In the New York Times Magazine this weekend, Benoit Denizet-Lewis reveals the inner workings of the American Institute of Bisexuality, a group whose $17 million endowment is "partly responsible for a surge of academic and scientific research across the country about bisexuality."
Founded in 1998, in the past few years, A.I.B. has been responsible for broadening the minds and adding to the pockets of researchers who are doing the kind of work that has changed our conceptions of what bisexuality is. Take Michael Bailey, a Northwestern professor infamous for his fucksaw demonstration as well as his 2005 study that asserted that most bisexual men are just gay and lying. "I'm not denying that bisexual behavior exists," he said then, "but I am saying that in men there's no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientation."
Meeting with A.I.B. prompted Bailey to make modifications to his future studies, changing his mind and the minds of many others. For his 2011 study that found that yes, bisexual men exist, instead of posting ads seeking bisexual men in newspapers and gay magazines, Bailey searched for subjects by contacting men who had placed ads online looking for male and female sexual partners (and who had had relationships with male and female partners before).
Though Bailey says A.I.B.'s influence hasn't unduly influenced the outcome of his studies, it's clear that they've been able to prompt researchers to think more critically about the methods they're using. As one A.I.B. board member explained, they've even gotten scientists to switch to better quality pornography, hopefully yielding more accurate sexual responses:
"They used videos where the women looked cracked out, had long press-on nails and seemed miserable," Lawrence told me. "The idea that you could accurately judge someone's bisexuality by showing them that kind of porn was really astonishing to me. If you do love and respect women, that kind of porn should repel you."
One thing that these studies have indicated accidentally is that bisexuality is more than just sexual response. Denizet-Lewis learned this first hand while working on his story: He considers himself gay, which was confirmed by a genital arousal test he took. But a pupil dilation tes put him more in the bi category. This is because, as bisexual activist Robyn Ochs explained to him, sexual orientation is more than just a "response to visual stimuli." It's about the individual people you're dealing with:
"...it's about other sensory inputs too. And it's about our emotional response. Sexuality is so complex, and I worry that valuable funding dollars are going to studies that don't actually really tell us all that much about bisexuality."
For bisexuals, any future acceptance from society at large depends on the growing number of young people who consider themselves bi and feel totally cool talking about it. While only a small portion of the population still admits to not considering bisexuality a "real" sexual orientation, there's plenty more who likely have their own prejudices and hangups about it that they don't even admit to themselves. As usual, the youth of America will set us free.
Image via mary/Flickr