Friday, July 13, 2012

An Interview With Dr. Lisa Diamond

The following was posted in the "Huffington Post in May. Though it speaks about bisexuality as it applies to women, I felt it was well worth reprinting in this blog. Dr. Diamond certainly has the credentials to speak on bisexuality. She says that her next project is to devote her time to studying male bisexuality. I can hardly wait to read her conclusions. I suspect that many of the things she says about bisexuality in the post below will pertain to men. Some of the things she points out for female bisexuals will pertain more to men in my opinion. In the interview below I have added emphasis by adding red and blue font. I also added the illustrations.

The Doctor Is Out... And Outspoken: An Interview With Dr. Lisa Diamond

Posted: 05/15/2012 4:04 pm

When Dr. Lisa Diamond gave a keynote speech at the recent BECAUSE conference, I just had to sit up and listen. As whipsmart as she is unapologetically outspoken, this University of Utah psychology professorhas her finger on the pulse of human sexuality research -- and the attention of homophobic and biphobic conservatives who try to twist her findings to further their own agenda. She's the last person who's going to take that lying down.

Dr. Diamond isn't just the author of the groundbreaking book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire. She's also a lesbian, a self-identified ally to the bi community, and a social scientist who declares that bisexuals "represent the vast majority of individuals with same-sex attractions" and are the norm in the LGB (lesbian, gay, bi) population!
In this two-part interview I got a chance to learn more about Dr. Diamond's research, her precedent-setting commitment to the truth about bisexual lives and lesbian desires, and how she stands up to bigots at the federal level. Here is part one:
In your keynote speech at BECAUSE, you mentioned that many of the bisexual women and women with fluid sexual identities and behaviors in your longitudinal study (for the bookSexual Fluidity) said things like, "You shouldn't include me; my story is too unusual; I'll skew your data," even though their experiences are actually more common than those of lesbian-identified women who have a very fixed/static sexual history. How did you respond to these women when they said things like that?
I found it really heartbreaking when women would say that, because it demonstrated just how influential our "wacked" scientific models of sexuality really were. Our false, overly deterministic, incorrect understandings of "normal" same-sex sexuality were contributing to these women's distress. That really sensitized me to the fact that, as a scientist, I had an obligation to disseminate my findings to the broader queer community, so that women like this would no longer feel so "different."
In your speech at BECAUSE, I heard you identify as an ally to the bisexual community. Tell me what inspired you to become a bi ally.
You know it's honestly never something that I consciously thought about or ever made a decision about; for me it's just a natural outgrowth of two different things.

First, my long-standing involvement in the queer community, stretching back to my college days, and my awareness of how many people have been chronically underrepresented and marginalized in that community (most notably ethnic minorities, bisexuals, and trans individuals).

But second, and perhaps more importantly, has been my own research on sexual identity and orientation over the past 15 years. I have become increasingly amazed and outraged at the degree to which bisexuals (and I am using that term broadly here to include individuals who identify as bisexual as well as individuals who might not identify as bisexual, but who experience sexual attractions to both men and women) have been utterly ignored by social scientists, despite the fact that they represent the vast majority of individuals with same-sex attractions.

I still don't quite understand why other scientists aren't as disturbed by this as I am.

I guess it's a testament to the pernicious and pervasive influence of biphobia in our culture. So my experiences as a scientist have made me more aware of, and concerned about, the marginalization of bisexuality more generally. And over the years, as I have taught various courses on sexuality and spoken about sexuality at conferences and various settings, I have spoken to so many women and men who confess to me that they feel different and weird and abnormal because of their bisexual attractions. These are individuals who feel just as marginalized by the queer community as they do by the straight community, and that literally breaks my heart.

I feel that psychologists have a duty to get the message out there, to these individuals and to the teachers and therapists and educators who might encounter them, that bisexual patterns of attraction are absolutely normal and, in fact, common!
In your many years of research on women's sexuality, what has come as the biggest surprise?
I suppose it would have to be the transformative impact of specific relationships. Early on, when I first started my research, some of the women that I interviewed would say things like, "Oh, I never knew that I was really attracted to women until I became close friends with one particular woman, and I fell in love with her..." In my naïveté, I sort of discounted these stories as evidence of repression (which was pretty common at that time).

As the years went by and I would re-interview these women, and as I would talk to lesbian-identified women who would say things like, "Wow, I was never really attracted to men, but now I sort of feel sexually attracted to my best male friend!" I began to realize that there was something really profound going on within these relationships, and that deep emotional attachments had the power to really change one's entire way of experiencing desire.
It took me a while to really come to grips with this, scientifically; I kept rereading the interview transcripts, trying to interpret them within the conventional models of sexuality that were available at that time, and it just didn't work. I remember that there was a particular day... actually, I was on an airplane with a stack of transcripts, struggling to make sense of them, and I just put down my pen and said, "OK, I need to throw out everything I think I 'know' and just start again, and reread everything, from the beginning. And really listen this time."

The hard truth is that life is a lot more complicated than scientific models present it as being.
In your speech at the BECAUSE conference, you talked about anti-gay people from the far right using your data to argue that LBQ women shouldn't have rights related to sexual identity, because of the fluidity you've documented. What is your response?

This has been so frustrating for me, partly because I am aware that no matter how many times I endeavor to clarify what fluidity means, and what my research shows, it doesn't seem to matter: Those who are motivated to misuse my research will do so, regardless of what I say. For example, after I filed an affidavit in several of the court cases challenging DOMA, to clarify that the anti-gay marriage folks were misusing and misinterpreting my findings, the anti-gay-marriage folks filed a response to the affidavit, stating, "Dr. Diamond does not get to determine what her findings mean." I remember reading and thinking, "Huh?" On days like that I have to take a deep breath and just keep talking, keep sounding the alarm, keep standing up for scientific integrity and for basic sexual freedom.
Where do you see the future of our collective understanding of women's sexuality? As a society, are we moving forward or backward (or sideways, perhaps)?
On some days I feel that we are moving forward, on some days sideways. I am certainly delighted to see more and more visibility of same-sex sexuality in the media, more discussion of these issues, etc. At the same time my sense is that the models that are presented of sexuality continue to be unbelievably reductionistic; they are models that are decades old, and they don't reflect what we now know about the true diversity of sexual experience and expression over the life course.

I get particularly frustrated by television shows that have "bisexual episodes" in which one of the female characters ends up having some sort of sexual contact with another woman, and it's typically portrayed as being very titillating and exciting, but then the character not only goes back to men but makes some sort of declaration about how she now knows that she's really heterosexual because, hey, she tried the other side, and she still prefers men! So she's "uber-het" or something. That frustrates me because although it's certainly bringing visibility to issues of same-sex sexuality, it does so in the service ofconventional and traditional norms about heterosexuality. But in the broad sweep of things, I suppose you could argue that the net gain of such visibility is positive, and that the more we talk about same-sex sexuality, the better off we are as a culture, because we're getting further and further away from the "old days" in which individuals couldn't even encounter such ideas or individuals.

So it's a mixed bag. We're definitely making progress, but I think it's important for all of us not to treat all forms of visibility as equivalent, and we need to remain critical of the fact that in some cases visibility of same-sex sexuality is motivated not by progressivism but by the desire to make money off of providing titillating images to viewers.

What's next on the horizon for Lisa Diamond, in terms of your research?
More research on men! For years folks have been saying to me, "Wow, I wonder if there is as much fluidity among men as among women, and we simply haven't done enough research to know." And I have always said, "That's a great question! Someone needs to find out!" I assumed, early on, that someone would seize the day and start really investigating fluidity among men, but that hasn't really happened. So although the first part of my career was really focused on the distinctiveness of women's experiences, the next chapter will involve greater attention to men, and to figuring out just where the similarities and differences between women and men really are, and where they come from.
Finally, what message would you like to get out there to other bi allies and bi-allies-to-be about how to be a good ally to us bi folk?
I guess my message would be this: It is simply ridiculous, in 2012, for there to be as much marginalization of bisexuality as there continues to be, both at a mainstream community level and also at the level of scientific inquiry.

We need to wake up: Bisexuals are not the exception; they are the norm! Study after study has shown this to be the case. How much more evidence do we need?

If we really want a powerful, cohesive, empowering queer community, then every single individual who cares about sexual freedom and self-determination -- regardless of how they personally identify -- has an obligation to speak out against the pernicious biphobia that continues to distort our science and our politics. Integrity demands no less.
Jack Scott

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to see what her research comes up with next.


I deeply regret that I must reinstate the verification process for those who want to leave comments on my blog. This is due to the intolerable amount of spam that spammers are attempting to leave on the blog.

At the same time I am changing settings so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will not have to have your comments moderated. My hope is this will encourage more readers to take the time to comment. The fact is I want to read comments with those of you who disagree with me as well as those of you who agree with me. All I ask is that you keep your comments clean and non-threatening.

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Anyone can comment on what I write in this blog. Regretfully, the recent amount of spam in my email account as required that I reinstate the word verification process for comments which I personally hate.

But at the same time I have loosened the comment moderation process so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will no longer need to wait for your comment to be moderated. I'm hoping this will tempt you to take the trouble to comment.

The truth is I want respectful comments both from those who agree with me and those who do not. All I as is that you keep comments to the point, clean and non-threatenting.

I look forward to hearing from each of you.

Jack Scott