How Bisexuality undermines both the patriarchal ‘Nuclear Family,’ and the Radical Feminists by challenging the Heterosexual-Homosexual dichotomy of sexuality.
Bisexuality – a person who is both physically and romantically attracted to people of more than one sex and/or gender.
Biphobia – the irrational fear and hostility towards those who identify as bisexual.
Bierasure and biphobia are two parasites which are prominent in both heterosexual mindsets and LGBTQ+ communities. Bisexuals, like many other minorities, began to form political and social groups during the 1970s, however these groups became highly visible in society in the 1980s – the same time as the AID’s crisis. The paralleled events led to the view that bisexual men and women were sources of HIV infection, or other sexually transmitted diseases. This was accepted due to the further belief that bisexuals are non-monogamous and would therefore have a ‘higher number of sexual partners’ than a heterosexual or homosexual would have. Bisexuals do not just solely fight with this narrative, they have to constantly prove their identity as “the stereotypical perception of a bisexual man is often a ‘gay man in denial,’ but the stereotypical perception of a bisexual woman is a ‘heterosexual in disguise’ who’s hooking up with women temporarily for ‘fun,’ or to attract the attention of straight men.” In both cases, the sexuality of bisexual women and men appears to be perceived as oriented toward men. Ultimately, these stereotypes help feed the patriarchy’s ego by making us believe that the centre of all sexuality is simply men, and to be a true feminist surely I must be a lesbian? No. Bisexuality deserves a place at the table to show people exactly what it is and what it isn’t; to help people understand and get the definition they all so crave to receive.
I am not in denial, neither am I confused or greedy. I am simply Bisexual, and no that does not mean I am half straight and half gay either – more so 60:40. Bisexuality is fluid and open to the interpretation of each individual’s identity and should not be confined to a social binary. This ambiguity of bisexuality is what creates frustrations, because we as a society love definitive labels; especially when we package them in pretty boxes which all have defined bold font, stating heterosexuality and homosexuality. Considering the misinterpretations of bisexuality, it is perplexing that approximately 50% of those within the LGBTQ+ community identify as bisexual. So, how is a majority misunderstood and erased from the narrative?
Historically bisexuals have not been helped in their fight against oppression, a prime example being from sexologists of the early Twentieth Century, such as Havelock Ellis, who strongly believed that individuals began as bisexuals and eventually gravitated toward a singular sex. Theories like Ellis’s helped to delegitimise bisexuality, causing stigmatisation and the institutionalised idea that as soon as a bisexual is, for example in a female-female relationship, she suddenly renounces her bisexuality and becomes a lesbian. This is not how sexuality works. Attempts have been made by prominent scholars like Jo Eadie, who have addressed this misunderstanding of bisexuality by accentuating the confusion created from both Ellis’s works and social stereotypes. Eadie criticises both, stating that bisexuality can only be seen by performing ‘bisexual acts,’ i.e., having sex “simultaneously with partners of both genders,” and even these acts can be perceived in society as homosexual, rather than bisexual. In turn, any acts performed that are male-female are heterosexual, and male-male are labelled homosexual. This critique not only presents the issue of Bierasure in society, it also shows why and how a stigmatisation of non-monogamy and promiscuity are branded under bisexuality.
Heteronormativity has of course been glorified as the atypical standard throughout history, and the poster child was the ‘Nuclear Family,’ a concept that can be dated back to the Twelfth Century. This family unit was a heterosexual, monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, who have at least one child and preferably more. Within this family unit the father would go to work, the ‘producer,’ and the mother was expected to stay at home and simultaneously look after the house, children and her husband – the ‘vassal.’ Bisexuals in this societal framework simply do not fit, due to the perception of non-monogamy as well as non-conformity to the defined social binding that is heterosexuality. When the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s to 1980s started to gain momentum, paralleled with the Second Wave of Feminism, heteronormativity and patriarchy came under threat and the fear of sexually liberated women became prevalent, which was only amplified by the polarised Cold War world. The Sexual Revolution allowed women to understand themselves as sexual beings, rather than a mechanism for male pleasure, putting women in control of their own sexualities. Women were finally negating the Patriarchal heteronormative system they were living under, however this allowed for further Bierasure due to angry men and angry Feminists.
Angry Men and Angry Feminists
“It is as if all that matters for a woman are the three Vs: her vagina, her virginity, and her virtue. A woman is fulfilled by the reproductive role of the vagina and her virginity and virtue are essential to maintain social order.”
A pressure is placed upon women from an early age to maintain social order, and to do so is to comply with heteronormativity. Therefore, the destabilising of the ‘Nuclear Family,’ alongside sex-positivist attitudes revealed that a woman was not solely worth her reproductive capabilities, she was worth orgasms too. This idea has been evidenced by ‘radical’ theories, which includes a recent study conducted on heterosexual couples – this found that 90% of men usually or always orgasm during penile-vaginal intercourse, whereas only 30% of women do. A further study published during the Revolution by sexologists Masters and Johnson, concluded that women are ‘sexual athletes’ capable of multiple orgasms. These new ideas of female pleasure complement both radical feminism and bisexuality, in terms of destroying traditional patriarchal narratives that ‘women don’t enjoy sex’ however, that does not mean the two are in any way compatible.
So, what was more terrifying than a sexually liberated woman? A sexually liberated non-heterosexual woman. These women were seen as a greater threat to national security than a nuclear bomb was during the Cold War era for the following two reasons. The first being the belief that a strong family structure would protect the Capitalist ideals of the West from Communism, an idea shown through the legacy of McCarthyism and both the Red and Lavender Scare. The latter would see a purging of officials in governmental offices who were thought to be homosexual, creating a long-lasting fear amongst policymakers who in turn adopted a persona of exaggerated/toxic masculinity. Furthermore, instead of addressing female emancipation directly, the U.S government encouraged American women to channel their frustrations into producing a ‘successful’ family, as in a paranoid America to be a Feminist and/or a homosexual was to be a threat to national security; McCarthy himself declared the opponents as ‘commies and queers.’ Any woman who did not conform to the idyllic housewife mould that the American government were desperately trying to shape women into, were therefore considered as a ‘critical threat’ to the Western world. This legacy of suppression from the Cold War and McCarthyism exists to this day and has made a significant resurgence under the current Trump administration. The fear that women can no longer be controlled and confined to the four walls of their home by men, ultimately challenges the entire structure of a Capitalist and patriarchal society.
The revolutionary discovery that women actually do enjoy sex, if their partner knows what they’re doing, leads to the second point – sex was not just for male pleasure or reproductive purposes anymore. Sex was for women too and therefore why would a woman fluctuate between the two traditional sexes, if another woman knows how to pleasure her more? It’s because sexuality isn’t a choice. We don’t choose to fall in love with someone, neither should we force ourselves to fit into a confined sexuality box. We see during the second wave of Feminism two dominant, opposing strands form, the more mainstream being Liberal Feminism and the second being Radical Feminism. Radical Feminism promoted ‘political lesbianism,’ which in essence forced women to choose a sexuality to renounce all men.
Prominent Radical feminists such as Sheila Jeffreys argued that heterosexual relationships are what gave patriarchy its pulse; Jeffreys was also one of the first Radical Feminists to analyse and criticise bisexuality. Jeffreys’ analysis from 1999 cites Dual Attraction, a study of bisexuality by sexologists which concluded that “bisexual behaviour […] is simply an “add on” to their primary heterosexuality.” Jeffreys’ citation of this study endorses several incorrect narratives surrounding bisexuality and exemplifies her opinion that bisexuality, like heterosexuality, is viewed as a crime against Feminism in the radical mindset. Jeffreys strongly suggests that there are only two binaries of sexuality, and we once again see the de-legitimisation of bisexuality as its own entity. Jeffreys does interestingly note the disillusionment women had with political lesbianism after several years of living a separatist lifestyle from men, concluding that these women fell in love with men but grieved as they ‘gave into the patriarchy.’ It was further assumed within certain lesbian-feminist circles that “bi-women always leave their lesbian partners for men,” depicting bisexuality as a deviant and problem ridden sexuality.
The issue with Jeffreys’ argument, and political lesbianism as a whole is that it consciously decides to ignore and delegitimise anyone who has a relationship, whether it is sexual or not, with men. Furthermore, it implies one can choose their sexuality which clearly isn’t the case when women have been Lesbian Feminists, and then realised this isn’t their true identity. On the other hand, bisexuality is like a Liberal Feminist’s dream – embracing both men and women and progressively transforming the system so the two can work together in building a better future. The strongly held opinion of Radical Feminists clearly causes further harm to bisexual women by labelling them as ‘traitors’ to Feminism and their sex; stating if you were a true Feminist and identified as bisexual, why would you not just push yourself a little further to lesbianism?
Not Gay Enough, Not Straight Enough – Just Be Bi
Bisexuals have very few allies in the heterosexual camp, the LGBTQ+ community and certain strands of Feminists, and it’s down to the misunderstanding of their sexuality. Consistently labelling bisexuals as ‘confused’ or a ‘heterosexual who adds on a bit of homosexuality when suitable,’ further normalises bierasure and biphobia into society. 2020 has been a rocky year, but one of my favourite moments of the year was hearing the words “Just Be Gay.” I’ve experienced internal biphobia directed towards myself, because I thought I was confused and at some points anxious that I’d be labelled as a traitor to my Feminist identity. But thinking “Just be Bi,” to myself really reminded me that sexuality is not something to be ashamed of. Neither is it something we as a society should shy away from. Be proactive and learn about new and exciting sexualities, aren’t you bored now of the same old binaries? Don’t be scared to ask how someone identifies, because the moment we start to break down the binaries of gender and sexuality, our society will flourish into a space where we don’t have to be afraid of one another, or fear that we’re going to be labelled as something we are not. Bierasure and Biphobia are serious issues we need to address from a Feminist perspective, as well as gender. We need to put the B back into LGBTQ and step out of our comfort zone of the heterosexuality-homosexuality dichotomy.
Just be Gay. Just be Bi. Just be YOU.