S. Florida teen girls discovering `bisexual chic' trend
By Jamie Malernee
Posted December 30 2003
"Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!"
A group of teenagers is gathered at a party. Music's playing; smuggled booze is flowing. Two girls grin sheepishly at each other as a crowd goads them on.
Finally, the teens relent, rewarding their audience with some mouth-on-mouth action.
It's not an unusual scene, according to South Florida high school students, who say the newest trend for teen girls isn't wearing the latest designer jeans or driving a cool car, but declaring themselves to be bisexual.
"Some do it for attention. Some do it because guys like it. And some do it just because they can. It's definitely a fad," says Stranahan High student Christy Shalley, president of the Fort Lauderdale school's Gay Straight Alliance.
Jessie Gilliam, program manager for Youth Resource -- a national Web site created by and for gay, lesbian and bisexual young people -- says the trend is known as "bisexual chic," or in many cases, "faux bisexual." It usually starts with some hand-holding or grinding on the dance floor, then progresses from there.
"It's a countrywide thing," she says.
Note to parents: If this seems particularly shocking, try turning on a TV to see why most kids aren't as fazed. There's the infamous kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna at the recent MTV Music Video Awards. There's the popular singing duet Tatu, two Russian teenage girls who, depending on whom you believe, are really in love with each other or just part of a brilliant marketing scheme that simultaneously appeals to gays, misunderstood adolescents and the Lolita lust of straight men.
Flip to another channel, and you'll see beer commercials where guys fantasize about two female friends "catfighting" in a fountain.
Despite this constant stream of images, students say moms and dads generally are clueless that it's really happening.
"Nobody's parents know," says David Sternberg, a senior at Spanish River High in Boca Raton. "And if they think they know, they really don't know."
He adds that some girls may truly be questioning their sexuality, but others just want to be perceived as hot.
"Girls go for the whole mystery thing. And guys usually think it's attractive. It's a turn-on. It's more of a teasing thing. At parties, girls randomly kiss, and guys are like, `Oh! That's awesome!'" he says.
Sharon Friedlander, head of guidance for Broward public schools, says adults in the school system are well aware of students' growing flirtation with bisexuality. But she doesn't necessarily see it as an entirely new phenomenon.
"The questioning process is part of growing up," she says.
Children acting out
In the past, young people may have waited until college to explore their sexuality. Today, it's common for that process to start at a younger age, Friedlander and other educators say.
"It's really just straight children acting out that natural pubescent rebellion, of stepping out of the boundaries the previous generation set up," says Clarence Brooks, a teacher at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.
Sam Deblaker of Wilton Manors says she first experimented with girls because of the way guys reacted.
"I liked the attention," the 17-year-old says, adding that though she has had a boyfriend for two years, she occasionally kisses girls in front of him. "He likes it. It's fun."
But not all students are so accepting.
"It's wrong. God made us male and female for a reason," says Jenny Saint Jean, 15, a freshman at Fort Lauderdale High.
Karla Núñez, 16, agrees: "I don't go to those kind of parties."
Stephanie Forman, a sophomore at Cypress Bay High in Weston, says the trend is sort of "disgusting," but she's used to seeing it.
"Guys are like, `Kiss, kiss, kiss!'" she said, adding that some behavior carries over onto campus. "Parents shouldn't freak out. It's just for fun."
From one perspective, Sternberg sees the trend as a sign of greater tolerance toward gay people. He came out with an article in his school newspaper this year and says most people have been accepting.
On the other hand, he says, the girl-girl trend, and the relative casual reaction to it, also shows how males aren't allowed the flexible sexuality females are.
"It's all fine and good for women, but if a guy is experimenting with a guy, he'll feel the consequences," Sternberg says. "Someone could really hurt you or make a point of humiliating you."
The double standard is part of the reason Gilliam doesn't think the fad will do much for gay rights in the long run.
"It's a bisexuality that's focused on heterosexuality in that it's still focused on pleasing a man, a heterosexual audience, and in that sense it's not progressive," she says. "Sexism plays into it. Girls in our culture aren't supposed to have a sexuality on their own terms."
As for the issue of girls who may be "faking" bisexuality to get attention, adults say this could be the new equivalent to young women who experiment with lots of boys for the same reason.
"Above all ... we try to teach them to have respect for themselves," says Friedlander. "It has huge implications. Two or three years from now, when the world is talking about them, it's not such a `turn-on.' Many cannot internalize that. For them, there is nothing other than the moment."
`Real' vs. `fake'
The very idea of "real" vs. "fake" bisexuality is controversial. Some people don't believe bisexuality exists -- believing that those who say they are bisexual are either experimenting straight people, or homosexuals who aren't fully ready to admit their orientation.
"It's important to take bisexuality as a serious identity. It's a myth that bisexuality is a phase," counters California-based Denise Penn, president of BiNet USA, one of the oldest advocacy and network groups in the nation for bisexuals. "Maybe these girls aren't faking it. Maybe `bisexual chic' gives them a way of exploring their bisexuality without committing to it. They can say, `Oh, we're just playing.'"
Ironically, Toby Hill-Meyer, a University of Oregon student doing his master's on how people identify their own sexuality, says that because of "bisexual chic" many "true" bisexuals resist identifying with that word anymore.
"They don't want to be associated with that trendiness," he says.
Either way, Penn says, it doesn't really matter who's faking and who's not. She thinks the entire issue conveys a larger message.
"People like to categorize us, label us, so they can frame their thinking about us. But sexuality is so complex," she says. "Everyone is different."