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.

Are You Sisters? Or Just Queer?

rainbow-question-markI’ve been thinking lately about the times when queer women are mistaken for sisters, cousins, or other relatives. I’ve also noticed people on the internet talking about this phenomenon here and there, but I haven’t found any research or even conjecture about it.

I figured this would be a good place to start the conversation. Numerous times I’ve been out with my partner and been asked if we were sisters. Once this even happened with former senator, Scott Brown (R-MA). To me, it seems like a way for someone to recognize that there is a relationship there, but dismissing the legitimacy, whether intentional or not.  I have been thinking over this phenomenon for a while now, though only recently did I notice that nobody is talking about it.

Scott Brown - He doesn't get it

Scott Brown – He doesn’t get it

I tried researching the idea, and I was able to find a comment on a thread occasionally, but it seems that most people dismiss it after it happens. Even worse, it causes queer women, whether they are part of a couple or not, to take a step back and examine themselves and their friend or partner, assuming that the clothes they’re wearing or mannerisms are somehow creating a meshed persona.

In effect, queer women are blaming themselves for others’ perceptions.  Perhaps women are internalizing the fault as they are taught throughout their lives. I may be taking this a bit too far, but I believe the point has some foundation.

By recognizing a relationship between women as one of sisters or other relatives, the relationship is less threatening than a romantic or sexual relationship. Since this phenomenon most often seems to happen when men are asking, I think it might be that men do not see relationships between women as having the same status as relationships between men and women, or among men. I would love to find some research on this topic but until I can start, I’ll have to rely on my own speculation.  I suppose I’ve been thinking of this as a dismissal of sorts; a way of devaluing the relationship.

The other issue I’ve noticed with this phenomenon ties into the fetishizing lesbian twins in pornography.  Can this idea be so prevalent that it spills over into real life? I’m not sure how to understand how this applies to everyday life, but these pornographic scenes ultimately involve men being the protagonist of the story. Without men, the women’s relationship is invalid and unfulfilling.  tegan and sara

I’m not sure how exactly to connect these ideas without further research, but I am hoping to get some more insight into this phenomenon of queer women being mistaken for sisters. I would love to talk to anyone who has something to say about this and I’d love to hear feedback!