First things first: I need to admit that I am still only halfway through Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. While I’m writing out these discussion questions anyway because I want to still be semi-timely with the book club (which, considering it’s fully into May now, I’m already failing at), I also feel it’s okay, because to discuss the entirety of this book could fill an entire college course. Even just covering the sections I’ve read, I’ll be missing huge and important chunks of ideas that Eisner streams out.
In fact, maybe I’m so far behind in my reading because there are just so many ideas on every page in here to comprehend and absorb. Eisner writes in a distinctly academic fashion, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible to understand, but that it takes more time. (At least for been-a-while-since-I-was-in-college clunky brains like mine.) While it’s probably obvious from the title itself, this book views bisexuality through a mainly political and theoretical societal viewpoint. So if you’re a bisexual girl looking for relationship advice or something, you won’t find it here, but you will probably get to understand yourself better, and learn how you can change the fucking world. Which, you know, might actually help with your relationships after all.
1) Eisner refers to her politics as radical, meaning, getting at and changing the roots of society as opposed to the idea of just “making them better” that liberalism often professes.
Perhaps as part of this radicalism, she also uses some different and interesting phrasing for certain concepts that I had never heard before. (Granted, this may just be due to the fact that I haven’t read that many radical texts.) For instance, instead of using “third world” or “first world,” she instead uses the terms “majority world” and “minority world.” Because while “first word” linguistically places a higher value on places like North America and Europe, really, population wise, we are the freaking minority. I love this.
She also shies away from the term “people of color” and uses “racialized” instead. I’ve had internal conflict over “people of color,” as well. It once again sets aside white as a special, “colorless” category, while lumping everyone who isn’t white–a huge variety of people–all together. It feels like one of those things that serves a purpose, so we continue to use it, but it serves it just barely. However, I’m also not sure how I feel about “racialized.” Do you have thoughts? Language is important, and I’m interested.
Another thing she does that makes me smirk every time is to refer to the “LGBT” movement as, in fact, the “GGGG” movement. What other language did Eisner use that you had thoughts about?
2) Speaking of language, the very definition of the word “bisexual” is a core question of the book, and it’s a definition I’ll never think about exactly the same again.
While a bisexual is typically thought of as someone who is attracted to both women and men, the simplicity of that statement no longer even makes sense to me. I’ve always thought about bisexual as being just another identity, similar to how straight or lesbian is an identity, but Eisner makes the challenge that being bi is distinctly different from being straight OR gay/lesbian. While straight and gay/lesbian people are obviously very different, she asserts that they lie under the same societal structure of monosexism–meaning, attracted to one gender. In this way, it’s very easy for gays and lesbians to make arguments of equity to straight people by saying, “I’m just like you.”
Bisexualism, on the other hand, refers to being attracted to MORE THAN one gender, including trans, genderqueer, and non-binary identifying people. Eisner also challenges the idea of an “essential” identity, arguing for one that actually promotes doubt, that can constantly change over time, that can mean many different things under the bi umbrella, that uproots the binaries that the minority world depends upon. The fact that it’s such a threat to the way things are normally run is the very reason that so many people want to claim it doesn’t actually exist–bisexuality makes them nervous. Being bi, says Eisner, and promoting bi politics is “a way of challenging social categories and subverting social order.”
Do you agree? How do you define being bisexual?
3) I found myself underlining and bracketing a whole lot of stuff in the chapter on biphobia and bi erasure, partly because so much of it rang true in experiences I’ve seen in the LGBT community myself.
She repeats throughout the book the exclusion that bisexuals feel from both the straight world and the gay and lesbian world. And while the exclusion and rejection from the straight world is undoubtedly still the most widespread, rejection from the gay and lesbian world can hurt the most. As she explains: “Gay and lesbian communities are where we often come seeking help, and where we subsequently become heartbroken and even betrayed, as this rejection seems to come from where we least expect it–where we came for support.” This can be especially harsh in lesbian communities, who consider people who can be attracted to men or anyone other than women an “invasion” or “contamination” of their community.
Eisner also suggests throughout the book that bisexuals and trans folk actually have more in common in their experiences than they do with gays and lesbians. This definitely rings true to me in terms of both of their experiences within the lesbian community, where biphobia can frequently be seen, and where establishments such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival still openly exclude trans women.
Interestingly, though, Eisner does see a strong connection between bisexuality and feminism, and in fact believes the two movements must work together.
So what’s up with lesbians, lesbians? How can we make our community better?
4) If you’re feeling defensive from that last question, and believe you don’t in fact suffer from biphobia, Eisner has made a “Monosexual Privilege Checklist,” which you can also check out online.
Like a lot of privilege checklists, it’s not meant as an attack (especially on queer people), but rather a call to become more enlightened about how people other than you are affected by society. Some of my favorites include things such as, “Society assures me that my sexual identity is real and that people like me exist,” and, “When I disclose my sexual identity to others, they believe it without requiring me to prove it, usually by disclosing my sexual and romantic history,” and a real zinger in terms of things we often discuss on this website: “If I encounter a fictional, historical, or famous figure of my sexual identity, I can be reasonably sure that s/he will be named as such in the text or by the media, reviewers, and audience.” What do you make of this checklist? Are there ones you disagree with?
5) There are many, many other things that could be discussed here, again, just from the sections I’ve actually read.
So here’s a space for you. What else stood out to you as significant or interesting? What did you identify with most strongly, or disagree with most strongly? And if you’ve read the rest of the book, please point out for all us any insights that I haven’t gotten to yet.