.

Limited Availability of Opposite Sex Partners

Same sex couplings in normally heterosexual creatures, such as penguins and koalas, surface more frequently when animals are in captivity, such as zoos, speculatively because of the lack of opposite sex partners. This phenomenon can also be observed in prisons and the military. The article suggests that the stress of captivity and contrived gender ratio are possible explanations.

Fun

Since no specific examples are given for this one, I assume that this refers to one’s instinctive attraction toward one gender or the other. However, it could also refer to encounters that deviate from one’s formal orientation, for recreation, apart from the primary relationship.

So, what do you think…are humans different from animals in that we are strictly “gay” or “straight”? Or is human sexuality more malleable than our social norms dictate?

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62 Comments

  1. Well, I can’t say that I know from anything more than personal experience, but I am completely bisexual. I am attracted to certain people regardless of gender and I have a number of friends who also experience attraction this way.

    Now, what I don’t know is WHY. Am I naturally wired to be attracted to both men and women? Was a socially conditioned toward bisexuality because women are so commonly objectified (or some other environmental factor)? Or is it a combination of both nature and nurture? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it’s a combination.

    I DO know I am having lots of fun though :)

  2. That is, “straight” people, like animals, may engage in “gay” activities, and vice versa, depending on the situation.

    This is true. I, for example, sometimes, enjoy the occasional show tune. :D

  3. My feeling is sexual attraction is a continuum. Kinsey’s scale may have lacked nuance, but it seems to capture the idea that a person can be completely gay or completely straight, but most of us tend to be a tad less distinct. After long years of seeing (and teaching) sexuality as a false dichotomy between the two choices, I think we’re finally starting to understand the vast gray area between black and white. And I agree with laurae that nature and nurture probably both play a role.

    Crap, I’ve made a whole comment without a joke of any kind.

  4. Undoubtedly it’s a continuum.

    If bisexuality is more common in some mammalian species, I’m not sure that it can inform our understanding of human sexuality all *that* much.

    It’s possible that each species has a continuum–some version of a normal curve. Given my anecdotal experience I’d guess it’s a bimodal distribution with a small population at the margins. I’m sure other species have different distributions

  5. Hi there!

    Personally, I’ve always described myself as: “Heterosexual except for Antonio Banderas”.

    I honestly believe that human beings are born bisexual, but are conditioned by their environment to gravitate toward one gender or the other. A few years ago, I discovered that one of my brother’s childhood friends was gay. I replied that I could have almost predicted that he would “turn out” to be gay because he had a very domineering mother and lived a very sheltered life. My wife was nothing short of horrified that I would suggest that someone could be “turned gay” by their upbringing. Modern thought and political correctness tell us that homosexuality is innate. That if you’re BORN gay, there’s “nothing that you can do about it”.

    But to me, this seems to almost imply that homosexuality is somehow … wrong. That it’s “not your fault”, you were just “born that way”. By making it an issue of nature-and-not-nurture, it’s like any other genetic “condition”.

    The bad analogy that I like to use involves my own geekery. I’ve always been a geek. I’m into Star Wars, and comic books, and role-playing games. I never made the conscious choice to pick Fantastic Four over Football or Dungeons & Dragons over Track & Field. It’s just what I am. And this insured that I got shoved into lockers and ignored by girls all through my High School years. Why would anyone “choose” that kind of lifestyle? But I simply couldn’t imagine being otherwise. I don’t think that I was BORN a nerd/geek/dweeb. I don’t think that there’s a GENE for it. But there’s nothing wrong with it, and there’s not a huge religious movement to keep us geeks from marrying or raising children, so no one really cares whether it’s inborn or environmental. Does that make sense?

    Okay, you can all flame me now. :D

  6. I feel justified by this study. I have only recently started coming out as bisexual, and as I talk to my friends, most of them admit (to me) about their own bisexuality. This could be a trait of the liberal part of the country that I live in… but I suspect that bisexuality is far more common than our society expects it to be.

    I think everyone has some bisexual tendency – but some repress it more effectively than others. :)

  7. laurae: i’m in the same boat. but i’ve also identified a commonality between the people i am attracted to: they almost invariably fall somewhere near the middle of the gender continuum (i noticed not too long ago that two people i find very attractive–tilda swinton and david tennant–have nearly identical facial structure) and i find perfect androgyny to be completely sexy.

    as far as bisexuality in animals vs in humans, my feeling is that we just carry all sorts of baggage about sexuality and gender that obscures our natural tendencies.

  8. I have no evidence whatsoever to support this anecdotal observation, but it seems as though women are, on average, more inclined toward bisexuality than men.

    To get even more narrowly anecdotal, my girlfriend has dated women. I consider this a plus for a number of reasons.

    I, on the other hand, have never felt any desire to be intimate with another man. I’m not squicked by homosexuality in the least and would not be ashamed at all if I had those tendencies, but I just don’t.

  9. carr2d2: I agree that our baggage obscures our natural tendencies. It wasn’t until I left christianity that I realized my attraction to women. Looking back, it had been there all along, I just never considered it an option because I was so sheltered.

    Oh and… mmm Tilda Swinton. She’s polyamorous too! (but monogamy deserves a whole other post I think…)

    TheCzech: I think that women are more women are just OUT as bisexual because it’s more socially acceptable. Plus there is the whole “girls gone wild” culture that says its fun to exploit girls making out at bars. While I enjoy the visual myself, I also equally enjoy to sexy guys making out. Or a guy and a girl. I’m an equal-opportunity voyeur. But I digress. I’d venture to say that men perhaps have more social stigma to get over when they come out as bi. But that’s just one gals opinion.

  10. I don’t think anyone could deny that what sorts of appearances are deemed sexually attractive are culturally relative. So, if our society can determine what makes other people attractive to us, I don’t see why it shouldn’t determine what genders we find attractive. However, it’s possible that we could be sexually attracted to people of the both sexes, but only romantically attracted to people of one sex. I don’t have any firm ideas on this subject myself, just pointing out that we may (or may not) need to draw a distinction between sex and love, as it were.

  11. IMHO the fact that more women *seem* to be bisexual than men is largely to do with our social conditioning. Physical affection between females is generally encouraged throughout life, while physical affection between men is discouraged to the point of stigma. In this way, it seems that men could simply be much more cut off from the abilitly to think of other men sexually due to rewiring of the brain (brainwashing) early on. Also, there’s the over-sexualization of women in our culture, specifically in the media, and more specifically in marketing. Love of the female form (especially in it’s modelesque form) is pushed to the point of idolization.

    I think the nature end of things would have the scales alot more balanced in a bell curve fashion, with bisexual in the middle and hetero/homo on either end…and then nurture gets in there and confuses it all to hell.

  12. Its funny how culture affects how we ask questions. If you think about it, there isn’t any reason at all to believe that sexual identity or sexual preference is fixed. In fact, all the evidence points the other way.

  13. i heard recently about a study that found women to be much more flexible than men, sexually. i’ll have to try and find it, but the gist of it was that they measured physical arousal levels in both men and women while subjecting them to a range of images. the men (both hetero- and homosexual) were aroused only by images of the sex they identified themselves as being attracted to, while the women were far more likely to be aroused by any depiction of sexual activity, regardless of who was involved.

    the question that remains is whether arousal at watching something translates into desire to participate, or if they were reacting to the context.

    interesting stuff, regardless.

  14. While I am certainly prone to the occasional “mancrush” I don’t ever find myself attracted to men sexually. I express affection to my male friends the same way as I do with my female friends (I am a big hugger) and I am not oppossed to the idea of being turned on by men so I don’t think, in my case, that is has anything to do with conditioning.

  15. I think bisexuality is just as natural in humans as it has been observed in animals. And I think it is far more common in humans than most of us care to admit. But I think we need to differ bisexuality from true homosexuality/hetrosexuality. In my experience, and those of the people I know, bisexuals “prefer” a certain gender. In other words, you may have an attraction to the same sex, but not “romantic feelings”. I haven’t put it into practice, but I think I could be just as arroused having sex with a man as I am with a woman, however, I have no desire to have a relationship with a man. No kissing, hand holding, cuddling, that sort of thing. That I can only do with a woman…

  16. Augustus – I’m most like you; I’m not attracted to women sexually.

    But the article made me wonder if people like us are not strictly “heterosexual”, but instead on the hetero end of the continuum, and experience no desire to stray because there happen to be plenty of available members of the opposite sex around, or some other external reason.

    I guess what interested me most about the article is that it made me look at sexuality like culture. It reminded me of a book I read that explained why polygamy and polyandry are accepted in certain cultures: largely due to external circumstances (ratio of men to women, financial considerations, etc.). It made me wonder if “who we think we are” is less us than it is how we’ve adapted to our environment.

  17. I’m going to throw my lot in with what looks like the general consensus here, that human sexuality is a spectrum, rather than a binary (or trinary) choice. I think that without the social norms that currently exist, we’d probably encounter more of the full spectrum.

    Personally, I started to get a better handle on different ways of thinking about this sort of thing when I first read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin. Science fiction is a great way to explore what human societies might be like if some aspects of the status quo were changed, and I was intrigued by a romantic relationship in the book between a tending-towards-heterosexual man and his tending-towards-homosexual friend. It’s only a minor part of the story — which is awesome in its entirety, and I totally recommend it! — but nevertheless, it was cool to read about a society of people not so different from us who wouldn’t bat an eye about that sort of thing.

    LeGuin plays with different notions of gender and sexuality in several of her books and stories. Another interesting one is The Left Hand of Darkness, about a world on which there is no gender — anyone can become male or female during the mating cycle. It’s a neat exploration of what human sexuality would be like if it were more like that of some animals.

  18. I think that our culture absolutely pressures us to be heterosexual. Yes, we’ve come a long way from Oscar Wilde being sentenced to hard labour or Alan Turing being dosed with so many hormones he grew breasts and was driven to suicide, but as feminists will point out, there are many subtle and not-so-subtle ways society inflicts its values upon us. Look for example at Jodie Foster: pretty clearly queer, in one of the most powerful positions available to women in this society, she still hasn’t openly admitted to being a lesbian. Why not? She might have a harder time finding work, it would be all over the tabloids in the most lurid possible way, she risks attracting the attention of another crazed stalker… Why do you think there are so few openly gay role models? How many openly gay or bisexual scientists can you name? Politicians? Actors? Sports stars? There are a few, and the press always makes sure we know it’s a Big Deal, and that These People Are Different.

    So yes, perhaps it’s my own biases, but I think that most people are naturally (if that means anything) bisexual, but we are so wholly a social animal – a human who grows up to a certain age outside human society is permanently crippled – that we are driven to express it only in one of a few socially-permitted ways.

    More specifically, a generation ago, everyone was supposed to be straight. To earn the right not to be arrested, some queer people stood up and cried injustice. Their argument was “I don’t have any choice in the matter – it’s a biological necessity, I can’t find love with someone of the opposite sex.” While I certainly believe this is true for some few people, I think it was a strategic choice, more than anything. This explains some of the hostility bisexuals experience from some of the Old Guard of homosexuals – they open the possibility that if you simply forced everyone to stick with opposite-sex partners, everyone could find love.

    Attitudes have softened since then, thankfully, but much more so for women than for men. Granted, female bisexuality is portrayed as something hot and exotic and temporary (perhaps a chance for their man to sleep with two women at once, say) rather than loving (she might settle down with her wife, 2.5 kids, and a minivan). But that’s still a step up from the way male bisexuality is portrayed (ranging from not at all to bordering on pedophilia).

    Really I would say our culture sends such strong messages about being queer that it’s virtually impossible to extrapolate what we would be like if it didn’t.

  19. I just wanted to make sure it’s part of the record here! :)

    (Well, and possibly point out that the reasons she has said her hypotheses are not accepted are not necessarily the true ones.)

    Blake – you know I appreciate you and your posts. Thanks for posting those links!

    In the article, Roughgarden states that her argument is at odds with evolutionary biologists, but doesn’t go into the reasons. I thought her argument about non-traditional sexual couplings possibly aiding in the survival of offspring after birth was interesting enough to mention. But I in no way meant to endorse all of her work.

  20. I completely agree with Draconius that it doesn’t matter whether homosexuality is “caused” by nature or nurture. Saying that it’s OK because “they can’t help themselves, they were born that way” implies that it is a birth defect.

    Sexuality has been described as a continuum. I think it’s not that simple, but has many facets. Josh Spinks and seaducer touched on this by pointing out the difference between sexual love interests and romantic love interests. There are probably more dimensions, but I don’t know what they are.

    I can (and have) passed as straight, gay, or bi. But I don’t feel I fully belong to any of those labels: I’m just me. Most of my friends are female, as are my romantic interests; but I sure have fun in bed with men, too. My sexual fantasies involve either any man, or my one current (female) love interest. I think that if by some disaster I were separated from my love interest, there is some chance I would take up with a man next time; but if anyone, it would probably be a woman. It just depends on who I would find (and who would find me).

  21. Anyone who’s going to think that a biological cause for homosexuality is a birth defect isn’t likely to be very accepting, regardless of the perceived impetus.

    It’s sad, but if ignorant folks think of non-hetero individuals as having a birth defect, it’s still an improvement over the view that it’s a “lifestyle choice.” Increased legal equality for GLBT citizens has gone hand-in-hand with acceptance of the idea that sexuality is innate rather than chosen on a whim.

  22. Having grown up in the country around animals from my 9th through my 18th year I am never surprised by gay or bisexual animals. It was more or less accepted that animals will have sex with anything that sits still too long. My experiences with openly gay, bi-sexual humans is much more limited. I was once involved with a woman who described herself as a lesbian who occasional wanted a man. She was really nice and a lot of fun. That and a couple of gay men I used to know and one lesbian in NYC. So much trouble and emotion about something that is so unimportant.

  23. I thought her argument about non-traditional sexual couplings possibly aiding in the survival of offspring after birth was interesting enough to mention.

    I claim no great expertise in biology, but to the best of my limited knowledge, that can hardly be an original point. It’s one of the first things a person vaguely familiar with inclusive fitness would think of, since parental care is a well-known subset of kin selection. If I have a genetic variant which causes a drop in my fertility, but I encounter other individuals carrying the same genetic variant (even as a recessive gene) and I can help them to prosper, then our shared genetic variant will do well in the gene pool. Caring for one’s offspring is a natural subset of this phenomenon.

    This sort of reasoning goes back to the 1960s; I wrote some history of it here, but it’s late enough that I probably shouldn’t try repeating myself.

  24. In my experience, people are more “wired” toward their sexuality than they realize, but it is still a choice. Just like some people are good at music, but they don’t have to be musicians.

    I really am tired of the whole black/white issue. I have had people tell me that I can’t be bisexual because I am married (or that I can’t be monogamous because I’m bisexual, or some other confused bullshit like that).

    As anyone who has ever spent time in an online role playing game can tell you, gender is all in the mind. (For those who don’t know, I reference the fact that the sex of the avatar/character is not necessarily shared by the person behind the computer.) In the end, the only thing sex organs affect is the mechanics of lovemaking.

  25. I think we should be very careful about exactly what we mean when we say ‘sexuality.’ As seen from the Bonobos, sexual acts can be for entirely social reasons. You could, hypothetically speaking, give somebody a handjob for no reason other than it feels good to them, like a massage or even playing music. In our society, something like this would never happen (or not often), but I don’t see how using sex socially at all implies even the same thing as ‘love,’ or whatever you want to call the desire to have a long and emotionally-fulfilling relationship with someone.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that, as far as ‘homosexuality vs heterosexuality’ goes, I see a distinct difference between ‘love’ and ‘sex.’ One can certainly use sex as a tool to show love, but I could just as well envision loving someone (whether it be man/man, man/three women, whatever) without sex. It’s a little sticky finding exactly where attraction fits into this whole thing, and how much of it is genetic or environmental. So is sexuality your physical attraction, is it the gender of who you love, who you perform sexual acts with… I don’t know :P

  26. “In the end, the only thing sex organs affect is the mechanics of lovemaking.”

    Oh, I like that! Well said.

    Well, I know I’m straight. I don’t even like the company of men, let alone their bodies! I’ve always held, again with no empirical study, that women are more likely to be bisexual because 1) They’re more open and in tune with their emotions, and 2) They’re just naturally more attractive. I think it takes an extraordinarily attractive man to be considered sexy, whereas women are sexy throughout a much wider range of appearances.

    We men seduce with fashion, women seduce with skin. Which is why we calendar models shot ourselves in light-hearted settings. Men just look silly naked!

    And am I the only one who finds JanieBelle conspicuous in her absence from this thread? ;)

  27. For those who don’t know, I reference the fact that the sex of the avatar/character is not necessarily shared by the person behind the computer.

    I must disagree with this.

    Whilst the avatar of the person could be anything – people can generally pick up very quickly who is ‘cross gender playing’. Not because of their appearance, but the way they express themselves with actions and words through the character. No matter how hard they try to ‘fake it’ things slip through which raise flags.

    From personal experience, half can be detected off the bat, and the remainder gradually revealing themselves over time, with a very small proportion remaining complete unknowns.

    As to why people cross-play – numerous studies have been done on it – from better designed character avatars, gaining an advantage, experimentation, etc.

    And sex organs definetly do more than reproductive functions. Slight changes in hormone levels can have massive effects on biochemistry, and a primary factor of ones hormone ‘settings’ is biological gender.

    What one ‘wants’ as opposed to what one ‘gets’ are very different things.

  28. If people ever want to label me? Then I tell them i’m a lesbian trapped in a gay man’s body.

    In my experience, peoples attitudes to sex change over time as well as everything else. So…basically people can be and do anything at any time and that may change later. So, to answer the original question….

    Yes. Sexuality is malleable in all dimensions.

    In defence of quick labels, it does help quickly identify possible partners. Nuances can come later.

  29. Just remember that gender is also a social construct. While we here in the west seem to have only two choices, other societies have 4 or more.

    This is why using gender as a synonym for sex drives me crazy, but that’s a whole other post.

    Ultimately, I’m with Gabriel:

    So much trouble and emotion about something that is so unimportant.

    Which is to say, it’s none of my damn business who any of you are having consensual sex with.

    And for the record, I am a happily married bisexual.

  30. When I first met my wife, she was a lesbian. We got along well, and became pretty much inseparable. Then, she expressed her romantic interest in me, which was confusing, because I’d always thought she was gay. But she explained that she’d ‘become bisexual’, and found herself attracted to me.

    I’d always thought it wasn’t a choice. That you were whoever you were, and that was that. But she said that for most people it’s not a choice, but for a few it can be. Or something like that.

    We’ve been together for 9 years, and married for 3. We’re still inseparable.

    I don’t know if people can choose their sexuality or not, or if some people are just more flexible than others. But that’s my anecdotal experience.

  31. It looks like most of the people commenting here only know me as a text string, which makes me think of something odd:

    I ended up with an epicene name, one which could be applied to a girl or a boy. (I know this is the case, because when I was a college freshman I had to virus-scan my roommate’s computer, and I saw my name in the list of files that was zipping past. . . turned out to be a bunch of JPEGs of a pr0n star named Blake. Anyway.) When the given and family names are switched around, as happens not too rarely, it sounds even more feminine.

    I’d long since stopped caring about this — I mean, really, what of it — but then I started writing a science blog. Occasionally, people read it, and even more infrequently, somebody would feel impelled to write a response to something I said. Reading these over, I noticed a strange thing: in a couple cases, the author never referred to me by pronoun.

    I think I androgynized myself!

  32. Is fluid. Is dynamic. There are millions upon millions of people who are walking proof of this.

    There was a time when I was pretty much as vanilla as a person can be. Now I’m pretty far off to the extreme end of the normal curve, as a few of the people around here have already figured out, I think.

    I didn’t “discover” that I’m different later in life. I became different later in life. I can even trace the specific events which catalyzed the change. In the “nature vs. nurture” debate, people constantly (and intentionally in some cases) leave out the idea of personal changes in adult life. Yes, some people would lump that into the “nurture” category, but it’s misleading to do so, really, since most people don’t think of it that way.

    There is a wide spectrum of human behaviors and preferences in almost everything we do, and we change our minds and our habits about nearly all of them. Why should sex be any different? Frankly, I would be amazed if it was.

  33. I think this is one topic, like nearly all in the social sciences, that suffers mightily from BF Skinner and the Social Darwinists beating each other to death in a corner. Trying to pry apart a genome and its environment might be useful scientific shorthand, but it eventually reaches a dead end: the genome evolved in the context of the environment, which is changed by the presence of the new genome. A bacteria expresses genes dependent on which nutrients are available for its consumption, whose consumption will cause different genes to express, or create a selection effect in the population…etc, etc.

    Humans are no different. Is there clearly a human nature? You bet-the list of universal cultural traits is long, with the brain scans to back it up. Does part of that nature include vast abilities to adapt and create? Of course.

    It would of course make sense that most people would be something like heterosexual-that there would be a big hump in the distribution curve about there. But it follows just as surely that in creatures with as developed a drive for sex and companionship that said drive could find other targets-as a rational actor seeking alternatives, a conditioned creature avoiding interactions of a nature that was unsatisfactory in the past (or seeking ones that were!), or as a genetic variant, one that crops up enough throughout human history and the animal kingdom to suggest its not horrifically maladaptive, if not beneficial. I can’t tell any way to separate the three, nor can I think of a good reason to try. All of the hairsplitting is really focused around the idea that homosexuality is pathological, that the only choices are that they are fools lead astray or handicapped from birth, and that bisexuals are either borderline cases who need help to settle down and fly right, or are engaged in the sexual equivalent of experimenting with hard drugs. If people are happy and healthy and are not impairing the happiness or health of those around them…why does it matter whether its 20% choice, 30% upbringing and 50% genetics, which looks to be something like the case? And good luck trying to tease apart choice from the other two.

    Going by my admittedly off the cuff psychology, I’d expect we’d see more bisexuals than homosexuals, and if there is any truth to men selecting partners for fertility and women for care (which may or may not be true) there would be more female bisexuals than men. That about rings true in my experience.

    And really, even a spectrum doesn’t cover it, because it doesn’t really make accommodations for relative intensity. Making the graph three-dimensional with heterosexual affinity on one axis, homosexual affinity on another, and population fraction on the third. We might see islands that look like gay, straight, bi, and asexual, but I suspect its a more complicated landscape that that.

  34. This has been a great thread, and I think the contribution by Aristothenes is the best yet.

    In the end, I think that even those of us who like to think of ourselves as open-minded on the subject want a simpler model than actual human sexuality can accommodate. It’s a big soup of genetics, environment, tendencies, choices, kinks, etc.

    I also notice that most of us, and there is no better example of this than my own post, seem to want to generalize our own experiences into the population as a whole. People who identify themselves heterosexual tend think of that as the norm. People who identify as homosexual may see evidence that people are in the closet everywhere. People who identify as bisexual may think everyone else is repressing bisexual urges.

    I guess it is a very human thing to look for self-validation in the habits and identities of others. I really don’t think any of us are completely immune.

    It’s all been food for thought.

  35. Look, I’m not going to try to say everyone is a bisexual inside – but I am going to say that I’ve never yet met a male adult who hasn’t held a throbbing, orgasmic penis in his hand and enjoyed the experience…

  36. According to sexual researcher Alfred Kinsey who developed the Kinsey scale for sexual orientation as stated on Wikipedia:

    Kinsey reported that when the individuals’ behavior as well as their identity are analyzed, most people appeared to be at least somewhat bisexual – i.e., most people have some attraction to either sex, although usually one sex is preferred. According to Kinsey, only a minority (5-10%) can be considered fully heterosexual or homosexual. Conversely, only an even smaller minority can be considered fully bisexual (with an equal attraction to both sexes).

    If his research holds most people are bisexual usually favoring one gender over the other. Sexual orientation and sexual identity are two different things. Sexual identity is how one sees oneself. Orientation deals with what you truly are.

  37. “Look, I’m not going to try to say everyone is a bisexual inside – but I am going to say that I’ve never yet met a male adult who hasn’t held a throbbing, orgasmic penis in his hand and enjoyed the experience…”

    you mean someone else’s penis, right?

  38. “Personally, I’ve always described myself as: ‘Heterosexual except for Antonio Banderas’. “

    Good one, Draconius! Can I quote you on that?

    Gay, straight, bi, trans, pre-op, post-op, celibate, spayed, poly, WTF. I learned a long time ago not to argue with what works as long as everyone involved (including any nonparticipating significant others; no sneaking off!) is over the age of consent, respects everyone else’s boundaries, and always remembers to play safely.

    Hmmmmmmmmm……..as for me? Gay man in a woman’s body, maybe? Thoroughly uncategorizable, anyway. I’ve only had straight relationships – at least partly because I’m generally more comfortable around men than women (I flunked out of Girl 101 waybackinthewayback).

    But I’d rather girlwatch than guywatch any day. Maybe that’s why I keep turning up on people’s lezzdar…….. Unfortunately, nearly all the strange women who have tried to hit on me have been really strange.

    The only thing I know for sure is that the longest-lasting and best relationship I’ve ever had was 15 years with a guy who sometimes described himself as a lesbian in a man’s body.

    @ Rystefn: I had to read that 3 times before I “got it”! Now I’m having a good LOL at my own expense.

  39. “Whilst the avatar of the person could be anything – people can generally pick up very quickly who is ‘cross gender playing’. Not because of their appearance, but the way they express themselves with actions and words through the character. No matter how hard they try to ‘fake it’ things slip through which raise flags.”

    Not in my experience. I’ve never been made myself, and I’ve known plenty of transavists who play totally believable characters of the other sex. I’ve actually told people I was cross playing and then had to remind them that I was transaving a month later.

    What is gender identity, sexual identity? A combination of the thoughts in your head and the chemicals in your blood. Both can change. Both effect each other. There’s absolutely no reason to think that sexuality is some sort of fixed thing.

  40. thenerd:

    ” I have had people tell me that I can’t be bisexual because I am married (or that I can’t be monogamous because I’m bisexual, or some other confused bullshit like that).”

    me too. what’s up with that anyway? do straight people in monogamous relationships magically stop feeling attracted to other people? of course not. so why is it so hard to understand that a person can be monogamous while still being attracted to members of both sexes and be satisfied? so. silly.

    lyc: so basically you’re saying that men and women have such fundamentally different personalities that you can figure it out when they crossplay. i’m not sure i buy that. maybe on the edges of the gender spectrum, where you get people who fit the stereotypes (as much that’s possible), i may be generalizing here, but i’m not sure those are the people playing wow.
    how exactly do you tell? what are these red flags? and do you actually call them out to get confirmation that you’re right?

  41. lyc: so basically you’re saying that men and women have such fundamentally different personalities that you can figure it out when they crossplay.

    I would not use the word fundamentally – that is far to ‘I have the final say on something I can barely describe”, when the whole thing is a broad spectrum. Some are harder than others and others are impossible to work out – and to top it off people do learn how to fake it better with experience.

    I personally dont care if their characters gender matches their biological one as long as people enjoy the game (I’ve wored in varying admin roles)- its just interesting to see how one sex percieves the other reacting to circumstances.

    i may be generalizing here, but i’m not sure those are the people playing wow.

    I wouldn’t touch WoW with a 50 foot cattle prod – I’m speaking more of the MUD’s which were all text based. You have to pay a lot more attention to detail (ie the text) as opposed to flashy lights and graphics. And how people type on the fly in real time can reveal quite a bit.

    Oh, and an old expression for MMORPG is ‘Many Men Online Role Playing Girls’.

    how exactly do you tell? what are these red flags?

    I wish I could explain easily…. *thinks*

    You have your reasonably glaring cases of “militant lesbian man hater character with more testoserone than an all male gym – probably male who watches too much Xena” indicators. The best way to describe this would be ‘Exaggerated version of what the player believes a man/woman should be’ – and it ends up as a caricture. Usually the younger crowd and generally elicit eye rolls.

    But ona mroe subtle level you also have reactions to certain words (for example – ‘speculum’) and circumstances (such as the wedding dress thing a while back), character descriptions, expressions and words used (I have found women dont use the ‘C’ word as often and tend to be a bit more ‘flowery’ with descriptors), etc.

    None of them are a 100% girl/boy detector by themselves, but as varying circumstances add up they give a rough indication.

    and do you actually call them out to get confirmation that you’re right?

    Again no.

    What they are in the real world is of no concern to me personally (and is flatly none of my business in any case). The ‘markers’ stay in ones head, and if they ‘come out’ later (say by facebook, announcing a baby or wedding, whatever) I am not surprised when “Zog the Destroyer” turns out to be a 30 year old female accountant, or “Princess Peony” is a 17 year old male.

    This was probably completely useless explanation, but it’s the best I can do on the fly. I’ll try to think it out a bit more. I will also try to dig up the old pages from ‘The Gaming Chick’ where she describes some of the differing ‘styles’.

  42. Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments on this thread. I’ve really enjoyed reading them.

    Update: Two hours ago, SciamMIND posted the whole article, so that you don’t have to subscribe to the mag in order to read it.

    Click here to read it.

  43. Lyc-
    Your latest:

    None of them are a 100% girl/boy detector by themselves, but as varying circumstances add up they give a rough indication.

    But your first quote was:

    Whilst the avatar of the person could be anything – people can generally pick up very quickly who is ‘cross gender playing’.

    Keep backpedaling, and you’ll end up with the accurate statement, which is that people can sometimes pick up on cross players and sometimes can’t, depending on a variety of factors including how long everyone has been playing, etc.

  44. Which gets me to the point of why this thread makes me think about skepticism. There are some assumptions here worth examining. Lyc seems to think, based mostly on confirmation bias and anecdote, that he can spot transavists or cross players, despite HUGE amounts of evidence that cross dressers and transexuals are fully capable of fooling people in person.

    This is emblematic of the larger issue of gender identity. It seems like the evidence is really clear and unequivocal that gender and sexual identity is very fluid and can alter significantly in a persons lifetime. Yet many people make the opposite assumption for cultural reasons, regardless of the evidence.

    I guess I think that there are some interesting assumptions to be examined that might cloud our ability to think clearly on this topic.

  45. Which gets me to the point of why this thread makes me think about skepticism. There are some assumptions here worth examining. Lyc seems to think, based mostly on confirmation bias and anecdote, that he can spot transavists or cross players, despite HUGE amounts of evidence that cross dressers and transexuals are fully capable of fooling people in person.

    This is emblematic of the larger issue of gender identity. It seems like the evidence is really clear and unequivocal that gender and sexual identity is very fluid and can alter significantly in a persons lifetime. Yet many people make the opposite assumption for cultural reasons, regardless of the evidence.

    I guess I think that there are some interesting assumptions to be examined that might cloud our ability to think clearly on this topic.

    This is exactly the type of examination/discussion I am hoping we will get into on a variety of psychology topics.

  46. lyc, you make some interesting points, but i can’t help but feel that you’re basing a lot of this on stereotype. sure, maybe you can tell if someone is expressing a gender role in a game that does not match up with their irl identity, but i don’t think that necessarily always equates to cross gender play.

    you gave the example of the hyper-masculine lesbian man-hater as an obvious indication that the player is male and is creating a caricature of an idea. well, that could just as easily be a vanilla straight girl trying on a different identity, and creating a caricature based on the same limited experience that a guy would have about a xena type character.

    maybe you’ve guessed right a few times, but those are just ones you’ve noticed. you have to take into account that you’re probably playing with crossplayers that you don’t even suspect.

    sorry if i’m belaboring a minor point here, but i get a bit animated when it comes to the whole “differences between men and women” debate as a woman who scores as male on any test that claims to determine gender. then again, maybe i’m allowing my personal experience to color my observations.

  47. @Sethmanapio
    Keep backpedaling, and you’ll end up with the accurate statement, which is that people can sometimes pick up on cross players and sometimes can’t, depending on a variety of factors including how long everyone has been playing, etc.

    Back-pedalling? I do not think so. However I will say the there seems to be some confusion as to our usage of terms.

    I guess I think that there are some interesting assumptions to be examined that might cloud our ability to think clearly on this topic.

    On that we can definitely agree.

    It seems like the evidence is really clear and unequivocal that gender and sexual identity is very fluid and can alter significantly in a persons lifetime. Yet many people make the opposite assumption for cultural reasons, regardless of the evidence.

    I would like to see some of it if I may. If you mean the original article by Roughgarden, the methodology has been dismissed as using wrong assumptions about game theory mathematics (and quite rightly) with a quite lot of anthropomorphization. I am quite sure you could find equally flawed studies claiming the opposite that ‘gender has fixed parameters’.

    It is a far from clear area – and people have been arguing it for a lot longer than any of us have been alive.

    lyc, you make some interesting points, but i can’t help but feel that you’re basing a lot of this on stereotype. sure, maybe you can tell if someone is expressing a gender role in a game that does not match up with their irl identity, but i don’t think that necessarily always equates to cross gender play.

    In a MMORPG playing a character who is the opposite biological gender to the player _is_ cross gender playing regardless of their intentions or reasons. Just as people who play animal characters are ‘cross-species’ playing, etc. Incidentally cross-species players are often less believable than cross gender players if the observer knows anything about the species in question. And would a person pretending to be a wolf fool a real wolf? Not for a second.

    The are playing a character attribute which is not their biological one, what is going on in their brain doesn’t come into it. As I mentioned above – I think this is where the problem is occurring as we have differing meanings of terms. As I understand it – I have cross-gendered played by my understanding of the term, but have not from my understaning of your definition. Ah well.

    I used the Xena example because it is by far one of the most common and good for a quick and dirty example – stereotype yes, but all stereotypes contain a tiny grain of truth or they would never form in the first place.

    maybe you’ve guessed right a few times, but those are just ones you’ve noticed. you have to take into account that you’re probably playing with cross players that you don’t even suspect.

    Not just likely, but definitely. It wasn’t even a ‘formal study’ by me, but merely a personal observation which others have also reported, and some have done some writings on. I dont have a habit of ‘cyberstalking’ people to do a ‘sex test’ on them. :P

    but i get a bit animated when it comes to the whole “differences between men and women” debate as a woman who scores as male on any test that claims to determine gender.

    Well I find those tests a load of crap – pretty much useless as a scientology questionnaire which defines you ‘personality’ problems. If you know what to look for you could be scored as anything you felt like. And even if ou take it ‘honestly’ without someone interpreting it it’s just a pile of words or numbers.

    then again, maybe i’m allowing my personal experience to color my observations.

    By the same token, some of the “off hand” comments or links regarding male/female on SkepChick have made me incredibly annoyed – in some cases I had to walk away from the computer to prevent myself from cutting loose and getting banned for life – this is the first one I have decided to put some input in on. Though it appears I could have expressed myself better and the cultural moires are irritating (like the Aristocrats thing).

  48. lyc:

    what i was trying to get at was the idea that you could get the same type of “fakey” vibe off of someone who was playing an interpretation of their biological sex that does not necessarily match up with their gender identity.

    you have piqued the anthropologist in me…i may have to do some further research on this.

    “By the same token, some of the “off hand” comments or links regarding male/female on SkepChick have made me incredibly annoyed”

    me too. i’ve actually been meaning to put up a post on this topic, but have been trying to parse out my biases a bit before i do it. i have a very strong gut reaction to any kind of gender generalization, and i know that i probably take it too far in certain situations. i just can’t shake the idea that in order for everyone to be equal, we can’t keep projecting stereotypes as a culture and then claim the resulting behaviors are ingrained.

    ok, that’s enough for now….must go to sleep.

  49. @Carrd2d

    Ah, I understand now – “what if someone ‘cross gendering’ (your definition) engaged in cross gendering (my definition) on an RPG? Would ‘telltales’ cancel out, would they enhance, give false tells, etc? An interesting idea and sounds remarkably similiar to the Turing test to identify AIs/people.

    *Rampant speculation ahead*

    My general opinion is that the two extremes of ‘gender are strictly defined and anyone who steps outside this is mental’ and ‘gender is a human construct and there is no such thing as gender’ are both rubbish.

    I think its more of a spectrum system like a Venn diagram- you have you base points defining average male/female characteristics (physical and mental) and these extend in both directions (more X less Y/less X more Y). There is a large ‘interface’ area, but there is also a fair area where the two can never intersect (out of bounds error).

    If someone is on this “non-intersecting” part of the spectrum then a reasonable assumption is that an individual observed can be compared and indentified as sex X and not Y by well they ‘fit’ into the ‘exclusion zone’. The uncertainty arises the deeper inside the ‘intersecting area’ an individual is – mixed signals make it confusing until more information is aquired, and as it extends out into the other ‘exclusion zone’ the complete difference brings up the tell tales again.

    To add to the problem each individual also has a personal ‘fuzzy area’ on this spectrum they move around in on the main line. A subset of the region they inhabit. No matter how hard someone is forced to shift to a region outside their ‘fuzzy area’ they can’t. A classic example would be Alan Turing (who I mentioed before)- given the hell he was put through in the attempts to ‘fix’ him before his suicide.

    Does their position on the spectrum this mean they are ‘defective’ or ‘self repressing’ or any number of terms thrown around? No – simply different. (and to cover my hide, I use the term ‘different’ as in ‘You like chocolate cake, I hate it’ different not ‘You have 3 arms and I have two arms you mutant hell spawn’ different). But a significant portion of that difference is _not_ simply ‘social constructs’ (which on thought while typing this is probably what irks – it stinks to high heaven of postmodernism) but the underlying biological construct as well. Sexual dimorphism popped up long before social anything existed.

    *End speculation*

    we can’t keep projecting stereotypes as a culture and then claim the resulting behaviors are ingrained

    True, but by the same token, claims that something has fundamental as ones physical sex (by which I mean the biological components with the associated chromosomes, hormones, bone structure, etc) has no effect is just a basis for a ‘social construct’ and everyone really is ‘just the same and choses what they are’, beggars belief. Social factors have a major effect to be sure – I would not argue with that – but one can’t lump biological ones in there as well.

    Hmm, rambled on a bit more than I expected, my apologies.

  50. I don’t think anyone here was trying to say that gender and sexuality are social constructs, nor that everyone goes about changing these things willy-nilly. The main thing that most of seem to be saying is that it’s far less polarized than most people seem to be making it out to be, and that even on an individual level, it’s often fluid, making the labels we like to apply rather inaccurate for the most part. Few people pigeonhole readily, and trying to do so only leads to problems.

  51. Lyc:

    First off, you totally moved your goalposts. Your original claim was that *generally* it was easy to spot a cross player, and you’ve now backed off to the point where you accept the existence of cross players you’ve never even suspected. I applaud your honesty here, but there is also no shame is admitting you made an inaccurate comment. We’re skeptics here, not dogmatists. We get to be wrong sometimes.

    I would like to see some of it if I may. If you mean the original article by Roughgarden, the methodology has been dismissed as using wrong assumptions about game theory mathematics (and quite rightly) with a quite lot of anthropomorphization.

    I would recommend you start with a few articles on prison sexuality. Then look into Trasvestism, when and how people cross dress and why. The historical evidence is pretty clear: people can and do change sexual identity and preferences during their lifetime based on their circumstances.

    All I’m saying is that if who you are attracted to and whether you feel masculine or feminine is a product of your thinking and your hormones. Both of these things can be changed by the circumstances of your life, therefore your sexuality can. To say that it can’t, you would actually have to provide some mechanism that prevents thinking and hormones from altering.

  52. No problem with the tag, I have done the same.

    First off, you totally moved your goalposts. Your original claim was that *generally* it was easy to spot a cross player, and you’ve now backed off to the point where you accept the existence of cross players you’ve never even suspected.

    I think I covered it with the percentages later on, but in the first post definitely said there were complete unknowns in addition to the ‘stands out like a sore thumb’ with the middle range in between which becomes clearer with observation.

    I applaud your honesty here, but there is also no shame is admitting you made an inaccurate comment. We’re skeptics here, not dogmatists. We get to be wrong sometimes.

    Please don’t applaud me for anything – being honest should be a given on these sort of forums and there are liars aplenty on the web as is. I suspect it was my clarity which was somewhat wanting and for that _I_ should apologise.

    I also have no shame for making mistakes either – how is a mistake shameful? Correct it and move on.

    All I’m saying is that if who you are attracted to and whether you feel masculine or feminine is a product of your thinking and your hormones.

    And here we definitely agree.

    Hormones have a definitive effect on the brain structure, and brain structure has a definitive effect on thinking. Whilst we may not be slaves to our biology – it definitely acts in the background. The catch is – it doesn’t really work the other way – biology can’t be reprogrammed without external interference – thinking/external pressure alone doesn’t work.

    Both of these things can be changed by the circumstances of your life, therefore your sexuality can. To say that it can’t, you would actually have to provide some mechanism that prevents thinking and hormones from altering.

    We agree again.

    A prime example of shifting hormones causing shifting reactions in menopause (male and female) lowering hormone levels cause some interesting effects – biologically and socially.

    However, from reading CarrD2D’s and Rystfn’s comments, I suspect the disagreement may be between the _amount of flexibility_, hence my rather poor example with the ‘sliding scale’ and fuzziness. People can (and do) unconsciously swing around in a small ‘identity range’ from their ‘default’ point, but they cant suddenly jump around and select a new ‘default point’ because the new ‘setting’ is what they (or someone else) wants.

    I can not wake up one morning and decide to be gay or bi – nor I seriously doubt could I change my ‘sexual identity range’ with years of wanting, or coercion no more than someone who is gay or bi can become ‘straight’ no matter what the incentive (regrettably this is usually social ostracism or forcible torture).

    Radical intervention with chemicals may have some odd effects and push it slightly one way or the other, but the moment it stops and the biological system returns to normal the baseline would swing back.

    This is the basis of my ‘detection’ premise. At a basic level the person has a ‘default’ biological setting – the stereotypical XY male and XX female. Now depending on the individuals culture, upbringing, hormones, etc their ‘default’ can shift around on the male-female slider. Add to that their own personal ‘range’ (as described above) and they could easily occupy a certain range of stances – but at a absolute basic level despite the personal ‘fuzziness’ they are still in a maximum possible range specified by which ‘genetic stereotype’ they are – breaking out the limits defined by the low level biology is impossible.

    This is where the ‘tells’ appear – ‘hard male’ or ‘hard female’ on the show up easily because they are so far removed from how the opposite acts and thinks, with ‘ease of identification’ decreasing as the individuals range slips to the middle of the scale as they embody characteristics of both, and one weighs the occurrences of each tell to make a judgment call.

    Thinking more on the Turning test I mentioned – it is almost exactly like that. Computers pretend to be people, and people pretend to be computers, and some just be what they are. And the ‘testers’ have to identify who is ‘real’ and who is just lines of code.

    Probably as clear as mud, but it’s the best way I can describe it for now.

  53. Phooey … getting in on this very late. I have two comments, and I think I read carefully enough to believe that they are not repetitions of previous comments.

    1. I came gradually around from the “lifestyle choice” to the “birth defect” viewpoint as I understood more about homosexuality, and made a few lesbian and gay friends. But the more I think about it, I’m not sure that “they’re born with it” is the same as “birth defect.” I was born Norwegian, grey-eyed, and with a somewhat uncanny ability for word games. I was born with all of them, but I don’t consider any of them birth defects.

    I would agree that it is a step in the right direction for people brought up with the “lifestyle choice” to move to the “birth defect” viewpoint, even if it’s still not all the way there. It then opens up for them, as it did for me, that it might possibly be just something they are, and not necessarily a “defect.”

    2. I agree with the spectrum philosophy, after having had the topic land explosively in the middle of my family several years ago. My BIL’s wife is, I believe, genuinely bisexual and probably due to both nature and nurture. After 5 years of marriage, she left him for a woman, with whom she has had a committed relationship for 7 years now.

    Shortly after this all came down, I found out that two of my good friends from college were lesbians. It suddenly made my connection with one of them make a little more sense, since friendships with lesbians always just FEEL different from friendships with straight girls, that’s the only way to describe it. However, since I had never been introduced to the “spectrum” idea, I went into this little internal panic. “OMG, what’s going on, I find her rather attractive — does it mean I’M going to get divorced and move to Australia with my lesbian lover and abandon my children and turn into an evil manipulative witch?”

    Then I got a grip and came up with the spectrum idea on my own, which was (at that stage of my intellectual development) rather mindboggling to me. I would have benefitted greatly from having some familiarity with that concept before the fact, rather than having to figure it out on my own like that.

  54. lyc: interesting thoughts. i agree that the truth probably lies somewhere between the extremes.
    while i don’t necessarily think gender is an entirely social construct, i don’t think we are in a place where we can very effectively parse which traits are truly tied to biological sex and which ones exist because of cultural pressure. it’s all still too tied up in traditional sex roles to tell.

    i tend to go with the bell curve distribution idea, where most people of both sexes fall in the middle with differences becoming evident at the extremes. while this is interesting to look at, i’m not sure how relevant it is to the majority of us sitting in the middle. it seems to me that these small differences on the extremes have too often been used to marginalize or pigeonhole people.

    i think as a general rule we’d be better off as a society if we paid more attention to people individually and less to what we think we know about them based on their gender or sexual identity.

  55. From personal experience, half can be detected off the bat, and the remainder gradually revealing themselves over time, with a very small proportion remaining complete unknowns.

    If you’re staying with this position, I’m going to have to call bullshit. Because you have no way of knowing whether this is true or not. Maybe 2 in 10 is detectable off the bat, and another 1 reveals themselves in time, and the remaining 7 are total unknowns. How would you know.

    You can’t. Unless you have some hard data to back it up, you’re just guessing, like everyone else, and your experience is pretty much worthless as a data point.

    I think I might be guilty of a lack of clarity myself, though. I’m not saying that we choose our sexuality. Quite the contrary. I’m saying that we have it thrust upon us.

    People can (and do) unconsciously swing around in a small ‘identity range’ from their ‘default’ point, but they cant suddenly jump around and select a new ‘default point’ because the new ’setting’ is what they (or someone else) wants.

    This sort of presupposes a limitation that I’m not entirely sure exists. Most people do operate in a fairly tight range, I’m sure, but there isn’t any reason to doubt that this range can be stretched. And if it can be stretched a little, it can be stretched a little more. People do develop a deep appreciation of new ideas, if the introduction is gentle enough.

    Furthermore, our sense of identity itself can shift suddenly through traumatic events. The idea that the you you are now is the same you you were 10 years ago is an illusion.

    But we agree wholeheartedly that people can’t exactly “just choose” to be straight, gay, bi, whatever, and that no one has the magical key to alter gender and sexual identity at will.

    I’m just saying that no one really understands sex. And I think we would all agree with that.

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