There are few questions in the LGBT community as controversial as “who is a bisexual.” Gays and lesbians are often as suspicious of bisexuality as heterosexuals and bisexuals insist it is more common than people assume, but maybe not as common as some people would suggest.
Which leads us, oddly, to Ted Haggard who has come out as a bisexual . . . sort of. In an interview with Kevin Roose for Gentleman’s Quarterly, Haggard says that he would be bisexual if he was 21, but then suggests that he continues to suppress his sexual attraction to men.
For the first time since we’ve met, Ted isn’t looking directly at me. “Here’s where I really am on this issue,” he half whispers. “I think that probably, if I were 21 in this society, I would identify myself as a bisexual.” After a weekend of Ted trying to convince me of his unambiguous devotion to his wife and kids, I’m at first too surprised to say anything.
“So why not now?” I ask finally.
“Because, Kevin, I’m 54, with children, with a belief system, and I can have enforced boundaries in my life. Just like you’re a heterosexual but you don’t have sex with every woman that you’re attracted to, so I can be who I am and exclusively have sex with my wife and be perfectly satisfied.”
“But what does it have to do with being 54?”
“Life!” he says. “We live an ordinary life.”
It’s the most intimate exchange we’ve had, and the confession strikes me first as sad, then as nakedly honest, the kind of thing I kept wishing he would say to Oprah or Larry King or any of the other people who have demanded explanations of his muddled sexuality. In a way, hearing Ted talk about his self-imposed boundaries makes it easier to understand how he can seem so fulfilled with his new, cleaned-up life. These days what Ted craves is not total sexual satisfaction but exactly the things he used to have—a church, a loving wife, camping trips with his boys—and getting those things back will require amputating part of who he is and what he might, at some point, have wanted.
Haggard acknowledges that he masturbated to gay and straight porn, but remains ambiguous about his alleged sexual relationship with a male prostitute. So is he bisexual? Well, that’s the million dollar question. It’s hard to know what to believe about Haggard. Is he like a man on the DL who describes himself as bisexual as a cover or lack of self-awareness? What is his definition of a bisexual?
As the Haggard story continues to be discussed, journalists should consider taking a look at the BWA media guide put out by the Bi Writers Association. It has a good discussion of what bisexuality is and some interesting case studies (Larry Craig and Tila Tequila) on how the media deals with the issue of sexual identity.
In the end, Haggard is an enigma and something of a chameleon. I’m not sure whether I would describe him as bisexual or gay or straight if I was forced to pin it down in an article. What we know is what he says: he has sexual attractions to men and women, has sought sexual gratification from both gay and straight porn, and that he is suppressing certain urges because he loves his wife and wants a certain life. Does that make him bisexual?