Questions & Answers

Does identifying as bisexual reinforce a false gender binary?

No, it doesn’t.  This idea has its roots in the anti-science, anti-Enlightenment philosophy that has ironically found a home within many Queer Studies departments at universities across the Anglophone world.  It is startling that people educated about the politics and dynamics of sexuality would go on to direct criticism for reinforcing a “false gender binary” at bisexuals.  While it is true that our society’s language and terminology do not necessarily reflect the full spectrum of human gender diversity, that is hardly the fault of people who choose to identify as bi.  As a scientific term to describe sexuality, the word bisexual came into use during the late 19th century as a means of classifying people with both homosexual and heterosexual patterns of sexual attraction or sexual activity. The latin prefix bi- does indeed indicate two or both, however the “both” indicated in the word bisexual are merely homosexual (lit. same sex) and heterosexual (lit. different sex).  Let’s be clear, the scientific classification bisexual only addresses the physical, biological sex of the people involved, not the gender-presentation.

Bisexuality is an identity for which sex and gender are not a boundary to attraction. Heterosexuality and homosexuality, on the other hand, are defined by the boundary of two sexes/genders.  Given those fundamental facts, any criticism of bisexuality as reinforcing a gender binary is misplaced. Over time, our society’s concept of human sex and gender may well change.  For bisexuals, people for whom sex/gender is already not a boundary, any such change would have little effect. Why then, would bisexuality be even remotely to blame for reinforcing a “false gender binary?”


Answers


Bisexuality is revolutionary (to mainstream society) precisely because it UNDERMINES binaries. Gay, lesbian, straight - those are nice, tidy, bourgeois categories because they are either/or. Those categories place a clear line between same-sex and "opposite-sex" desire, they leave straight people's sexuality unquestioned, and position homosexuality as safely "other." Bisexuality then comes in and muddies the waters and blurs boundaries.

The accusation that bisexuality somehow reinforces a "false gender binary" is completely bizarre to me because it usually comes wrapped in intellectual rhetoric and yet runs contrary to basic facts. A bisexual's attractions are not limited to people with one kind of genitalia - whereas straight and homosexual people's relationships very much are. For heterosexuals, gays, and lesbians, humanity is divided into two distinct camps - those of the sex to which they are attracted, and those of the sex to which they are not attracted. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are ALL about binaries! Why then single out bisexuality? It makes no sense.

This accusation usually is accompanied by a lame argument that bi means two, therefore bisexuality is all about two genders. Anyone who comes up with this gets flunked from Greek/Latin-Terms 101 and gets an F for reading comprehension. The bi- in bisexual means two OR both - in the case of bisexual it means both hetero- (different) and homo- (same) sex attractions. Note that the term bisexual says ZERO about anyone's gender-presentation. I wish people would find better ways to channel their passions then by going on misguided attacks that hold that bisexuals, the very people who transcend boundaries, are somehow responsible for dividing the world into two camps. It's like blaming the bridge instead of the river for dividing a countryside in two.

-Ian


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