THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 51
Bisexuality Part Two
In the previous article we looked at some of the problems of definition and I suggested that bisexuality might be described as an attraction of a person to both sexes, either concurrently or consecutively. After looking at the problems of estimating numbers for bisexuals in the population, we went on to recognize that it is inadequate and incorrect to simply define the difference between a straight and a gay person on the basis of genital intimacy.
Between heterosexual people and homosexual people there is a difference in outlook - in their approach to life. It is common for a heterosexual person to simply think of a homosexual man as a heterosexual man who happens to be attracted sexually to other men. But the difference is, I suggest, far deeper. Heterosexuals – naturally enough - are accustomed to seeing everything in a heterosexual light and generally assume that that is there is no other way of looking at things. They fasten on the obvious divergence in behaviour (gay sex) and usually ignore or minimize the much deeper and more pervasive difference in outlook and approach to life. Heterosexuals comprise a large majority of the population and this attitude therefore prevails widely, and has to be challenged. Heterosexual people are perhaps now beginning to understand that homosexuals have a different approach than themselves in many areas of life.
We also noted that, partly as a consequence of the above, gay and bisexual people need to have time with their own sort – and that it is very common for heterosexuals not to recognize or understand this need.
I want to turn now to the situation where a bisexual husband has a sexual relationship with another man. In a marriage between heterosexuals where there is infidelity, one key issue is whether or not there has been sexual intercourse between the husband and a woman outside the marriage. The act of adultery signifies that the marriage vows (to keep oneself for one’s partner) have been broken.
Sometimes a wife can forgive her husband provided there has not been adultery – but once that line has been crossed by the husband, the marriage is often seen as irretrievably broken.
Why is this?
It is because the act of intercourse between a husband and wife is the most intimate shared action possible between two people, normally leading to children. For the husband to prostitute that with another woman is to betray a sacred trust.
That is not to say, of course, that the wife may not forgive her husband even when there has been adultery, and that they may both then work to mend the marriage by trying to build trust between themselves again. It is always open to the wife to say whether the act of adultery is too much for her to bear or not.
Now we come to the situation where the husband has a relationship with another man. Is that a comparable situation? It may well be comparable as regards the element of trust between the two of married people, but it certainly is not comparable as regards any physical sexual act. The two men cannot have intercourse, because of their physical makeup. No child can result from anything they can do together. What they do is not a mirror image of what takes place sexually between the husband and wife. Indeed it can be questioned whether what has happened can properly be called adultery if that word is defined as sexual intercourse by the husband with a woman other than the wife. So in one sense there is a very different situation for the wife to have to come to terms with. She may well feel that two men being close physically is not at all the same as her husband having sexual intercourse with another woman. This situation is examined more fully in the article entitled Bisexuality and the married man.
As already mentioned, there is one area where the hurt and injury to the wife may be just the same in both cases: the wife may well feel that, although what has happened between her husband and another man is not comparable to the adultery situation, nevertheless the bond of trust between them has been broken. In addition, she may have all sorts of reservations about homosexuality itself.
It may be that it is the breakdown of trust (rather than what the two men do together) that causes the wife to say that she cannot live with the situation and therefore wishes to seek some way out of the marriage. If the wife is averse to the very idea of homosexuality, then this too may lead her to conclude that she cannot continue to live with a man so involved.
Of course, these comments grossly oversimplify the real situation. Obviously the attitudes of the husband and the wife are crucial to the whole situation. Do they still love each other? Are they Christian? Can the wife recognize what caused her husband to have this relationship with the other man? What are the attitudes of the husband and wife to homosexuality? These are only a few of the relevant questions.
What I am trying to point out is that it is a grave mistake to equate anal penetration – if that is what the men do – with adultery between a married partner and some person of the opposite sex.
I am not saying that such an act is or is not a sin, or that it is worse – or better – than something else. I am not commenting on what should or should not happen in the marriage. I am not here making any moral evaluation. All I am saying is that we should not automatically equate the physical intimacy between two men with adultery between a man and a woman.
Why is this important?
If one maintains, as I do, that marriage is the word we use – and have used since the dawn of time in one form or another - for the relationship between two people of the opposite sex, and that two people of the same sex who commit to each other are not ‘married’ (although of course they may be in a partnership that is entirely parallel with marriage in every other way and, possibly, recognised legally and religiously), then we must equally say that what two men get up to if they are sexually intimate is not to be called by the same name as intercourse between a husband and another woman – i.e. adultery.
I have laboured this point at some length because I now want to suggest that if a husband or wife is bisexual, they may well enter into a deep relationship with someone of the same sex in addition to their marriage. Far from being adulterous, that relationship might not be a betrayal of the marriage vows, and might be the salvation of the marriage because it enables the bisexual partner to maintain the marriage. The relationship, between the two men, might even extend to some degree of sexual intimacy - but it may be possible for an understanding wife to recognize that the relationship is a necessary relationship for her bisexual husband. It is not ‘adultery’ – it needs another name - and may not necessarily be the trigger for the break up of the marriage. Equally of course it would apply where the wife is a lesbian. Again, please note that I am not saying that every bisexual man needs a deep physical relationship with another man in order to remain married to a woman he loves.
In the circumstances outlined above, a bisexual man may be able to go on loving his wife as fully as before, and be as committed to her as before, but find the answer to his bisexual needs by a relationship outside the marriage. I recognise that at some later stage we must discuss what degree of ‘need’ exists for a bisexual husband.
The key issue, as with the ordinary marriage, is the degree of love and trust between the husband and wife. Can they commit to each other afresh and work it out over the coming years?
It seems to me that in an ideal world a marriage between a heterosexual woman and a bisexual man (or vice versa) will allow for those friendships for the husband that will enable him to maintain the primacy of his love for his wife. The wife will not become jealous because she will recognize that her bisexual husband needs some form of gay contact in view of his bisexuality. Such a contact will not diminish in any way his love and commitment to his wife.
You may disagree with what I am suggesting here, and you may think it unworkable. But I do know of marriages where this is happening. The wife has overcome her fear of a break up and recognized her bisexual husband’s needs for deep male friendships. Sometimes she is open in her acceptance, in other cases she pretends to be ignorant of what is happening. Either way, she has recognised that her husband loves her and that she is first in his life.
Obviously, all these issues are affected by the ideas and beliefs of the parties involved. There is one basic aspect which it is important to now explore, and that is what they regard as the purpose of the sexual instinct.
This question is sometimes phrased ‘Why did God invent sex as part of our makeup?’ On the one side there is the view that sex is purely for creating children. It is made pleasurable (insofar as pleasure is taken by the two participants) in order to lead human beings down the road to parenthood. The other view sees sex as having a dual purpose: to make children but also to give pleasure, and both those objectives are seen as equally and independently valid and important. There are many intermediate viewpoints.
If you believe that sex is just to procreate, then the pleasure and joy that sex gives is an incidental. If you believe that God wants to give joy and pleasure to human beings through sex irrespective of having children, then your attitude to sex will be rather different.
The two views find expression in the practice of the various churches. Some churches hold that nothing should be used to stop the conceiving of babies – the God-given purpose of sex as they see it – and consequently any means of contraception are seen as wrong. Other churches hold the view that enjoying sex is a gift to humans – and, therefore, they bless the use of contraception. It is obvious that there is a radical divergence of views here. This makes quite a difference when considering the subject of sex between gay people.
My personal belief is that sex is given us by a loving God as part of an opportunity to love another person with our whole selves. Obviously the making of babies is very important, and it is part of God’s intention that the new life should be surrounded by love from its inception. But I don’t believe that God wants us to restrict physical love just to couples married in the Western Christian ceremony. I believe, for example, that the physical enjoyment in the sexual area by two committed and loving gay people is perfectly valid, and in no sense a perversion or sin. That does not mean a free for all sexually! Nor does it condone irresponsibility or selfishness. I am making no comment at this point about the obvious importance of the sanctity of marriage and allied matters. That must await another article!
In the next article we must move on to the debate within the church and assess the place and role of the bisexual therein.