Mar 26

“Kissing Jessica Stein”: A Film That Depicts Sexual Fluidity

One film I can recommend that depicts themes regarding sexual fluidity (see yesterday’s post on this topic) is romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein (2001). As aptly described by IMDB: “A woman searching for the perfect man instead discovers the perfect woman.”

Although neither has been sexually involved with a woman previously, Helen (Heather Juergensen) identifies as bisexual and is the more adventurous one, while the previously “straight” Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) faces more challenges as their relationship progresses.

You might think therapy would help Jessica—but here’s a salient and telling snippet related to her use of it:

Helen: What does your therapist say about all of this?

Jessica: Oh, I could never tell my therapist.

Helen: Why not?

Jessica: Because it’s private.

Watch the Kissing Jessica Stein trailer below:

A significant snag along the way for Jessica is her fear of telling her mom (Tovah Feldshuh) whom it is that she’s dating. One of the highlights of the movie, actually, is the kind of surprising way her mom does deal with it.

One of the lowlights (in terms of emotional response) for many is the realization by Helen that the relationship comes to mean different things to each of the two women. After Ellen reviewer Sarah Warn posits that viewers who accept sexual fluidity as a valid phenomenon will perceive this turning point differently than others.

Carrie NelsonBitch Flicks, also appreciates how sexual fluidity is portrayed. She states, “Kissing Jessica Stein is flawed, but its sincerity and its willingness to address relationships between non-monosexual women keeps me coming back to it, over and over.”

On the other hand, not everyone can tolerate the fluidity. As one of the film’s creators, Heather Juergensen, has stated (Women’s ENews), “On the extreme right and the extreme left there seems to be kind of a ‘gay means this and straight means this,’” Juergensen says. “There’s less of an acceptance of fluidity certainly and even just exploring. It might be that the questioning aspect of that community is the ‘new gay,’ if you will–the new oppressed sub-segment.”

Mar 25

“Sexual Fluidity” By Lisa Diamond: New Thoughts About Identity

It would be an amazing thing if a thirteen year old went into health class was told, “you are at the beginning of an incredible journey. I’m going to give you some tools and strategies for figuring out what you want and how to get it. But you are in the beginning of an adventure and it’s going to be great!” That would be a really profound transformation. Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity

Is sexual fluidity pertinent to your life?  Might be, particularly if you’re female.

Psychology professor Lisa M. Diamond, PhD, has researched and written the book on this topic. It’s called Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire (2008). “Probably the most surprising finding of the study was how often women changed the way that they thought about their sexual identity over time,” she told Big Think. Rather than stability of identity, the norm was changeability of identity, often back and forth.

Sexuality counselor Ian Kerner lists the three main characteristics Diamond says are part of sexual fluidity:

– Non-exclusivity in attractions: can find either gender sexually attractive
– Changes in attractions: can suddenly find a man or woman sexually attractive after having been in a long-term relationship with the other
– Attraction to the person, not the gender

Although women aren’t alone in this, men are thought to have less of this capacity. More research is needed on this, though.

A basic breakdown of her argument, as described by the book publisher:

…(F)or some women, love and desire are not rigidly heterosexual or homosexual but fluid, changing as women move through the stages of life, various social groups, and, most important, different love relationships. This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait. But that view is based on research conducted almost entirely on men. Diamond is the first to study a large group of women over time. She has tracked one hundred women for more than ten years as they have emerged from adolescence into adulthood. She summarizes their experiences and reviews research ranging from the psychology of love to the biology of sex differences. 

Publishers Weekly notes that Diamond admits her sample wasn’t fully representative. This doesn’t mean, though, that her findings lack substance.

Sexual fluidity does not equal bisexuality, though there can be overlap. Diamond doesn’t even use the word “bisexual” because of the difficulty defining it in a way that is widely accepted and understood. She uses instead the term “non-exclusive attractions.”

It’s important to note here that sexual identity is a self-defined construct. Just as there are those who would identify as heterosexual or homosexual non-fluidly, there are those who would identify as bisexual non-fluidly. Alternatively, as was found by Diamond, many people with any of these three orientations might find themselves on the fluid spectrum.

There are so many possibilities. So, why label at all? Why not just be open to the journey? This is a question younger people in general are more likely to ask than older ones. At least figuratively speaking, give them boxes to check and they’ll often ignore them, make up their own, or show disdain.

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, author of The New Gay Teenager: “Diamond challenges both traditionalists and radicals—if you want to understand female sexuality, listen to what women say.”

Or watch a current film about sexual fluidity, Kissing Jessica Stein.

Oct 14

LGBT Myths: New Book “You Can Tell Just By Looking”

Years ago I regularly taught workshops on LGBT-related issues to other mental health professionals. My usual intro involved tackling a list of 20 common LGBT myths, and the first was, Gay males are readily identifiable by their effeminate mannerisms, high-pitched voices, and talents in the arts.

Which now seems like a grandparent to the title of the new LGBT myths book by Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico: You Can Tell Just By Looking.”

My own rebuttal to that myth included citing the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, which had found that only 15% of males and 5% of females are stereotypically gay or lesbian. Although I haven’t read the aforementioned book (subtitled And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People) the non-myth truth is clear: you in fact cannot often tell just by looking (or hearing).

Another myth is the “born that way” controversy, previously covered in my post “Born Gay—Or Not.”

The cousin to this on my LGBT myths list was, Everyone is born heterosexual, but each of the following factors can cause homosexuality: having a domineering mother and passive father, seduction by older homosexuals during childhood, having homosexual parents, hormonal imbalance, or incest. The two main points I’d make: there’s no conclusive proof about the causation of any sexual orientation; and if you want to show acceptance, there’s no need to know anyway. Still true today.

In The Huffington Post, Christopher Rudolph has provided other LGBT myths from You Can Tell Just By Looking. The following one mirrors another from my old list: There’s no such thing as a gay or trans child. The fact: It is possible, even likely, that even young children can be aware of their sexual desires, as well as their gender identity. This possibility would be better understood if we encouraged children to speak openly about their desires and bodily experiences — and actually listened to what they have to say.

Several others from the book:

  • Myth: Most Homophobes Are Repressed HomosexualsFact: Do all white racists secretly want to be black? Of course not. Many factors larger than the individual can make a person feel uncomfortable around those who are or seem different. It’s more accurate to address how a combination of prejudice and power perpetuates antigay violence rather than to isolate any one factor.
  • Myth: LGBT Parents Are Bad For Children. Fact: Overwhelmingly, national psychological and social-work professional groups have declared that LGBT parents do no harm to children. Good parenting does not rise and fall on the sexual or gender identity of a parent. What matters for children is that their parent or parents offer love, support, and understanding.
  • Myth: All Religions Condemn Homosexuality. Fact: This is absurd on the face of it; religions are so varied and nuanced in their belief systems and practices that it is impossible to claim they all hold any single belief. This myth is primarily promoted by conservative Christian opponents of homosexuality as a political attack on same-sex marriage.

Although most therapists today would know, I hope, that the statements on my workshop list are all false and why—for example, that homosexuality is not deemed a mental disorder, that conversion therapy is a crock, and that there other ways for couples to have kids than to marry heterosexually—believe it or not, many didn’t know these things in the 80’s and 90’s.

And many readers won’t know all the info You Can Tell… now has to offer. It’s unfortunate but true that a book such as thisup to date in its reflection of current assumptions and misunderstandings the general public may have, is still necessary and valuable today.

Jul 09

Bisexuality–“Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution” and More

Bisexuality is often neglected despite its place in the LGBTQ acronym. This post will present a few notable informational resources.

I. Fritz Klein’s The Bisexual Option and The American Institute of Bisexuality

My first exposure to quality writing on bisexuality was The Bisexual Option (1978) by the founder of The American Institute of Bisexuality, psychiatrist Fritz Klein (1932-2006). Since then, many of my clients have used his Klein Grid, a way to conceptualize one’s own sexual orientation by doing a self-assessment on seven different components of identity/orientation.

II. Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution

The newest book to try to put to rest some distorted notions about bisexuality is activist Shiri Eisner‘s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (2013).

Selected Reviews

Kyle Schickner, Bi Activist/Filmmaker: “Brilliant! I have been waiting twenty years for a book like this. It should be required reading for any person even considering entering the dialogue about where the ‘B’ fits in the LGBT world. Let the revolution begin.”

Meg-John Barker: “This is the most innovative and exciting book to be published on bisexuality in many years, and one which will move work in this area forward in many vital ways…Throughout the book Eisner challenges existing practices, such as biphobia and ‘mythbusting’ of bisexual stereotypes, and puts forward intriguing and valuable alternatives. The book will be helpful far beyond the bisexual movement itself and is a must-read for feminists, LBG&T workers, critical race and queer theorists and activists particularly.”

William E. Burleson, author of Bi America: Myths, Truths, and Struggles of an Invisible Community“Shiri Eisner unpacks bisexuality and the bisexual experience, challenging ‘monosexism’ privilege in a refreshing, clear, unwavering voice. But, instead of the usual narratives of bi activism, Eisner brings us a global, “radical” vision, recognizing the seemingly endless battle for mere acknowledgement as whole people, while taking us further—toward a ‘bi revolution.’ Make no mistake: Shiri Eisner offers us more than a fresh voice for a new generation of bi activism; Eisner offers us all a call to action.”

Monosexism, by the way (and I had to look this up myself) refers to the (highly disputable) position/belief that sexual orientation is an either/or: i.e., either you’re heterosexual or you’re homosexual.

III. Therapy with Bisexual Clients: “The Bisexual Experience”

The trailer below introduces an educational video created by psychotherapy.net about therapy with bisexual clients. A main theme in this snippet is the difficulty of having one’s bisexual identity affirmed by others.