4 of 7 – Bisexual Epistemologies: A Journey from Nausea to Commitment
Bisexual Epistemologies: A Journey from Nausea to Commitment
An occasional piece by
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, PhD
For The Journal of Bisexuality’s 10th Anniversary Issue
Hi dear readers!
This seven-in-one piece will be great fun–yours truly promises. Find out all the ins and outs of 10 years of Bisexuality! What does “epistemology”mean? Big word, right? Well, all it means is that when you’re making love you’re producing knowledge. A good thing!
We follow The Journey with Klein’s Option and Other Classics, and will have three more posts. Really revealing of all those things about bi you’ve always been curious about. Why is it so good? What can it do for you? For the planet? For the future? For authentic intimacy? It’s all here, spiced with a bit of irony and critique of why we’re so behind on our agenda. What’s keeping us from being more efficient.
Also arcane words you’ve been told have no meaning unless you got a PhD are explained–made very easy! “Nausea,” “existentialism”: it’s all about the chakra system–really. Commitment? It’s not about going to jail (as in, “being committed”). But rather, it’s about “being-in-action” about things. Being the one who makes the difference! No mysteries. Woooooow! Come back for more, will you? We’ll post every week, on Tuesdays.
4. Klein’s Option and Other Classics
Speaking of classics, many were of course in the back of Fritz’s mind when he wrote the book. One is Freud’s “On Femininity,” an essay of 1933 often simplified to a diagnosis of “penis envy” for women. Women, explains Freud, have a more difficult time adjusting to adult normativity in a homophobic social order because it requires giving up the gender of one’s first object of erotic desire, the mother, and the first site of female self-pleasure, the clit. That’s why, I observe with my students when we read it in the class on practices of love in Western cultures and traditions, if you follow the logic of Freud’s argument, in a social order where homophobia has disappeared, you’d have to prescribe bisexuality as a path to healthy development for all women. But Freud of course could not recommend what Fritz wished for all healthy bisexuals, “100 percent intimacy,” or else he would have been fired and accused of the very same “perversion” he was trying to cure. “When one gets into action there comes commitment, and thereby freedom appears, in Fromm’s sense of being free,” recites the existential litany. I am a woman, and when I was younger, in the age of fertility, I used to think that existentialist dilemmas were a peculiarity of masculinity. Women don’t wonder about the meaning of existence. We simply make the effort of existing relationally and in communion with other beings. “That must be why I’m so confused,” I mused. My inner landscape was still not settled enough to begin, especially the solar plexus and heart chakra regions. “The age of wisdom must bring existential dilemmas to women too,” I concluded.
I knew Fritz. I was familiar with his playful, carnivalesque, iconic persona at play parties of the bisexual community, with his symbolic presence and significance at the Bisexual Forum meetings. I have anxiety of influence and so it is difficult for me to muster the humility to really surrender to the aural force of iconic figures. Much to my own damage sometimes, I often tend to resist it. But it’s also a self-preservation skill that evaporates when I read them. I had read The Bisexual Option in the early days as part of the San Diego bisexual community. And I remember being struck by its insightfulness, clarity, complexity, simplicity, authenticity, erudition, accessibility, and realism. These qualities are not easily found in one book!
Solitude, community, I said. What did Fritz say about it? Freud believed that the body of the mother is what we all fall in love with since infancy. Eros, the energy of love, is activated as soon as we exit the womb. For Reich, this happens even before we do, and in fact, we all long to go back in to cozy and protected pre-natal existence wrapped into our mom’s placenta and amniotic liquid. Yes, loving the mother is what we really want to do, like Oedipus, who managed to marry her too and re-enter the birth channel with his penis. Further, for Freud taboos exist because otherwise we would all do what’s forbidden. Wooooooow! When I read Klein, in the early 1990s, I was not sure about all this. His theoretical framework did not go back that far, and was actually founded on the Kinsey scale, the result of quantitative studies done in the post World War II period. Klein utilized this scale to estimate the bisexual population in the United States at 25-30 million (1993, 11). He developed the Kinsey scale into the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid (KSOG) to get past mere sexual behavior and into future, ideal, and fantasy, as ways to assess bisexuality as the potential to be intimate, sexual, and loving with people of all genders (1993, 17- 22). Yes, fantasy counted for Fritz, as a way to assess one’s potential for sexual expression and emotional intimacy. Obviously, with the Klein Grid, almost everyone would qualify as potentially bi. Who hasn’t had a same-sex erotic fantasy at least once? But where could this potential be actualized in a world where the practice of love was organized around the homo/hetero divide? What was missing for bisexuals in Klein’s mind at the time he wrote the book, in early 1980s? Bisexuals, Klein observed, were in a “limbo” (117), and when asking himself what was needed to exit the limbo, his answer was clear: “a valid sense of identity, of community” (117).
So I went back to my own work with The Journal of Bisexuality, the four issues I’ve guest edited over eight years, seeking a connectedness, a link to what had inspired me to embrace this community–and be hugged back profusely–in those early years as a solo female immigrant from the European Union to the United States.
What had moved me? What still resonated with me? Had I been seduced to embrace something that ultimately rejected me–that betrayed me–that ignored and misunderstood the depth and complexity of the inner landscape of my existence? Or was it that the community itself offered an oasis of sexual fluidity and amorous inclusiveness where love could be practiced without fear?
If we agree with Klein that almost everyone has the potential to be bisexual, and that only some people are fortunate enough to actualize this potential, this applies even more clearly to those infants who are born of the same gender as one’s mother. How can a woman love and find intimacy if the whole gender of her first love object is forbidden? How can she experience pleasure if the first site of pleasure she discovers in her body as an infant is ignored in the staple sexual act she’s supposed to submit to, the famous “missionary position”? Klein’s realism comes when he gets to “adjustment,” which in Freud is another word for repression. In Freud’s discourse, repression of same-gender desire and of clitoral pleasure are the way to become a well-adjusted, psychologically medicated, middle-class wife in Vienna’s well-to-do society, and “penis envy” is the side effect of this adjustment. But for Fritz Klein repression should be minimized to obtain what he calls “healthy bisexuality.” A healthy bisexual is capable of 100 percent intimacy because s/he is not afraid to love, be intimate with, and be aroused around people of any gender (1993, 29-37). This resonates with Jiddu Krisnamurti’s wisdom that “it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
According to Klein, therefore, the task at hand is not “adjusting individuals” but rather changing society to where it can accept them for what they are. That’s why he founded Bisexual Forums in New York and then San Diego, where I joined in under the coordination of Regina Reinhardt, and then under my own with another non-partnered female participant.
Now I realize what Forum means. Not a support group. Not a social meet-up group. Not an advocacy group. But a “forum”: a place to discuss what a culture that values bisexuality as a virtue looks like, feels like, smells like, tastes like–what it is like to get one’s life organized around it. In the San Diego years (1991-1997, narrated Eros, my memoir of that period), the experience of that–and what I learned–has guided my efforts and dedication to the guest-edited issues in the subsequent years in Puerto Rico.
What is, in retrospect, the wisdom of those years? That bisexuality needs to be treated as a holographic research trope to be studied in all possible contexts and from all possible perspectives. The Journal of Bisexuality has fulfilled this mission in these past ten years, with many valuable contributions from multiple authors, guest editors, and editors. It has been a blessing to have this Journal around because it has provided a haven from other models of research that are far less visionary. For example, in the AIDS era, the medical model of research has operated on a mode that inevitably pathologizes bisexuality, not because there is anything unhealthy about bisexuality, but because–prevalently in the US but also well beyond its precincts–medical research today is slave to the greed of Big Pharma, with doctors and medical researchers reduced to salesmen of products from the pharmaceutical industry–what the Greeks called pharmakon, a word that in the wisdom of that ancient language also meant poison. This model of research on bisexuality is a complete betrayal of the legacy of Fritz Klein because he claimed that bisexuality is healthier than any monosexuality as it involves “100 percent intimacy.”
 The essay appeared in English in the Hogarth Press standard edition of 1964.
 My references are Wilhelm Reich: Character Analysis (1980), and The Function of the Orgasm: Discovery of the Orgone (1986).
 My references are Alfred Kinsey: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).
 My sources are a whole spate of new books on the theme: The Deadly Dinner Party (2011), The Hundred-Year Lie (2007), Side Effects (2008), and Our Daily Meds (2009).
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Yours truly appreciates your attention. Stay tuned for more wonders.
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, PhD
Gilf Gaia Extraordinaire
Author of Gaia and the New Politics of Love and many other books
Professor of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez
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