Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

07 August 2013

Book Excerpt: Bi by Shiri Eisner

My summer reading has been lower than usual (thanks so much, PhD program!), so I can't review every book that's been sent to me lately. Instead of a review, I am bringing you an excerpt of Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. I did read the introduction and have high hopes for the book. It's a discussion that is long overdue. I hope you enjoy!

About Bi:

Depicted as duplicitous, traitorous, and promiscuous, bisexuality has long been suspected, marginalized, and rejected by both straight and gay communities alike.

Bi takes a long overdue, comprehensive look at bisexual politics—from the issues surrounding biphobia/monosexism, feminism, and transgenderism to the practice of labeling those who identify as bi as either “too bisexual” (promiscuous and incapable of fidelity) or “not bisexual enough” (not actively engaging romantically or sexually with people of at least two different genders). In this forward-thinking and eye-opening book, feminist bisexual and genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner takes readers on a journey through the many aspects of the meanings and politics of bisexuality, specifically highlighting how bisexuality can open up new and exciting ways of challenging social convention.

Informed by feminist, transgender, and queer theory, as well as politics and activism, Bi is a radical manifesto for a group that has been too frequently silenced, erased, and denied—and a starting point from which to launch a bisexual revolution.

Chapter 1:
Stereotypes are the immediate meanings attached to bisexuality and bisexual people. When people think about bisexuality, stereotypes are what they think about—this is what they “know.” These stereotypes comprise a body of (imagined) knowledge about bisexual people, about the meaning of bisexuality, and of the way it works. A reading of biphobic stereotypes can be enlightening for our understanding of the social and cultural meanings given to bisexuality. Afterward we could proceed to ask: How can we, as bisexuals, use these meanings to our benefit?

Here is a basic list of commonly cited stereotypes about bisexuality. If you’ve traveled through a patch of life carrying a bisexual identity, there’s a pretty good chance you’d find these familiar:

Bisexuality doesn’t exist
Perhaps the most popular belief about bisexuality. According to this stereotype, there is no such thing as bisexuality—and people who do claim to be bisexual are simply wrong or misguided. Needless to say, this notion both feeds and is fed by bisexual erasure. It creates the impression that bisexuality doesn’t appear in popular culture (or indeed anywhere) because it really doesn’t exist. This also causes people to ignore (erase) bisexuality where it does appear for that very same reason. (What you know is what you see.)

Bisexuals are confused, indecisive, or just going through a phase
A “natural” extension of the first one, this stereotype explains how it happens that some people actually do identify as bisexual—they simply have it all wrong. This stereotype also invokes the idea of alternating between partners of different genders, meaning: a perceived failure of consistency. If a “true choice” can only be defined as a single gender preference, then structurally, bisexuality is impossible by definition.

Bisexuals are slutty, promiscuous, and inherently unfaithful
If a single gender preference is the only choice imaginable, then any- thing exceeding that number would automatically be perceived as excess. The idea of excessive sexuality then naturally leads to a notion of promiscuity. According to this stereotype, by virtue of having more than one gender preference, bisexuals are indiscriminate about their choice of partners and are therefore slutty or promiscuous. The idea of inherent unfaithfulness comes from the widely held belief that bisexuals are incapable of being satisfied with only one partner (since, evidently, they can’t be satisfied with only one gender).

Bisexuals are carriers or vectors of HIV and other STIs
Relying on the previous stereotype, bisexuals are often thought to be more likely than monosexual people to carry and spread HIV and other STIs. Often combined together, this stereotype and the previous one both imagine bisexuals—bisexual men in particular—as people who engage in indiscriminate sex with multiple partners, collecting various STIs as they go along and spreading them on as they go. This stereotype, of course, leans heavily upon the assumption that having sex is infectious in and of itself, conveniently dismissing information about safer sex practices as well as other, nonsexual ways of contracting these diseases.

Another component of this stereotype is ableism, as it is heavily charged with negative views toward disabled and chronically ill people. It draws on severe social stigma working against people with HIV, AIDS, and other STIs, as well as the notion that STIs are in fact a punishment for promiscuity or for certain sexual practices.

Bisexuals are actually gay or actually straight
This stereotype draws upon the second cluster of stereotypes that I listed above, according to which bisexuals are confused—that we are actually anything other than bisexual. In hegemonic discourse, this “anything” is usually imagined as the narrow option of either gay or straight. Interestingly, for bisexual women the presumption is that we’re really straight, while bisexual men are often presumed to be really gay. This suggests a presumption that everyone is really into men— a phallocentric notion testifying to this stereotype’s basic reliance on sexism.

Bisexuals can choose to be gay or straight
This stereotype envisions bisexuals as people who can choose between gay or straight identities and lifestyles. The stereotype couples bisexuality together with an idea of “privilege,” and in this way is used to decrease the legitimacy of unique bisexual identity as well as politics. It disqualifies bisexuals from participating in gay movements by imply- ing that bisexuals will always leave their gay or lesbian partners for an “opposite sex” relationship. (Relationships with nonbinary-gender people never seem to be part of this popular imagination).

All of these stereotypes are personalized, relating to particular people (who identify as bisexual), and are taken literally and at face value. They imagine bisexual people—and bisexuality itself—as inauthentic, unstable, predatory, infectious, and dangerous. Implicitly, these stereotypes also entail a demand for normalcy because they present bisexuality as a deviation from the norm, and therefore inherently perverse.

Support Viva la Feminista by purchasing a copy of Bi through Powells or Indiebound.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from a Seal Press publicist.  

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