Kinsey may have put orientation on a single scale from gay to straight, but I’m more inclined to think there are at least two relevant scales. The second one is the fluidity/flexibility scale.
While we find it most fitting to describe our baseline as gay, straight, or in between, the tendency to flex and bend also has a baseline and may shift at times over the course of a lifetime. There are probably a sizable percentage with little or no flexibility, some with moderate flexibility or phases in which fluidity spikes for a while, and a few with a lot of it.
For myself, I’ve figured out that I’m much more geared toward emotionally and physically intimate companionship with another man than with a woman, but the flexibility factor is higher than a lot of gay men I’ve known. The relationship with my wife was very genuine for me — sexually and otherwise — and after coming out I had a bit of intimacy with women that helped me put things in perspective. I’m not averse to or reviled by being intimate with a woman, there’s just something more grounding and innate about an intimate connection with a guy.
So, it is most accurate, to me, describing myself as much more gay than bi. I recognize my capacity to respond at many levels to a woman, but that’s the flexibility factor, and I don’t experience any inner tension or a feeling of missing out on anything given that I’m probably not going to express such flexibility again before I die. That feels different from what I’ve heard some bisexual guys talk about.
It also seems to me that it’s more likely for folks to have periods of expanded flexibility or fluidity than to fundamentally change their baseline attractions on the gay-straight continuum. Flexibility of sexual expression can increase based on environmental, social, and cultural conditions — Afghani men who cannot afford a dowry, but the culture looks the other way when semi-closeted same-sex relationships develop, gay and lesbian folks growing up in conservative Christian environments who pursue hetero marriage, some prison relationships, etc. — and the ex-gay movement provides socio-cultural support which encourages predominantly same-sex-attracted folks to increase their flexibility, adopting the greatest possible flexed position (abstinence or hetero relationship) as a new personal norm.
For some the push into a position that at first feels like a difficult stretch eventually feels relatively normal and unstressed. For many others, that flexed position creates tension which feels liked a cocked bow-and-arrow — it requires a lot of energy, and it’s just not possible sustain that level of tension in a healthy way for a long period of time.
While there is stuff beyond every individual’s control which contributes to baseline attractions and orientation, it is clear to me that we choose how we will name it to others. It’s very similar to religious identity, in my book: Some of the key factors in determining religion (family background, the culture in which we grow up) are beyond our choice, and many folks feel constrained by absolute truths from making it a simple choice, but ultimately religious identity is a choice. And, it’s a key part of our personal expression, like speech, that is protected from public control and discrimination.
We don’t control the baseline attractions we were given, either, but we choose how to express ourselves in light of them and how to identify ourselves. It’s not the attractions that require protection from control and discrimination as much as the expression, and the primary justification used for discriminating (in marriage, for example) is that certain forms of religious expression (like conservative Christianity) merit greater consideration at the expense of religious and secular expression that is gay-affirming or neutral.
Because of that, I share Annika’s sense that it doesn’t matter whether ex-gays who identify as straight have actually changed their baseline attractions or have expanded their flexibility and grown to feel at home with the lives they’ve chosen. They have the same right to expression, freedom from interference and discrimination, to which every person is entitled. I do encourage them to be honest about the distinction between changing baseline attractions and learning to flex when prognosticating about what they think others should do with their lives. And, although many ex-gay leaders don’t, I see a sharp distinction between them choosing the mode of personal expression that fits them best and promoting that as the only moral option to justify discriminating against gays and lesbians.