Simone de Beauvoir and Myths of Bisexuality
I’m one of those people that many on the political left love to hate: although I claim to be progressive (and my voting and charity record prove it), I am not fully woke. While I concur wholeheartedly with the lofty goal of inclusiveness, I don’t agree with many woke tactics for achieving it (see my argument regarding wokeness and religion here, for example).
But one central goal of this article is to steel man wokeness, or to home in on one aspect of wokeness that I think has generally been a force for good in this flawed world: the LGBTQ movement. No, I’m not talking about the pronouns and the militancy with which they are often imposed; I’m talking about the freedom that the movement has granted to people on the spectrum like myself.
Philosophical Foundations of the LGBTQ Movement
When I first came across Simone de Beauvoir in college, she was typically taught as an addendum to the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. Indeed, she saw herself this way, explicitly denying the title of philosopher. But her views on women, as laid down in The Second Sex, aged quite well — earning her that title whether she liked it or not.
The most famous passage from that book — that women are not born, but become women — emphasizes the degree to which gender roles are socially constructed. You know the story: men are the breadwinners, dominant and stoic. Whereas women are the child bearers, passive and emotional. The main problem, de Beauvoir pointed out, is that women in particular are judged for breaking the mold. That’s why, even today, many of my female friends lament the not-so-subtle push from their parents to be married and have kids before 30 years of age.
De Beauvoir was one of many scholars who caused widespread reflection on gender roles, but she also lived her philosophy: she was bisexual and in an open relationship with Sartre. She was living proof that gender roles can be broken and, in this regard, is one of my heroes.
The unraveling of gender roles that de Beauvoir and scholars like her started has reached its fruition in the current LGBTQ movement, at least in principle. This is why I feel such solidarity with that movement, because it has given me the courage to come out recently as a bisexual, though I have known I was bisexual for over 20 years.
In the rest of this article, I will recount some of the reactions I’ve gotten to my coming out. While much of the reaction has been positive, it’s been interesting to see the remaining misunderstandings (or myths, if you will) of gender roles generally and bisexuality in particular. The rest of this article will spell out some of those myths/misunderstandings.
Myth #1: There’s No Such Thing as Gender Dysphoria
Yes, there is. After hearing well-meaning straight people discuss this issue (see Joe Rogan and Bill Maher hash it out in this podcast, for instance), I’ve come to realize that there is a phenomenological gap. It’s one thing to be told that gender dysphoria is a phenomenon in which there is a mismatch between one’s gender identity and their assigned sex, but another to feel that phenomenon from the inside.
De Beauvoir talked about the feeling of being a women versus the feeling of being a man, arguing that in some ways a woman’s body is in opposition to her career aspirations (pregnancy being an obvious example). Similarly, there is a feeling to gender dysphoria. Indeed, I knew the feeling before I knew the word, so hearing the word was one of those philosophical aha! moments: “Oh, that’s what it’s called!”
Some people with gender dysphoria become transgender adults, others become gay or bisexual adults. After experiencing dysphoria as a teen, I genuinely believed I might be gay for many years. Yet, I also seemed to be attracted to women. Like many in that position, I had an ambiguous sexual identity that could be psychologically tormenting. But by my early thirties I knew the truth: I like to play different roles, and I can fully immerse myself in each when the situation demands it.
Myth #2: Bisexuals and Gays Find Partners Differently than Straight People
This may be a myth that afflicts the older generations mostly, but I’ve still heard it. The idea is that gay males in particular go to “meat markets”, slutting themselves out. Of course, there are gay and bisexual sluts, but there are straight sluts too. Being a slut isn’t confined to one sexual orientation.
To be fair, because any diversion from heterosexuality has generally been seen as morally wrong (and still is so seen in many parts of the world), many LGBTQ folk have had to resort to small, sometimes covert communities to find a partner at all. But today in a growing number of countries, it’s different, it’s better. Yes, there are still people who believe that homosexuality and other diversions from the norm are wrong, unfortunately, but for the most part if you’re LGBTQ, you meet your partners in a pretty normal way. It’s not a meat market — unless you want it to be.
Another important point here is that my own perceptions have been shaped by gender stereotypes, just as an immigrant’s self image can be shaped by negative stereotypes of their ethnicity. I remember working with a guy in my early 20s for a year and a half before learning he was gay. I didn’t think he was gay because he had a deep voice, and generally acted like other heterosexual men I knew. I had internalized the idea that gay men act gay — in other words they blow whistles (among other things), talk with a lisp, and wear dresses.
The bottom line is this. I’ve had sexual relationships with both women and men. I’ve met men at bars, I’ve met women at bars. I’ve met men online, I’ve met women online. The process just ain’t that different.
Myth #3: Bisexuals are Just Gay People in Denial
No, we’re not. I am genuinely attracted to both men and women. This isn’t some sort of virtue signal, it’s who I am. It’s not a show. Being 40 years young and having experienced genuine relationships and attractions with both sexes is my vindication. Also, this one goes back to my phenomenological point above: there is an experiential aspect to one’s sexuality that simply can’t be denied once you’re honest with yourself. It’s the same experiential aspect of one’s sexuality that tells most people they’re heterosexual (you know what you like!).
Myth #4: If You’re LGBTQ, You Must Be Oppressed
One of my biggest beefs with the political left is that they like to speak for the oppressed, whether it’s warranted or not. And those spokespeople are often the whitest most non-oppressed progressives. As Bill Burr hilariously put it in his SNL monologue, the woke movement was only about people of color for “about 8 seconds” but then somehow “white women swung their Gucci-booted feet over the fence of oppression and stuck themselves at the front of the line”.
To be clear, I am with the left on caring about the oppressed, but speaking for them is another matter. I’m not sure how valuable it is for people outside a marginalized group to define the level of supposed oppression within that group. We all saw what happened in the 2020 election, where Trump’s share of the vote with some minority groups increased — suggesting that the progressive narrative regarding oppression of those groups was flawed, or at best incomplete.
Have I experienced oppression or discrimination as a bisexual? Yes and no. For one, I am a tall white male, so I’ve experienced a level of white male privilege that others haven’t. At the same time, my internal desires conflict with what most other white male men want and I’ve thus experienced internal conflict, as noted above. I’ve felt a lack of authenticity and feared the judgment of friends and family if they ever found out that I was attracted to men as well as women. This was no small psychological burden to bare, of course.
My point is that if you’re not part of a marginalized group, you shouldn’t be speaking for that group or making many (perhaps not any) assumptions about the experience — some of us may feel more oppressed than others, and each of us will have a different story. You don’t get to define our level of oppression, we do.