I genuinely support the questioning of a legitimate ‘community’ and ‘identity’. Still, in relation to my race and gender, I am unable to dismantle my historical and social connections with quite the vigour that others perhaps could.
Yes, ‘identity’ is a social construction in which so much is framed including Black, Women, Bisexual. And it’s true, ‘Black’ has been both liberating and constraining to its members. Like Zionism, we can see how the double-edged sword of identity empowers and confines. Actually, outside orgasm, I’m not sure how much of the body is free from the social inscriptions of society’s constructions. But don’t forget identity has also generated Pride – a politicised word that grew out of Black Power movements in developing a positive Black identity. Blacks and Gays benefited just as Women have from the Suffragettes and Feminism.
Certainly, I have no desire to reify oppressive or political past patterns of behaviour though I do believe that you cannot nullify painful feelings in isolation without first coming together. What defines your collectivity depends entirely upon that sense of isolation. But in a society that defines and controls sexuality boundaries, for example, we simply cannot pretend to develop a radical approach to sexuality independent of those factors. History makes it quite clear that without a collective consciousness developing those areas in which we feel unable to express who we are, we will at worst be ignored and at best be trivialised.
Ideally, I would love to say “I’m just a person”, “I’m just sexual”, I’m just whatever. Occasionally I do say I’m bisexual about my class status for example but that’s not useful when external interpretations of identities in, say, ‘black’ and ‘female’ produce and have real consequences. You cannot proactively politicise anything if you can’t name and define it – unfortunately. That’s why identity politics will live on for those that haven’t got but need one – the disenfranchised, economically deprived, women/men denied, migrant, ignored, working classes dismissed etc., etc. I accept however that there is a sell-by date hopefully – depending on a successful impact. Coalition politics unquestionably complements and develops on from that. One thing is certain, ‘identity’ will not disappear on account of the intellectually enlightened or the privileged few that now regard it as superfluous to their postmodern awareness.
Maybe a bi identity is not for all practising bi’s though there is a difference between practising bisexuality without needing to make it a life focus, and practising bisexuality secretly. The issue is about ‘choice’. I don’t believe we live in a society that allows bisexuality to be practised as a free choice though I accept many have found ways to balance heterosexual or gay lives with a lesser stated version. Still, when we look from a race, class, gender and sexuality stance, we can also see that heterosexual white middle-class men, in particular, are privileged practitioners of it. Private bisexuality is at the expense of unknowing wives, girlfriends or boyfriends. It’s a side point but secrecy for black heterosexual women carries the greatest risk to her sexual health right now. In a general sense, it is much more difficult for women to practice bisexuality no matter who she is and I feel some responsibility to that.
Politicising bisexuality proudly is precisely to add more dignity as well as to distinguish those that practise dishonesty. Generally, there is a high level of secrecy and that is because we still accept too much heterosexism as our dominant social/sexual framework. No matter what we understand about the falsehood of a bisexual identity, at least, it can specifically situate us on levels we choose. Validation and the breaking of isolation make that necessary. I don’t see anything wrong with openly accepting ‘bi’ as simply, ‘strategically’ necessary and this does not mean we need to be tied to the hip.
Frankly, we cannot underestimate the difficulties involved in negotiating a bisexual existence. Sleeping with both sexes is one thing but negotiating how you might structure your personal decisions with integrity and honesty to the self and others, is still fraught with complications. If some practising bisexuals don’t need a stronger or politicised bisexual identity, fine, but what about those that do? As Audre Lorde (a Black Lesbian) once said, “it is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others – for their use and to our detriment”.
I’m just trying to emphasise the need to develop the uniqueness of our own voice/s. Good if ‘bi’ is such a broad category and good if it means our differences will be a million fold over. Let us be the mix-race of sexuality then and admit that there is nothing pure about it. The real issue is to develop a radical list of bi objectives that sets out the kind of sex/social environment we want in 5, 10 and 50 years. A radical bi vision?
It’s true that ‘gay’ is more accessible since it collapsed its identity but I doubt whether Carnival Pride will mean anything deeper than Notting Hill Carnival in years to come. It’s all encompassing is another way of diluting the gay agenda; besides, these are both important but once a year thangs. I can’t help feeling that this improved level of gay acceptance is really about ‘you keep to your side of the fence and we’ll keep to ours’. The Gay lobby has struck a private deal and that’s not the kind of sexuality acceptance I wish for the future.
Part of an article written in Bi Community News, No 31, U.K., August 1998