Sex-positive documentary report #6: “Bi The Way”

Clarisse Thorn's picture

In a minute I’ll review the sixth film at my sex-positive documentary film series, but first I have to say … man, the screening was unexpectedly stressful! For the first time, we simply didn’t have enough space for everyone. In a way I’m thrilled, of course, but I’m also feeling a bit overwhelmed. Previously we have simply been encouraging people to RSVP by phone (312.413.5353) in order to save a seat, but it looks like now RSVPing is effectively a requirement. If you want to attend, you probably want to RSVP by phone … or show up early and hope that someone who RSVPed flakes out! I’ve been encouraging people to RSVP in the last few invitational emails and on Facebook; since last Tuesday I’ve also emphasized the RSVP information in every other Internet venue I have control over.

It’s been suggested multiple times that we switch to a bigger screening venue. This is, however, more complicated than it sounds. One reason for that is that we have very little money for Sex+++. It’s a largely grassroots effort that’s being supported by a few awesome co-sponsors; you can help if you know any potential sex-positive co-sponsors — talk to them and tell them to talk to me!

Another issue is that we want to make sure the event is centrally located within Chicago. This is important because that way it’s maximally accessible to everyone — but it’s especially important because we’ve already printed up the next batch of posters for Sex+++, and they all say it’s at the Hull-House Museum. So, ideally, any new venue would be close enough to Hull-House that people could still make it to the film if they went to the wrong place. You might be able to help us find space if you know of any large, free (or at least cheap), centrally located Chicago movie venues and can convince them to talk to me.


Yeah! Sex+++! Last week’s documentary was “Bi The Way” — all about bisexuality!

This movie was great for soundbites! I must have written down a million quotations. Here’s a few:

+ From a bisexual woman — “I don’t really differentiate sex with men and sex with women as two different things.”

+ From a man who was talking about how bisexuals supposedly just don’t want to “make a commitment” to one sexual orientation — “It’s not fair! The rest of us have to!” (Other negative comments about bisexuals included the assertion that bisexuals are “greedy”, or that they want to “have their cake and eat it too” — whatever that means.)

+ Some kids talking about gender and whether boys can wear pink shirts — Kid #1: “Tough guys can wear pink shirts!” Kid #2: “Yeah, tough gay guys.”

+ From an African-American gentleman profiled by the film — “In the African-American community, gay is not cool. It’s like the opposite of being Black.”

+ A bisexual man talking to his two parents, and complaining about how they tried to limit his sexuality with labels — Bisexual man: “You didn’t encourage me to explore myself. To be ambiguous.” His mother: “Well, I didn’t know that was a possibility!”

The first and last quotations in particular, I think, show how the film did a good job of highlighting issues around limiting sexuality with labels. And it’s great to see a documentary taking on bisexuality as a subject in itself, especially some of the stereotypes surrounding bisexuality. (Speaking of stereotypes, I highly recommend that everyone check out Violet Blue’s recent description of a brainstorming session on assumptions about various sexual orientations.)

I feel so bewildered by some of these stereotypes — I have no idea how to respond to them, much less deconstruct them. The “it’s not fair” and “greedy” ones, in particular, get to me. Only a culture as sex-negative as America could come up with something so ridiculous. I’ve spent the last ten whole minutes trying to articulate the assumptions behind a statement as insane as “bisexuals just want to have their cake and eat it too” (and I’m never getting that ten minutes back). The closest I can come up with is:
Assumption A: For the good of society, there is a tacit social contract imposing limits around sexuality. Society can expand its definitions to handle people who want to have sex with members of their own gender, but only as long as they impose their own limits on sexuality. Bisexuals ignore all limits for the sake of their own pleasure, and that’s selfish.
Assumption B: Sexual experimentation is bad.
Assumption C: People have complete control over who they’re sexually attracted to.

I’m not sure I’m getting to the heart of the insanity, but I think Assumptions A-C are definitely caught up in those statements. And of course, I think all those assumptions are terribly damaging! So, thanks to “Bi The Way” for bringing those issues to the surface.

“Bi The Way” frustrated me in several ways, though. One is that the documentary doesn’t really differentiate between being bisexual and being non-monogamous; it brings up non-monogamy in a way that implies an automatic association between bisexuality and non-monogamy, as if one leads to the other. There’s a stereotype that all bisexual people are non-monogamous or — more negatively — cheaters, and I feel like the film ended up reinforcing that stereotype … which is ironic, considering that it set out to debunk them.

Furthermore, I think it’s good practice for media about different kinds of alternative sexuality to differentiate between those types of alternative sexuality. There are lots of interesting models of consensual non-monogamy out there, none of which “Bi The Way” addressed or even named — which means that anyone interested in consensual non-monogamy who attends the documentary might come away more confused than ever. Such an attendee wouldn’t even know what words to plug into Google. (Want to learn more about different models of consensual non-monogamy, such as swinging or polyamory? Check out my review of polyamory documentary we showed at Sex+++, “When Two Won’t Do”!)

Another concept that was talked around, rather than addressed specifically, is one I consider really important: gender and bisexuality. One researcher interviewed in the documentary mentioned that (apparently) it used to be considered relatively normal for men to experiment with bisexuality in their youth, but not women; now, she asserted, it’s considered relatively normal for women to experiment with bisexuality in their youth, but not men. The documentary also pointed out various appearances of female bisexuality in the media — for instance, the famous (or infamous) Britney/Madonna/Christina kiss — but not much more than that.

The Ultimates, a swinger couple that attends most Sex+++ screenings, noted during the post-film discussion that women in the swinger scene are encouraged to be bi while men are encouraged to be heterosexual. Other audience members agreed that there’s more stigma against bi men than bi women. I don’t personally have much experience with this, but I can attest that I know a lot more heteroflexible women than heteroflexible men. I’m also willing to assert that — although female sexuality generally carries higher stigma than male — within very liberal and alternative sexuality circles, women have more social space to experiment sexually than men. Still, I have no studies or “evidence” to back up that assertion, just my own experience. It would have been nice to see more on that in “Bi The Way”.

A few people I spoke to mentioned that they felt bothered by how “Bi The Way” also brought up both Black gay culture and conservative religious LGBTQ issues, but without going into any depth. Fortunately, Sex+++ be screening documentaries specifically on those two topics: “On The Downlow” on June 23rd (Black gay culture), and “Equality U” on August 25th (Christian LGBTQ activism). (You can see the full Sex+++ calendar by clicking here.)

Overall, though, I was pleased to screen “Bi The Way” and encourage larger specific discussion about bisexuality in itself (rather than simply folding it into the “LGBTQ issues” umbrella, which happens too often).

Posted at Clarisse Thorn

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