From Issue 2.4 - February 1996

Redefining Bi Politics: A Politics of Ideas, Not Identity

BOOK: Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, and Visions
BY: Edited by Naomi Tucker with Liz Highleyman and Rebecca Kaplan

Review by Drew Campbell

I'm always wary of books with the word "politics" in the title. They conjure up visions of endless meetings with people I don't like and rarely agree with, consensus-blockers and process queens, hours of hard work that garner no more than a derisive two-minute spot on the local news. I was burned out on "politics" before I was 25.

The Bisexual Politics anthology reminds me of why I bothered: intelligent and respectful discussion, strong opinions well-stated, insights I might never have come to on my own.

The book strikes a balance between looking backward at the history of the bisexual movement and looking forward toward coalition with sexual minorities who share common goals; between deconstructing stereotypes of bisexuals and building a new and diverse model of community that includes transsexuals, BDSM players, sex workers, and other sex radicals.


Editors Tucker, Highleyman, and Kaplan do not shy away from the sex in bisexuality. Some of the most compelling essays in the volume deal directly with maintaining a sex-positive focus.

Carol Queen's essay, "Sexual Diversity and Bisexual Identity," like so many others in the book, challenges the stereotypes of bisexuals that many people (including even some bisexuals themselves) hold: "We are really homosexual, but closeted. We are really heterosexual, but kinky. We are fence-sitters. We are vectors of disease to our straight wives or lesbian lovers. We are swingers. We are nonmonogamous, polyfidelitous, or promiscuous. We are prostitutes who are really lesbian, but have sex with men for money. We makes love to the person, not the body. We are sexually adventurous, even sexually elite. We are open-minded. We will fuck anything that moves."

While some factions of the bisexual movement have downplayed the importance of sex, especially the more transgressive varieties (SM, sex for money), Queen opens up a discussion of sexuality in broader terms than just "both/and." How do we label a man, she asks, who has sex with other men only when he is cross-dressed? Is this het sex? If he has sex with women only when he is cross-dressed? Is this lesbian sex? Ultimately, Queen calls for an open-door policy for those who challenge sexual stereotypes with gender play, kink, nonmonogamous/polyfidelitous relationships, and conscious and sex-positive choices regarding sex work. Queen writes, "I want to argue for a sexual standard no more restrictive than 'Is it consensual?' and a community that considers it good to empower people, lovingly, to make their own sexual choices."

Greta Christina, another Bay Area sex radical, challenges the bisexual party line that what makes bisexuals different is a sort of "gender blindness," the ability to look beyond gender to see the "real" person. Christina, on the other hand, revels in the differences between men and women. "And I still get hot for both," she writes. "I think bisexuals have a unique sense

Cecilia Tan, publisher and writer of groundbreaking erotic science fiction, asks us to look directly at the connection between bisexuality and SM. A self-proclaimed part of the "bi switch revolution" (a term coined by Jay Wiseman), Tan sees parallel trends in the SM and bisexual communities, a reclaiming of the "middle ground." The rapid growth of these two communities (and their overlap) has led to a breakdown of secrecy and rigidity, allowing for free play with roles and unification of isolated segments of the community.

Among the many strengths of this anthology is its repeated acknowlegdement of the importace of gender identity and presentation in sexual politics. Robin Sweeney's insightful piece, "Too Butch to be Bi," asks why people assume that a butch dyke must necessarily be monosexual; it just ain't so. Kory Martin-Damon contributes a moving account of his coming out as a female-to-male transsexual, and calls upon the bisexual community to be a place where gender lines are erased.

How can the bisexual community move beyond the stereotypes and avoid the internal strife that has beset the gay and lesbian political movement? Liz Highleyman suggests that a politics based solely on identity and shared oppression will necessarily falter and become mired in questions of who does and does not belong. Rather, Highleyman suggests that "idea politics" (which might also be called affinity politics), based on a common set of beliefs or goals, commitments and values, should form the basis of politics for bisexuals and all who will benefit from free choice in sexuality and gender expression -- and that's all of us.

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Last updated: 10 February 1996