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Gone are the Days:

Bisexual Perspectives on Lesbian/Feminist Literary Theory

A n n K a lo s k i N a y lo r

In this article I offer a map of recent UK and US lesbian feminist literary theory which highlights the shifting and often paradoxical interpretations of lesbian sexuality as both real and as metaphorical. I focus on two key texts which offer overviews and analysis of the eld from different sides of the Atlantic, which are both accessible, in the sense of being written from the perspective of ordinary lesbians, rather than structuring lesbian feminist literary criticism around traditional critical concepts, and which also, unusually, offer some (small) comment on bisexuality. These two works are Bonnie Zimmermans Safe Sea of Women (1992), and Palmers Contemporary Lesbian Writing (1993). I argue that lesbian/feminist literary theory offers particular constructions of sexuality which, while challenging many of the assumptions of heterosexual feminist literary theory, largely ignores the bisexual content of much lesbian ction, and consequently glosses over some of the tricky areas of gender and sexuality difference. Through this les/bi reading I hope to encourage the gure of the bisexual woman to question both constructions and deconstructions of lesbian sexuality.

FEMIN IST R EVIEW N O 61, SPRING 199 9, 01 41-77 89, PP. 5 166

Lesbian feminist literary theory; bisexuality; reading; identity; Bonnie Zimmerman; Paulina Palmer Gone are the days when a book on the topic of lesbian writing could be expected to appeal only to those readers who identify as lesbian or bisexual.

This tantalizing assertion is the rst sentence of Paulina Palmers preface to her book Contemporary Lesbian Writing (Palmer, 1993). Why do I nd her statement so fascinating? After all, the sentence appears to suggest, fairly uncontroversially, that lesbian writing now has a readership beyond that of the self-identi ed lesbian or bisexual. But it is the or bisexual which surprises me. For although in 1998 the word bisexual is often seen accompanying lesbian, and it is no longer uncommon in the UK to see non-heterosexual womens sexual identity described as lesbian or



bisexual, when Palmers book was published ve years ago it struck those readers, like myself, who identify as bisexual as astonishing. This response begs some explanation, and in this article I offer two routes. First, for readers unfamiliar with contemporary lesbian/feminist literary criticism I sketch out one genealogy of the area as a possible starting point (readers more cognizant with the eld will no doubt plot their own critical map). Second, and in more detail, I present a bisexual reading of texts by two key lesbian/feminist critics who offer analyses from two sides of the Atlantic: Paulina Palmer from the UK, and Bonnie Zimmerman from the US. Both of these critics write in an accessible style (in the sense of being written from the perspective of ordinary lesbians, rather than structuring lesbian/feminist literary theory around traditional critical concepts), and also, unusually for lesbian critics, offer some (small) comment on bisexuality. The two works I focus on are Palmers Contemporary Lesbian Writing, and Zimmermans article Lesbians Like This and That: Some Notes on Lesbian Criticism for the Nineties (Munt, 1992b: 115). First and with some pleasure that this task is now possible I offer a brief history of lesbian/feminist literary criticism. Jane Rules Lesbian Images, rst published in 1975, can be seen as the founding text. Although previous lists of lesbian texts had been compiled (Foster, 1958; Grier, 1967) Rules was the rst book to offer some kind of analysis of the value and pleasures of lesbian characters in ction for real life lesbians. Rule makes a sweeping journey through lesbian ction from Radclyffe Hall to Rita Mae Brown, and gleefully encompasses cultures which pre-date most de nitions of lesbian/feminist. Neither does she deploy the term lesbian/feminist as a critical tool. Nonetheless, her assessment is clearly informed by the emerging Womens Lib and Rule gestures towards one of the prototypical relationships between lesbian and feminist: With the advent of Womens Liberation . . . gradually the independence of lesbians became a symbol of a new political identity for women (Rule, 1975: 9). Despite Rules promising text, no further books of lesbian/feminist literary criticism were published for quite some time, and the genre developed in articles in feminist journals (Harris, 1977; Arnold, 1976; Wiesen Cook, 1979; Brown, 1980; Stimpson, 1981; Kennard, 1984; Zimmerman, 1984; Hennegan, 1985; Farwell, 1988, Munt, 1992a); in feminist books (Zimmerman, 1985; Palmer, 1990; Duncker, 1992); and in volumes of Lesbian and Gay criticism (Marks and Stambolian, 1979; Lilly, 1990; Bristow, 1992). It was not until the 1990s that there appeared a spate of monographs and edited collections pertaining to lesbian/feminist literary criticism (Jay and Glasgow, 1990; Roof, 1990; Zimmerman, 1991; Hobby and White, 1992; Munt, 1992b; Palmer, 1993; Abraham, 1996; Farwell, 1996). Amongst all these, Palmers volume is the only one which assumes


any kind of les/bi af nity and not just implicitly, but recorded on the page for all to see.1 That her statement should produce some incredulity is in itself alarming. What does it suggest about the hierarchy of lesbian/ bisexual relations? How had bisexuality remained so submerged in the lesbian literary critical community that such a comment should evoke a sense of surprise while simultaneously passing almost unnoticed. My thinking on this topic has been enhanced by an article published in Feminist Review 53: Mary Eagletons Whos Who and Wheres Where: Constructing Feminist Literary Studies. In this thoughtful piece, Eagleton calls for a careful and political assessment of the particular genealogy of feminist literary theory which is being transmitted in numerous Womens Studies classrooms throughout the country. Some of her concerns are similar to mine: how do we represent the confusion and indeterminacy, the cacophony of voices and views in any necessarily streamlined account? (Eagleton, 1996:5). Eagleton recognizes that feminists, on the whole, mean well, and introduces a novel by the critic David Lodge in which he satirizes contemporary critical theory. She wittily differentiates between:
the megalomaniacal delusions of David Lodges Morris Zapp, planning to produce the ultimate totalized version of Jane Austen after which nothing more could be said . . . (and) our inclusive delusions . . . of a more muni cent nature, the wish to have all the girls in the team and the concomitant fear of appearing unsisterly or litist if one doesnt succeed. (Eagleton, 1996: 14)


Inclusion and exclusion are clearly problematic for many critics, not only feminists, yet even Zapp cannot quite include everyone and everything. Eagleton continues:
The utterly exhaustive list of critical positions he [Zapp] proposes reads, Polonius-like: historical, biographical, rhetorical, mythical, Freudian, Jungian, existentialist, Marxist, structuralist, Christian-allegorical, ethical, exponential, linguistic, phenomenological, archetypal, you name it. (Eagleton, 1996: 16)

She suggests that the phrase you name it inserted despite Zapps desire for a controlling and comprehensive mastery is Lodges version of the etc. which concludes the obligatory feminist list of identities (white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.). She quotes Judith Butler who sees this etc. as an embarrassed sign of failure the necessary failure which occurs when, through trying to be inclusive, one can only succeed in excluding (Eagleton, 1996: 15). The etc. is also, as Eagleton asserts via Butler via Jacques Derrida, a supplment: that is, a form of referring to the excluded other, which is forever subordinate, but which, paradoxically, also completes that which it augments. There must always be a supplment,



therefore there can never be completeness, must always be an etc.. So what, Eagleton implies, is to be done about the proliferation of important and neglected identity groups? There is not enough paper, nor the philosophical capacity, to include all of the girls on the team. Bisexuals will be only too aware of this etc.. It comes to us as lesbians, gays, whatever: a phrase which itself is often a supplment to feminist, or other forms of radical naming.2 Bisexual women (as bisexual women) are rarely in anyones team. The arguments about the value, or otherwise, of a bisexual identity gather around one of three notions: bisexuals exist as a separate group, bisexuals cannot exist as a separate group, or bisexuals move in and out of bisexuality, and a bisexual identity. To rephrase: (i) bisexuals have (potentially) a viable identity, and should seek to make themselves more distinct; or (ii) bisexuals are (primarily) either heterosexual or homosexual: there is no such thing as a bisexual identity; or (iii) bisexuals have neither a consistent and distinct identity, nor are they either straight or gay instead, bisexuality can best be understood as a perspective, though also containing within it the possibility and indeed necessity for a strategic and non-essential identity. This last one accords with my own thinking, and underpins this article. Can literary theory cope with another reading identity? This particular interrogation of lesbian/feminist literary criticism cannot be pursued without rst returning to those questions Eagleton raises about the status, and the value of the etceteras. Etc. functions a little like the other common E ecstasy. Both are intended to induce feelings of inclusive and non-discriminatory bonhomie; both camou age differences; both seek to create a location which attempts to avoid the problems of difference and dissent. Both at their best are necessary respites from the ux and confusion of diversity and con ict, but only a respite. Etc. must always be in danger of modi cation as one group or other emerges from, or re-enters, its temporary haven. Eagleton highlights the decisions made (and sometimes not made) in selecting texts for inclusion in feminist anthologies. She considers how white, heterosexual feminist critics only too aware of the process of inclusion and exclusion have sought to ease their (ethical? embarrassing?) burden by dexterously focusing on the structural problems of reading and teaching feminist writing, and by invoking critical heterogeneity. Eagleton who rmly places herself in the slippery camp of privileged feminist critic has no glib answers: she concludes her article by questioning her own pedagogic practice of beginning her undergraduate feminist literary theory course with a necessarily partial genealogy of feminist literary history. Named inclusion of all identi ed identities is just not viable the list is too


long however valid each groups case is. Instead Eagleton asserts the necessity for ethics and embarrassment on the part of advantaged feminist theorists. This is an unfashionable stance: (post)feminists steer clear of anything related to truth (which currently includes ethics) and anything akin to guilt (like the embarrassment of privilege).3 Yet perhaps these untrendy Es of ethics and embarrassment might, as Eagleton hopes, act as a necessary spur to political action (Eagleton, 1996: 19). I want to argue for the importance of bisexuals coming out of the etc., if only for brief and strategic moments. But what forms of bisexual coming out does reading enable? And what is the aim of such an act? My purpose in this article is to attempt to intervene in lesbian/feminist literary criticism through offering a bisexual perspective on two key critical texts which are pertinent to lesbian/feminism not that that is a simple or self-explanatory expression and my theorizing is inescapably bound up with the project of identifying and challenging the boundaries of the term. Lillian Faderman asserts one commonly held view that the lesbianfeminist movement took root in America in the late 1960s and ourished for almost two decades, spreading eventually to the United Kingdom and other areas of Western Europe such as France, Germany, and Holland (Faderman, 1994: 547). Latterly, Black writers from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and from Asia and the Paci c Islands have questioned this assumption of lesbian/feminism as a white historical phenomenon (Reinfelder, 1996). Their arguments seek to forge relationships between the ideologies of lesbianism and feminism which are culturally speci c, and which do not aspire to White lesbian/feminism. Nevertheless, the subtitle of Reinfelders volume Towards a Global Lesbian Feminism and its production in the UK, with a British editor indicates the extent of Anglophone lesbian/feminist in uence. There is broad agreement among critics that this White lesbian/feminism arose from a particular congruence of lesbian and feminist concerns in the US in the late 1960s, and was most productive in the 1970s and early 1980s.4 There is also widespread accord that any lesbian/feminism is a political movement concerned with the position of women in a patriarchal society, and not only a label for women who sexually desire other women.5 The major dif culties in de ning lesbian/feminism are: (i) deciding to what extent lesbian/feminism should be viewed as characteristic of a historical moment, and to what extent as an ongoing relationship between forms of lesbianism and feminism; (ii) evaluating the relationship between the two constituents of lesbian and feminist; and (iii) assessing the mix of desire and politics which generate lesbian/feminism. I myself use lesbian/feminist as a term which expresses a loose but vibrant and on-going relationship between lesbian and feminist, and I write lesbian/feminist with a slash



to indicate their joint and related critical histories, and the differences between the two theoretical areas. This lesbian/feminist landscape con ates, to some extent, the lesbian genres of both the UK and the US. In this, I may appear to be ying in the face of current feminist theories which insist on historical and cultural speci city. I would argue, however, that my work is particular and located, but the sites of lesbian/feminism do not only map on to regular national and geographical boundaries. The reasons for this are many, but include the propensity of radical movements such as lesbian/ feminism to develop transnational networks, and the increasing ease with which these networks are consolidated through the technologies of mass communications. I am therefore arguing that lesbian/ feminist texts share a common culture, and that while geography is a crucial factor, many lesbian/feminist cultural differences occur outwith national boundaries. I am interested in assessing ways in which a bisexual slant might be part of a renegotiation of the boundaries of lesbian/feminist writing, and I read lesbian/ feminist literary criticism from this largely hidden narrative.


Reading across divisions

One of the objectives of this article is to consider not only why bisexual women have appeared to be textually separate from lesbians for so long, but also to assess the particular ways in which bisexuals and bisexuality have functioned within lesbian/feminist criticism, and I now return to the comment by Palmer which generated this article, Gone are the days. Such a sentence came as no small surprise not because of what she says about bisexuals as lesbian reading companions, but because she seems scarcely aware of saying it. It is a very strange sentence. Palmers book is one of the rst UK volumes of lesbian literary criticism; it is a trailblazer. Yet she starts her overview and analysis by invoking a time now past. Gone are the days, with its connotations of dubious romanticism (Gone with the Wind?), nostalgia, and dreaminess: a cosy lesbian-bisexual relationship. The dif culty for a bisexual reader is that these halcyon days have never existed. The memory of those days now gone is one of strife and exclusion a position the writer admits to later in her volume.6 Palmers comment indicates a rather ghostly les/bi alliance which has slipped (into the) past unnoticed. Her gesture constitutes a curious disappearing of bisexuality, at once accepting and dismissive. It is also characteristic of the ambivalence that a bisexual reader of lesbian texts encounters. She (the reader) is simultaneously inside and outside the text, needing subtle and responsive reading skills in order to ferret out insights relevant to her.7 The disappearance of bisexuality in Palmers text is all the more remarkable given her clear welcome to those other readers who, she suggests, are eager for lesbian literary criticism. Who are these worthy and enthusiastic other readers?


Palmers next sentence offers some clues as to their identity: with lesbian writing becoming part of the curriculum of both Womens Studies and courses on contemporary literature and theory, she suggests, its readership is likely to be notably more diverse (Palmer, 1993: ix). This sounds promising; it is hard to knock diversity. So who is added to this group which is not just diverse, but notably so? Palmer has already included lesbians and bisexuals. Her lesbians, I would think, are women; there is nothing in the writers perspective in this book to suggest that she concurs with the still rare postmodern notion of lesbian men, advocated by theorists such as Daumer (1992: 956). But her use of bisexual is another matter. Is she referring to bisexual women? Or to all bisexuals? The word has not gathered the same kind of single-gender associations as has lesbian: a bisexual can be a man or a woman. The gendered connotations of bisexual are of a different order; they revolve around the thorny question of the relationship between bisexuality and androgyny. The af nity between bisexuality and androgyny is a site of disagreement among bisexuals, although it is rarely actually disputed as each side tends to take their position for granted. Malcolm Bowies de nition offers a useful explication of the three most common understandings of bisexuality:
This term [bisexuality] has at least three current meanings, and these can easily produce confusion. As used by Darwin and his contemporaries it represented an exclusively biological notion, synonymous with hermaphroditism, and referred to the presence within an organism of male and female sexual characteristics. This meaning persists. Secondly, bisexuality denotes the co-presence in the human individual of feminine and masculine psychological characteristics. Thirdly, and most commonly, it is used of the propensity of certain individuals to be sexually attracted to both men and women. (Bowie, 1992: 26)


The second meaning is the one which has hitherto been associated with bisexual literature; and within feminism with writers such as Virginia Woolf and Michle Roberts. In her essay A Room of Ones Own, Woolf praises Coleridges vision of the androgynous mind; she asserts that in writing one must be woman-manly or man-womanly, and advocates a kind of marriage of opposites as the most indeed the only way to creativity (Woolf, 1928/1992: 136). Roberts, in an article promisingly entitled Gender Bending, more recently argued for a bisexual imagination in writing and reading. She suggests that the best contemporary ction moves away from either/or categorization and towards both. While this sounds encouraging for my endeavour, Roberts emphasis is de nitely on the imagination of bisexuality. In the article she is advocating ction which explores both inner and outer worlds, which is both realist and informed by the


unconscious, she is not as I am encouraging texts which af rm a physical bisexuality, much less a bisexual identity (Roberts, 1997). It is interesting, however, that while both Woolf and Roberts advocate psychic bisexuality, both writers do include characters in their ction who are bisexual in the sense of sexually desiring both women and men. But it is the third de nition which gestures most clearly in the direction of this article, and I do, in fact, push its meaning further into the area of subjectivity and identity, and away from the spectre of propensity. While biological understandings (de nition one) also inform, to some extent destabilize, my reading, it is the belief in bisexuality as a valid sexual identity that has proved the challenge to this perspective on lesbian/feminist literary criticism. An acceptance of bisexual desire, or bisexual potential, without a concomitant sexual identity (however provisional or strategic this identity might be), would not have required the kinds of radical speculations about lesbian/feminist literary criticism I found myself making, and this would be a very different article. Does Palmer unconsciously assimilate the confusion over bisexuality, unsure of whether bisexuals can be, or want to be, ambivalent in their gender as well as in their sexual orientation? Or does she accept that bisexual men, as well as bisexual women, have been enthusiastic readers of lesbian writing? My bisexual reading suggests that Palmers engagement with contemporary bisexuality is itself equivocal. In the sentence I am representing here bisexual might encompass: a bisexual woman, an ambivalently-gendered person, a bisexual man. It would follow, then, that the other readers Palmer hails are heterosexual women, and heterosexual and gay men. This is not an uncommon position for bisexual readers of lesbian theory and ction: while men and straight women are welcomed by a lesbian text the bisexual (woman) is left hovering on the threshold, unsure of the tone of the textual invitation (Kaloski, 1997). And yet in attempting to read that place of vacillation from a bisexual perspective I acknowledge not only the desire for bisexuality to be accepted as a coherent and stable sexual identity, but also (ambivalently!) a recognition of the necessity and pleasure of such wavering. This questioning of the relationship between lesbian and feminist does, I am well aware, occur within the historically de ned lesbian/feminist eld, and I now want to pursue such arguments through a bisexual reading of Zimmermans excellent 1992 article in which she asks why is lesbian a privileged signi er? (Zimmerman, 1992a: 7). She argues that it is not selfevident, nor useful, for lesbian/feminist criticism to position lesbian as the enabling marginal location from which to deconstruct heterosexuality, patriarchy, gender indeed just about anything. At rst this might seem an odd assumption for Zimmerman to make: how could lesbian not



function as the prime site in lesbian/feminism? Surely it is lesbian which de nes lesbian/feminist criticism as different from (heterosexual) feminist criticism? Yet Zimmerman is attempting to interrogate notions of lesbian sameness, and to shift the focus within lesbian theory to a perspective which recognizes and takes account of differences between and among lesbians. Such a perspective seems to offer space for opening up lesbian/feminist literary theory to ideas of bisexuality and Zimmerman does indeed mention bisexuality in her article. It therefore seems appropriate to ask how, precisely, bisexuality functions in this text which appreciates and valorizes difference? Zimmermans examples (of difference) are not just about anything. Although heterosexuality, patriarchy [and] gender have been interrogated by feminists as universal (if differently located) structures of oppression, this group excludes other crucial in uences on our lives such as race, class, nationality, geography, dis/abilities, age and generation. Clearly just about anything implies a comprehensiveness much greater than the cluster Zimmerman spells out. She goes on to argue that the problem with elevating lesbian to the position of dissent, even in lesbian criticism, is that the differences between lesbians are at least as great as the similarities. Sexual resemblance is only one aspect of lesbian attraction. And here her inventory is broader: race, class origins, employment status, age, religion, physical abilities . . . desire [and] . . . erotic and symbolic differences (Zimmerman, 1992: 12). The last three in particular seem to offer space for theorizing womens same-sex desire in diverse ways, ways which might include bisexuality. Yet although Zimmerman advocates difference, the dif culty of inscribing ways of understanding fragmentation are apparent in her text. She inserts the terms for race, class, dis/abilities, and age into her text, but with one exception does not carry through the radical challenges this implies.8 Of course one cannot take on everything in a single, short article but Zimmerman, like most of us white, privileged critics, slips too easily into assuming the concerns of white, able-bodied, mentally acceptable, educated lesbians are just about anything. Nonetheless it is clear that Zimmerman is pushing hard on the ways that lesbian critical difference can be articulated, and I will take up the challenge implicit in her exposure of these problematics by tracing her deployment of one facet of difference: bisexual. Zimmermans concern with the universality ascribed to the term lesbian leads her to wonder what kind of models of signi cation other marginal groups give rise to. She recognizes that politically controversial terms (my emphasis) such as bisexual and sadomasochist can be used to destabilize the essentialism within lesbian and gay theory (Zimmerman, 1992: 7). Zimmerman presents these terms to demonstrate their function in



questioning the meanings attributed to lesbian: bisexual and sadomasochist are not offered as positions in their own right. In order to gain a sense of how the term lesbian is deployed in current lesbian/feminist literary criticism, Zimmerman uses a strategy of picking out quotes from an edited collection of lesbian critical essays (the volume she uses is by Jay and Glasgow, 1990). The epithets which emerge include disrupter, erotic potential, excess, radical absence, and the metaphorical lesbian (Zimmerman, 1992: 4). But then, in a characteristically thoughtful move, Zimmerman recognizes that though such a methodology is heady and romantic stuff, it is politically dangerous: I nd myself enamoured of this creature, or deconstructive strategy, but know . . . that love can be blind (Zimmerman, 1992: 45). The desire for lesbian to be a disrupter of heterosexuality, a presence standing outside the conventions of patriarchy, a hole in the fabric of gender dualism is strong, but Zimmerman is too honest, and too committed to real lesbians to perpetuate lesbian as (only) sign. The critic comes out rmly in agreement with Heather Findlays arguments that deconstruction privileges heterogeneity and contains homogeneity, and thus takes away the possibility of a speci cally female homosexual practice.9 She points out that we may blur the boundaries between self and other, subject and object, but there are boundaries to be blurred (Zimmerman, 1992: 12). I agree with Zimmerman that real life is not experienced through a totally destabilized and uid subjectivity, and I also share her concern with recognizing a specially female homosexual practice. But it strikes me as odd that Zimmerman does not question the status of the boundaries she assumes. Are sexual boundaries the same for everyone? Is sex difference an essential attribute which cannot, ever, be destabilized without undermining same-sex desire? Zimmerman implicitly answers yes to these questions, and in doing so reveals one of the limits of her advocacy of difference, and also, I suggest, a place where the bisexual feminist challenges lesbian/feminist literary theory. Here is Zimmerman reading Findlay again:
The very act of carving out a separate lesbian space of sameness is stigmatised in some deconstructive texts (she singles out Derrida and Elizabeth Berg) in favour of a bisexual, androgynous mode of operations the most disruptive feminist position. Findlay boldly names this argument for what it is, homophobia . . . (Zimmerman, 1992: 12)



This long, unwieldy sentence nearly breaks loose of its punctuation. It is a complicated argument and one which is almost in accord with the bisexual perspective I am attempting to unearth. Where I differ from Zimmerman,

and where I think her boundaries of womens same-sex desire are constricting for womens homosexuality, can be deduced from reading the phrases she borrows from Berg. Zimmerman seems to be arguing that a deconstructive lesbianism would be bisexual, androgynous. Not bisexual or androgynous, but bisexual (which is the same as) androgynous. (No truck with noticing and respecting difference here.) Further, this deconstructive sexual identity is dismissed as a mode of operations, and not valued as a legitimate identity or authentic desire. While Zimmerman and Findlay label this bisexual deconstructive sexuality as homophobic, their own prejudices slip in. Contemporary lesbian/feminist theory appears to imagine bisexuality as a metaphorical crock of shit which contaminates a speci cally female sexual practice. Zimmerman endorses the locating of lesbian at the critical conjunction of essentialism and deconstruction. She wishes to remain, actively, at this point, and not to travel too far down either route, because lesbians are, she insists, not just metaphorical, but speci c subjects. This speci city is in opposition to the merging she sees as implicit in heterogeneity. Zimmerman is not subscribing to a biological/genetic lesbian(ness), but is, instead, af rming that lesbians do locate themselves strategically, and are not free oating signi ers. The assertion of lesbian as something is timely and, I think, usefully recognizes the experience of (sexual) sameness/(other) differences which imbue lesbian encounters on the page and in bed. What I nd disturbing is the implication that bisexual is, in contrast, only a metaphor. Whenever Zimmerman uses the term bisexual it is to illustrate aspects of deconstruction, and negative ones at that. Lesbians can (indeed, must) have speci c positionality (if not esh), as well as a destabilizing potential. Bisexual, however, is only part of a deconstructive strategy. It could be argued that Zimmerman is discussing lesbian theory, and therefore does not need to posit real bisexuals. But she is keen to argue for the reality of other marginal groups (people of colour, working classes, older/younger people). Bisexuals, who, I suggest, occupy some of the same territory as lesbians, are, for Zimmerman, purely symbolic. I am arguing that bisexual women, like lesbians (but differently) take up a position as self in relation to an/other woman, or women. Further, bisexual women take up a position in relation to men. This is different from that of heterosexual women and lesbians. Part of the identifying of the ambivalence of bisexuality is connected to these multiple and complex relationships. By positing bisexuals as only symbolic, Zimmerman makes bisexual women invisible, and we are left unsure of whether our desire for women has any validity in Zimmermans paradigm of difference.



For, despite the criticism outlined above, I have found Zimmermans discussions of difference within and between women who desire other women inspiring and honest, and have observed in her arguments an aspiration which seems similar to mine to pursue the connections between sexual identity and metaphor, imagination and materiality. Indeed, the questions around which she pivots her article are very provocative for my endeavour.10 It is this space, close to (some) lesbian thinking but not (always) identical with it, that I am theorizing from a bisexual perspective. This space is metaphorical, but is also a location of material bisexuals. This is not bisexual in opposition to lesbian, this is bisexual as the sweet friend of lesbian to borrow Marge Piercys term for special relationships which may or may not include sexual contact (Piercy, 1987: 72). Zimmermans position is in contrast to that of Palmer, who argues that the dominance of lesbian as the signi er of lesbian/feminism impairs womens explorations of their desires for each other which fall outside of the taxonomy of lesbian (Palmer, 1993: 1418). Yet one of the reasons I feel able to participate in the textual conversations of Zimmermans article, even though some of her phrases exclude me by name, is the stance she assumes vis--vis lesbian/feminist literary criticism: I would go so far as to say that current criticism stands at an intersection between lesbian separatism and deconstruction (Zimmerman, 1992: 2). While the crossroads she stands at may not be precisely the same crossroads as mine, in relation to womens same-sex desire we both situate ourselves at intersections between identity and its concurrent destabilizing. Zimmermans crossed-roads and Palmers enlightened inclusion of bisexual women together indicate hitherto untrodden paths into a kind of les/bi critical engagement. N o te s
Ann Kaloski Naylor is a lecturer in womens studies with a long-term interest in theorizing bisexuality. She is co-editor of The Bisexual Imaginary: Representation, Identity, and Desire (Cassell, 1997), and author of Bisexuals making out with cyborgs (Journal of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity, 1997; to be anthologized in The Bisexuality Reader, Routledge, forthcoming). Ann is currently working on a book about bisexuality within lesbian/feminist writing which takes further the arguments raised in this article. 1 Lillian Fadermans Chloe plus Olivia comes close, though this is an anthology of lesbian writing, not a work of literary criticism. In her Introduction, Faderman suggests that the word bisexual would be an appropriate description for many lesbian writers of the past, although the term did not exist as a sexual identity. Unusually for a lesbian critic, Faderman acknowledges the authenticity of bisexuality, referring to Katherine Mans eld and Edna St Vincent Millay as



genuinely bisexual [in the sense of] needing sexual and emotional relationships with both men and women in order to complete themselves (Faderman, 1994: ix.) Additionally and supporting Palmers assertion of the af nity between lesbian and bisexual the book is catalogued under ve headings, four alluding to aspects of lesbian writing, while the fth is: Bisexuality Literary Collections. 2 The example most quoted by UK bi academics occurred at the conference Activating Theory: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Politics, University of York, 1992. Elizabeth Wilson dismissed bisexual whatevers both implicitly in her paper (she quoted the bisexual writer Carol Queen anonymousl y, and out of context), and explicitly when challenged by a member of the audience (who happened to be me) about her depreciation of bisexuality, an assumption which jarred in a conference whose title included bisexuals alongside lesbians and gays. Yet Wilson was certainly not the only speaker to avoid the b word and by the end of the conference bisexual participants had taken on whatever as a nom de guerre. 3 And I am reminded again of the Activating Theory Conference, when Elizabeth Wilsons response to my questions was that I was guilt-tripping her. I took her comment then to indicate either a profound fault in my character (I should have phrased the question in a more scholarly way), or in her character (she should have listened and responded in a more objective way). Either way, I perceived guilt as operating as a personal and irrelevant reaction to the exclusion of bisexuality. Pondering upon Eagletons article I began to reassess this view of guilt as only personal. Perhaps Wilson and myself in our rather disconcerting exchange were on the verge of noticing guilt (or its little sister embarrassment) as a useful intervention into discussions about identity and power relations, though we did not quite make it in 1992. 4 Grounding texts for this form of lesbian/feminist thinking were: Radicalesbians The Woman Identi ed Woman, The Ladder, 11 & 12 (August/September 1970) reprinted in For Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology, ed. Sarah Lucy Hoagland and Julia Penelope (London: Onlywomen Press, 1988); Ti-Grace Atkinson, Lesbianism and Feminism, in Amazon Expedition: A Lesbian Feminist Anthology, ed. Phyllis Birkby, Bertha Harris, Jill Johnston, Esther Newton and Jane OWyatt (Albion Ca: Times Change Press, 1973: 1114); Jill Johnston, Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974). 5 Or, as in the case of Political Lesbians, women who do not necessarily desire women, but make a political statement by not engaging in sexual relations with men. 6 Palmer concedes that two stereotypes of the bisexual existed, both of which were pejorative and portrayed her as a disruptive in uence. She was typecast either as weak and vacillating, easily seduced by men into betraying her lesbian comrades, or as exploitative and manipulative, taking advantage of their good will only to desert them in times of crisis and take refuge in heterosexual privilege (Palmer 1993: 28).




7 For a detailed analysis of how bisexuals are narratively situated at the threshold of the paradigmatic lesbian/feminist genre, coming out novels, see Kaloski (1997). 8 Zimmerman draws attention to the shift in lesbian metaphorical connections from those of visual perspective to those of location. This change, she suggests, re ects the increasing critical emphasis on situated knowledge, rather than deep knowledge, and it also moves away from privileging sight over other ways of coming to know (1992: 13). This is a useful point, but I also draw the readers attention to Donna Haraways creative reframing of vision as a useful embodied metaphoric tool which encourages knowledge to be situated (Haraway, 1991: 1889). 9 Zimmerman is here quoting Heather Findlay (1980). 10 Zimmerman offers, in particular, six sets of questions as subheadings to her article. This structure is provocative for examining the position of the bisexual, and of bisexuality, in lesbian/feminist literary criticism, and one which can be read as advancing the value of a bisexual literary criticism. Her questions are: Can any gure or textuality exist outside patriarchal discourse? Does this not irt dangerously with essentialism?; Why is lesbian a privileged signi er?; Who is this lesbian? What is her subject position, her subjectivity?; How do we create a historically speci c lesbian subject? Can we still claim a lesbian history, culture and tradition?; What goes on in the narrative space that we name lesbian? Who does the lesbian meet? The heterosexual couple? The patriarch? The other woman? Who is this other woman?; and What is the relationship between the metaphorical lesbian and real lesbians? How do we reconcile the differences between our theories and the beliefs lesbians hold in everyday life? In other words, how do we make our theories useful?

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