Letter to the Thistle: On Bisexuality and Feminism


To the Editor:
	I'm writing to offer my opinions about bisexuality and how it
relates to feminism.  I aim to promote visibility of bisexuality and
acceptance of all sexual identities beyond the norm of hterosexuality.
With this letter I intend to show that sexuality is not binary;
rather, sexual orientation is a continuum.
	As a feminist, I believe that bisexuality can be seen as a
strong expression of support for gender equality: a bisexual person
does not restrict their choice of partner on the basis of gender,
unlike a homosexual or heterosexual person.  I think that the
character of a person is more important than their gender, when
selecting a sexual partner.  In our society, gender is still a major
influence on character, but it is not the sole determining factor;
there are plenty of people who do not fit the societal stereotype
associated with their gender. Nowadays, it is easier for women and men
to avoid acting in traditionally feminine or masculine ways if they
choose not to. Although gender differences are becoming less
pronounced, we as a society, still have a long way to go before
individuals are allowed to develop without being stifled by cultural
stereotypes of gender roles.  If we were to actually reach that point,
then I think masculine and feminine stereotypes as we know them would
become meaningless.
	Sadly, it is still not generally acceptable in present day
American culture to express attraction towards and have a relationship
with a member of the same sex.  Humans are inherently sexual, some
more than others, and it would be good if they were able to feel free
to choose a partner without any expectations concerning the sex of
that partner.  It makes sense that sexuality be expressed between
people with compatible characters, regardless of whether they are male
or female.  Many people accept the fact that biological sex is not a
significant factor when hiring an employee.  Legislation has been
passed in many countries to address the traditional power imbalance
between men and women in the work force.  This attitude towards the
significance of sex could be extended to the more personal sphere of
choosing a romantic partner, as already shown by people who identify
themselves as bisexuals.  If society were ever to evolve to a stage
where gender differences were insignificant and heterosexism did not
exist, then the labels of bisexual, homosexual and heterosexual would
also become insignificant.  But in order to explore the significance
of sex in a world without sexism or heterosexism, we would have to
answer questions such as: What role does biological sex play in
determining someone's character compared to environmental influences?
Can power differences between men and women ever be eliminated?  If
heterosexism did not exist, how likely is it that everyone would
select partners of the same sex?  Would biological reproductive
functions be a determining factor in this selection process?
	Adrienne Rich describes many situations where women are
expected and sometimes coerced into having relationships only with
men, in her essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence'1.
Rich's main argument is that society traditionally presumes that women
are heterosexual as an "innate orientation' and she reasons that this
assumption "stands as a theoretical and political stumbling block for
many women.'  She says that in fact, it "needs to be recognized... as
a political institution' which benefits men.  She thinks that the
rewards would be great for heterosexually identified feminists who
question heterosexuality by having experiences with women.  She
defines this as a lesbian continuum, "not simply the fact that a woman
has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another
woman', but including "emotionally important' relationships with other
women.  Bisexual women form a part of this continuum by valuing
relationships with other women, by having a choice in our sexuality
and by providing female resistance to compulsory heterosexuality.
	It seems to me that the only reason for people to restrict
themselves to opposite sex relationships should be if they want to
have biological children and if they want to be in a relationship with
the other biological parent, i.e. a nuclear family.  Whereas, in the
past, people who identified as homosexual may have been "forced' to
live a bisexual lifestyle, if they felt they had to get married and
appear to be heterosexual, e.g. for a woman to have some means of
support or for a man to keep his place in society.  Alternatively,
some people take on a bisexual identity having previously identified
as lesbian or gay.  Others continue to identify as homosexual even
though their behavior is bisexual.  For these people, it can be hard
to show attraction for someone of the opposite sex, because they could
face rejection or ostracization by the homosexual community.  A
primary concern of homosexuals may be that this may be seen as
weakening their political solidarity.  However, I see a bisexual
identity that is just as strong politically, in terms of affirming
alternatives to heterosexuality.
	Several ideas have been advanced of a continuum of sexual
identity between the extremes of homosexuality and
heterosexuality. This continuum is encompassed by degrees of
bisexuality, currently defined as attraction to both sexes.  In
writings by bisexuals, especially on the Internet, it has been
suggested that new terms, such as pansensual, be used to describe
individuals who are attracted to others regardless of biological sex.
This is relates to the conception of femininity and masculinity as a
continuum with androgyny representing any mix of masculine and
feminine characteristics.
	In this letter, I have mainly reflected on theoretical
concepts of sexual identity in a developing world.  On a more tangible
level, research has been carried out to try to determine how
individuals behave and identify themselves.  There have been at least
four scales put forward by researchers to try to express someone's
sexual identity.  The earliest was the Kinsey scale, which was
developed in the 1940s to stress sexuality as a continuum from 0 for
exclusively heterosexual to 6 for exclusively homosexual.  If someone
was between 1 and 5, they were described as part one and part the
other, rather than bisexual with varying degrees of attraction to men
and women.  It had a bipolar format, so it didn't show how strongly
someone was attracted to men or women.  Michael Storms proposed a new
sexuality scale in 1980, that used an x-y axis rather than a line
between extremes, to include asexuality as well as bisexuality.  The
third scale was developed by Fritz Klein.  He used several indicators
to define sexual orientation, such as sexual attraction, sexual
behavior, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference,
self-identification and lifestyle, and he asked the subject to use the
Kinsey scale to rank each indicator for the past, the present (in the
past year) and their ideal future goal.  The fourth scale, the
Multidimensional Scale of Sexuality was published in 1990 and
contrasts categories of bisexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality
and asexuality, using some concepts from both Klein and Storms.  These
scales do not show the whole picture of someone's identity, and there
has been some feminist critique of their methodology and of attaching
numbers to sexuality, but I think they are a useful tool for getting a
picture of the continuum of people's sexuality beyond just either
heterosexual or homosexual.
	In conclusion, bisexuality is a form of inclusivity and
supports feminism and homosexuality by challenging sexism and
heterosexism and by seeking equality of the sexes.  People reach a
bisexual identity in many different ways, and the Kinsey, Storms,
Klein and Branden scales attempt to determine people's sexual identity
on a continuum.  

Sincerely,
Kathrine Holden

References 1.  Adrienne Rich "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian
Existence', originally published in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture
and Society 5, no. 4, 1980, pp.631 - 660.

2.  Thomas Geller "Bisexuality: A Reader and Sourcebook', Times Change
Press, 1990.

Bibliography 

Elizabeth Reba Weise, ed., "Closer to Home, Bisexuality and Feminism',
The Seal Press, 1992.

Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu, eds., "Bi Any Other Name:
Bisexual People Speak Out', Alyson Publications, 1991.  

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