The man’s name is Nyle DiMarco, and he describes himself as “sexually fluid.” His picture and the article about him—he’s worth reading about—appeared in Towleroad this week. What is interesting about him is the idea of someone being sexually fluid. What does that mean? Are we all sexually fluid? Is this what Kinsey was talking about when he described his “continuum?”
Five days ago, the Daily Beast published an article on a study in Psychological Science in which the researchers conclude that “the line between these two groups [gay and straight] was not completely impermeable, but it was still clear.” I take it that this means that some people are gay and some people are straight and that that doesn’t change for individuals. I’m gay, and I’m always going to be gay, is what they mean, I think. Except that I lived in a heterosexual marriage for almost twenty years. So, where is the line for me?
There is much that is disturbing about this that seems to beg for comment. I believe what the researchers in the PS study did was to take a snapshot of several score thousands of subjects, and at the moment of the snapshot, there is a clear line between this behavior and that behavior. I think that ordinary observation would lead one to this conclusion. We don’t need scientists to tell us that a man having sex with another man appears on a datachart in a different place from a man having sex with a women. If, however, you take a second snapshot of the same population, would one of the subjects of the first study have changed his position relative to the “clear line?” What would become of the line if something were to make possible a person’s move from one side of the line to another? What if we’re not talking about one study participant, but about hundreds of thousands of study participants. What about the untold numbers of men who might otherwise have been screwing men who, because of societal pressure—losing their job, going to jail, being castrated—had to be content only with having sex with women?
The words, of course, are at fault. We’re tipped off to this by this comment made by one of the researchers: “Three percent of men and 2.7 percent of women in [their] sample were not heterosexual (gay, lesbian, or bisexual). The rest were straight.” Wait. What the researcher needed to say was that at that precise moment of the taking of the data, the rest were straight. What they did was “straight.” And they stayed straight for how long? That is, for this dataset, there was a clear line which lasted just as long as—uh, how long?—until the next snapshot is taken, at which point the clear line has to be redrawn.
This isn’t very helpful. Kinsey’s seven-point continuum is a place where we can put the data from all the people, but it makes no pretense at telling us that there is a line between my behavior—like that of hundreds of thousands of men in my generation—when I am in bed with a women and my behavior when I am in bed with a man. A man I know, deeply puzzled when I was telling him all this, then said, “But weren’t you bi-sexual during all that?” Well, no. I was always totally and only into men. I got married for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with my genitals—pleasing my parents, for one thing, pleasing her another (she’s a wonderful person), staying out of jail—and the words our culture ordinarily uses to describe what is going on with us sexually, that is, gay and straight, completely fail us at describing what we are and what we’re doing—and particularly, what we’re going to be doing tomorrow, and, of course, what we’re thinking about while we’re doing it.
I call myself gay because it is easy, and because I am intellectually lazy a lot of the time, and because it is a kind of shorthand which explains the fact that I am in love, deeply, and apparently permanently, with a beautiful man, and because when I walk down the streets of Boston, it is the men I notice, not the women. And because it is a real chore to have to take time out to sit down with someone and to explain the whole history of my sex life to a person who usually isn’t much interested. I don’t think there is a bright clear line between me and people who are closely related to me who might be thought to be on the other side. Nor do I think that, at one point in my life, I was straight and now I am gay. But I do think that, given the right stimulus or the right pressure, and the right duration, I could do almost anything.
Years of observation and reading have led me to believe that Kinsey’s continuum is closer to my reality than any construction which divides us all into gay or straight. As for Nyle, he seems to do very well for himself. As the link to Towleroad attests, he is deaf and communicates with ASL, and, as the picture attests, he is beautiful, and I think it is terrific that he feels he can call himself anything he wants to. This is what the future is going to look like, and it has no clear bright lines in it, either.