Afterbite: Is Bisexuality So Radical?
tony camilleri 1/12/99

I have moved from the position I argue in "Politicising Bisexuality: Radical Bisexuality and the Politics of Choice" in a number of ways. I would appreciate it if people read this piece of writing before reading Politicising Bisexuality or atleast before criticising it.

In Radical Bisexuality I describe the homosexual as a construction of medical science that served the purpose of locating all homosexuality within a few people. For those for whom this process is confusing I would suggest it is similar to the way that anorexia nervosa locates an almost universal unhealthy relationship with food within a few extreme cases. (This is not to suggest that homosexuality is unhealthy but it certainly was seen as unhealthy by those producing the early concept of the homosexual)

The homosexual as a rare person serves to make compulsive and compulsory heterosexuality unremarkable for everyone else just as anorexia allows the dieting of almost all western women to go uncritiqued.

I still believe the above however I'm aware that I made a weird leap when describing bisexuality. This condition I consider to have radical origins and a very different method of production. True, I specifically talk about bisexual identification but my separation in the paper of bisexual identity and the bisexual condition is pretty weak and overly optimistic. The two are as intertwined as the gay identity is with the homosexual condition and possibly more so.

I'm now beginning to wonder how the bisexual person is constructed along the same pattern as homosexuality, not by a people seeking to celebrate bisexuality but by a culture primarily seeking to excise it from their midst. In other words what I said about the homosexual is possibly just as true for the bisexual (for me!).

The culture seeking to locate bisexuality in the other might not be so much the medical establishment responsible for homosexuality (though they are contributors). Instead the likely culprit may be the emerging gay market and the interests behind it's development.

There is an economic imperative that I don't fully understand that promotes a "pure" gay and lesbian market (untainted by any heterosexual aspect). The increased denigration of fag hags in the gay male scene strikes me as another consequence of this pursuit of purity (and would be interesting to research. If anyone knows some sources please tell me). Maybe we're looking at the building of a niche market in late capitalism where the product is all about representation.

Unfortunately there is very little study of the history of the bisexual identity. When did it emerge and in what contexts was it deemed useful? I have located a text called Bisexuality: A Critical Reader which might be useful but it's beyond my budget at this point (lobby your library!). Further a careful study of activist materials and community (including commercial) productions might have more to say about general usage of the term.

It seems that bisexual women emerged earlier in the western anglo world, while men who loved men as well as women were still identifying as gay in the U.S. and Australian movements and scene at least. Perhaps the production of bisexual women lies in the needs of a lesbian political movement which wasn't paralleled for gay men. This however is just an impression and the capacity for women to sometimes retain lesbian as part of their identity if they move from a lesbian identity to a bisexual identity (ie. as lesbian-bisexuals) confuses any simplistic analysis.

(The concept of the bisexual person in non-anglo cultures appears to have a markedly different history even within western nations based on what little I've read of black and hispanic writing)

What does this mean for me? Is my bisexual identity a product of the needs of the gay male product to be purely homosexual? Should I reclaim the word gay though I clearly love women, just to queer up the word and the meaning of gay spaces?

If nothing else I look back on Politicising Bisexuality: Radical Bisexuality and the Politics of Choice with a greater degree of humility. The collusion of gay activists with the medical establishments goals is easier to understand given my own accidental compatibility with the objectives of gay capitalism (in firming up a bisexual identity). For this reason I've left the paper intact as a historical record.

I would also like to emphasise what I stated in the paper: Unravelling their sexual orientation is not the first and best thing for a man to do as a profeminist lover. I don't encounter people who identify as heterosexual as people to change. I encounter them as full humans. How is housework shared, who talks most, do you love each other, are far more important questions to ask of a relationship.

On that point I think I should recognize that change is not always a reality for people regarding their sexual orientation at least. Maybe it's possible, maybe it's easy, maybe it's not. Equally maybe I could learn seven languages before I die. However I only know one and I don't have a talent for learning language AND I won't be killing myself trying. In the 50's gay men were electrocuted and lesbians had their breasts and uteruses removed to "cure" them. Both of which sicken me as I see no reason to try with any effort to change a women's love of women or a mans love of men. However if in suggesting that sexuality is a choice I deny the reality of these historical experiences of people who might have wanted to change then I don't mean to. Maybe is a big word.

As a final note I'd like to thank all those people who read this paper and reflected on it. Though Radical Bisexuality sets out to create a theory and agenda for queer activism that some readers don't share, such disagreement isn't in my opinion a crisis of queer politics. The debates will continue and ultimately we will work together in queer activism on the basis of a shared concern for people rather than a consistent theory of sexuality.

 

Please send comments to tony camilleri