Closeted Politicians and Bi Invisibility

Does outing closeted gay politicians contribute to bisexual invisibility?

It occurs to me that the way I put that question is sort of answering itself. Let me re-phrase: Does outing closeted politicians who have sex with same-sex partners contribute to bisexual invisibility?

There’s been yet another story in the news lately, about yet another rabidly homophobic right-wing politician who was discovered to be gay. (Roy Ashburn’s the joker in this round of the game: he’s the one who was arrested for drunk driving after leaving a gay nightclub with another man, and who finally acknowledged that he was gay — after the story had been broken for days. Tangent: This kind of story is becoming so common, it’s starting to be flat-out silly. It’s getting to the point where, when a politician is rabidly homophobic, I just assume now that they’re gay. It’s become a standard item on my gaydar: Does he have unusually good fashion sense? Is he a little more aware of the works of Lady Gaga than is strictly necessary? Is he a right-wing politician who foams at the mouth about how disgusting homosexuals are and consistently votes against gay rights? Yup — probably gay. I think we need to start a PR campaign about this: if “rabid anti-gay political activism” becomes a standard marker for “probable homosexuality,” maybe fewer right-wing politicians will run with it.)

Anyway. Rabidly homophobic right-wing politician; secretly gay. But Amanda Mennis recently wrote me with an interesting question: Does this story of a secretly gay public figure — and the absurdly long parade of stories like it — contribute in some way to bisexual invisibility?

After all, most of the guys in these scandals (and it has just been guys so far) are married, or have some sort of sexual/ romantic relationship with women. Many of them have children. They’re clearly capable of having sex with women. Doesn’t that make them bisexual, not gay? Or at least, doesn’t it suggest the possibility that some of them are bisexual and not gay?

An interesting question. And one that I’m finding tricky to answer.


Thus begins my new piece on the Blowfish Blog, Closeted Politicians and Bi Invisibility. To read more about how reporting on closeted politicians does or does not contribute to bisexual invisibility — and how closeting screws up the ways we define sexual orientation — read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Closeted Politicians and Bi Invisibility
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7 thoughts on “Closeted Politicians and Bi Invisibility

  1. 3

    I disagree strongly with the comment “I feel that having active sex with both men and women makes them bisexual”. A closeted, self-hating gay man who has sex with women, is married, has children, whatever, is still gay. i.e., Who you have sex with doesn’t determine your sexual orientation – that’s an internal thing, not a product of behaviour(s). The pressures in our society to be normal, (i.e. straight) are intense, even more so in conservative/religious situations – the number of gay men and lesbian women in straight relationships is actually quite large. I was raised in a very orthodox religious family, and if circumstances had been different, I might have married a women and had children – yet I’ll never be nor ever would have been bisexual.
    Certainly though, many heterosexually married men who have sex with or desire to have sex with men are bisexual, and the same with bi women. It’s two completely different situations, really – though they have a common cause.

  2. 4

    I also don’t think having sex with people of both sexes automatically makes you bisexual. And not just because of closet cases.
    Someone who’s had occasional sex with people of the opposite sex, but for whom that sex wasn’t particularly satisfying or particularly important to them, might choose to define themselves as gay or lesbian. And someone who had never had even one same-sex encounter and never planned to (say, someone in a committed monogamous relationship), but who had serious same-sex attraction and for whom the fact of that attraction was important and defining, might choose to define themselves as bisexual. And IMO, both of those decisions would be entirely reasonable.
    The determining factor or factors for defining sexual orientation are different for everyone. For some it’s who they’re attracted to; for some it’s who they’re sexually involved with; for some it’s who they’re romantically involved with; for others it’s their sexual history; for others it’s their hopes and desires for their sexual future; etc. This stuff is so vaguely defined — and so personal — that I think we really have to let people define themselves.
    Which is not to say that we never have the right to question those definitions. If someone refuses to define themselves as bisexual because they have negative and false ideas of what bisexuals are like, for instance, it’s worth questioning that. And, of course, you have the closet case problem discussed in this piece. But ultimately, people get to name themselves.

  3. 5

    It’s getting to the point where, when a politician is rabidly homophobic, I just assume now that they’re gay. It’s become a standard item on my gaydar
    Ruben Bolling did a strip on “The New Gay Sterotype” a few years back which echoes your sentiments rather well.

  4. 6

    I’m only commenting here, because I’m at work, and am surprised I didn’t recognize your name from Blowfish!
    Ironically I got to your personal blog not from there, but from Pharyngula.

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