The new bisexuals

An article in Psychology Today online said something startling: Girls now are three times more likely to be “non-heterosexual” than boys.

Where once lesbians and bisexual women were thought to number 1 percent of the population – while gay and bisexual men were 5 percent – the article said that now 15 percent of young women and girls identify as lesbian or bisexual.

Fifteen percent. A 14-point jump like that is a giant and significant leap in our numbers, which could affect everything from political power to social approval.

The writer, Dr. Leonard Sax, wonders why there are “suddenly” so many queer girls.

And I do, too.

First, I wonder if those self-identifying girls call themselves bisexual because they’re actually attracted to women or because they think it’s sexier – and cooler – to call themselves bisexual and occasionally kiss girls for show.

After all, a label in our more understanding era is an easy thing to take on. Labels are important, but they don’t necessarily lead to political action or even respect for equal rights (in fact, quite the opposite. A recent e-mail I received was from a woman who said, “I’m bisexual, but I don’t think they should have gay marriage.” Basically her argument was that women should be free to sleep with whoever, but they should marry men.)

And if this new percentage is actually gay or bisexual (that is, having or seeking sexual and romantic relationships with women) – is it simply because America is more tolerant of lesbians now and so they feel able to come out, is it because bisexuality no longer carries the stigma in the gay and straight world that it used to, or is it something else (or some combination)?

Women have always expressed their sexuality more fluidly – hence all those “Lesbians Until Graduation” (or LUGS) I went to school with at Wellesley (and a long history at women’s colleges of women “spooning” and writing romantic letters to each other). I’ve known women to come out in their 40s and 50s after long happy marriages to men. And I’ve known self-identified lesbians who married men in their 30s and had happy marriages. This is lifelong bisexuality in fact, if not necessarily in self-identification.

Dr. Sax says – and I find this very interesting – that “female sexuality is different from male sexuality … sexual attraction seems to be more malleable. If a teenage girl kisses another teenage girl, for whatever reason, and she finds that she likes it – then things can happen and things can change. If a young woman finds her soul mate, and her soul mate happens to be female then she may begin to experience feelings she’s never felt before.”

Dr. Sax’s conclusion – which is ridiculous on its face – is that girls are more interested in other girls because boys are “losers” who watch too much porn. Come on.

But girls do tend to have strong, deeply emotional attachments to each other. And it’s interesting to think that those attachments – which may have previously just been labeled “girl crushes” and thought childish and insignificant – may now be socially considered lesbian feelings, and thus prod a girl to label herself differently, which leads to permanent changes in her brain.

Dr. Sax didn’t break down the numbers; I don’t know what part of that new percentage is lesbian and what part bisexual.

But what I do know is this: the LGBT community hasn’t always been great about welcoming and reaching out to and understanding and supporting bisexuals. But if we want this flood of young women to support us, that has got to change.

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