While Zoomer (Gen Z) and millennial young adults are increasingly rejecting traditional sexual labels, Ritch C. Savin-Williams explores the topic of bisexuality in his newest book BI: Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Genderqueer Youth.
Savin-Willams is a professor emeritus of developmental psychology at Cornell University. He is also a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice specializing in identity, relationship and family issues among sexual-minority young adults, and serves on numerous professional review boards.
He has previously served as an expert witness on same-sex marriage, gay adoption and Boy Scout court cases; and a consultant for MTV, 20/20, the Oprah Winfrey Show,and CNN.
Through work on his previous books, Savin-Willamswho earned a Ph.D. in human development from the University of Chicago, where he studied sex differences in dominance hierarchy formation at summer campconducted more than 300 in-depth interviews with young men and women, explaining, the process led him to radically revise what he thought he knew about young adults who are neither gay nor lesbian. His first effort, he added, was writing about the sexual identities he knew the least about; those who identified as "mostly straight" or "mostly gay."
"As they talked to me, I was struck by the realization that these individuals are bisexual because they have sexual and romantic attractions to multiple sexes," Savin-Willams, wrote in his newest book. "This fact should qualify them as legit bisexuals, and yet in our surveys and popular literature, they disappeared, evaporated, and, as we now call it, were canceled. I then went on a three-year odyssey of reading everything I could find on bisexualityand now, the present moment."
BI: Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Genderqueer Youth is Savin-Willams' tenth book, which was released Sept. 23Bisexual Visibility Day. He states in the book's preface "many young people experience a complex, nuanced existence with multiple sexual and romantic attractions and gender expressions, which are seldom static, but fluctuate over their life."
Savin-Williams, who is gay, credits young people with the prevalence of innovative ideas about sexuality and gender.
"Yet, there is a limited core of social and behavioral scientists who are listening to young people express their substantially complicated understandings of their sexual, romantic, and gender selves," Savin-Williams writes. "This book focuses on bisexuality, which I believe necessarily includes sexual, romantic, and gender fluidity; pansexuality; genderqueer and gender nonbinary identities; and a host of other ways of experiencing and describing sexual, romantic, and gender aspects of the self."
In doing the work for this book, Savin-Willams listened to the accounts of 69 young adults (most of whom were in college at the time of the interview) who participated in one of three studies that focused on the spectrum of sexualities and genders. In the book, Savin-Willams wrote that each of the Millennials and Zoomers agreed to an "in-depth interview about their sexual and romantic development from their first memories to the present and to their projected futures."
"The interview process followed the historian and broadcaster Stud Terkel's advice to throw out the intransigent protocol and ask open-ended questions, not as an inquisition but as an explanation…" Savin-Willams wrote. "Topics covered were broad, and then I followed where the youths took me. What the youths frequently shared was having an assortment of sexual and romantic attractions, a mixture of sex and romance that did not always correspond to their attractions, and a search for an identity that made sensemaybe bisexual, trysexual, pansexual, fluid, unsure, genderqueer, gender nonbinary, questioning, or unlabeled. Most were in college at the time of the interview, though not necessarily at the school where I teach."
In an interview with Windy City Times, he said part of his goal was to put all the known information about bisexuality in one place. Describing this was not meant to be a straightforward research book, he was not focused on theory alone, but on what can actually be described from actual life experience.
"I knew about non-straight youths, including bisexuals, but the available information was primarily about bisexual women and not men," Savin-Willams wrote, adding that bisexuality has been referred to by many as "an in-between stage," and ultimately called not real.
"Clearly the most important thing to me is that we get the stories of real-life experiences of young people," said Savin-Willams in the interview.
BI draws on interviews with bisexual youth from a range of racial, ethnic, and social class groups. From these featured interviews, he reveals to audiences how bisexual people define their own sexual orientation and experiences in their own words.
The author addressed particular questions applied to bisexuality, including: Why do more individuals have bisexual feelings or behavior than identify as bisexual? How much attraction or sex with each sex is necessary to be bisexual? Is a straight woman or man with occasional sex or crushes on the same gender classified as bisexual? Can one have bisexual sex but not bisexual romance, or vice versa? Is bisexuality advantageous from an evolutionary perspective? Does bisexuality differ depending on race, ethnicity, social class, and geography? Are there different types of bisexuals, some more distressed or healthier than others? If one is bisexual now, does that mean one will be bisexual in the future? Are we entering a post-identity era?
"That's where the stories hopefully amplify some of that qualitative aspect of their lives," Savin-Willams explained to WCT. "I wanted to make sure that this was research-based but, at the same time, hopefully, the best I could, amplify some of the real-life experiences that we weren't getting in our research so much. One of the big things was this whole thing of how many bisexuals are there and the real key here for me is that we get counts of 3-5 percent of the population, that's from these large national sorts of surveys. But when we actually begin to look at those counts carefully, what we discover is that there is a lot of people who are likely bisexual either in their behavior, or in their attractions, or in their romantic crushes and love affairs that don't identify as bisexual…"
For more information on BI: Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Genderqueer Youth, visit nyupress.org/9781479811434/bi/ .