Sunday, 30 May 2010

Just a tiny little bit?

So today I’m going to talk about an idea that is used in different ways to invalidate monosexuality and asexuality. It’s the idea that everyone’s a little bit bi. Or, in the asexual case, that everyone’s a little bit straight.

The scientific backing to the idea stems, I think, mostly from Kinsey, who created the scale going from fully straight to fully gay. As with all spectrums, the idea is that no-one really occupies the very extreme points. Everyone is in the middle to some extent. And the important thing about this is that it’s a model, not a theory. The Kinsey scale is important because it provides a sliding scale of sexual attraction. Someone can, plotting their space on the Kinsey scale, be basically monosexual despite the occasional query. That little twinge doesn’t invalidate their sexuality because everyone has them. Bisexuality is normalised.
And you see the occasional recently-outed bisexual getting a bit pushy about this. It’s natural to conclude that everyone is like you, and sometimes the Kinsey scale is used as a justification for the fact that everyone is secretly bisexual, everyone is repressing their desire to be exactly like you. I get where that comes from.
But the important point is that there are still these big monoliths of straight and gay at each end. If you insist that no-one is completely, 100% monosexual, despite everything they tell you, then there’s going to be a lot of people clustering around the 99.9% point. A world in which we’re all theoretically bisexual creates a world in which we’re all theoretically equal. It’s a nice ploy, but it denies the realities of those who genuinely only feel attracted to one gender.

And then asexuality bursts onto the scene, and sexuality GOES 3D!!! (well, ok, 2D). And this desire to make everyone technically bisexual is shown for the other side of what it is- a desire to make everyone the most sexual they could be, out of the misplaced belief that more sexual = more free = happier. The idea is that bisexuality is a liberating concept for straight and gay people has flaws, but is simply laughable if you apply it to asexuals. The freedom to be asexual is the freedom to be less sexual, to be sexually attracted to no-one. The invocation of a tiny little invisible bit of sexuality just negates what we’re trying to say.

So now we actually explore what’s meant by that ‘tiny, little bit’. Does everyone really have a tiny, unnoticeable amount of attraction to both genders? Maybe. I have no idea. Is it relevant enough to base your assumptions of the universe on? Hell no. When you get right down that scale, sexual attraction (already a slightly nebulous concept) looses any meaning it had.

I think this is one reason why the official definition of asexuality is ‘little or no’ sexual attraction. Because it’s so deeply lodged in the public psyche that everyone has these little tiny bits, that no-one can be completely without attraction to both genders. The idea of the invisible but ever-present amount of attraction makes invisible all the sexualities based on lack of attraction to something.


  1. And I think the fact that so many asexuals say they're only romantically attracted to one gender further proves your point. Even without sexual attraction, large numbers of people still gravitate to one gender.

    As a proponent of the "little or no" version of the definition, I've never thought about it in the way you mention. I guess some people do, but for me, it was always about the idea of how much sexuality affects a person's life. If you've only experienced sexual attraction a few times in your life, it might be as irrelevant to you as it would be to an asexual who had experienced none.

  2. Exactly. It's what makes a grey-a grey-a. If you can completely identify with asexuals, because your sexual attraction has always only been a technicality, then you should be able to identify AS asexual. Nothing else makes sense.

    I suppose a failing in this post is that I didn't bother to mention the relatively large (complete guess- I don't think there's any reliable statistics) numbers of asexuals who do report themselves in the 'little sexual attraction' category, rather than the 'no sexual attraction' category. I suppose I was more getting at when non-asexuals use the idea to invalidate asexuality; "How can you be sure you don't have a tiny bit of sexual attraction that you don't know about? I reckon everyone does."

  3. When it comes to the "Everybody's a little bi" attitude, I think that one of the things its proponents miss is how society impacts our perceptions of sexuality. Our systematic understanding of sexuality is that people gravitate to one gender, so even if people do have that teeny tiny bit of attraction, it's mostly irrelevant. Whereas in ancient Greece, a certain type of bisexuality was considered normal, so people expressed their sexuality in that way, because it was acceptable. But in our modern system? I think you're spot on in saying that at a certain level, it's just not relevant if you don't want it to be relevant.

    I think there may be a difference between the "everyone's bi" and "everyone's sexual" ideas, though, in that people are willing to accept attraction to the same or opposite gender, whereas often they're not open to the idea of asexuality at all. I'm not sure if that's because asexuality is such a new concept for most people, or because sexuality is so huge a factor in most people's lives.