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Times Of India Article on Bisexuality July 2, 2006

Posted by qmediawatch in Bisexual, English.
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TOI article on Bisexuality .Publication:Times Of India Mumbai; Date:Jul 2, 2006; Section:Times Review

TWO BITES – Could you be bisexual? Like blogs and iPods once were, this is the new buzz today. Everybody is saying that everyone else is ‘bi’. Nilanjana Sengupta on whether it is possible for us to be so inclined By Sabrina Buckwalter .

A few years ago, Angelina Jolie famously said she enjoyed spending time with her female lovers. Though no such high-profile entity has advocated the cause of bisexuality in India, it is a phenomenon that is being talked about, overtly and covertly. Being bisexual is no longer the exclusive domain of ‘an’ actor or ‘a’ director. It could be your neighbour, your best pal’s girlfriend, or your favourite youth icon. It doesn’t seem to need the kind of ‘coming-out’ process that is so integral to gays and lesbians, or even the support structure of activists. It seems you can be a bed-hopping urban bisexual for whom a heterosexual relationship is not just a security blanket.

“Over the years, there has been a distinct change in how bisexuality is perceived. There is more conversation about it today, and it is part of an identity that goes with being cool and fashionable,” says Vinay Chandran, executive director of Swabhava Trust, an NGO that looks after the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, also called LGBT. But can bisexuality truly be a natural human behaviour?

Though the textbook definition of bisexuality as attraction to both men and women is clear enough, there are studies that propose it as a defence against homosexuality. In the First World, men see bisexuality as a stepping stone before they eventually and inevitably jump full on into gayness. ‘Bi now, gay later’, they call it. In India, a sub-conscious need to emulate the herd leads to gays experimenting with marriage, and therefore bisexuality. More importantly, it helps them stay on the right side of the law with Section 377 of the IPC criminalising same-sex relationships. Religious ideas linked to procreation and the need to find an issue to perform the last rites also lead many men into tying the knot, when they would rather be with other men.

Forty-year-old Lisa, who discovered her husband with another man five years into her marriage, was told by her counsellor that 99% of men are homosexual and they only marry to have children. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory,” she says sighing. “But it helps me stay in my marriage.”

In India, the chances of a person being confused about his or her sexuality are particularly high. One is expected to be normal, which is a description of heterosexuality. But interestingly, here the concept of friendship between same-sex people is much deeper than elsewhere. It is common to spend more time with people of the same gender in boarding schools and family functions. Inevitably, experts say, some people grow fonder of members of the same sex. They end up performing the rites of heterosexuality but long for a different company. This is how bisexuality resides in India, in a socially accepted disguise. There are a fair amount of people who regard bisexuals as genuine enough to enjoy both the genders. Homosexuals describe such bisexuals as greedy and fickle, selfish people who just can’t seem to make a commitment. Gay men also don’t tend to get involved with bisexual men because they think these men are not serious about their sexuality. “Bisexuals are seen as people who can balance it out, or enjoy the best of both worlds,” says a 35-year-old gay man who was once married to a woman. “But I could not manage it.” Counsellors say that homosexuals who marry — either due to societal pressure or because they think they can get away with it — invariably cannot keep the garb on for long. They find the touch of the opposite sex uncomfortable and soon suffer from depression. Those who remain are probably genuine bisexuals. They are rarer than one thinks. Time and again the ‘bisexuals’ one encounters are the ones suffering the camouflage of marriage. Like one of Bollywood’s leading filmmakers. His personal favourite flick is Ang Lee’s Oscar-nominated Brokeback Mountain because the Heath Legder-Jake Gyllenhaal story has many similarities to his own life. Though he is “happily” married and has a son from his stunning wife, he lets it be known that his heart beats for another man. He admits that though he has worked with some of Bollywood’s most attractive actresses, he was never attracted to them. Almost 25 years ago, he realised that he was more attracted to the leading men in the movies than he was to the ladies. And he has been in a relationship with a male for over a decade while sustaining the farce of his conventional marriage. “I come from a conservative Hindu home. My parents would’ve been shocked if they knew of my sexual preference. And I have no intentions of hurting them.” He also feels that “a wife, and an attractive one at that, is an enviable prop”. His wife is unaware of his preferences.

It is perilous to generalise about any group because human behaviour is complex. For instance, not all heterosexuals have the same concept of man and woman. A heterosexual serial rapist and a similar but more law-abiding man who is devoted to his wife will not have the same concept of ‘woman’. Similarly, people who share a sexual orientation do not necessarily have identical views or practices with respect to gender, relationships, monogamy or any other topic.

“One has to separate attraction from behaviour. Just as a heterosexual woman may find herself attracted to many men but choose to make her life with only one, a bisexual person may be attracted to many people but choose to make his or her life with one person,” says Dr L Ramakrishnan, country director (programs and research) of Solidarity and Action Against HIV Infection in India. This means that in many cases, the attraction to same-sex members may be nothing more than fleeting moments in the life of a regular person who probably would never physically stray outside heterosexuality.

While discourse about bisexuality may be surfacing in recent times, it’s as old as human civilisation. It pre-dates evolution of humans. Several species of animals, most noticeably bonobos and other apes with whom we share significant parts of our evolution, exhibit sexual activity with both sexes.

In India, sexual activity with members of both sexes is discussed in texts such as Kamasutra, and depicted in art and sculpture such as Rajasthani paintings and Khajuraho sculptures. ‘Same sex love in India’, authored by Saleem Kidwai and Ruth Vanita delves into instances in ancient, medieval, modern, and post-modern Indian texts, and Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Islamic, and Christian literature. The Hindu god Harihara or Ayyappa was apparently the son of Vishnu and Shiva, the former in drag and the latter pursuing her “as a lordly elephant would a sheelephant”. Skandha, literally meaning a jet of sperm, was born after the fire god Agni swallowed Shiva’s semen. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna, aroused by Krishna’s beautiful waist and red lips had sex with him as ‘Arjuni’. TNN

(Inputs by Meena Iyer)

Chimps too, starfish even

Bisexuality is not a human being’s exclusive domain. Formal studies show that other animals are equally excited about a samegender romp. In the entire animal kingdom, more than 500 species have been found to have behavioural and even biological bisexual traits.

According to chimpanzee and gorilla expert, Jane Goodall, chimpanzees form small bisexual social groups. Led by a mature male and a mature female, they engage in sex with the same gender, and with the opposite gender as well for procreation. Bisexuality has also been observed in orca whales, bottlenose dolphins and humboldt penguins. And even among some fish, flatworms and crustaceans.

After a decade-long research stint, Dr Bruce Bagemihl put down his observations on the subject in his book titled, ‘Biological Exuberance — Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity’. He says that animals like gazelles, bison and antelope form bisexual bonds that extend much deeper than sexual activity. He saw long-term coupling behaviour in some animals. A male bottlenose dolphin, for instance, will engage in heterosexual sex early in life. But as he ages, he will partner with a male dolphin for many years, forming a sometimes sexual, and often a protective and an intimate relationship.

     
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