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International Gay & Lesbian Review

Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out

by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu

Robyn Marie Westbrook: Robyn Marie Westbrook is a Ph.D. student in Counseling Psychology at the University of Southern California. She is doing research on teenage parents, bisexuality among women, and counseling issues related to the coming out process for lesbians, gays and bisexuals. She also works at the University of Southern California's Counseling Center.

Bi Any Other Name demands for a reconceptualization of the polarities of sexual orientation. Bisexuality inherently challenges the dualistic perspective which is maintained by and necessitates our patriarchal structure. Like any oppressed group, bisexuals need to claim a voice and a history. Although they have existed across racial, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic and temporal lines, bisexuals are cast outside mainstream consciousness because they do not fit into the prescribed dichotomous boundaries. Hutchins' and Kaahumanu's book is a collection of personal stories of bisexual men and women that depict the richness and diversity of bisexual life.

The first section, “Psychology: Facing Ourselves,” contains stories that illuminate the development of a bi-sexual self-concept. Both the absence of role models and the stigmatism endured from both the heterosexual and the homosexual communities coexist to make difficult the development of a sense of self as bisexual. These narratives trace the process of self-discovery as experienced by many different individuals with diverse, unique experiences. Chandini Goswami says ”... I have finally recognized that in many ways I transcend boundaries, and I have finally come to love this rather than to fight it… when I feel something it is just wonderful to feel it… I must be devoted to my own sexual and emotional truth” (p. 62). Nate Brown says “My sexual orientation is defined at last, so much so that it need not necessarily be labeled” (p. 65). Wayne Briant views coming out as a bi-sexual as “an ongoing process that will probably never stop” (p. 69).

The second section, entitled “Spirituality: Healing the Splits” addresses the process of accepting and living between the polarities. Living as a bisexual is challenging because movement is not solely in one domain. Rather, movement fluctuates from one polarity to the other, creating a fluidity that appears more realistic. The concept that dichotomous entities exist is somewhat faulty because the middle ground that allows for the extremes is erased. In ancient times minds and bodies, and spirits and nature were not dichotomized. Embodying opposites was embraced. In our society, we are alienated from ourselves, each other and nature because of the dichotomous power dynamics. Thus, the healing of the splits depends on the spiritual. We must integrate all aspects of ourselves. These narratives illustrate both the breaking free from and the incorporating of the dichotomies.

The third section, “The Bisexual Community: Are We Visible Yet?” presents narratives where celebration and appreciation of difference is explored both on the personal and community level. The bisexual identity as well as the desire for recognition serve as commonalities. Coming out is encouraged in the overview to increase visibility and thus ascertain a societal location. As Michael Brewer states “I am proud of my gay brothers and lesbian sisters. They have made great strides for personal freedom and have done much of the groundwork that has made it possible for me to stand up, affirm my bisexuality, and feel safe in doing so. I believe that it is time to become more visible, to have a group identity and pride. (p. 143)” Similarly, Suzanne says “It is important to me that bisexuals and gays decompartmentalize. Bisexuals are not the pesky siblings or unfinished counterparts of homosexuals. Rather than judge or separate from one another, we must get on with the common struggle against the oppression of certain types of sexual expression. If bisexuals, for fear of ridicule, remain closeted from gay brothers and sisters, how can we stand united and strong against society's sexual phobias that oppress us all?” (p. 200)

The last section, entitled “Politics, A Queer Among Queers,” reiterates the need to reconceptualize sexual orientation. Bisexuals as a group must identify themselves as the next logical progressive step “in the sexual®evolutionary process” (p. 217). Only once the entire continuum of sexual behavior and affection is validated can there be freedom from being forced to choose between opposing polarities. As Naomi Tucker views bisexuality “It is a willingness to acknowledge feelings, despite prevailing taboos, and to break down the prefabricated barriers that our culture instills within us” (p. 246). Similarly, Kaahumanu, one of the editors, says, “It is time to nurture the organic radical integration process. Differences recognized and appreciated give a sense of the whole” (p. 322).

Finally, as someone who has been intimate with both men and women, I found this book well written, insightful and necessary to the development of a more fluid sexuality. Voices such as these can effect change in cultural perceptions and constructions.

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International Gay & Lesbian Review
Los Angeles, CA