I had the pleasure of having a brunch on Friday in West Hollywood with Ian Lawrence when he saw the article about his being on the cover of this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine: Under Cover: Ian Lawrence on Becoming One of the Faces of Bisexuality.
He was embarrassed, modest and mortified about the improper vernacular in The New York Times blog’s Q&A that was written about his experience of being on the cover with the headine: Bisexual Male Seeking Like-Minded Friends … and Legitimacy.
The feature article is not about him, per se, but about the work that he and his group, the American Institute of Bisexuality, is doing to promote education and understanding about the B-word, and the unprecedented scientific research about it. Ian and my partner John Sylla are featured prominently in the article, as well as others in AIB, such as Denise Penn, Brad Kane and Regina Reinhardt, whom I’ve all known personally for more than a decade.
But it’s Ian, who at 40, is the youngest of the bunch, and the guy the Times picked out a larger pool of photos as the face of bisexuality.
“They couldn’t put everyone in the story, and sure, there were a lot of well-known bisexuals they could have used, but this story is simply not about bisexual activists or bisexual community. It is about science,” says Ian, who has been a guy behind-the-scenes in bi activities on-and-off since 2000.
Already before the story comes out in print (it’s online) Ian and AIB are getting criticized by a few activists who are complaining that everyone featured in the article is rich and privileged.
“A large part of AIB’s mission is science, so a lot of the people involved and quoted in the story are scientists. That of course means they are college-educated with advanced degrees. But rich? I’m sure plenty of them would sadly have to disagree with that description! Because sex itself is such a controversial subject for half this country, there is so little funding for that kind of work… you certainly don’t go into sex research to get rich!” Ian laughed.
“The research out of Northwestern University that The New York Times wrote about in 2005 and which The Times itself dubbed Straight, Gay, or Lying—scientists don’t deal in unscientific sound bites—was perceived by many in our community as an attack on bisexual males. This new article addresses that. Because the research in that original article was about a particular kind of research involving male genitalia, this article discusses research involving male genitalia. That focus is certainly not to imply that all that matters about bisexuality - or anyone's sexuality - is our 'family jewels.' The article is as close to an apology—a cover story apology, no less—as our community could ever have hoped for from an outlet like The Times. The infamous Straight, Gay, or Lying article is almost 10 years old and most people outside our community don't even remember it," Ian said.
"Just to be clear, the AIB was not involved in funding the original study, but we were involved in the studies that now have proved the obvious - that bi men do exist. Please keep in mind that science is only one piece, albeit an important piece, of the beautiful mosaic that is bisexuality. There is no 'need' to prove our existence, that would be totally absurd. Sex researchers study sexuality – and they’re trying to understand us enough so that they can finally ask more meaningful and deep questions about humans in general.”
“Before the AIB, bisexuals were systematically erased or ignored by all the sciences. It’s still an issue that we deal with on a regular basis, but it’s getting better. Just like The Times article itself, one bi-inclusive study begets others. We don’t just work with sex researchers”
What about the women? “Well, AIB has and is funding research on bi women too. I shouldn’t talk about studies that aren’t published yet, but let’s just say that there is a lot of interesting research that will be coming out in the years ahead, including some studies by very prominent female researchers and scientists,” Ian says.
In the Q & A previewing the cover story, Ian talks about how his parents reacted to seeing a mock-up of the magazine.
I showed my parents, and my dad said, “Oh, wow, I guess everyone knows now.” And my mom said, “That’s not a flattering picture.” Only my brother showed a modicum of excitement.
The article's photo gallery features a diverse group of bisexuals that are pictured with captions.
For now, Ian is hoping the article will help encourage people to sign up to Bisexual.org, which he created and re-launched as an educational and, eventually, social site for bisexuals.
“I hope that this article will spawn a litany of other stories about bisexuality in the future, and show many other facets of our lives. Again, science is important but that is only a tiny part of a much larger picture,” Ian says.