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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 Zimmerman’s Safe Sea of Women (1992), and Palmer’s 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 1–66
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 Palmer’s 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 women’s sexual identity described as ‘lesbian or
Grier. Despite Rule’s promising text. 1990. her assessment is clearly informed by the emerging ‘Women’s Lib’ and Rule gestures towards one of the prototypical relationships between ‘lesbian’ and ‘feminist’: ‘With the advent of Women’s Liberation . 1980. 1992b: 1–15). 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). gradually the independence of lesbians became a symbol of a new political identity for women’ (Rule. The two works I focus on are Palmer’s Contemporary Lesbian Writing. Palmer’s volume is the only one which assumes 52 . 1988. SPRIN G 1999 bisexual’. and gleefully encompasses cultures which pre-date most de nitions of ‘lesbian/feminist’. and in this article I offer two routes. Although previous lists of ‘lesbian texts’ had been compiled (Foster. 1992). Munt. and Zimmerman’s article ‘Lesbians Like This and That: Some Notes on Lesbian Criticism for the Nineties’ (Munt. 1981. 1996. 1977. 1992a). 1958. Zimmerman. 1992). Second. and in more detail. Palmer. 1967) Rule’s was the rst book to offer some kind of analysis of the value and pleasures of lesbian characters in ction for real life lesbians. 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. Hennegan. and Bonnie Zimmerman from the US. Brown. . who identify as bisexual as astonishing. Nonetheless. like myself. Roof. 1984. 1992b. Farwell. in feminist books (Zimmerman. 1985. Lilly. 1993. Jane Rule’s Lesbian Images. rather than structuring lesbian/feminist literary theory around traditional critical concepts). and in volumes of Lesbian and Gay criticism (Marks and Stambolian. no further books of lesbian/feminist literary criticism were published for quite some time. Hobby and White. 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. Both of these critics write in an accessible style (in the sense of being written from the perspective of ‘ordinary’ lesbians. Palmer. rst published in 1975. 1975: 9). Abraham. 1990. 1985. Kennard. 1991. Duncker. Bristow. offer some (small) comment on bisexuality. This response begs some explanation. First – and with some pleasure that this task is now possible – I offer a brief history of lesbian/feminist literary criticism. 1990. Neither does she deploy the term ‘lesbian/feminist’ as a critical tool. Arnold. 1979. Amongst all these. 1990. 1992. First. Farwell. unusually for lesbian critics. 1979. 1976. and the genre developed in articles in feminist journals (Harris. Wiesen Cook. Stimpson. Rule makes a sweeping journey through lesbian ction from Radclyffe Hall to Rita Mae Brown.FEM IN IST REVIEW N O 6 1. Munt. and also. 1996). can be seen as the founding text. when Palmer’s book was published ve years ago it struck those readers. 1984. . Zimmerman.
a supplément: that is. structuralist. archetypal. the cacophony of voices and views’ in any necessarily streamlined account? (Eagleton. and introduces a novel by the critic David Lodge in which he satirizes contemporary critical theory. planning to produce the ultimate totalized version of Jane Austen after which nothing more could be said . able-bodied. There must always be a supplément. (Eagleton. biographical. mythical.any kind of les/bi af nity and not just implicitly. a form of referring to the excluded ‘other’. heterosexual. paradoxically. 1996: 14) ANN KALO SKI NAYLO R – BISEXUAL PERSPECTIVES ON LITERARY T HEORY Inclusion and exclusion are clearly problematic for many critics. phenomenological. but which. . ethical. 1996: 15).’). 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 Eagleton’s ‘ “Who’s Who and Where’s Where”: Constructing Feminist Literary Studies’. not only feminists. Eagleton recognizes that feminists. The ‘etc. Some of her concerns are similar to mine: how do we represent the ‘confusion and indeterminacy. (and) our inclusive delusions . on the whole.’ is also. which is forever subordinate. . She quotes Judith Butler who sees this ‘etc. but recorded on the page for all to see. Jungian. as Eagleton asserts via Butler via Jacques Derrida. Christian-allegorical. ‘mean well’. existentialist. . In this thoughtful piece. . Marxist. She wittily differentiates between: the megalomaniacal delusions of David Lodge’s Morris Zapp. 1996: 16) She suggests that the phrase ‘you name it’ – inserted despite Zapp’s desire for a controlling and comprehensive mastery – is Lodge’s version of the ‘etc. yet even Zapp cannot quite include everyone and everything. middle-class. 1996:5). (Eagleton. of a more muni cent nature. the wish to have all the girls in the team and the concomitant fear of appearing unsisterly or élitist if one doesn’t succeed. one can only succeed in excluding (Eagleton. Polonius-like: ‘historical. Eagleton calls for a careful and political assessment of the particular genealogy of feminist literary theory which is being transmitted in numerous Women’s Studies classrooms throughout the country. etc. 53 .1 That her statement should produce some incredulity is in itself alarming. through trying to be ‘inclusive’. linguistic. you name it’. Freudian. also completes that which it augments.’ as an embarrassed sign of failure – the necessary failure which occurs when. Eagleton continues: The ‘utterly exhaustive’ list of critical positions he [Zapp] proposes reads. exponential.’ which concludes the obligatory feminist list of identities (‘white. rhetorical.
’. though also containing within it the possibility and indeed necessity for a strategic and non-essential identity. Named inclusion of all identi ed identities is just not viable – the list is too 54 . nor are they either straight or gay – instead. nor the philosophical capacity. to include all of the girls on the team. It comes to us as ‘lesbians. both camou age differences.FEM IN IST REVIEW N O 6 1. its temporary haven. 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. must always be an ‘etc. Eagleton highlights the decisions made (and sometimes not made) in selecting texts for inclusion in feminist anthologies. or other forms of radical naming. gays. or (iii) bisexuals have neither a consistent and distinct identity. Both are intended to induce feelings of inclusive and non-discriminatory bonhomie. and the value of the ‘etceteras’. To rephrase: (i) bisexuals have (potentially) a viable identity. ‘Etc. bisexuals cannot exist as a separate group. Bisexuals will be only too aware of this ‘etc.’ must always be in danger of modi cation as one group or other emerges from. or bisexuals move in and out of bisexuality. or re-enters.2 Bisexual women (as bisexual women) are rarely in anyone’s team. Eagleton implies. and should seek to make themselves more distinct. SPRIN G 1999 therefore there can never be completeness. or otherwise. or (ii) bisexuals are (primarily) either heterosexual or homosexual: there is no such thing as a bisexual identity. of a bisexual identity gather around one of three notions: bisexuals exist as a separate group. both seek to create a location which attempts to avoid the problems of difference and dissent.’. and a bisexual identity. but only a respite. whatever’: a phrase which itself is often a supplément to feminist. 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. bisexuality can best be understood as a perspective. The arguments about the value. and by invoking critical heterogeneity. This last one accords with my own thinking. is to be done about the proliferation of important and neglected identity groups? There is not enough paper.’ functions a little like the other common ‘E’ – ecstasy. 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. ‘Etc. So what. and underpins this article. She considers how white. Both – at their best – are necessary respites from the ux and confusion of diversity and con ict.
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. as Eagleton hopes. and from Asia and the Paci c Islands have questioned this assumption of lesbian/feminism as a white historical phenomenon (Reinfelder. Nevertheless.’ and I write ‘lesbian/feminist’ with a slash ANN KALO SKI NAYLO R – BISEXUAL PERSPECTIVES ON LITERARY T HEORY 55 . and Holland’ (Faderman. I want to argue for the importance of bisexuals coming out of the ‘etc. with a British editor – indicates the extent of Anglophone lesbian/feminist in uence. I myself use lesbian/feminist as a term which expresses a loose but vibrant and on-going relationship between ‘lesbian’ and ‘feminist. Their arguments seek to forge relationships between the ideologies of lesbianism and feminism which are culturally speci c.3 Yet perhaps these untrendy ‘E’s’ of ethics and embarrassment might. and was most productive in the 1970s and early 1980s. and to what extent as an ongoing relationship between forms of ‘lesbianism’ and ‘feminism’.4 There is also widespread accord that any lesbian/feminism is a political movement concerned with the position of women in a patriarchal society. 1996). spreading eventually to the United Kingdom and other areas of Western Europe such as France.long – however valid each group’s case is. if only for brief and strategic moments.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 which do not aspire to White lesbian/feminism. Instead Eagleton asserts the necessity for ethics and embarrassment on the part of advantaged feminist theorists. and (iii) assessing the mix of ‘desire’ and ‘politics’ which generate lesbian/feminism.’. (ii) evaluating the relationship between the two constituents of ‘lesbian’ and ‘feminist’. 1994: 547). Germany. the subtitle of Reinfelder’s volume – Towards a Global Lesbian Feminism – and its production in the UK. and not only a label for women who sexually desire other women. ‘act as a necessary spur to political action’ (Eagleton. Latterly. 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. Black writers from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 1996: 19). 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). 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.
needing subtle and responsive reading skills in order to ferret out insights relevant to her.7 The disappearance of bisexuality in Palmer’s text is all the more remarkable given her clear welcome to those other readers who. and dreaminess: a cosy lesbian-bisexual relationship. but also to assess the particular ways in which bisexuals and bisexuality have functioned within lesbian/feminist criticism. In this. the lesbian genres of both the UK and the US. Palmer’s book is one of the rst UK volumes of lesbian literary criticism. It is a very strange sentence. I may appear to be ying in the face of current feminist theories which insist on historical and cultural speci city. It is also characteristic of the ambivalence that a bisexual reader of lesbian texts encounters. with its connotations of dubious romanticism (Gone with the Wind?). FEM IN IST REVIEW N O 6 1. that my work is particular and located. Such a sentence came as no small surprise not because of what she says about bisexuals as lesbian reading companions. are eager for lesbian literary criticism. I would argue. The memory of those days now ‘gone’ is one of strife and exclusion – a position the writer admits to later in her volume. but the sites of lesbian/feminism do not only map on to regular national and geographical boundaries. but because she seems scarcely aware of saying it. at once accepting and dismissive. and I now return to the comment by Palmer which generated this article. SPRIN G 1999 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. to some extent. This lesbian/feminist landscape con ates. ‘Gone are the days’. She (the reader) is simultaneously inside and outside the text. many lesbian/feminist cultural differences occur outwith national boundaries. but include the propensity of radical movements such as lesbian/ feminism to develop transnational networks. Yet she starts her overview and analysis by invoking a time now past.to indicate their joint and related critical histories. I am therefore arguing that lesbian/ feminist texts share a common culture.6 Palmer’s comment indicates a rather ghostly les/bi alliance which has slipped (into the) past unnoticed. and the differences between the two theoretical areas. nostalgia. and I read lesbian/ feminist literary criticism from this largely hidden narrative. I am interested in assessing ways in which a bisexual slant might be part of a renegotiation of the boundaries of lesbian/feminist writing. The reasons for this are many. and the increasing ease with which these networks are consolidated through the technologies of mass communications. The dif culty for a bisexual reader is that these halcyon days have never existed. ‘Gone are the days’. and that while geography is a crucial factor. however. Her gesture constitutes a curious disappearing of bisexuality. it is a trailblazer. Who are these worthy and enthusiastic other readers? 56 . she suggests.
Her lesbians. As used by Darwin and his contemporaries it represented an exclusively biological notion. This sounds promising. more recently argued for a ‘bisexual imagination’ in writing and reading. Roberts’ emphasis is de nitely on the imagination of bisexuality. but ‘notably’ so? Palmer has already included lesbians and bisexuals. although it is rarely actually disputed as each ‘side’ tends to take their position for granted. she asserts that in writing ‘one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. they revolve around the thorny question of the relationship between bisexuality and androgyny. While this sounds encouraging for my endeavour. The gendered connotations of bisexual are of a different order. it is hard to knock diversity. The af nity between bisexuality and androgyny is a site of disagreement among bisexuals. and referred to the presence within an organism of male and female sexual characteristics. But her use of bisexual is another matter. In the article she is advocating ction which explores both inner and outer worlds. 1928/1992: 136). advocated by theorists such as Daumer (1992: 95–6). there is nothing in the writer’s perspective in this book to suggest that she concurs with the – still rare – postmodern notion of lesbian men. 1993: ix). synonymous with hermaphroditism. 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. (Bowie. and these can easily produce confusion. I would think. Woolf praises Coleridge’s vision of the androgynous mind. and most commonly. Secondly. which is both ‘realist’ and informed by the 57 . she suggests. Malcolm Bowie’s de nition offers a useful explication of the three most common understandings of bisexuality: This term [bisexuality] has at least three current meanings. This meaning persists. are women. ‘its readership is likely to be notably more diverse’ (Palmer. In her essay A Room of One’s Own.Palmer’s next sentence offers some clues as to their identity: with lesbian writing becoming part of the curriculum of both Women’s Studies and courses on contemporary literature and theory. in an article promisingly entitled ‘Gender Bending’. She suggests that the best contemporary ction moves away from ‘either/or’ categorization and towards ‘both’. Roberts. bisexuality denotes the co-presence in the human individual of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ psychological characteristics.’ and advocates a kind of ‘marriage of opposites’ as the most – indeed the only – way to creativity (Woolf. it is used of the propensity of certain individuals to be sexually attracted to both men and women. So who is added to this group which is not just ‘diverse’. 1992: 26) ANN KALO SKI NAYLO R – BISEXUAL PERSPECTIVES ON LITERARY T HEORY The second meaning is the one which has hitherto been associated with bisexual literature. Thirdly. and within feminism with writers such as Virginia Woolf and Michèle Roberts.
a bisexual man. without a concomitant sexual identity (however provisional or strategic this identity might be). gender – indeed just about anything’. An acceptance of bisexual desire. and I do. then. or want to be. 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. occur within the historically de ned lesbian/feminist eld. nor useful. 1997). But it is the third de nition which gestures most clearly in the direction of this article. and I now want to pursue such arguments through a bisexual reading of Zimmerman’s excellent 1992 article in which she asks ‘why is “lesbian” a privileged signi er?’ (Zimmerman. to some extent destabilize. While biological understandings (de nition one) also inform. 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. and away from the spectre of ‘propensity’. have been enthusiastic readers of lesbian writing? My bisexual reading suggests that Palmer’s engagement with contemporary bisexuality is itself equivocal. It is interesting. that the ‘other readers’ Palmer hails are heterosexual women. but also (ambivalently!) a recognition of the necessity and pleasure of such wavering. it is the belief in bisexuality as a valid sexual identity that has proved the challenge to this perspective on lesbian/feminist literary criticism. much less a bisexual identity (Roberts. unsure of the tone of the textual invitation (Kaloski. Does Palmer unconsciously assimilate the confusion over bisexuality. would not have required the kinds of radical speculations about lesbian/feminist literary criticism I found myself making. 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. and this would be a very different article. she is not – as I am – encouraging texts which af rm a physical bisexuality. for lesbian/feminist criticism to position ‘lesbian’ as the enabling marginal location from which ‘to deconstruct heterosexuality.unconscious. an ambivalently-gendered person. in fact. 1992a: 7). 1997). In the sentence I am representing here ‘bisexual’ might encompass: a bisexual woman. push its meaning further into the area of subjectivity and identity. or bisexual potential. This questioning of the relationship between ‘lesbian’ and ‘feminist’ does. At rst this might seem an odd assumption for Zimmerman to make: how could ‘lesbian’ not 58 FEM IN IST REVIEW N O 6 1. I am well aware. however. and heterosexual and gay men. SPRIN G 1999 . patriarchy. unsure of whether bisexuals can be. ambivalent in their gender as well as in their sexual orientation? Or does she accept that bisexual men. as well as bisexual women. It would follow. my reading. She argues that it is not selfevident.
is that the differences between lesbians are at least as great as the similarities. and age into her text. class origins. She inserts the terms for ‘race’.8 Of course one cannot take on everything in a single. 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. geography.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’. age. . class. slips too easily into assuming the concerns of white. the dif culty of inscribing ways of understanding fragmentation are apparent in her text. like most of us white. Zimmerman’s 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. It therefore seems appropriate to ask how. physical abilities . 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. this group excludes other crucial in uences on our lives such as ‘race’. The last three in particular seem to offer space for theorizing women’s same-sex desire in diverse ways. short article but Zimmerman. 1992: 7). . nationality. but – with one exception – does not carry through the radical challenges this implies. patriarchy [and] gender’ have been interrogated by feminists as universal (if differently located) structures of oppression. Sexual resemblance is only one aspect of lesbian attraction. educated lesbians are ‘just about anything’. 1992: 12). dis/abilities. Zimmerman presents these terms to demonstrate their function in ANN KALO SKI NAYLO R – BISEXUAL PERSPECTIVES ON LITERARY T HEORY 59 . erotic and symbolic differences’ (Zimmerman. religion. Although ‘heterosexuality. precisely. And here her inventory is broader: ‘race. able-bodied. desire [and] . class. privileged critics. . ways which might include bisexuality. Yet although Zimmerman advocates ‘difference’. and to shift the focus within lesbian theory to a perspective which recognizes and takes account of differences between and among lesbians. mentally acceptable. Nonetheless it is clear that Zimmerman is pushing hard on the ways that lesbian critical difference can be articulated. dis/abilities. and I will take up the challenge implicit in her exposure of these problematics by tracing her deployment of one facet of difference: ‘bisexual’. employment status. age and generation. bisexuality functions in this text which appreciates and valorizes ‘difference’? Zimmerman’s examples (of difference) are not ‘just about anything’. Clearly ‘just about anything’ implies a comprehensiveness much greater than the cluster Zimmerman spells out. even in lesbian criticism. . She goes on to argue that the problem with elevating lesbian to the position of dissent.
‘excess’. It is a complicated argument and one which is almost in accord with the bisexual perspective I am attempting to unearth. 1992: 12). a presence standing outside the conventions of patriarchy. 1990). ‘erotic potential’. In order to gain a sense of how the term ‘lesbian’ is deployed in current lesbian/feminist literary criticism. in a characteristically thoughtful move. . and too committed to ‘real’ lesbians to perpetuate lesbian as (only) sign. I suggest. but there are boundaries to be blurred’ (Zimmerman. . ‘radical absence’. it is politically dangerous: ‘I nd myself enamoured of this creature. Where I differ from Zimmerman. Zimmerman recognizes that though such a methodology is ‘heady and romantic stuff’. unwieldy sentence nearly breaks loose of its punctuation. a place where the bisexual feminist challenges lesbian/feminist literary theory. 1992: 4–5). homophobia .’ Findlay boldly names this argument for what it is. But it strikes me as odd that Zimmerman does not question the status of the boundaries she assumes. . and in doing so reveals one of the limits of her advocacy of ‘difference’. (Zimmerman. The desire for ‘lesbian’ to be ‘a disrupter of heterosexuality. 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’. The epithets which emerge include ‘disrupter’. be destabilized without undermining same-sex desire? Zimmerman implicitly answers ‘yes’ to these questions. and thus takes away the ‘possibility of a speci cally female homosexual practice’. 1992: 4). . but Zimmerman is too honest. . and I also share her concern with recognizing ‘a specially female homosexual practice’. SPRIN G 1999 60 This long. But then. that love can be ‘blind” ’ (Zimmerman. 1992: 12) FEM IN IST REVIEW N O 6 1. ever. subject and object. or deconstructive strategy. and also. a hole in the fabric of gender dualism’ is strong. ‘androgynous ’ mode of operations – ‘the most disruptive feminist position. but know . 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.9 She points out that ‘we may blur the boundaries between self and other.questioning the meanings attributed to ‘lesbian’: ‘bisexual’ and ‘sadomasochist’ are not offered as positions in their own right. and ‘the metaphorical lesbian’ (Zimmerman. The critic comes out rmly in agreement with Heather Findlay’s arguments that deconstruction privileges heterogeneity and contains homogeneity. I agree with Zimmerman that ‘real life’ is not experienced through a totally destabilized and uid subjectivity. Are sexual boundaries the same for everyone? Is sex difference an essential attribute which cannot.
not just metaphorical. like lesbians (but differently) ‘take up a position as self in relation to an/other woman. Whenever Zimmerman uses the term ‘bisexual’ it is to illustrate aspects of deconstruction. Further. Bisexual. their own prejudices slip in. this deconstructive sexual identity is dismissed as a ‘mode of operations’. By positing bisexuals as only symbolic. While Zimmerman and Findlay label this ‘bisexual’ deconstructive sexuality as homophobic. Zimmerman seems to be arguing that a deconstructive lesbianism would be ‘bisexual. bisexual women take up a position in relation to men. must) have speci c positionality (if not esh). Bisexuals. I think. I suggest. ANN KALO SKI NAYLO R – BISEXUAL PERSPECTIVES ON LITERARY T HEORY 61 . She wishes to remain. and not to travel too far down either route. or women’.and where I think her boundaries of women’s same-sex desire are constricting for women’s homosexuality. for Zimmerman. and are not ‘free oating signi ers’. as well as a destabilizing potential. But she is keen to argue for the ‘reality’ of other marginal groups (people of colour. The assertion of lesbian as ‘something’ is timely and. and we are left unsure of whether our desire for women has any validity in Zimmerman’s paradigm of difference. but is. af rming that lesbians do locate themselves strategically. occupy some of the same territory as lesbians. Part of the identifying of the ambivalence of bisexuality is connected to these multiple and complex relationships. usefully recognizes the experience of (sexual) sameness/(other) differences which imbue lesbian encounters on the page and in bed. actively. working classes. This is different from that of heterosexual women and lesbians. Zimmerman makes bisexual women invisible. Contemporary lesbian/feminist theory appears to imagine bisexuality as a metaphorical ‘crock of shit’ which contaminates a ‘speci cally female sexual practice. and not valued as a legitimate identity or authentic desire. she insists. at this point.) Further. This speci city is in opposition to the merging she sees as implicit in heterogeneity. androgynous’. but ‘bisexual (which is the same as) androgynous’. (No truck with noticing and respecting ‘difference’ here. are. purely symbolic. because lesbians are. only a metaphor. in contrast. and negative ones at that. Not ‘bisexual’ or ‘androgynous’.’ Zimmerman endorses the locating of lesbian at the critical conjunction of essentialism and deconstruction. however. Lesbians can (indeed. It could be argued that Zimmerman is discussing lesbian theory. I am arguing that bisexual women. but speci c subjects. What I nd disturbing is the implication that bisexual is. can be deduced from reading the phrases she borrows from Berg. who. older/younger people). and therefore does not need to posit ‘real’ bisexuals. instead. Zimmerman is not subscribing to a biological/genetic lesbian(ness). is only part of a deconstructive strategy.
and author of ‘Bisexuals making out with cyborgs’ (Journal of Gay. in relation to women’s same-sex desire we both situate ourselves at intersections between identity and its concurrent destabilizing. forthcoming). 1987: 72). Unusually for a lesbian critic. This is not ‘bisexual’ in opposition to ‘lesbian’. Lesbian.For. She is co-editor of The Bisexual Imaginary: Representation. that I am theorizing from a bisexual perspective. Faderman acknowledges the authenticity of bisexuality. N o te s Ann Kaloski Naylor is a lecturer in women’s studies with a long-term interest in theorizing bisexuality. the questions around which she pivots her article are very provocative for my endeavour. close to (some) lesbian thinking but not (always) identical with it. Identity. Yet one of the reasons I feel able to participate in the textual conversations of Zimmerman’s article. even though some of her phrases exclude me by name. In her Introduction. this is bisexual as the ‘sweet friend’ of lesbian – to borrow Marge Piercy’s term for special relationships which may or may not include sexual contact (Piercy. imagination and materiality. Zimmerman’s position is in contrast to that of Palmer. This space is metaphorical. although the term did not exist as a sexual identity. and Bisexual Identity. SPRIN G 1999 . who argues that the dominance of ‘lesbian’ as the signi er of lesbian/feminism impairs women’s explorations of their desires for each other which fall outside of the taxonomy of ‘lesbian’ (Palmer. despite the criticism outlined above. but is also a location of material bisexuals. not a work of literary criticism. 1997. Routledge.10 It is this space. is the stance she assumes vis-à-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. Indeed. and have observed in her arguments an aspiration – which seems similar to mine – to pursue the connections between sexual identity and metaphor. 1993: 14–18). 1997). While the crossroads she stands at may not be precisely the same crossroads as mine. referring to Katherine Mans eld and Edna St Vincent Millay as 62 FEM IN IST REVIEW N O 6 1. though this is an anthology of lesbian writing. Faderman suggests that the word ‘bisexual’ would be an appropriate description for many ‘lesbian’ writers of the past. 1 Lillian Faderman’s Chloe plus Olivia comes close. Ann is currently working on a book about bisexuality within lesbian/feminist writing which takes further the arguments raised in this article. 1992: 2). I have found Zimmerman’s discussions of difference within and between women who desire other women inspiring and honest. and Desire (Cassell. Zimmerman’s crossed-roads and Palmer’s enlightened inclusion of bisexual women together indicate hitherto untrodden paths into a kind of les/bi critical engagement. to be anthologized in The Bisexuality Reader.
3 And I am reminded again of the ‘Activating Theory’ Conference. and out of context). Ti-Grace Atkinson. 11 & 12 (August/September 1970) reprinted in For Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology. women who do not necessarily desire women. Pondering upon Eagleton’s article I began to reassess this view of guilt as only personal. as in the case of Political Lesbians. Esther Newton and Jane O’Wyatt (Albion Ca: Times Change Press. Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution (New York: Simon & Schuster. 1974).) Additionally – and supporting Palmer’s assertion of the af nity between lesbian and bisexual – the book is catalogued under ve headings. in Amazon Expedition: A Lesbian Feminist Anthology. Sarah Lucy Hoagland and Julia Penelope (London: Onlywomen Press. while the fth is: ‘Bisexuality – Literary Collections’. 5 Or. when Elizabeth Wilson’s response to my questions was that I was ‘guilt-tripping’ her. She was typecast either as weak and vacillating. Phyllis Birkby. an assumption which jarred in a conference whose title included bisexuals alongside lesbians and gays. 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. 1973: 11–14). Elizabeth Wilson dismissed bisexual ‘whatevers’ both implicitly in her paper (she quoted the bisexual writer Carol Queen anonymousl y. 4 Grounding texts for this form of lesbian/feminist thinking were: Radicalesbians ‘The Woman Identi ed Woman’. but make a political statement by not engaging in sexual relations with men. both of which were pejorative and portrayed her as a disruptive in uence. or as exploitative and manipulative. 1988). though we did not quite make it in 1992. ANN KALO SKI NAYLO R – BISEXUAL PERSPECTIVES ON LITERARY T HEORY 63 . Bisexual Politics’. 6 Palmer concedes that ‘two stereotypes of the bisexual existed. 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. Either way. 1992. easily seduced by men into betraying her lesbian comrades. 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). Jill Johnston. taking advantage of their good will only to desert them in times of crisis and take refuge in heterosexual privilege’ (Palmer 1993: 28). ‘Lesbianism and Feminism’. four alluding to aspects of lesbian writing. or in her character (she should have listened and responded in a more objective way). I perceived ‘guilt’ as operating as a personal and irrelevant reaction to the exclusion of bisexuality. Gay. Jill Johnston. 1994: ix. The Ladder. University of York. Bertha Harris. ed.‘genuinely bisexual [in the sense of] needing sexual and emotional relationships with both men and women in order to complete themselves’ (Faderman. and explicitly when challenged by a member of the audience (who happened to be me) about her depreciation of bisexuality. ed. 2 The example most quoted by UK bi academics occurred at the conference ‘Activating Theory: Lesbian.
she suggests. Malcolm (1992) ‘Bisexuality’ in Elizabeth Wright (1992) editor. London: Routledge. 1991: 188–9). June (1976) ‘Lesbians and literature’ Sinister Wisdom. 10 Zimmerman offers. culture and tradition?. in particular. re ects the increasing critical emphasis on situated knowledge. This structure is provocative for examining the position of the bisexual. ARNOLD. p. coming out novels. How do we create a historically speci c lesbian subject? Can we still claim a lesbian history. six sets of questions as subheadings to her article. how do we make our theories useful? R e fe re n ce s ABRAHAM.FEM IN IST REVIEW N O 6 1. ATKINSON. and Oxford. her subjectivity?. but I also draw the reader’s attention to Donna Haraway’s creative reframing of vision as a useful ‘embodied’ metaphoric tool which encourages knowledge to be ‘situated’ (Haraway. 1(2): 28–30. 26. 13: 45–50. SPRIN G 1999 7 For a detailed analysis of how bisexuals are narratively situated at the threshold of the paradigmatic lesbian/feminist genre. and one which can be read as advancing the value of a bisexual literary criticism. 1–14. BROWN. BOWIE. pp. and it also moves away from privileging sight over other ways of coming to know (1992: 1–3). 5–8. Joseph (1992) editor. BRISTOW. Sexual Sameness: Textual Difference in Lesbian and Gay Writing. Amazon Expedition: A Lesbian Feminist Anthology. Jill Johnston. Bertha Harris. Cambridge. rather than deep knowledge. Albion. 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. (1980) ‘A view of writing and publishing by dark lesbians’ Sinister Wisdom. Julie (1996) Are Girls Necessary?: Lesbian Writing and Modern Histories. 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’?. 9 Zimmerman is here quoting Heather Findlay (1980). Ca: Times Change Press. London: Routledge. Who is this lesbian? What is her subject position. see Kaloski (1997). This change. in lesbian/feminist literary criticism. Her questions are: Can any gure or textuality exist outside patriarchal discourse? Does this not irt dangerously with ‘essentialism’?. Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary. Why is ‘lesbian’ a privileged signi er?. This is a useful point. Mass. 8 Zimmerman draws attention to the shift in lesbian metaphorical connections from those of ‘visual perspective’ to those of ‘location’. and of bisexuality. 64 . Esther Newton and Jane O’Wyatt (1973) editors. Linda J. UK: Blackwell Publishers. Ti-Grace (1973) ‘Lesbianism and feminism’ in Phyllis Birkby.
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