Making Bisexuals Count – Moving Beyond Opposites

making bisexualAs I was perusing titles for a look into the ways the US government has counted race and ethnicity since 1790, I came across Hybrids: Bisexuals, Multiracials, and Other Misfits under American Law by Ruth Colker, Esq, presently professor of law at the Ohio State University.  I didn’t quite know what to expect but I was sure I had to examine the book and with a click it went into inter library loan request.

As soon as I got it, I dove right into the tome and devoured the sections on bisexuality in a flash.  Colker maintains that bisexual invisibility forces us into one of two fixed categories, in this case “gay” or “straight”.  In Chapter Two she writes, “Ignoring bisexuality allows society to perpetuate the stereotype that sexuality is rigidly dichotomous.”

Unfortunately the Western worldview tends to categorize things in pairs of binary and immutable opposites, which is not a terribly helpful enterprise.   Understanding this position helps to explain people who deny bisexuality such as Michael Musto and Dan Savage.  It certainly explains why the law–from municipal domestic partnership legislation to state statues to military regulations–doesn’t broach the subject.  In fact as of 1996–the book’s publication date–“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the only law that specifically mentioned bisexuality and I could find no others in my own research.

The consequences of making bisexuals invisible through a focus on bipolar categories can be serious however.  Colker mentions how lesbian friends refused to vacation with her after she married a man and how a feminist activist erased her experiences with women by referring to her as a ‘hasbian’.  Certainly in this column, you have read about my struggles with being a bi man.  Colker goes far deeper though by discussing the ways bisexual invisibility has hampered efforts to combat AIDS in the African-American community by not addressing actual sexual practices, regardless of labels.

Colker asserts that sexuality is complex, nuanced and not easily pegged as either “gay” or “straight.”  She also  reports on work proposing that certain communities understand that people engage in both same-sex and opposite sex relationships, while perhaps not naming such behavior as bisexual.  Yet she still goes on to say, “Naming bisexuality can broaden people’s understanding of human sexual experiences by acknowledging the existence of a fluid spectrum rather than rigid bipolar categories.” According to Colker, using a bisexual perspective permits us to ask about our attractions and their origins.   It permits us to tell a story.

What Colker calls for is a “bisexual jurisprudence,” one that takes into account the fluidity of human experience on many levels as it applies to the legal system.

As far as I am concerned any recognition at all requires that we tell our stories, recount our own experiences as often as is feasible.  It matters precious little how many men and women we have had relationships with.  What matters is speaking our truth and bearing witness to the fluidity of attraction as we live it and the quality of our relationships.  It is our presence and our personal disclosure that will put an end to bisexual invisibility and broaden people’s understanding of human sexual experience.  It is speaking up in ways large and small, as organizations and individuals that will make sure bisexuals count.