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RePresenting Bisexualities: Subjects and Cultures of Fluid Desire

Donald E. Hall
Maria Pramaggiore
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    RePresenting Bisexualities
    Book Description:

    Is bisexuality coming out in America? Bisexual characters are surfacing on popular television shows and in film. Newsweek proclaims that a new sexual identity is emerging. But amidst this burgeoning acknowledgment of bisexuality, is there an understanding of what it means to be bisexual in a monosexual culture? RePresenting Bisexualities seeks to answer these questions, integrating a recognition of bisexual desire with new theories of gender and sexuality. Despite the breakthroughs in gender studies and queer studies of recent years, bisexuality has remained largely unexamined. Problematic sexual images are usually attributed either to homosexual or heterosexual desire while bisexual readings remain unexplored. The essays found in RePresenting Bisexualities discuss fluid sexualities through a variety of readings from the fence, covering texts from Emily Dickinson to Nine Inch Nails. Each author contributes to the collection a unique view of sexual fluidity and transgressive desire. Taken together, these essays provide the most comprehensive bisexual theory reader to date.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6883-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Bl-ntroduction I: Epistemologies of the Fence
    (pp. 1-7)
    Maria Pramaggiore

    WhenNewsweek’sJuly 17, 1995, cover story proclaimed “Bisexuality: Not Gay. Not Straight. A New Sexual Identity Emerges,” many of us who have identified ourselves as bisexual for some time wondered what exactly could be considered “new” about bisexuality except the kind of public recognition enacted by theNewsweekcover, particularly since the article itself refers to a number of famous “historical” bisexuals (Cary Grant, Billie Holiday, and James Dean).¹ Does making the cover ofNewsweekput bisexuality— the “wild card of our erotic life”— on a peak (or in a valley) of our sexual topography, and how does such...

  6. Bl-ntroduction II: Epistemologies of the Fence
    (pp. 8-16)
    Donald E. Hall

    Multiplicities confuse, sometimes terrify, yet almost invariably intrigue us. Collapsed binaries, whether imploded or exploded, mystify and mesmerize us. Something there is that loves/doesn’t love a wall. InPowers of Horror,Kristeva lingers over the apocalyptic, the wall-breaching, that which inhabits “the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject.” Kristeva’s is, and

    exalts, a literature of indeterminacy, of “murky waters,” disappointing, frustrating, and hollowing the “demarcating imperative,” “disturb [ing] identity, system, order,” produced by “the artist who, even if he does not know it, is...

  7. Part One. Unthinking Queer/Theorizing Bisexually

    • Chapter 1 Blatantly Bisexual; or, Unthinking Queer Theory
      (pp. 19-54)
      Michael du Plessis

      Given the highly contradictory accounts to which it has been subject, bisexuality may well seem fated to confusion. We have been told that bisexuality veers between homosexuality and heterosexuality as two distinct sexual orientations, without ever becoming an orientation in its own right; we have also been informed that it oscillates between two genders because it already androgynously contains masculine and feminine within itself. Experts and laypersons alike have wondered in a variety of ways whether it might be some rare fusion of sexuality, gender, and object choice. But we have also heard, over and over again, that bisexuality is...

    • Chapter 2 Do Bats Eat Cats? Reading What Bisexuality Does
      (pp. 55-69)
      Frann Michel

      In Aesop’s fable of “The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts,” the Bat is the creature who refuses to take sides in the war between the birds and the beasts, and ends up exiled from both groups.¹ Why does this sound so familiar, this tale of someone who might belong to either group, or neither—the unreliable figure who abandons potential allies? And why is there only one Bat? Why not a slightly more naturalistic setting, with a community of bats, who might agitate for bat visibility? To be sure, the birds and the beasts make peace at the last...

    • Chapter 3 From Performativity to Interpretation: Toward a Social Semiotic Account of Bisexuality
      (pp. 70-96)
      Ki Namaste

      Lucy’s comment on language and sexual identity illustrates the theoretical and political problems which accompany the articulation of bisexuality. That the term “bisexual” can be uttered without specifying a particular referent indicates a theoretical problem of meaningless words and barren semantic fields. At the same time, this theoretical issue is bound within obstacles of a more political nature—i.e., the impossibility of enunciating a critical bisexual identity and politics (or any bisexual identity and politics, for that matter).

      This paper is concerned with the relations between language and identity, with an emphasis on how to conceptualize bisexual subject-positions and, equally...

  8. Part Two. ImPrinting Bisexualities:: Literary Readings

    • Chapter 4 Graphic Sexuality and the Erasure of a Polymorphous Perversity
      (pp. 99-123)
      Donald E. Hall

      And about switching . . .

      Westphal’s famous article of 1870 ... can stand as its date of birth .... The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.¹

      Foucault’s often, perhaps over, quoted pronouncement does, of course, highlight the dramatic shift in the discourse on sexuality inscribed throughout texts of the late Victorian age. It is common now to recognize that with the proliferation of sexological materials during the last third of the nineteenth century, “homosexuality” became a site of both oppressionandidentification, potential confinementandliberation, insights that have helped propel lesbian/gay/queer studies....

    • Chapter 5 Loving Dora: Rereading Freud Through H. D.’s Her
      (pp. 124-141)
      Lidia Yukman

      Few writers have managed to hold open the interval between “opposites” the way H. D. did. Her poetry and prose relentlessly mark the borderline between subject and object, between dreamscape and logic, between categories of sexual difference. Her work falls within a historical moment between 1900 and 1950 in which psychosexual explorations surged, particularly in the work of Sigmund Freud and Havelock Ellis.¹ While H. D.’s novels exhibit formal experiments consistent with modernism, it is her sexual and textual politics that make her unique among modernist writers.² In her encounter with psychoanalysis and the “textual self,” H. D. came up...

    • Chapter 6 Bi-nary Bi-sexuality: Jane Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies
      (pp. 142-164)
      Marcy Jane Knopf

      In her essay “The Year of the Lustful Lesbian,” Arlene Stein struggles to define Susie Bright’s passing lesbian identity, which Stein names bisexuality:

      Because bisexuality may call into question the notion of sexual identity as necessarily being fixed, consistent, and either homosexual or heterosexual, it makes some lesbians uneasy. In a society where heterosexuality is the norm and lesbianism is still stigmatized, bisexual boundary crossings often lead to hurt feelings, as when a woman is left by her female lover for a man. Particularly suspect, and confusing, are women like Bright who sleep with men but maintain a lesbian identity,...

    • Chapter 7 Versatile Interests: Reading Bisexuality in The Friendly Young Ladies
      (pp. 165-179)
      Erin G. Carlston

      In this essay, I will read Mary Renault’s 1944 novelThe Friendly Young Ladies(first published in the U.S. asThe Middle Mist) not, as it has usually been interpreted, as a story of failed lesbian love, but as a theorization of bisexuality that challenges the dominant medical and literary discourses on homosexuality in its time.¹ The novel—in which a woman, Leo Lane, eventually leaves her lover Helen for a man, Joe—seems to stage what Terry Castle has named the classic “dysphoric” lesbian plot.² But at the same time, the text undermines that plot by indicating that lesbianism,...

    • Chapter 8 Invisible Sissy: The Politics of Masculinity in African American Bisexual Narrative
      (pp. 180-204)
      Traci Carroll

      By entitling his first novelInvisible Life,E. Lynn Harris invokes Ellison’sInvisible Manas a metaphor for the African American writer’s task of reclaiming manhood, figured in both Du Bois and Ellison as coming out of invisibility and finding a way to see and fully recognize oneself. The metaphor of invisibility recalls the Du Boisian bind of seeing oneself as a refracted image but never as a fully selfpresent subject.¹ As the political obstacle perhaps most frequently claimed by bisexuals, invisibility is also an important term in Harris’s exploration of sexual identity. By filtering bisexual experience through the generic...

  9. Part Three. Biopia:: Perspectives on Bisexual Visual Culture

    • Chapter 9 Biopia: Bisexuality and the Crisis of Visibility in a Queer Symbolic
      (pp. 207-233)
      Brian Loftus

      The language of sex speaks with two tongues simultaneously. For while androcentric heterosexuality is the implied and stabilizing referent of the sexual system, its terms engage in a symptomatic double speak. Gayle Rubin points out the cultural conflation of biological sex and sexuality through gender and documents this epistemological collapse in the normative slippage between two forms of the word “sex”:

      [T] he word “sex” has two very different meanings. It means gender and gender identity, as in “the female sex” or “the male sex.” But sex also refers to sexual activity, lust, intercourse, and arousal, as in “to have...

    • Chapter 10 Rough Trade: Sexual Taxonomy in Postwar America
      (pp. 234-252)
      Chris Cagle

      Resisting categorization of human sexuality has been one emerging goal of bisexual theory and politics. Recent bisexual theory is caught between seeing bisexuality as another category of sexual identity and seeing it as a challenge to sexist, heterosexist, and monosexual divisions of human sexuality and gender. In the mass media, too, the rhetoric of category-blurring has become popularized, and even Newsweek's biphobic July 1995 cover story on bisexuality talks about the new sexual “fluidity” on campuses. Still, it remains underexamined why bisexual theory finds categorization per se so central a concern or why the confusion, blurring, or mediation of sexual...

    • Chapter 11 Framing Contention: Bisexuality Displaced
      (pp. 253-271)
      Mariam Fraser

      InThe History of SexualityFoucault argues that sexuality, in contemporary western society, is perceived to be a privileged site of the “truth” of the self.¹ We may believe that our sexuality is repressed, he argues, and that it is in need of “liberation,” but the endless proliferation of discourses on and around sexuality—our efforts to reveal our sexuality, to expose it, declare it, and confess it—serves only to bind us all the more tightly into regimes of knowledge and power. Although sexuality does not reside within the self, nor is it inherently expressive of the truth of...

    • Chapter 12 Straddling the Screen: Bisexual Spectatorship and Contemporary Narrative Film
      (pp. 272-298)
      Maria Pramaggiore

      Bisexual characters have been popping up all over the screen, usually in the midst of romantic triangles, scenarios that highlight the inevitability of choosing between “same” and “opposite” sex desire.¹ In her recent account of the lesbian vampire film inVampiresandViolets: Lesbiansin Film, Andrea Weiss examines bisexual romantic triangles and argues that “[t]he degree of narrative closure largely determines what meanings the lesbian vampire films can generate, and the extent to which lesbians can find alternative or oppositional meanings. In the conclusion of a typical bisexual triangle film—Personal Best, The Bostonians—given an even fight between...

  10. Index
    (pp. 299-306)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)