(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

More thinking on bisexuality

My suggestion that the "B" in LGBTQ implies legalizing plural marriage got angry replies


Cary Tennis
April 18, 2013 4:00AM (UTC)

Dear Reader,

In response to a recent column about a bisexual woman who was wondering if she should marry, some people wrote angrily to say that one does not have to want to be in a plural marriage to be bisexual. That makes sense. They said that they were bisexual but happy in a committed monogamous relationship. That too sounds reasonable. Some claimed to have been hurt or insulted by my recent words about bisexuality. So I reexamined what I wrote.

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I want to be kind and I want to be fair and want to admit that I can make mistakes. I hurt some people and I am sorry. I erred in not speaking to enough bisexual people to understand the sensitivity of the issue. I got swept away in the pure logic of it. For that I am sorry.

But let me state affirmatively what underlies my thinking. People need to make choices based on who they really are. In order to do that they must have legal choices that suit who they are.

I am for maximum human freedom under the law. If being lesbian means one wants the right to be partners with women, and being gay means one wants the right to be partners with men, what does being bisexual mean if not that one wants the right to be partners with both sexes? Does that mean just one at a time? Doesn't that mean either serially or concurrently as one chooses? Is there an unspoken rule there that says not concurrently but only serially? I am just looking at the logic of it.

Sometimes it is politically unwise to acknowledge the obvious. But I am in that sense a radical thinker and not an activist. I am not interested in strategy. I am a lucky, free person, blessed with a free, widely read platform here on the Internet, committed to the free exchange of ideas.

There may be a politically strategic reason that in this period of public attitude adjustment bisexual people do not want to raise the logical implications of their status. The specter of polyamory and plural marriage makes the public a little crazy.

But I want history to move toward maximum human freedom under the law.

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I am teachable. But I remember the cautionary liberals of the 1960s who did not want to make waves. I remember the "go slow" integrationists of that earlier period who did not want to make waves. There are times when we must all examine our own thinking -- not just those on the "wrong" side but those who believe themselves to be on the "right" side. Everyone. Even when our feelings are hurt. Right now, we are seeing an unprecedented leap forward for sexual freedom. Ought we not take advantage of this moment and try to see the logic of the situation clearly?

In a private sense, one's identity may shift. But one's public identity must be seen as a constant. Otherwise the law can have no effect. If identity is not a constant then it has no meaning under the law. Gaining rights would have no meaning. One can of course be bisexual and make the choice to marry monogamously. But must one? Why?

It seems only logical that a bisexual person is capable of having equal and simultaneously deep, committed relationships with more than one person, because one's identity as bisexual is constant; it is not a changing thing, where one is one day heterosexual and the next day homosexual. If it were that then a third term would be needed. It would lead to absurdity if under the law anyone could change one's status from day to day. There is a spectrum of bisexuality in which some people are only mildly so. But should only the mildly bisexual be protected under the law? What kind of law would that be, that only protected people who were mildly this or mildly that?

If all people are to be protected fully under the law and allowed to seek their free and happy destinies under the law then bisexuals should be allowed to be married to both a person of their gender and a person of the opposite gender at the same time. That just makes sense. It places no affirmative burden on a bisexual. All it says is that there is, in your very being, a recognized, legal rationale for your choices.

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What am I missing here?

Before closing I also want to mention my own status as a married heterosexual white man nearing the age of 60. Is there something prejudicial in my own status, some reason that I cannot possibly know anything about this issue because, even though I have lived in San Francisco for 35 years I am not avowedly gay or lesbian or bisexual? It is true that my close friends of long acquaintance are pretty much like me. But the beauty of logic is that it can transcend ethnic and gender identity. The beauty of a law that seeks maximum human freedom is that it need not be rooted in personality or race. It can stand above that and endure because it is founded in logic that anyone can see.

For instance, we all agree that no people should be slaves. We don't say only black people from Africa should not be slaves. No people should be slaves. Similarly, no people should be forced to live lives that contradict their deepest nature. Not just certain people. No people.

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Laws should reflect that ideal. I am for maximum human freedom under the law.


Cary Tennis

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