By Lisa Petriello
(Note that this article applies to bisexuality whether it is defined as sexual attraction to female and male people or sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender identity.)
I know that some feminists do accept bisexuality, and some are non-self-hating bisexuals themselves. Yet there is still some biphobia in feminism, which I wish to address here.
Firstly, in regard to the feminist critique of bisexuality stating that bisexuality is anti-feminist, as a feminist myself I note that in actuality it is feminist for women to be honest and to be encouraged to be honest about their sexual orientation. Perhaps the implication of that critique may be that a woman in a relationship with a man or nonbinary person, or who has the potential to be in a relationship with a man or nonbinary person, is subjecting herself to sexism. To the contrary, there is really little point to feminism if one believes that all non-female people are necessarily going to be sexist no matter what, and that belief has been proven wrong due to men becoming more feminist as time goes on. If the implication is that a woman in a relationship with someone who is not a woman is taking her time and energy away from women and/or feminism, I note that nobody can spend all their time and energy in the service of any cause, and that having a relationship with a woman is not necessarily helping feminism, as women can be sexist and refuse to support feminism, and as encouraging women to not have relationships with people they are attracted to and not be honest about their sexual orientation is not feminist, as it restricts those women’s freedoms and diminishes their happiness without advancing women’s rights. It is for these reasons I oppose political lesbianism and political asexuality (which are sometimes considered part of feminism), and would oppose political bisexuality and political heterosexuality were they to exist, which to my knowledge they do not.
I would also like to point out that many important feminists are (or were while they were alive) bisexuals, such as Kate Millett, Jennifer Baumgardner, Simone de Beauvoir, Rebecca Walker, and others. This makes sense when you consider that women in relationships with other women have often not been able to live off of men’s money, while women in relationships with men sometimes have (and have been encouraged and pressured to), and thus in that respect the rights of women to keep their own money, go into high-earning professions, etc. have sometimes been more urgently needed for bisexual women and lesbians than for heterosexual women.
Lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys writes in The Lesbian Heresy (1993) that while many feminists are comfortable working alongside gay men, they are uncomfortable interacting with bisexual men. Jeffreys states that while gay men are unlikely to sexually harass women, bisexual men are just as likely to be bothersome to women as heterosexual men. However, this is biphobic and wrong because sexual harassment is not an expression of sexual desire (after all, if someone wants to sexually entice a woman, they know harassment will not work) but rather a way to insult and/or intimidate women, and thus gay men are sadly as motivated to perform it as bisexual and straight men.
In regard to the feminist critique of bisexuality stating that bisexuality is a type of false consciousness, let me first note that false consciousness is a way of thinking that prevents a person from perceiving the true nature of their social or economic situation. So, even if a person is truly bisexual as shown by their sexual arousal, some may think it could be preventing them from perceiving the true nature of their social situation — for example, that it could be preventing women from perceiving the way they are oppressed by men. In regard to this argument, however, I note that if women could not perceive oppression by men if they were sexually attracted to men or in a sexual and/or romantic relationship with a man, feminism would never have arisen among heterosexual or bisexual women, and yet it clearly has.
Lesbian feminist Julie Bindel has described female bisexuality as a “fashionable trend” being promoted due to “sexual hedonism” and broached the question of whether bisexuality even exists. She has also made tongue-in-cheek comparisons of bisexuals to cat fanciers and devil worshippers. In response to all this I note that there are still places where bisexuality is not accepted and yet people continue to come out as bisexual there, as they did before bisexuality was considered chic at all in any place. So this proves bisexuality really exists. I would also like to note that male bisexuality has been disparaged by a study entitled “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men,” by the controversial researcher J. Michael Bailey, which allegedly “proved” that bisexual men did not exist. With little critical examination, various media celebrities and outlets jumped on the bandwagon and claimed to have “solved” the “problem of bisexuality” by declaring it to be nonexistent, at least in men. Yet I note that further studies, including improved follow-up research led by J. Michael Bailey, proved the original study to be incorrect.
As for the argument that bisexual women who pursue relationships with men are “deluded and desperate,” as some lesbian feminists claim, I would state that there is nothing more deluded and desperate about entering relationships with men than there is about entering relationships with women or nonbinary people. After all, women and nonbinary people are capable of being sexist and otherwise abusive to female partners, and men are capable of being feminist and otherwise supportive to female partners. One’s partner(s) should be chosen as individuals – asserting that women are inherently superior to those who are not women in any way is sexist, and it is not helpful to women to do so. Indeed, asserting that women are better partners inherently could keep women from working to become better partners, as they would be assured that they are inherently that way and need not make sure they are treating their partner(s) as an equal (or equals), supporting them, and so on. Asserting that women are inherently morally superior has also been historically used to deny women rights – the idea that women are too “pure” to sully themselves with politics was used as an argument against women’s suffrage, for example. The idea that women are inherently feminist or otherwise inherently superior partners could also be used to argue that women should devote themselves to relationships rather than careers, a common anti-feminist position.
Biphobia and the refusal to accept bisexuality is also an anti-feminist position not only for the reasons I have already given but because rejection of male bisexuality is often tied to rejection of men perceived as too effeminate, a patently anti-feminist position in its disparagement of qualities associated with women. The idea that a man who has qualities associated with women, such as attraction to men, is inferior has also been used to disparage feminist men who are supportive of their girlfriends and/or wives, as seen for example in the misogynist term “pussy-whipped.” A bisexual man, I would hasten to add, is not inherently any more likely to be feminist or effeminate than any other man; it is only that the rejection of bisexual men due to the perception of them as effeminate is anti-feminist.
As for cyberfeminism in particular, as a cyberfeminist myself I note that Donna Haraway’s 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” which was the inspiration and genesis for cyberfeminism, states that the cyborg “has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all powers of the parts into a higher unity.” However, this is biphobic and wrong because bisexuality is a sexual orientation, a harmless attraction some people simply have, not something they try to have or do in order to create organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all powers of the parts into a higher unity. Therefore, cyborgs can be bisexual and cyberfeminism can and should be accepting of bisexuality.
The rejection of bisexuality in women by lesbian separatists is more complicated. If lesbian separatists believe that men and/or nonbinary people are inherently anti-feminist, this is disproved by the examples of feminist men and nonbinary people, and also this belief does not logically lead to founding lesbian-only spaces in a male-dominated society, because in such a society (for example, the United States) men will still control most of the society and men could therefore impinge upon even the most isolated commune with laws, not to mention lowering its potential membership through convincing women that lesbianism is a sin. Yet if lesbian separatists wish to have lesbian-only spaces simply to be among like-minded people, while not seeing bisexual people as inherently anti-feminist, or believing that lesbian-only spaces can truly be insulated from male culture, there is nothing biphobic or anti-feminist in that.