Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interlude: More of the math of dudes kissing

(Content: biphobia; transphobia and rape culture at the Dan Savage link.  Fun content: math!  No, really.  Come back!)

This may be considered a sequel to another 'enrich your life through queer math' post from my old blog.

This isn't a post about Dan Savage, but it was inspired by things he's said that really neatly embody one of the major forms of biphobia.  (He's also painfully transphobic and sexist and so many other things; I am not a fan.  I am sure he's done good things, yay for him, but he desperately needs to not be The One Mainstream Queer Voice.)

This specifically is about the idea that bisexuals--both men and women, though Savage speaks more often regarding men, obviously--are just playing around and are still going to settle down in a hetero relationship once they've had their homo fun.  The specific quote is thus: "And here’s another thing that is: Most adult bisexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite-sex relationships. And most comfortably disappear into presumed heterosexuality."  The implication (often made an explication) is that we bi people are users, happy to get all countercultural with our sexytimes but ultimately intending to ditch a same-gender partner and spend the rest of our lives taking advantage of all that sweet, sweet straight privilege while leaving said same-gender partners adrift and emotionally abandoned.  (This feeds nicely into the similar claim that bi folk are all promiscuous sex-fiends, which I have laughed at enough for the time being; just noting the way one line of bigotry usually supports another.)

Now, it's difficult as hell to get actual reliable numbers on the proportions of queer folk in the world, for obvious reasons: first being that no matter how many times you swear that your survey is completely anonymous, queer people are generally going to need a good reason to single themselves out in a crowd, and 'the curiosity of straights' tends not to be it.  A quick scroll through this wikipedia page on orientation demographics shows the hilarious level of variation in surveys, ranging from 1 in 7 to 1 in 200.

Fortunately, this is napkin math, so we don't need exact numbers to prove my point.  Let us once again oversimplify tremendously and go with 10% of the population, all else equal, being in some way attracted to people who are theoretically the same sex as them (so including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and gender variants that tend to have trouble getting recognised, let alone catalogued).  That's our starting assumption: 90% straight (P = 0.9), 10% queer (P = 0.1).  You may see where I'm going with this.

I was waiting for a bus the other day and I saw this guy: gangly and a little stubbly and just generally ridiculously attractive and reading Perdido Street Station.  Knucklebite.  And I did some quick math in my head: the independent chance of flipping heads on a coin is 0.5, so the chance of getting two in a row is 0.5 * 0.5 = 0.25, the chance of getting three is 0.5 ^ 3 = 0.125, and the chance of getting four is 0.5 ^ 4 = 0.0625.

Say the chance that this ridiculously hot dude waiting for the bus next to me was interested in dudes is 0.1, like we said.  That means that, the moment I see him, if I grab a quarter from my pocket, I have a better chance of flipping three heads in a row than I have of even being the right gender for him to be attracted to me.  If any of the three are tails, sorry, he only likes women, better luck next time.

Whereas every time I meet a woman I find attractive, the probabilities are reversed: keeping in mind that both straight and bi women might be interested in me, I'd likely have to flip four heads in a row for her to say "Sorry, I only like the ladies."  (So far this has only happened 1.5 times.  The 0.5 is for when I didn't even have time to start flirting before she brought it up of her own accord.)

Most people have more than one romantic relationship in their lives before they settle down, if they are the settling type, meaning that, if not restricted by institutional homophobia, bisexuals will probably date a range of people with differing genders and orientations over the course of their lives.  And while I might be equally attracted to men and women, the feeling is not mutual.  Should I be fortunate enough to meet someone so perfectly matched to me that we decide to spend the rest of our lives together, raw probability says that person is probably going to be a woman.  That's not my evil bisexual heartless fucklust driving me to use and discard innocent gay men: that's all that math will allow.  Most of the people I'm attracted to in my life will probably be straight.  I am as upset about this as anyone I mean seriously you should have seen that guy's face I just wanted to congratulate him on owning it--

Where was I?

Oh, right.  Biphobes can shut the hell up and either do their math homework or (should they unfortunately be afflicted with dycalculia, like my lovely and non-biphobic sister-in-law) just start flipping coins every time they see someone hot, until the lesson sinks in.


  1. Yes, exactly. I am statistically more likely to end up with a man than a woman. That is not the same thing as preferring one gender. Also, I belong to a community that has a high percentage of mildly bi-curious people. These are the people who aren't in the middle of the gender preference range, they are closer to the heterosexual end but not completely there. That doesn't make them a fake bisexual, because as far as I am concerned, there is no such thing. People are attracted to what they are attracted to, to whatever degree they are attracted. Also, being attracted to someone doesn't necessarily translate to a real life desire for sexy times or an LTR. While I have had a serious sad because of this on a few occasions, I'm mature enough to accept that I am not universally irresistibly attractive.
    And I am so, so tired of the bi-phobic myths.

  2. Also, it's much safer (sadly) to express heterosexual interest, which seems like it would further skew the odds that a bisexual person would end up in a heterosexual relationship.

  3. This is great food for thought and I'm all for combatting biphobia, but I feel like this is kind of implying that all bisexual experience a perfect 50/50 attraction split, which is not my lived experience. For instance, I consider myself bisexual but I'd say if you were to take all the people I'm attracted to, roughly 90% would be women and only 10% would be men. So lets take a sample size of 100 people I am attracted to, controlling for the fact that I'm pretty active in queer spaces and more likely to meet queer people or meet someone online where I'm specifically only looking for women-interested-in-women and instead say these are all "at the bus stop" type meetings, and yeah, those 10 guys would be statistically more likely to be attracted to me than 10 women would be. But if we're using the 1 in 10 metric, I'd have about 9 women and roughly 9 men who could be attracted to me back*. Now, you'd have to be a pretty extreme split like I am to have it even out to the same number in this kind of random sample, which feeds back into your post and why it makes sense in general as a education tool, but it doesn't work this way for ALL bisexual people and I feel like that should be brought up in biphobia discussions as well, since one of the big problems we face is people assuming that we all experience attraction in the same way. Just something to keep in mind for people, especially straight people reading this post as an eye-opener: anything sexuality-wise is pretty complicated! Keep digging!

    *I do have dycalculia so apologies if these numbers don't quite work, the point is: I have a greater probability of being attracted to a woman who is attracted to women than the example in this post seems to suggest because I am hugely skewed toward finding women attractive over men, so I simply get more chances to get the right coin flips.

  4. Absolutely, the specific math I give here is dependent on the particular circumstances I set out, but I think the overall principle--"Let's remember that a person's orientation doesn't change the range of people who might be interested in them, which in turn will influence the nature of their relationships"--is pretty universal. I don't quite see any indication in the post proper that implies all bisexuals are an exact Kinsey 3, but I would be happy to adjust if you have suggestions!

  5. Yes, absolutely. I consider myself bisexual, but I did not really date around before I settled down, so I've never been in a queer relationship. I'm straight-married and monogamous, so it is sort of moot at this point in my life, but I was thinking the other day about dating women or genderqueer people (not men, anyway, since I've done that) if something ever happens to spouse (dog forbid) when I am still interested in dating. But the thing could really depend on where I live as to whether or not I feel safe in trying to pursue a relationship that doesn't look straight.

    Reading this over, I was thinking, it seems weird that I would consider restricting my gender options when dating since gender is not normally a factor for me in attraction. But it's just part of that math that Will did - I'm much more likely to end up in a straight relationship again if I don't consider gender because there are many more men out there who might return my interest than there are other genders. Thanks for this commentary, Will. I appreciate a defense of us bi people. Especially because attitudes like Savage's and the fact of my own straight marriage are part of the reason I don't claim bi identity very often in public.

  6. THIS. While it took me until college to come to terms with my bisexuality, even if I had been owning it in high school I NEVER would have come out publicly. I live in rural Indiana where such shit would have gotten me ostracized immediately. I would have come out at home of course since my parents aren't mentally in the dark ages, but for my public life playing the 'straight girl' would have been easy since I like men anyway.

    Before and even after I accepted my bisexuality, all of my dating experience and serious crushes have been with or on men. I can look at a sexy woman walking down the street and pop a major lady-boner, but like the writer of this post I'm then caught up in the mental math. Even if I never get the chance to date or make love to another woman, I'm still going to be bisexual for life.

  7. Great post though what I find amusing is me, the oddball in the equation. First, let me say that I am a transman still in the VERY early stages of transitioning so yeah, very much still look like a broad. I would define myself as omnisexual with a leaning toward heteroromantic (prefer dating women). Now, although I am a man, again, I look very much like a female, even when I am bound, packing, and whatnot. Anyway, the thing I find amusing is that most blokes I end up liking are gay and the women I tend to like are more often than not straight so it seems I currently have the exact opposite problem. XD

  8. ETA: Granted, the women bit still works out with the quarter maths.

  9. I mean seriously you should have seen that guy's face I just wanted to congratulate him on owning it--

    Not to detract from the serious and very interesting nature of what you've written here (seriously, I do kinda love it), but this line is going to have me giggling for a long time. Thought you should know.

  10. Apologies for being late to this party, so feel free to ignore but I found myself with a desire to chime in, which is rare as I tend to lurk more than contribute. I get the feeling that much of your readership is more familiar and well read on human sexuality nuances, issues, and drama than I am so WARNING: NAIVETY. I'm legitimately confused by why other people get so upset about what kind of happy fun touching other humans engage in. I totally understand the primal fascination with and urge to speculate and discuss but why the outrage? I understand, to a certain degree, that sexuality is both intensely personal but also social (unless you are only into yourself or no one at all) so EMOTIONS and CULTURE but....but....I don't get it. Is it just familial brainwashing and internalized religious dogma? This kind of thing gives me the Ender Wigginses but anecdotal data tends to suggest that I'm not THE ONE so I'm just left with a handful of whatnapples. Thoughts?

  11. There are a few facets, like the common human fear of that which is different, but in its most condensed form I would say that people freak out about things like same-sex affection for the same reason they freak out about desegregation of races, women with power, and boys carrying purses, which is to say: there is a social order, and it is predicated on people only ever following very strict rules, and because those strict rules are stupid, the only way to keep the social order steady is to convince everyone that it's the way things are and must always be.

    So if you're someone who benefits from the current social order, it's also in your best interest to find some way to convince the people you're trampling that they're supposed to be in their boxes. And all of the forms of oppression have aspects in common, so when you start pulling on one thread they all come apart. The oppression of women is based on the idea that the purpose of women is to complement men by doing all the background support work and satisfying men's needs while men do Important Things.

    A happy and successful couple of two men or two women shows that the rigid roles of men and women are artificial, not natural, and so inherently attacks the idea that anything can be justified by saying 'that's only for women' or 'men can never do that'. And if it's not true that the rigid roles of men and women are natural and immutable, then maybe racial stereotypes and supremacy is made up as well, and sooner or later you end up treating everyone like they're people of equal potential and variation, and if you're someone whose very comfortable place in life is built on the idea that you have inherently the greatest potential and value and nothing could change that, it is goddamn terrifying.

    Does that illuminate things at all?

  12. "Fear is the mind-killer." Do people really operate like this? I bet they get upset when you mention that there are other flavors of ice-cream besides chocolate and vanilla.

    Do you think such folk as give in to this type of thinking do so on a conscious level or is it a knee-jerk reaction? Willful blinders? Being a middle-class, straight-ish, thirty-something white guy, I wonder where I am guilty of this. Damn you Will Wildman for encouraging self-introspection!!!

    Where I get stuck is that I can analyze some of these concepts on an intellectual level but I struggle with them on a gut level. It just seems pointless, marginalizing, and juvenile to the point of silliness. Preaching to the choir?

    By the by, I came for the enjoyable Ender's Game deconstructions but have stayed for the witty humor and thoughtful writing. Insert genuine thank you from a stranger here.

  13. Thanks for the kind words!

    I think the problem that we struggle with is that we're taught that these restrictions are natural--that's the lie that powerful people tell in order to protect themselves, and they tell it in such a way that the less-powerful people will repeat it because they think they have to. Radical conservative Christian bigots will tell everyone who'll listen that the reason their country is falling apart is that The Gays Can Marry, because change is scary and being given an easy target like that makes it much easier to distract from the ridiculous increase in income inequality and the stagnation of real income for middle-class people over the last few decades.

    (Also, anyone who says that the water supply needs to be preserved by taking shorter showers needs to dig deeper. 90% of water consumption is industrial. But if they can get people sneering at each other over who's got the most water-conserving faucets in the house, they don't have to worry so much about anyone pushing for more industry regulation.)

    So, if a person is raised in an environment where everyone says that The Way The Universe Works is that women do X things and men do Y things and white people go here and POC go there and so forth, it doesn't really matter whether it's "conscious" or "knee-jerk" decisions, because that person is working off false premises either way. People tend to think that their personal purity is what matters, that if they "aren't racist" or whatever, they're part of the solution and doing everything they can. But by the same token as the water example above, the problem isn't so much what an individual person does, it's the huge institutionalised system around them that they're told not to look at too closely. It's good for us as individuals to not be bigoted (and to not waste water) but those impacts are small in the overall picture--what we need is more criticism of the framework, and more people questioning the environment where we're told shaky 'facts' about the way things work.

    I'm not sure I understand what you're saying in your third paragraph--what's pointless and marginalising?

  14. Sorry about the unclear paragraph. I need Graff and Anderson to save me with some disembodied flavor text.

    Colonel Graff, he seems to be loosing his grasp on coherent communication. You're pushing him too hard.

    Anderson, you whinging jackwit, if I don't push hard enough then none of us will ever be able to communicate again BECAUSE EVIL SPACE BUGS WANT TO BUGGER US IN OUR NO-NO PLACES!!!

    I was trying to convey that the exhaustive sexual categorizing that seems to occupy people and which is typically accompanied by various flavors of indignation/entitlement strikes me as mostly pointless and unnecessarily marginalizing.

    Why is sexuality as a spectrum so hard to sell? I understand that, as a species, we all enjoy labeling and defining things in the vain hope that if we name a thing we have more power over it. Also, I think our brains have a functional tendency towards this in order to lighten the processing load that stems from a universe of shifting variables and exigencies.

    Is it an ingrained urge to tribalize? I get that people like to flock to a banner and think "I'm not strange because those people are like me and so I'm going to hang with them and, being human, we'll come up with a bunch of self-identification markers and customs." Is it that once you have your tribe, anyone not of your tribe is always scary and wrong?

    I'm enjoying externalizing these thoughts but I'm sure much of this is likely obvious and old ground for you so don't feel obligated to respond.

  15. Why is sexuality as a spectrum so hard to sell?

    Because it's new and scary, and because the 'there is only one way to be' propaganda is so strong that most people still have no clue how big the spectrum is. Thus we get people even now saying that bisexuality isn't thing, you have to pick straight or gay.

    I get that if you're new, activism and identity pride can look like tribalism, but it's important to understand that 'pride' is not an action but a reaction. 'Black power' isn't a thing because black people think they're better than everyone else; it's a thing because white people have been telling black people for centuries that they are lesser beings and black people are saying 'Fuck that, I'm awesome and no matter what you say I will still be here and not ashamed'.

    I'd be happy to live in a world where I don't have to explain to people "No, I'm not straight" or "No, I'm not gay" because no one assumes either about me. But they do; basically everyone assumes I'm straight until they see me do something that doesn't fit the box, and then they default to assuming I'm gay. And if we didn't say "This is bisexuality, this is what I am and hey, look at all these other people who are like me", then we'd each (taken only as individuals and not as members of a larger group) get told that we're anomalies, freaks, we just want attention. It is a sad fact that a lot of people don't take identities seriously until they reach some kind of critical mass of population to prove that they're real.

    And continuing to loudly exist is also important for helping other people understand who they are as well. I didn't get that I was bi for about twenty-seven years, because I was raised with 'straight' as the only example and a vague intellectual awareness that 'gay' also existed somewhere. I figured myself out within about six months of making another friend who was bi (my co-blogger Erika). I don't think that's a coincidence. So for queer people who are in hostile environments, having a movement of people who understand your problems and will accept you is also a huge deal.

    TL;DR -- No, it's not about tribalistic exclusion and marginalisation. It's about finding and making places to include the people who are already being excluded and marginalised.

  16. I only fully realised my bisexual identity a couple of years ago, and I'm still learning about myself every day. Reading this article, and the comments, has been brilliant as they have made me feel less like some sort of inadequate, inferior bisexual for having only had relationships with the opposite gender. Although I had worked out some vague maths myself previously, it has really helped to read it in such a way. Thankyou!