The myth of myth-busting: normalcy discourse and bisexual politics

(Why criticize?)

I have a 20 minute lecture talking about this. Want to see? :)

In a recent blog post, a certain bi blogger dedicated a paragraph to what she referred to as the “obligatory myth-busting post that pretty much every blog on bisexuality provides”. And indeed, it seems near-impossible to encounter any English-language text about bisexuality without seeing these same myths countered in this same way. I thought I would take this opportunity to explore what this myth-busting and these myths mean, politically, and for us as a community.

Quoth the post:

  • Existence. Yes – we do.
  • Monogamy. Yes – we can.
  • Fidelity. Yes – we can. And – we do.
  • HIV & AIDS. No – it’s not all our fault.
  • Confusion. No – we’re really not.
  • Indecision. No – that’s not what fluidity means.
  • Greed. Yes, we can have just one piece of cake.
  • Pants. Yes – we’re as capable as anyone else of keeping our various bits in them.
  • Choice. No – we cannot choose to be straight; we cannot choose to be gay; we did not choose our sexual orientation in some thoughtlessly frivolous moment of rapacious abandon. Who does?

Let’s walk through some of those, shall we? No, we’re not promiscuous. No, we don’t sleep around. No, we’re not infectious. No, we don’t choose to be the way we are (SRSLY, why would anyone choose that?). Yes, we’re normal. No, we don’t threaten your sexual identification. Yes, we are just like you. No, you are not in danger of being like us. No, we don’t threaten your beliefs, your society or your safety.

Needless to say, all this is aimed towards the ubiquitous (all-existing, all-domineering) Straight White Middle Class. The one we don’t threaten, yes?

No myths, no busting

“I want to have adventures and take enormous risks and be everything they say we are.”

– Dorothy Allison, lesbian activist

Bisexuality is stereotyped as a subversive, hypersexual agent of change and social chaos – precisely because it threatens the current social structure. Each stereotype reflects a section of social anxiety which bisexuality threatens, thus exposing the subversive and revolutionary potential of bisexuality in changing and opposing said structure, culture, society and system.

Let’s walk through them again, a little bit more slowly this time:

  • Existence: society always loves to eradicate those who present a threat. The attempt to eliminate bisexuality’s existence is the attempt to eliminate the revolutionary potential that it holds.
  • Monogamy: along with heterosexism, is patriarchy’s favourite way of keeping us organized in neat little docile units. Of controling us. Of disconnecting us from each other, of maintaining capitalism and keeping resistance to a bare minimum.
  • Fidelity: I love the metaphor of the bisexual as the traitor. We do. We betray monogamy, we betray patriarchy, we betray the government through our refusal to obey to government-sactioned coupled-arrangements, we betray our countries with non-binary, open-boundary possibilities. We betray war. We betray sex and we betray gender. We betray the “LGBT” (GGGG) community for normalizing and promoting the assimilation of our communities. We are traitors to anything that confines us, and anything that stands in our way.
  • HIV and AIDS: the “queer” disease which so physically embodies the straight population’s fear of being infected by our queerness. Bisexuality destabilizes the clean-cut border between the diseased queers and the healthy hets. And if queerness is a contagious disease, then I am all too happy to be a carrier.
  • Confusion: that is, instability. That is, doubt. That is, an agent of change: We doubt. We distabilize. We change.
  • Indescision: a refusal to fit neatly into boundaries dictated by society. A refusal of the very categories we are instructed to choose between. A collapse of binarism, of separation, of isolation. A call to diversity, solidarity and love.
  • Greed: this is Western society’s fear of sexuality. Of anything not heterosexual-cisgender-coupled-monogamous-vanilla-missionary-position-intercourse-in-bed. Bisexuality is hypersexualized under the presumption that sex is bad, that wanting too much of it is bad, that wanting any of it is bad, that wanting people of more than one gender is bad. That wanting more than one person is bad. Bisexuality means sexual revolution. It means sexual independence for women. It means exploring and enjoying our bodies, our sexualities, our various genders and our sexual interactions, no matter who we are, no matter who our partners. In a society based on sexual fear and a culture of rape, taking our sexualities into our own hands is a revolunationary act.
  • Pants: it’s often said that “a bisexual is the kind of person who can reach down someone’s pants and be happy with whatever they find”. Could this be fear of sex and gender liberation? Could this give space to more than just two sets of sexed bodies?
  • Choice: yes! Because we lead awesome, exciting, fabulous, shiny, liberating, revolutionary queer lives full of love, rage, solidarity, pride, struggle, friendship, pain and joy. If you had the option, wouldn’t you choose it?

28 thoughts on “The myth of myth-busting: normalcy discourse and bisexual politics

  1. Agreed, so damn hard.

    Any of the difficulties I face because of being bi are because of biphobia and stereotyping. None of which are inherent in being bi. The payoff, however? Has been amazing relationships with awesome people of all sorts of genders. While I’m sure that gay, straight and asexual people also have awesome relationships with amazing people, the relationships that I have had are integral to the best parts of my life. And I would never want to throw any of them away for a chance at normalcy.

    I think that that’s related to the other thing about bisexuality that is such a threat. One of the arguments you hear from gay people is that they can’t help the way they were born, that they’d love to be straight and have opposite-sex relationships but it’s just not possible. What living openly as bi means, however, is that while I love and fancy and have awesome relationships with people of other genders to myself, they are in no way better than the awesome relationships and love and desire I can share with people of the same gender as me. It’s not that I can’t love and desire people of other genders. I can, and I do. But it ain’t better than loving and desiring people of my own gender. Oh, and the vice-versa is also the case.
    That there? That, I think, does an awful lot to go from tolerating the poor gays who just can’t help how they’re born, to outright smashing the myth of superiority of different-sex relationships.
    Which is kind-of awesome.

    (Also, hello! I discovered your blog through a friend of mine, and it’s most nifty indeed.)

  2. I don’t agree with your critique of The Suburban Bi’s post. I loved The Suburban Bi’s mythbusting piece, it resonated deeply within me and made me nod my head and say “yes!” On the other hand, this critique leaves me confounded and concerned. I can’t agree with much of it.

    I don’t see how TSB’s blog was “aimed at the Straight White Middle Class;” it was clearly written for all: men and women, gay straight and bi, rich poor or any income, and all races. I did not see any racism or classism in TSB’s post.

    In picking apart the various myths that TSB busted, I don’t see why you chose to assert that bisexuals are nonomongamous confused traitors whose bisexuality can only come through sexual activity as a political action against Western culture. As a lifelong out bisexual woman, I assure you that I am not confused, I am not a traitor, I am not subverting society, and I am not cheating on my partner.

    This so-called “busting the mythbuster” post makes a lot of broad claims that do not apply to all bi people. I am proud to be part of the LGBT community, I am proud to put the B in LGBT. I’m not being “assimilated,” I’m being included.

    Of course there is room for “more than one gender” in my affections (and in other people’s pants), but I don’t need to use another word for it: “bisexual” suits me just fine, and says that my romantic inclinations are not based on gender. I don’t let anyone tell me that the word bisexual is a reinforcement of a two-gender binary, I am here to say it’s a big word for a big section of the population.

    I am most disheartened to learn that you think that my monogamy makes you want me to turn my bi card in, so I assure you that I am just as queer as any other queer person, despite not being a confused, cheating traitor.

    Ultimately, I do not understand most of the conclusions you have drawn here, and I regret to say, I strongly disagree with most of this critique. But I won’t ever call you a confused cheater, just as I would never say that only through polyamorous physical sexual contact and activity can one be bisexual. That’s just wrong. I choose to be monogamous, I am happy to have made a commitment to a single partner, and I am not any less bi because I’ve stopped sleeping around. Society did not make me monogamous, I gladly entered a monogamous relationship.

    There is nothing “revolutionary” about bisexuality, really, it just means my attractions know no gender and are not limited on the basis of gender. Is there biphobia? Yes, but it’s because we have to fight silly stereotypes about how we’re slutty whores who can’t decide if we’re gay or straight.

    I thought that The Suburban Bi’s post was well-written and aimed at a very broad audience, and I’m mystified as to how anyone could disagree with the statements TSB made. The myths she busted do exist, and her explanations are clear and concise.

    1. bbg,

      I feel that you largely misunderstood my post. I was not talking about any individual person, behaviour, relationships, day to day lives or the stereotypes we encounter. I was criticizing the mainstream bisexual movement’s appeal towards normalcy as a method for general acceptance, and using the stereotypes I mentioned as metaphors in order to point out the ways in which bisexuality can subvert current social structure and bring social change (i.e. revolution). I did this because this is what I am interested in, as an anarchist and a bisexual radical. Your assertion that you are not interested in these things (revolution, subversion, etc.) reflects similar discourse within the American bisexual movement and points out the very need for my criticism of it: I seek to associate bisexuality with radical politics, anarchism, revolution and change, in lieu of current discourse which produces the image of bisexuals as normative docile members of society.

  3. Shiri, I won’t address your rendering of my post point by point, though how could I be anything but chuffed that what I wrote provided such a springboard for your own essay. But I will take a moment to point out your presumption that “Needless to say, all this is aimed towards the ubiquitous (all-existing, all-domineering) Straight White Middle Class” while a ready supposition is entirely off-base. As you say elsewhere, you often presume that you are addresseing the “American bisexual movement” that you feel “is heavily lacking in self-auditing” and so assuming that I am ‘aiming’ what I write toward a ubiquitous, all-domineering striaght white ‘class’ fits your overall call to action for this blog. It just does not happen to be true.

    While obviously I have no control over who actually finds and reads my blog, I do know who subscribes to it and to my mailing lists and the backgrounds of those I write for. Bascially, like many blogs, I am not writing academic treatises or theory, rather I write to speak to my family and friends (of course, with the knowledge all bloggers have that others will be auditing, who may or may not see their experiences reflected in what they read). Each post is written for a specific person or group of people with whom I have discussed certain issues, and I write to flesh out those private discussions. About one third of my interlocutors are black, hispanic, mixed-raced and working class of various sexual orientations; one third white and gay of varying social and economic classes; and the rest are bisexual, again of varying social and economic classes living in a variety of nations and from diverse backgrounds and understanding of ‘bisexuality’.

    You seem to have read my post by presuming a lot not in evidence and to have plugged the people who regularly read it (or rather, those to whom you assume the essays must be addressed) easily into a convenient box for rebuttal, setting up a straw man to burn down. You say you “view criticism through an Israeli (read: Middle Eastern) perspective” rather than that of “the mainstream American bisexual movement,” yet you failed to pause to afford me or my writing the same courtesy. I am not writing from the perspective or background you specifically target, and my experiences or ‘education’, if you will, of bisexual community and activism do not conform to that model.

    I have said it before, it’s good your blog is out there, as having as many voices discussing these issues is a great thing, in my opinion, but I do feel you could have made all your points without mischaracterising the tone and intent of my own blog or what my ‘aims’ are.

    1. TSB,

      Thanks for the comment.

      First of all, I have to say that i wasn’t criticising *you*, I was criticizing a discourse. Your post was the most recent example I’d encountered – I considered making a short comment on your blog, then decided that a post of my own would be more appropriate. Anyway, my purpose, as always, was to share a different point of view, not to attack anyone, and so I apologize you were offended. I need to say that I’ve been a bit baffled at people’s recent responses to my criticism towards them. I didn’t expect these strong responses, and I really do think this is a cultural difference.

      As to the audience of your blog – I was certainly not implying that you address your blog, or that the readers of it, are all white, straight and middle class. That would have been stupid and unreal – I think that bisexual blogs are generally aimed at bisexuals :) What I was trying to refer to was the idea of normalcy reflected through the mythbusting (not only in your blog, but really everywhere). Normalcy, in our society, is forever white, straight, and middle class, no matter who the writer, the audience, or anyone’s intentions – and so a discourse seeking similarity to normalcy will unavoidably reflect white, straight and middle class standards. Again, this isn’t about individuals, but about the language and the ideas.

      1. Well, yes, possibly, there my be cultural differences in how critique is expressed and received going on, which could account for the strong responses you have received (I’m assuming you mean both here and on a previous post). But it could also be something more simple – just disagreement.

        For one, myth-busting is not necessarily an act of achieving ‘normalcy’ but rather carving out a space to speak and be heard — carving out a space for one’s own truth, without being drowned out by the cacophany of other people’s presumptions. What one says if/when that space is carved out is not prescribed for every individual (I spoke from my vantage point, I spoke against the myths that press immediately on my life and those around me, which is all I can do, and there are many who share these experiences, for example).

        Also, you say: “Normalcy, in our society, is forever white, straight, and middle class, no matter who the writer, the audience, or anyone’s intentions – and so a discourse seeking similarity to normalcy will unavoidably reflect white, straight and middle class standards.” That again presumes a lot. Just taking myself as an example, that would presume a great deal about the society I was born in, the one I grew up in and the society I now live it — and while there are similarities, they are not the same, there simply is no monolithic “our society.” The societies, cultures and subcultures I hail from and speak back to are not all predominantly white for example (I was born in the West Indies, and while there is a ‘normalcy’, to use that term for the moment, of attitudes towards gay, bi and trans people it is not dominated by a forever white, straight and middle class discourse of middle class white America. My island has it’s own unique brand of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and other hatreds that are entrenched in its own history and present day realities). I don’t think it’s helpful even to presume one brand of ‘normalcy’ even for the USA, where large subcultures can dominate a discourse with their own brand of ‘normalcy’ in relation to LFBT people. The black community in the US, for example, will not necessarily echo and rabbit the opinions of the white, middle class by rote. There are a great deal of nuances and differences in how black communities, and other minority or marginalised communities in the US, perceive and react to bisexuals. And I am sure the same can be said of Canada, the UK, etc….

        I guess, my point is you posit a monolithic concept (“normalcy”) and spread it far & thin (“in our society”) and give it a great deal of unshiftable power (“forever”) that I do not agree it has…. so I have will have to continue to respectfully disagree with on the idea that “no matter who the writer, the audience, or anyone’s intentions” that the discourse is “seeking similarity to normalcy” and “will unavoidably reflect white, straight and middle class standards.”

        1. I’d like to reply with a quote, which I think very accurately captures what I mean. This is lesbian activist Amber Hollibaugh talking about her activity against the Briggs Initiative:

          “A woman in the audience looked at me and said, ‘What you’re saying really makes me angry because you make it sound like there’s nothing differenet in homosexuality and heterosexuality except the sex of the person you are lovers with. I don’t know alot about it, but I suspect that’s not true. I think there is something different about it.’ And I sat there and realized of course there’s something different. She hit it right on the head. Was I going to be safe if I pretended to be just like her only married to a woman? Is that the image I wanted to present of homosexuality? So I said, ‘No, you really are right and have called me out correctly. I’m scared to talk about what I think is unique in a homosexual experience. I don’t know how to talk about that because I don’t know what you’ll think. It’s hard for me to explore that because it’s my life and something I protect carefully because of people like Briggs and how they describe what it means to be a homosexual. I want you to understand that there are things that are common in our lives. I keep thinking if I talk about my life in ways that are common to yours, you’ll see me not as an enemy. But, be that as it may, let me say I do think homosexuality is different.'”

          It’s worth noting: I wholeheartedly take the role of the enemy (=the bisexual, the traitor ;) ).

  4. Yes! The discourse around “choice” is such a problem. It’s really important to deconstruct the way in which the “choice” debate is framed— basically, the implicit assumption is that if being queer is a choice then queer people don’t deserve rights. When we respond with self-deprecation: “oh no, why would I ever choose to be like THIS?” we play into that logic.

    1. Very true, and I think there’s also a lot more to it than just that. The “born this way” argument comes from a very particular cultural presumption that whatever is (imagined as) “natural” is also good, legitimate and authentic – and therefore deserves recognition and rights. I think it reveals a very strong dependency on the concept of “nature” as an imagined symbol for purposes of attaining legitimacy. At the same time, it also exploits nature itself and turns it into a sort of missing referent, an act which of course erases a lot of human violence directed towards nature and towards animals. I think that, as a movement, we really need to depart from these ideas that we need to assets our “naturalness”, our “legitimacy” or our “authenticity”. I like to think about this as a politics of inauthenticity, and I’m curious to think about what that might look like.

  5. Interesting. As someone who spends a lot of time doing mythbusting, my takeaway from this piece is that it’s important that when you set out to bust myths, you don’t do it in the service of assimilationism and “but we’re really just the same as you” discourse, but with a clear “We’re different, and the problem with these myths is they don’t reflect the heterogeny of the bisexual community.” I try to do it this way, although I miss the mark at times.

  6. I can’t explain why or what attracted me to those I have loved. I know the intensity, the intesity that engulfs every fiber of my being and drives the passion of my heart to embrace that special someone, my soul mate, the center of my world and the essence of my being. The name nor the gender never mattered. What mattered was that the person I loved, loved me. I never gave that love a name. Some might say, bisexual. I perfer bisensual. And always mutual.

  7. This is so good, so passionate, so powerful! I recently came out queer though always identified as fluid in gender and sexuality. It’s been quite the ride! I took women and gender studies in University and stumbled upon sexual diversity studies where I truly found my calling. Then realizing my life matches the theory so bang on, I had more fun with it, learned more, and thought more. You rock! I love this. Please take a moment to read my personal post on coming out queer. I discuss some of which you state so eloquently in your post. Thanks for affirming this as a radical space for me! I am very thankful.

  8. I absolutely loathe the idea that anybody, gay, bi, straight, or otherwise, should somehow feel ashamed for liking sex, and so many of the writing on “debunking bi stereotypes” seems like slut-shaming to me. Am I some sort of traitor to my orientation for preferring to be mongamish instead of strictly monogamous? For being grateful for all the partners I’ve been with and the sexual experiences I’ve had, slutty or otherwise, instead of being ashamed? For loving sex and enjoying my high sex drive? Should I feel there’s something wrong with gazing upon somebody beautiful and having impure thoughts? Or writing a bisexual character who can be good and ethical and complicated, and yet doesn’t abide by monogamy?

    I refuse.

    I love me, I love sex, and my partners have always considered me kind, honest, ethical, and damn sexy. That’s how I like it, and I refuse to be ashamed.

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