Bisexuality, Binarism And Why Everyone Has It Wrong
Crossposted at The Spectrum Cafe
I’d like to leave a note here that one can use bisexuality to mean more than two genders attracted to provided the why for it isn’t binarist or cissexist. Because the base definition isn’t inherently cissexist, there’s a lot of leeway to play with the word as an identity without running into any problems of the word itself having dangerous power. This post deals with the binarism and cissexism strawman about the “two gender attractions” in bisexuality if one is using that definition. I don’t go into what sort of reasons for expanding bisexuality would be cissexist because generally a given bisexual person you ask about their bisexuality and it applying to more than two genders will have basic identity as a reason and not anything more. So it’s not super relevant.
[Edits added to clarify certain points]
I recently read an article from Julia Serano that filled me with dismay. Not just the article itself but the whole debate about bisexuality and how no one really comprehends the actual issue.
For those who have a deep phobia of hyperlinks (or a really shitty computer, like me), it was an attempt to defend bisexuality from accusations of enforcing the gender binary. Mostly by spouting male/female essentialism (which is pretty cissexist in and of itself and hell, even sexist) and then using it as a descriptor of how there’s a difference in her treatment by society depending on her partner, which is fairly problematic since it’s pulling labeling from a heterosexist, cissexist and binarist society. Never do that. It’s a bad call. Also, shock and awe y’all, this happens with any polysexuality, including pansexuality. It’s not a good reason under any light.
But this isn’t a fisk of her article. Because really, she’s defending bisexuality from a giant strawman fallacy dropped by her just as wrong opponents. I’ve discussed the concept of cissexism and binarism within gay, lesbian and etc labeling before but I haven’t tackled bisexuality’s rather unique situation as of yet and handled the topic in a more general fashion. So today I’m sliding on my details hat and going full steam into what about bisexuality is the binarism and cissexism issue and what isn’t.
See, the thing about bisexuality that everyone forgets (sometimes even some bisexuals) is that, by its base definition, it is a sexual orientation wherein you are attracted to two gender groups. None of them are specified. It says nothing more than that. Bi-sexual. And in and of itself, being attracted to just two gender groups is not binarist, cissexist, sexist or anything. So bisexuality, as a simple, base level definition, is not in any way, shape or form, binarist or cissexist. Even as an expanded term, encompassing many genders, you’re only really dealing with cissexism if the reasons for its newer definition are cissexist. Most people use it specifically for the fact that it’s a word that exists for a collection of sexual orientations that had previously not had a lot of words. Just like the word trans, it may not be perfect (esp around pedants) but that doesn’t make it part of structural oppression.
So where does that binarism and cissexism come into play? Because there is absolutely no doubt that there is binarism and cissexism in play in bisexuality. It comes up every day, same as with the monosexual orientations. You may think I’m contradicting myself but I’m really not. Bisexuality (like everything else) becomes binarist and cissexist when people structure assumptions around it, put it into positions it doesn’t belong and add things to the definition that make it a problem (or create a definition that is problematic itself). For instance, Serano’s assumption that bisexual (a word about genders) is related to sex and that sex is male and female only, that is cissexist and binarist. And that poisons her usage of bisexual as a term.
Bisexuality gets run through the meat grinder of social bullshit pretty hard. People will attach the biological essentialism to it and that’s certainly bad but it gets even worse when you realize something very important about bisexuality and genders with even the most base, pedantic definition.
Bisexuality can just as easily describe an attraction to only say, agender folk and women as it can only men and women.
That’s right, bisexuality is, at its base, old school, pedantic and literal definition just an attraction to two gender groups. Any two. If I was attracted just agender folks and menz, I would be just as bisexual as Julia Serano would for being into men and women. Especially if the formulation of my attraction to agender and bigender folks was different for each of them, like hers is for men and for women. So why is this realization also a revelation about bisexuality that is unpleasant and negative? Because if you think about it a bit, you’ll notice that people equate bisexuality with an attraction to only men and women. And that is binarist. Fully and completely. Not only that, but it’s also sexuality policing. That’s right, by only associating bisexuality with an attraction to men and women only you erase and police those bisexuals who are attracted to another combination of two genders or a collection of many genders. It’s not just damaging to nonbinary gender people but to bisexuals.
Another element that poisons the discourse of bisexuality with binarism (and actually sexuality policing as well) is the utter erasure of other forms of polysexuality. Because let’s face it, pansexuality is attraction regardless of gender. It means that any gender is in (and implicitly claims that the attractions are not different at all between genders for a pansexual). This does not cover people who are attracted to men, women and agender people or women, agender people and one type of mixed form people (two examples of trisexuality) or people who are attracted two types of mixed form people, agender people and men (an example of quadsexuality) or… well you get the idea. You see, there’s more than one sexuality between two and all/regardless. There’s three, four, five, six, etc up to the number of genders that exist. But bisexuality is essentially used as a label umbrella for all of those other sexualities (if people even acknowledge their existence, which is rare.) What happens is, instead of recognizing that biphobia is actually a form of monosexism and bisexuality one simple form of polysexuality, bisexuality replaces polysexuality as the label for non monosexual orientations and biphobia is equated to polysexuality. This erasure is destructive to these other sexualities and centers bisexuality as the only polysexual option beyond pansexuality (which many bisexuals even approach in a bigoted fashion) which creates binarism within bisexuality. Unfortunately, this one isn’t going away any time soon. The mass majority of the straight cis world is going to keep squishing it all into bisexuality or pansexuality and that’s a huge reason why a lot of folks who could fit other words in between are bisexual. This isn’t the fault of bisexual folks, it’s an element of the nasty systems that attack the entire LGBT.
So people on both of the major sides of this debate on bisexuality and binarism are both engaging in binarism, cissexism, erasure and are just flat out wrong. Bisexuality doesn’t enforce the binary and cissexism, the erasure and assumptions pushed onto it, the way essentialism is spilled into it and the way it is policed to only be about men and women does.
And those are the problems all of us, not just the bisexual and polysexual communities, need to solve.
Filed under: activism | 63 Comments
Tags: binarism, bisexuality, cissexism, erasure, monosexuality, polysexuality, sexuality