-- right up until I hit the chapter on bisexuality. I would type it in if I had the stomach for it (and if I hadn't tossed the book into the dumpster outside my apartment -- as an avowed bookworm, it takes a lot for me to do that; this is only the second time in my life that I have ever taken the extreme step of throwing a book into the trash), but the general jist was the following:
'You, my right-thinking lesbian sisters who have successfully shaken off the shackles of heterosexuality might at some times, be vaguely tempted to regard those traitors known as bisexual women with something other than contempt, in the dark times at night when you're lying awake and your conscience comes out to get you. Don't do it -- they take energy away from women and give it to men, they perform for men like dogs and ponies, they are spineless wimps, and the second the road gets bumpy, they will run back to the safe haven of paradisial heterosexuality like the yipping curs they are. Be strong: the world has hated us for so long and treated us like crap, we have the perfect right to shit all over them. We've Been Through So Much that the least those nymphomaniacal whores can do is stand still and be our punching bags.'Um. I'm sorry -- what?
It goes without saying that I came out to myself as bisexual and not as entirely lesbian. It also goes without saying that despite being terrifically sexually inert, Marilyn knew just by looking at me that I was a cowardly traitor who would cave when confronted by a man. Oh, and I was also a nympho who would do anything. And other things I've read by her indicate that this isn't just a transient opinion on her part, and it's not uncommon.
Of course, lesbians don't go around seducing women into the women's movement and convince happily married women to kill their babies and their husbands, either. But right-wing fundies are convinced that they do -- and so they despise and hate not lesbians but the myth of false lesbianism that they've created. Lesbians get rightly incensed by this. And then women like this turn right around and cram it down our throat -- hating us for mythological reasons.
If it were just this one book, written by a bigot, I wouldn't care much. A burp of ignorant prejudice is a burp, and there are always people with wild hairs who go off about something. But it's not just one book. It's an all-pervasive attitude that is sometimes entrenched in the second wave feminist/gay activist mind -- the mind that claims to love women, the mind that says, as Murphy says, that it is 'philogynist' instead of misogynist -- that it loves women, in other words. Except for I'm a woman, and she sure doesn't love me.
According to this attitude, other lesbians are to be loved via the shared starched upper lip of suffering Calvinist righteousness. (And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony of using the word 'Calvinist' to describe this attitude.) While not loved, heterosexual women are at least pitied, because they are still mired and self-deluded, poor unenlightened dears that they are. But women like me, who have tasted the purer fruit of woman and still insist on turning to look at the nice legs on the male cyclist stopped next to our cars at the red light -- we upset all the applecarts.
It's an ugly truth, but it bears stating -- an awful lot of bisexual women have encountered this attitude from women and men who are supposed to be our allies. (I have no clue if bisexual men are castigated for this reason since, as one friend of mine said, so few who aren't in the entertainment industry are willing to admit to it -- they're too busy keeping their heads down for fear of being stoned for spreading AIDS to the 'normal' population, after all. I've seen enough 'Ditch The Bitch Make The Switch' bumperstickers to suspect that they probably get it, too, though.) And I'm not going to act like it doesn't exist, or keep quiet about it and let myself get stereotyped or denied in a 'movement' that claims to represent my interests as a woman. My identity as bisexual is part and parcel of my identity as a woman, and if that isn't represented, or if it's spat on and ignored, well -- you can hardly say that my identity as a woman is being respected. We shouldn't have to stay in anyone's closet, most especially that of people who should know what it feels like to be pushed into one.
So let's let this third waver take a close look through third wave eyes at that argument against bisexuality, and let's get some of those damned insulting myths about bisexuality answered while we're at it, shall we?
This isn't a rant against feminists or gay activists, and I am not looking to give homophobes and bigots ammunition by which to tear down the validity of the lesbian lifestyle. I am fully aware that homophobia is entrenched and powerful. But I don't want that to prevent us in the queer community from doing whatever political housecleaning we might need to do in order to keep ourselves supported in the face of this hatred. Anyone who uses this article as 'proof' that gay people are no better than homophobes is missing the point, and moreover just looking for an excuse to justify their own hatred and bigotry. Anyone who reads this and says, 'See? Dem lezzies is just as bad,' needs more than a clue. They need a brain. had heterosexism and homophobia not gotten so entrenched in this culture, this article would not be necessary.This is a rant against the attitude that's so dismally common in the distorted remainder of second wave feminism/gay activism that's wandering around in bookstores and college campuses, not a rant against the feminist or gay community. I've found enough of this attitude espoused by straight feminists to know that it's not lesbians' 'fault.' These straight feminists seem to be ready to support lesbians in anything they say no matter how outrageous, simply because they are lesbians. It's like the talking dog syndrome -- they applaud the dog not because it talks well, but because it talks period. I've also met enough supportive, open-minded lesbians (and gay men) to know that the attitude isn't as entrenched in the feminist and gay activist communities as the bigots wish it were. So I'm not talking about lesbians here -- I'm talking about the small but bucketmouthed subsection of the 'movement' (whatever the hell that word means) that likes to think that it speaks for all lesbians and all feminists.
So let's get started. What isn't a bisexual woman?
Pity the poor heterosexual women -- chained to the Great Western Horror that is heterosexuality, with misery-filled lives and lack of fulfillment. Shackled serfs serving an infantile god -- prematurely old, self-abnegating, wiping asses right and left, and constantly putting the toilet seat down. What a vile death march heterosexuality is for heterosexual women! And what a marvelous life of unparalleled delight awaits the woman who successfully cuts off her chains and recognizes her fundamental lesbian nature!
But wait -- turns out that heterosexuality is not a hellish death march after all! Turns out that for bisexual women, it's a haven of paradisial normality to which they will flee when the going gets tough. It's not horrific or miserable at all! It's filled with the bliss of social acceptance and parental approval! The sun always shines on the heterosexual life, the birds always sing, and far off in the margins, the lesbians are living a life of complete and total hell, suffering mightily while treasures rain on the heads of those Happy Heterosexuals.
So which is it -- the Hellish Death March or the Haven O'Wonder? The horror of the millenium to which women have been artificially chained, or the safe port of normality to which cowardly spineless women flee when things get rough?
Which is it? Of course, some women have left women for men. Some women have left women for women. Some men have left men for women. Some men have left men for men. Some women have left men, and some men women -- for anyone or no one. People leave people for a variety of reasons, and it's suspiciously convenient to say that, if a woman leaves you for a Penis Person, that it's all her fault. It wasn't because maybe you weren't supportive of her bisexuality and tried to push her into a closet, it wasn't because she was a heterosexual feminist who was pressured into identifying as lesbian and it isn't working, and it most certainly wasn't just your personality.
It was her fault. Entirely her fault. It's very tempting, when a relationship breaks up and you feel bereft, to find any excuse for why it happened -- someplace to pin the blame. And if that blame can be pinned to the other person . . . so much the better.
The bald truth is that many bisexual women like to spend time with women because we like and love them, not because we're sucking their life force out only to hook ourselves up to men and deposit it there. We're not robotic sexual acolytes in some bad science fiction movie, where the virginal heroine gets hooked up to the bleeping machine to get her 'life energy' sucked out.
Do we finally have that out of the way, or should I get it skywritten in all major cities?
In reality, there is simply no way to tell which direction someone is moving along the Kinsey scale by assigning a word to them. For some people, it might be a nudge towards their progress up to the Kinsey 6 end of the scale. For others, it might be the other way around, and this can differ between the second and third waves of feminism.
The second wave of feminism had a sort of peer pressure associated with it sometimes that's reflected in Ti-Grace Atkinson's misquote: 'Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.' (The quote is actually, 'Feminism is a theory, lesbianism is a practice.') A lot of women were encouraged to find a kernel of lesbianism in themselves, and nurture that alone. Now, for some women who were completely lesbian, this worked for them. There were also a nontrivial number of heterosexual women who tried it and found out that it didn't work for them. And there were a lot of bisexual women who, with that encouragement, came out as lesbian first, and then realized, maybe years later, that they still liked looking at men.
And this is where the 'traitor who'll go back on you' thing came from. It all started with the hogwash belief that every woman on the street is capable of being a lesbian (viz. rejecting men, which is not what lesbianism is about at any rate). Plainly put, this isn't true. Bisexual and het women can no more change their sexual orientations than lesbians can. The supposed 'desertions' that garnered the wrath of Calvinist lesbians like Murphy were nothing more that the genuine sexualities of the women pressured into identifying as lesbians emerging after being repressed. Just like lesbian sexuality emerging from straight society. You can try your best to repress your orientation, but you can't for too long. (And often the people who do it turn into militants, afraid of being 'found out.' Just as the most hateful, vitriolic homophobia probably comes from people who are terrified that their own gayness/lesbianism might come out, the same goes for the more frothing-at-the-mouth biphobic comments from the feminist/gay activist communities.)
So, for a lot of second wave women, lesbianism was the stage they passed through to get to bisexuality, and not the reverse. This can differ in the third wave.
With us, there is no pressure, or very little, to be separatist. Separatism isn't an issue for us. As a result, a third wave woman is more likely to consider bisexuality as an option first off, perhaps thinking of it as a way to 'wet their toes,' to see if the water is inviting to them. As they pull up their pants cuffs and wade in, they might realize that they are a whole lot gayer than they thought and wind up calling themselves lesbians. If they tend toward monogamy and end up falling in love with a woman, they might just not call themselves bisexual anymore, or may call herself a 'practicing lesbian.'
And what if anything is wrong with this? Sexuality can be confusing in today's culture. Feminists and gay activists should know that. And especially for women, who have not only been told what our sexuality is but that we don't have one, figuring out where you fall on the sexual spectrum can be confusing. Some mislabeling and false starts are to be expected. The expectation that we should know ourselves one hundred percent before coming out has kept a lot of women in the closet for life. Figuring yourself out involves some mishaps sometimes -- they are baby steps towards self-knowledge, not frivolous and immature experimentation. You can't expect anyone to come out of the closet in any way at all if you stomp on them for making the first tiny little baby step wrong. Maybe that might mean a little heartbreak. Deal with it. It's an imperfect world. If the only people you are prepared to welcome are people who are totally in touch with their sexualities and completely together, you'll find yourself pretty lonely.
And in both waves of feminism/gay activism, going from a same-sex to an 'opposite'-sex relationship can involve more heartache than gay activists or feminists realize. Not only do we have to contend with the opinion of the gay community that we're traitors, but we also have to deal with our friends and families who suddenly clutch at us like life preservers, wailing that 'our prayers have been answered!' or who become angry with us for 'putting the family through all of that for nothing' when we were 'really straight all the time!' This can make the decision to take up with a member of the other sex traumatic as well, the opening of a can of worms that the out lesbian or gay man might well want to leave closed.
But for the most part, extended periods of celibacy are simply accepted as part of the bisexual woman's landscape, much to the disbelief of the second wave, and much to the crushing disappointment of most sexist guys who think that they can call us up like some wind-up doll and do a threesome with us. (My sexuality is not a dog and pony show for you to jack off to, and if I am with a woman, I don't want some Cro-Magnon het boy slobbering over me at the same time.) The reasons for this tendency to celibacy aren't really that hard to understand.
Without the pressure to be separatist nowdays, if you grow up liking boys, sometimes you just figure that you're straight and that's that. As a result, you wind up turning off the 'gay' part of yourself since you figure that it's just not there. Instead of recognizing yourself as bisexual, you can file yourself under 'heterosexual-with-a-problem' for years. And this confusion, and the way that society requires that you be either one or the other can frustrate and confuse a bisexual to the point where we just hang up and stall in the middle like the donkey between two bales of hay. Add that to the fear that a boyfriend or husband will react any of these ways:
However, you even seem to get a sort of perverse glee out of this -- 'See? See? Heterosexuality is baaaaad for women! Men are evil! We told you so -- you can either be lesbian, celibate, or miserable!' (Insert spiteful cackling.) Yes, sometimes it stinks. Lots of women are unhappy in bed with men -- but instead of seeing this as we do, as a problem that has to be solved, the old guard separatists are delighted about it. It proves them right. They don't want to solve the problem -- if the problem goes away, a huge chunk of support for their attitude goes away. Much better, instead of dealing with the problem, to keep it around, so that they can keep pointing to it as proof that they are right.
Lesbians or celibate women are Sisters in the Struggle. Heterosexual women, especially unhappy ones, are the Pitiful Unenlightened Masses that you can point to and say, 'We aren't them.' (And as someone who likes women's bodies, I for one find the categorization of woman-woman love alongside celibacy to be pretty damned insulting.)
Fear of men doesn't cause a woman to be anything but fearful of men. Dissatisfaction with them may cause women to entertain other options, but acting on that is something else entirely. I've heard too many straight women wish they were lesbian, and heard of too many who tried to be and couldn't, to believe that the simple dislike for the institution of heterosexuality can alter one's orientation.
But the myth persists -- promoted, I think, by men and women (especially men) who enjoy the idea of most women running scared of them. The timid frightened little doe run down by the lion is an image that gets them off. (Forget for the moment that it's the lioness who does the hunting.) Men are such Big Strong Burly Bastards that the only possible response on the part of a woman is fear.
Um, no. If a woman is prompted to consider other options in her orientation, I can guarantee you that it's not motivated by fear of Throbbing Masculine Prowess or any of that nonsense. Fear of a penis won't make a woman gay -- let's face it, they aren't frightening anyhow. Most women take the attitude of 'penis as baby orangutan.' So ugly and strange looking that it's sort of cute and fun to play with, as long as you don't have to carry it around on you all the time. :-) This is probably partly related to the 'penis as sock puppet,' which also explains part of why they are so fun to play with. What will make a woman consider if she's gay or not is, once again, a creeping sense of dissatisfaction. Lack of compassion, closeness, cuddling. Lack of empathy. Emotional illiteracy. Getting accused of having PMS for being weepy instead of being held and comforted, though . . . now, that might make a woman entertain the option.
But again, while these things can prompt a woman to wonder if she isn't bisexual or lesbian, they won't necessarily provide her the means to become bisexual or lesbian. It just means that the institution of heterosexuality can be so dissatisfying for women that we have more motivation to consider other options.
The 'time being,' however, has ended. And I'm more than prepared to let the issue of bisexuality lie while we've got bullets flying over our heads and we have to get shelter. But now that we're more secure, and more firmly positioned -- well, those issues won't stay on the shelf forever.
And let's get something else out of the way -- it's not 'balkanization,' and it's not 'splintering.' It's our identity I'm talking about here. And isn't this the same thing that men have been telling women for decades? 'I know you want to vote dear, but you'll just have to give that up for the good of society.' 'I know you want to go back to college, darling, but when we got married, we agreed to make sacrifices for one another.' 'I know you think you're gay, honey -- but can't you see what that's doing to the family? Why do you have to bring it up? Can't you just stop talking about it?'
Why is it a 'movement' when you fight against being told to hide parts of yourselves under a rock, and it's 'balkanization' when we do it? Because we're telling you where went going wrong, whereas you were telling them. (And because 'balkanization' is a nice, convenient buzzword used to silence Generation X-ers when we try to open our mouths and tell your generation what's going on with ours.)
Why do you falsely pretend that you have always been unified and spoken with one single voice, when you attempted to purge all lesbians from your ranks -- the Lavendar Menace of NOW, lesbians were once called. Why isn't that 'splintering,' and why do you have such short memories when it comes to dissention in your ranks?
Well, I can't answer that for everyone, of course. The level of diversity among us is so large that about the only thing I can say that would hold for everyone is that we are descended from arboreal primates and breathe oxygen. But I can give you an idea as to why it's an issue nowdays at least.
We seem to be more likely to sit back and ask, 'Am I gay?' just as a matter of course. And since more women are asking that, more women are coming back with more varied answers. Women who have bisexual potential thirty years ago might not have even bothered to ask, just figuring that disliking sex was the price to pay for having a uterus, or if they thought of themselves as feminist, they figured that they'd just better shut up about it and act like 'political lesbians.' But nowdays, women are more encouraged to ask themselves this, so more women are uncovering or at least wondering about their potential for bisexuality. We don't feel like we're just heterosexuals with problems anymore, and we're not willing to be put into a closet by the gay activist community any more than by the straight community.
Also, more mundanely, there is simply a critical mass of bisexual women and men who are more interested in forming a political community with a distinct voice. For a long, long time, bisexuality was invisible. Bisexual women couldn't raise our voices or else we'd get bricks thrown at us for 'being traitors.' Bisexual men are still hiding behind bunkers for fear of being blamed for AIDS. Lately though, bisexuals have simply gotten sick of it. We've started to demand visibility, and make our unique voices heard. We're no longer prepared to have our sexuality chiseled into shape until it can fit nicely as a brick in someone's else's ideological fortress.
Second wave feminists might feel that the intimate sexual problems of men aren't their concern. Straight women might feel that they can't think about it too much. Bisexual women are the only ones who can make the active choice to tell men to shape up and not fear losing their only options for a happy sex life. No one can hold men to feminist standards of behavior quite as well as a bisexual woman.
The really weird part is that I do really get pissed at men and I do want to scream and leave the whole Het Mess behind, and I'm seriously thinking of doing it (a far cry from the Bisexual Traitor who ducks back into the suburban home when the road gets rough) -- but that isn't connected in a fundamental way to the fact that I still hear a chorus of very horny angels singing hymns in my head when I look at that picture of Jason Carter on my web site. Sure, the political realization of heterosexuality drives me up a wall, and I'm not interested in taking part in it right now, and probably not for a long time. But that reflex reaction is still there, and to deny that is to deny part of myself. I'm not going to lie and say that Brad Pitt doesn't turn me on because it will sit more soundly in some stranger's ideology. I cannot help it, and I refuse to apologize for it.
For me, it's not even a matter of living with or separate from men. The way I feel some days, I'm so sick of their shit that I'm totally content to never live with one again. But it's not the biological part of heterosexuality I can't stand -- I like male bodies. They are really nice. It's the political crap that I can't stand. Heterosexuality isn't a problem -- it's the way it's been institutionalized that I despise.
I can't stand the way that marriage has been created, I hate being expected to do all the housework and praise Junior's most cursory efforts to pick up his socks once in a while. I hate being expected to do all the gross jobs around the house because the Superior Being can't handle sticking his hand in a garbage disposal, and still having to fawn and act like it's the Second Coming when he picks up a dish. ('Look what I did, Mommy!') I have no clue why so many men think the toilet-seat-question is a joke when it's transparently obvious to me that making someone sit in your piss is a pretty grave insult. I can't stand it that my career still takes a back seat to his, and moreover that I'm expected to give it up, whereas if he makes even the most insignificant of sacrifices, he's lauded to the skies as 'a sensitive 90's guy.' I hate it to the point that I'm seriously considering just not getting married because I don't feel like wasting my time trying to explain all this to an adult who should know it already.
But washing dishes, in a fundamental biological way, is disconnected from looking at a great-looking guy in a restaurant and having that 'HEL-lo!' reaction that many women and a not inconsiderable number of men know so well. Sure, they've been linked together by society and by religion and almost every other large force in our culture. But it's wrong. It's forced. They aren't really connected, any more than a woman's hand is any better suited for being stuck in dishwater than a man's. A hand is a hand. The mechanical and biological reality of the human body is not really connected to Palmolive. Similarly, the mechanical and biological reality of the human libido isn't connected to who takes out the trash. It's been connected to it artificially -- and it shouldn't be. That's why we're so miserable about it. That's why so many relationships fail. That's why women are so dissatisfied with men, and probably vice versa. That's why so many women of my generation are waiting so long to get married, if at all.
It's the institution of heterosexuality, and the way it's been graven into stone, the fake and forced shape it's been made to take, that we hate. But the reflex knee-jerk reaction of, 'Whoa,' when we see a good looking man is still there. It's not going to go away, and I won't keep my voice down about it. And it is perhaps bisexual women who can understand this the best from a personal point of view.
The most important thing to remember is don't panic. You're not a freak, and you're not going to burn in hell. I'm serious. You're perfectly fine. You can live a normal, healthy, happy, and fulfilling life with a nice career and family as a bisexual. Check out the WWWOMEN section on queer issues for more. But for now, just take a deep breath and calm down. You'll be fine, trust me on this one.
If you'd like to do some reading, check out the following titles:
On-line bisexual support groups, organizations, and resources include:
09/28/07 at 0:16