Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bisexual Forum Holds Second Sexuality Conference

Speakers Discuss Klein Grid, Moving Beyond Categories


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Dr. Regina Reinhardt, Kamala Devi

Two months after the Bisexual Forum of San Diego hosted their first conference on sexuality, they returned to the same space — the gallery at the Rubber Rose store on Ray Street just south of University — July 29 for “Clearly in the Grey Area,” a second conference exploring the nature of bisexuality and sexuality in general. Both speakers, Bisexual Forum co-founder Dr. Regina Reinhardt and self-described “bliss coach” and author Kamala Devi, had also appeared at the earlier event, but their presentations were dramatically different. Dr. Reinhardt talked about the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, developed by the late Dr. Fritz Klein as an extension of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s zero-to-six scale. Devi spoke about the difficulty of categorizing sexual orientation at all, especially with people (including herself) who live lives quite different from the normal meanings of “Gay,” “Lesbian,” “straight” or even “Bi.”

The basic difference between Klein’s grid and Kinsey’s scale, Dr. Reinhardt explained, is that instead of merely asking you to rate yourself from zero to six — zero being exclusively heterosexual and six being exclusively homosexual — based on your current sexual behavior, Klein’s also asked for rankings based on your past (i.e., up to one year ago) behavior and your ideals for the future, as well as what you’re doing now. The result is a table of seven rows and three columns asking who you’re attracted to, who you actually have sex with, who you fantasize about, your emotional and social preferences (whether you “hang” mostly with men or women), your “lifestyle” as straight or Gay, and your own identification.

“Dr. Klein wanted to show you the differences between your scores and allow you to learn about yourself,” Dr. Reinhardt explained. “He has the past, present and ideal because it always changes. You fall in love with a person of your own sex and call yourself Lesbian or Gay, and 10 years later you fall in love with a person of the opposite sex and call yourself heterosexual.” She asked people in attendance to fill out Klein-grid forms and “read” two of them, interpreting the results and coming up with insights about the people quite different from what those in the room who knew them would have thought.

Dr. Reinhardt also discussed a study of her own in which she recruited 26 heterosexual men who are married to Bisexual women. (Later she introduced her husband of 30 years, thereby suggesting she had a personal reason for choosing this as a research topic.) She said that even though these men weren’t actively Bisexual themselves, when they filled out the Klein grid “their ideals were Bi.” Her analysis was that “they were already Bi-friendly because they were married to Bi women, and they wouldn’t mind having sex with guys if society and religion weren’t so strongly against it.”

One criticism frequently made of the Klein grid is that, like Kinsey’s scale, it focuses only on sexual orientation and not on gender identity. It doesn’t provide a comfortable “fit” for Transgender people or the so-called “genderqueer” people (mostly youths) who deliberately carry and dress themselves as androgynously as possible, whatever their biological gender, and leave themselves open to romantic and sexual relationships with people of either gender without calling themselves “Bisexual.” Dr. Reinhardt conceded that Dr. Klein hadn’t had a chance to extend his research to cover Transgender people before he died.

Devi mentioned a researcher named Sandra Bem, who had done a rewrite on the Kinsey scale to accommodate gender identity. She suggested that that person’s work could be combined with Kinsey’s and Klein’s to construct a three-dimensional scale that would allow people even more opportunities to understand their sexuality, gender identity and the interaction between the two. Devi also offered her own life as an example of how one’s perception of one’s own sexual orientation — or even one’s gender identity — changes over time and circumstances.

“Labels talk more about categories and identities than actual experiences,” Devi said. “I came out at 16 and went through seven years of very exclusive political involvement with the Lesbian community. When I discovered my attraction to men, I found there was heavy political pressure from the Lesbian community not to act on it. I met a man who was androgynous; when I met him he was so totally comfortable with his inner femininity and his inner masculinity that I fell in love with his inner feminine and still thought of myself as a ‘Lesbian’ because I was in love with his feminine side. It wasn’t until after I left that relationship that it became O.K. for me to say, ‘I’m Bisexual.’”

According to Devi, “sexual and spiritual identity are the same for me” — a lesson she learned while she was with that man and he helped her get in touch with what she calls her “spiritual identity.” She said, “A lot of my healing was reclaiming my feminine side from my ‘masculine’ identity as a butch Lesbian. My awakening taught me that it’s really the kundalini, the life force inside. … I came into the tantric community, the polyamory community and the Queer community at the same time. We come and talk about bisexuality, but we don’t often talk about our spiritual energy or where it overlaps with our sexual energy. There’s a taboo in society about talking about sex, and a similar taboo about talking about our spiritual path because that’s considered ‘private.’”

In response to a comment from an audience member who said he didn’t really start loving himself until he stopped lying to himself and came out as Bisexual at age 68 — and then, in essence, had to re-live his adolescent conflicts and uncertainties about dating and seeking partners — Devi said, “I don’t want to define spirituality. It’s a cosmic essence that can’t be expressed in words. At the heart, it’s experiencing the truth as it arises and being honest and making a decision about it.”