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Bisexuality has long been seen as a threat to the stability of other queer identities. Lesbian and gay activists have struggled to accept bisexuality, perceiving it as threatening their identity politics, an opinion which is not understood without a proper examination. What is it that makes bisexuality so adverse to the structures of meaning that gay and lesbian activists have set up? Is it merely biphobia? Do bisexuals ‘shake-up’ our definitions of sexuality, and if so, to what end?

Take the example of Dr. Jonathan Dollimore. Perhaps best known to English students as a Renaissance scholar, Dollimore cofounded the University of Sussex programme on Sexual Dissidence with Dr. Alan Sinfield. Living for many years with a male partner, Dollimore eventually married a woman. Many of the students who came to Sussex to study under him reacted adversely to the news, something Dollimore recounts as central to issues queer identity has with non-monosexual individuals: “I had attracted these students from all over the place to come and work with me as a gay man only to ‘cease to be gay’ in their eyes … I think some of them have felt a sort of betrayal”.

“Bisexuality reveals that sexuality can be fluid”

This sense of ‘betrayal’ is hard for me to understand: Dollimore was no less queer, no less interested in his own same-sex desire as his students. Did the students have an issue with a bisexual Dollimore, or a Dollimore they (fallaciously) saw as ‘switching’ from gay to straight? His entry into a heterosexual relationship somewhat devalued his position as an educator, though he was no less qualified to speak on queer desire. The answer may be that for many gay and lesbian people, the world they exist in is so homophobic that their definitions of queerness are based firmly on an essentialist, adverse response to that homophobia. They believed there was no room for heterosexuality in the queer community, just as there is no room gay queerness in the heterosexual community.

Bisexual speaker Amanda Udis-Kessler articulated this succinctly: ‘Lesbians and gay men [are] protective of the essentialist view of sexuality, equate the fluidity and apparent choice-making of bisexuality with that of constructionism and feel a tremor in the structure underlying their lives and identities’. In other words, bisexuality was a threat: it’s seen as crossing over ‘two worlds’ which an identity politics based on a fierce binary of hetero- and homosexual cannot accommodate. Bisexuality reveals that sexuality can be fluid, that the desire of one person can encompass radically differing identities.

So what then does bisexuality make of lesbian and gay identity politics? On the one hand, you have the idea that bisexuality reveals the need for a different view of sexuality, one that is less rigid and more fluid. Labels would become slowly more redundant, less regimented and more open to change and examination. On the other hand, identity politics makes more than ever the need for a bisexual identity, due to its antagonistic relationship with bisexual people. While we need to assert the validity of our identity, I don’t believe that should force us to abandon thinking about ways of deconstructing dangerously dogmatic ways of defining sexual desire and activity.

“The ‘bi movement’ was seen as a successor to an out-dated ‘gay and lesbian movement’”

This is exactly the type of thinking bisexual activists, from the nineties to the present day, have engaged with. The “bi movement” was seen as a successor to an out-dated “gay and lesbian movement” which disprivileges trans, bi and pansexual individuals. One of its main functions was to examine identity politics with two aims in mind: working to make bisexual people more visible in identity politics, while questioning the very structures of identity politics that disprivileges them. It required a more accepting mind set, one which would allow scholars like Dollimore to maintain the same level of respect for his queer identity regardless of his choice of partner. There has doubtless been progress since the incident Dollimore reported, but the way of thinking espoused by his students are no less alive than they were then.

These issues have been at the forefront of bisexual politics for the last two decades. There’s one more related issue, however, that urgently needs addressing: bisexuality’s place in queer identity politics does not invalidate gender neutral people. I’ve heard this accusation many times – that bisexuality itself enforces a gender binary – with ‘bi’ occluding any gender identity which isn’t male or female. This is a reductive understanding of identity. Bisexuality is a term which, like any identifier, is shaped by the people who accept it as representative of them.

Bisexuality does not contradict gender neutrality, you can be bisexual and gender neutral, you can be a bisexual person and have relationships with gender neutral people. Bisexuality is a term which we’ve inherited through decades of identity politics, with bisexual people reshaping and defining it as it defines us. My bisexuality certainly doesn’t discredit any identity even though it does challenge, rightfully, the sets of beliefs we have inherited from monosexual activists – and it is precisely because of this that we need more bisexual people in identity politics

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