Sex, Politics, and Stereotypes: BiUK’s response to Julie Bindel, June 2012
In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Julie Bindel asks ‘What makes some of us uncomfortable with bisexual women’? She goes on to answer her own question by rehearsing a series of negative stereotypes about bisexual women, suggesting that they are apolitical, hedonistic, trendily transgressive sexual tourists, testing out their fantasies on unsuspecting lesbians and straight men. Interested only in the pursuit of pleasure, they are not to be trusted personally or politically, and indeed may not exist at all. If bisexual women had ‘an ounce of sexual politics’, she asserts, they would stop having sex with men and make a positive choice to identify as lesbians. Instead of this, they hedonistically pursue their sexual desires at the cost of their political integrity.
We would like to make two points in response to this article. First, a growing body of academic research and bisexual activist literature, both online and in print, and including work by Paula Rodríguez-Rust, cited by Bindel in her article, consistently demonstrates that for many people, identifying as bisexual is as much a matter of politics as it is of desire. As one bi activist told us:
Personally, I have definitely made a positive choice to identify as bisexual. I could easily identify as either lesbian or straight, but it’s politically important to me to identify as bi. My identity as a bi woman is grounded in my feminism, my conviction that gender and sexuality are socially constructed, and my commitment to LGBT equality. It’s deeply political- it’s just a different political position from Julie Bindel’s!
(Claire, bisexual activist)
Clearly, while many women who experience attraction towards people of more than one gender choose to identify as bisexual, many others choose to identify as lesbian or straight. All of these are valid choices, which may be made on the basis of deeply-felt political convictions. Bindel’s polemic, however, dismisses all viewpoints other than her own as apolitical, and swiftly resorts to name-calling. Bindel would most likely object, and rightly so, to a critique of radical feminism that relied for its credence on tired old clichés about cropped hair, boiler suits and man-hating, and dismissed lesbian separatism as an apolitical choice based on a failure to engage with the complexities of twenty-first century gender relations. It’s disappointing, then, that she dismisses political bisexuality in such terms.
Our second point is concerned with the impact on bisexual people of the publication of articles such as Bindel’s, which clearly promote biphobia. As we outlined in our recent publication The Bisexuality Report, research has repeatedly shown that bisexual people are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidality than lesbian, gay or heterosexual people, and that this may be linked to the negative stereotypes about bisexuality which circulate in popular culture. These statistics are of great concern to UK bisexual communities and their allies, as well as to mental health practitioners, and for these reasons, bisexuality and mental health is the theme of BiReCon, our biennial conference, in August this year.
By recycling harmful stereotypes about bisexuality in the defence of political lesbianism, Julie Bindel contributes to the biphobic cultural conditions that contribute to high rates of mental distress among bisexuals. By dismissing bisexuals as universally apolitical, she betrays her own ignorance of approaches to contemporary sexual politics other than her own.
Helen Bowes-Catton for BiUK