I posted yesterday’s piece because I saw a friend’s tweet about it being Bisexual Awareness Week and I remembered all the arguments I got in with people about the legitimacy of bisexuality. Yes, some people use the identity as a stepping stone or as way to explore, but that doesn’t mean there are no bisexuals. A bisexual friend of mine thanked me for posting my paper yesterday because she finds it hard to find anything saying that bisexuality is a legitimate sexuality.
So in her honor, here is another paper from undergrad about bisexuality and biphobia. Please remember it is 5-6 years old.
And if you need a bit of bisexual HUZZAH pride or just a kick ass song: In or Out by Ani Difranco
When the LGBT community is mentioned what usually comes to mind are the first to letters of the acronym: lesbians and gays. The last two letters seem to remain forgotten and invisible: the bisexual and transgendered people. These two parts of the community remain mostly unseen and misunderstood by both the “straight” world and the LGBT community. The article “Two Many and Not Enough” by Paula Rust directly deals with bisexuality. Rust’s article is meant to help reveal bisexuality more fully and coherently, and challenge current assumptions on bisexuality. This piece is a clinical report on a study conducted with 407 bisexuals conducted in an attempt to better understand the meaning of the bisexual identity. “The Language of Desire: Sexuality, Identity and Language” by Rebecca Ripley is a paper written about the problems with sexual identity, the insufficiency of language, and gender. Ripley’s article is meant to expose the problems of language which are overlooked and to explore the deficiencies of in forming identities. Both articles center around (bi)sexuality and how diverse and subjective it is.
Rust’s article is the more neutral of the two. It’s a straightforward piece discussing what the bisexuals she studied think the meaning of their bisexual identity is. What is revealed to the reader through the article is even though sometimes peoples’ definitions of bisexuality can be very similar, in the end how and why they apply them to themselves, and just how accurate the term is varies infinitely. In both articles it is mentioned that bisexuals will compound the term with a monosexual term (ie: bi-dyke, bisexual lesbian) in order to try and more aptly describe themselves because they feel that both labels don’t fit them properly. This ties in neatly with Michel Foucault’s rejection of identity on the basis that in accepting society’s constructs one has to give up not only the true knowledge of who they are, but also their own power.
This lack of power is vividly seen through Rust’s article. First there is the fact that there are so many different meanings to bisexual and in these different meanings there is the constant potential to be misunderstood when using a specific label. Some of the respondents also mentioned that they only used the term bisexual to dispel confusion for others on their sexuality, not so they could have a better understanding of themselves. If anything at all, it seems that in claiming the term they move further away from a complete understanding of their sexuality. By accepting society’s labels for one’s sexuality a person becomes constrained. Immediately their identity is limited, and they have to reject a piece of themselves to fit in. A few participants mentioned that they refused to label their sexuality for this very reason. But another example of the lack of power that social identities bring is the connotations, prejudices, and assumptions that come with such labels.
This lack of power is most easily seen in Ripley’s piece where the author’s opinions and views are more readily heard. It is her paper that most directly approaches the animosity bisexuals face for claiming this identity. She explains that “bisexual behavior (in our society) means changing sides” and that in the lesbian community more specifically bisexuals are seen as lesbians too cowardly to fully accept this identity and the social ramifications with it (Ripley 98). Bisexuals are seen as “lacking character” and being “backstabbers” (ibid). This again moves in to tie with the other perspectives of bisexuals that they’re selfish people who just want to have the best of both worlds, the security of heterosexuality with the freedom of variety in the queer world. Bisexuals are accused of being confused and simply uncertain of what they want and eventually they’ll figure out they are one or the other. Not to mention it seems that bisexuality is becoming a “cool” trend in high school and college students, causing more animosity and distrust between people who do feel desire and are able to love both genders and sexes and monosexuals.
While the LGBT community has deep set prejudices against bisexuals the straight community is usually shocked and puzzled to learn about this. This is because most heterosexuals who are not involved with the LGBT community see only the harmonious front put forward by those who are fighting for rights. Through the use of the word “community” and the grouping of four separate sexualities and genders, a very large collection of people become homogenized and are seen as a single entity with one purpose and goal. Therefore after a quick informal discussion with two friends (a lesbian woman and gay man) on their opinions about bisexuals it is mind boggling to hear them immediately denounce bisexuals as fakes, flakes, or simply unsure of themselves. This mindset is also shown in a movie entitled Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds in which a character announces himself as bisexual. Immediately, two gay guys and two heterosexual women announce simultaneously that “there’s no such thing.” Just because society is set up with hierarchical dichotomies of heterosexual/homosexual and male/female does not mean that those are the only two categories which are valid.
It seems that though Rust and Ripley both confronted and discussed biphobia in their articles, they should have done more. Rust drops the word “biphobia” and mentions how some people identify with the term in order to bring awareness and validation to it, but she gives no history or explanation. Ripley discusses the animosity between lesbians and female bisexuals in her article, but not in a very conclusive way because her article is more focused on gender and language. With these two topics she discusses the sexist slant to bisexuality and the complete inability for women to positively and accurately talk about their sexuality, sex, and pleasure. She makes the point that lesbian and bisexual are two far stretching terms that encompass many people who may be similar, but very different.
This brings up the old problem that women are excluded from sexuality due to “no real language of female sexual desire” (Ripley 96). Without language, without words, there can be no discourse and as Foucault has explained in his works, language and discourse mean power. Without discourse there is no way to articulate ideas in order to positively identify with others to elicit change. Foucault’s solution to a lack of discourse was to grasp onto the dominate discourse, commandeer it and use it against the prevailing powers as a reverse discourse. Women have been trying to do this, but it is almost impossible to affirm oneself with reclaimed terms that have for centuries been used to suppress and control. Though Ripley offers no concrete solution to the problem she introduces to the reader it seems that her message is women should bear with the difficult process of finding the proper language and that there are many different sexualities and they should not be denied or “defined out of existence” (Ripley 101).
These two articles bring to the forefront the important lesson that all sexualities, whether they can be properly understood with social labels or not, are valid sexualities. They discuss the insufficiency and instability of language and the inability of any social label to encompass all parts of anyone’s identity or sexuality. Identities are never coherent and usually do not apply fully to anyone. As Michel Foucault argued the price of knowing who you are in society is your true identity. In using socially created terms to identify oneself, one loses all ability to embrace the full spectrum of who they are.