Not All Visibility is Created Equal

Advisory: discussion of pornography

Eisner’s book, Bi: Notes for a bisexual revolution, talks a lot about bisexual invisibility as one of the ways to maintain the power structure. She also writes about the ways that female bisexuality, specifically, is used within mainstream pornography and ultimately the general media to devalue any deviation from the single standard of masculinity.

“Instead of erasing female bisexuality per say…media representations – and society in general – neutralize the “sting” that it carries by appropriating it into the heterosexual cis male gaze. From being a potential threat, female bisexuality is converted and rewritten into something else, something that’s both palatable and convenient to patriarchy and the hetero cis male gaze, and which caters to its needs.”

I know that is a lot to read but basically the idea is that we take something that could threaten the power structure and use it to instead reinforce these ideas. Eisner uses mainstream pornography as a typifying example, but I’ll make sure to be less graphic here.  The gist of it is that “lesbian” is a sub-category under “straight’ since these videos are for a straight male audience. The scenes, moreover, involve women “preparing” one another for the man to enter the scene and thus, the real sex to occur.

 The other way female bisexuality is made to be less threatening is with the phrase, “everyone is bisexual.” Of course there is a spectrum of sexuality and in many ways this may help to break down the binary, but more so it devalues bisexuality as part of one’s identity.  Freud used bisexuality (and clitoral orgasms) as a means of trivializing women and women’s pleasure. If everyone is bisexual, then it is easy to use the immaturity argument and wait for someone to “grow out of it,” or “make a decision,” instead of accepting it as a real identity.  This argument is a way that bisexuality is devalued while making it visible only insofar as it’s used to promote straight men.Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.42.50 AM

Eisner argues that bisexually threatens the fabric of the traditional male power role, because the existence of bisexuality makes it more difficult (for men, mostly) to “prove” one’s straightness.  Additionally, male bisexuality is pushed to the margins and made invisible because of the assumption that if someone has sex, or thinks about having sex with a man, they are no longer attracted to women. It is for men as well as women that our identities are so often decided by our relation to a penis. This presumption means that bisexual men are really gay, and bisexual women are really straight. Eisner describes these presumptions: “…Everyone is really into men – a phallocentric notion testifying to this stereotype’s basic reliance on sexism.”bisexual men

We need to break down these assumptions and stereotypes in order to move towards true visibility.  As I talked about in my last post, bisexual people are viewed as unreliable and traitorous, and therefore cannot fit into the mainstream without being marginalized and/or fetishized. We need to rethink the way we understand and normalize sexuality.

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Bisexuality and the GGGG Movement

I finished reading Bi: Notes for a bisexual revolution this week. The book by Shiri Eisner discusses the ways in which bisexuality is co-opted by patriarchy in order to maintain the status quo. It’s a fantastic read and I recommend it to anyone who wants an academic look at how biphobia and exclusion of most queer people allows power structures to maintain gender and race hierarchies within society.

Eiser’s book is excellent, but it can be very dense and requires a lot of focus to really get all of the points she makes. I read it with a pen and my margins are full of illegible scribbles. Since I want these ideas to be accessible, I’m going to do a couple of posts just to touch on things that stood out to me.

Eisner coined the term, the GGGG movement (The Gay Gay Gay Gay) movement to exemplify the singularity of issues within the mainstream LGBTQ movement (marriage).  The image we get from media is a white, middle-to-upper-class gay man as the voice of all queer equality. He is probably married (or engaged where marriage not legal) to another white middle-to-upper-class gay man and they have adopted a child, they have a lot of money. The image of the LGBTQ movement is Neil Patrick Harris. Ultimately, it’s about assimilation. It’s why my girlfriend’s grandmother ultimately “accepted” that she is gay, because “gay couples make more money.”Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 2.28.45 PM

Instead of working to deconstruct the systems that value some people over others, the GGGG movement, Eisner argues, only gives the system more fuel by assimilating into the narrow-minded lifestyle.

Marriage for the queer movement is racist and classist in many ways, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important issue. By being barred from marriage and other similar institutions, queer people are barred from entering into institutions that society deems necessary for adulthood. By banning gay marriage, we are infantilizing queer people.

The GGGG movement is much easier for the mainstream media to digest, and thus it remains the image for the LGBTQ movement. Eisner explains, “The promiscuous and traitorous image of bisexuals is likely to cause difficulties for the campaign (for same-sex marriage).”  Since bisexuals are seen as immature or unable to make up our minds, we are viewed as untrustworthy and therefore not a good image to assimilate into heteronormative marriage culture.