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 Klein’s Option and Other Classics with The Issues, and will have two 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.
5. The Issues
This was on the back of my mind when, as one who practices love as the art that heals on a personal, local, professional, and planetary scale, I set out to devote my time to the four mentioned issues, Women and Bisexuality (2003), Plural Loves (2005), Bisexuality and Queer Theory (2010), and BiTopia (2011). The tropes are interrelated and organized around the commitment to bring forth the value of bisexuality as an epistemic portal to a world where the fear of love gives way to the love for love, or erotophilia. The 2003 issue focused on women whose participation in bisexual cultures and communities came in a variety of ways, including appreciating the erotic sensibility of their bisexual male partners. This was the first and has been the only issue on women with a global perspective. In Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli’s article, “Outside Belonging” (53-86) women married to bisexual men were interviewed. As an epistemic portal, bisexuality cannot be reified to a sexual behavior. Pallotta-Chiarolli, an award winning author and a professor of health and social development in Australia, brought out their voices as they declared that the way their spouses practice love between men made them more well-versed and sensitive lovers of women. I agree! Bisexuality is interpreted as a healthy artistic sensibility that enhances the production and fruition of erotic and affectional love. The wider horizon this collection embraced allowed for an expanded view of what bisexuality can bring to people’s existence. This issue is now available as a Routledge book.
Plural Loves, the 2005 issue opened up the conversation of monogamy, as a cultural institution that interferes with Fritz Klein’s auspicated ideal of “100 percent intimacy.” How can people structure amorous lives that are inclusive of partners of different genders when the cultural norm still dictates exclusivity–and does so even more pervasively and insidiously as fears of infection and contamination have increased under the presumed threat of disease? How can non-monogamy be practiced in ways that do not perpetuate double standards of male privilege? Polyamory appeared to me as a subculture whose styles of inclusiveness honored gender equality, disclosure, and integrity in maintaining one’s multiple commitments. It is, indeed, the only known contemporary non-monogamous subculture that includes women as equals. The other two, bare-backing and polyginy (which includes Islamic polygamy), exclude women and subject them to male rule, respectively.
This issue brought the voices of two female leaders in the sexual liberation movement to speak into the discourse of bisexuality. In “We Are All Quite Queer” (155-164), Betty Dodson, artist of the erotic and the nude, tells the story of how she became an educator in the arts of loving too, with self-love as her specialty. Her workshops and videos have helped generations of women develop their self-pleasuring skills, to great enjoyment for those who participate in the sacred rituals too. Dodson’s essay brings to bear on the epistemic value of bisexuality. When can all touch our genitals, and feeling no pleasure at all in doing so is quite difficult. So when we practice the art of self-pleasuring we are loving a person of our own gender, and that’s bisexual. We are also activating a modality of knowledge and self-knowledge that’s quite significant to our health and well being, and those we love too. Nature, our teacher extraordinaire explains, makes our species capable of self-pleasuring through our hands and fingers. We can of course add playful toys as much as we please. The only way to keep bisexuality from being so pervasive, natural, and efficient would be to make our arms much shorter by genetic engineering!
Dodson explores the most personal aspects of bisexual energy, while Anapol’s expands to the most inclusive ones. A founder of the polyamory movement, Deborah Anapol is also a respected teacher of sex and consciousness, a coach, and workshop leader. Her books include Polyamory: The New Love without Limits, and Polyamory in the 21st Century. Her piece, “A Glimpse of Harmony” (109-120), registers her participant observer’s interpretations of today’s Hawaiian culture and its roots in pre-Western languages and traditions. Exclusivity comes from competition. Cultures that interpret abundance as natural can effortlessly practice amorous inclusiveness. Anapol’s narrative extends the concept of erotic pleasure to giving birth and bonding with one’s infant in one of today’s Hawaiian Jacuzzis, to the initiation of children to erotic pleasure in traditional Hawaiian culture, and to reverence and respect for punaluas, the partners of one’s partners, or what today’s polys call metamours. Can you imagine gently massaging your baby girl’s genitals as you clean her, as a cultural norm that favors her development into an amorous, joyful woman? Gently blowing air into your baby boy’s penis to prepare him for future enjoyment of sexual pleasure? Allowing sex play among children as a way to prepare for puberty? These, and other initiation rituals were common among the natives, who called Westerners haole, or people without breath, without spirit. Here we see that Reich’s sense of the subconscious is not so extreme. We may not all literally want to go back to the womb. But babies born in water adapt more gradually to post-natal life as animals born to breathe because water provides continuity with pre-natal life in amniotic liquidity. Girls whose mothers massage their labia will enjoy the arts of loving in adulthood. Peace loving people are aware of these things, because peace is based in love for love, or erotophilia. Today one gets thrown in jail for doing this. As a result, we have lost the knowledge to initiate the young to love amorously and artistically. There is another area where bisexual epistemology could help revive lost knowledge and generate more healthy and loving intimacy.
The subsequent two issues are still very fresh and I’d rather refer you to the source, dear reader. The labor of love of Bisexuality and Queer Theory was shared with Jonathan Alexander, rhetorician extraordinaire and faithful intermediator. That of BiTopia with Brian Zamboni, who had a glimpse of what working on bisexual research means. Regina Reinhardt was always vigilant behind the wings. It is wise to allow time to distill what matters in the experience. In perspective, one’s work acquires a variety of unexpected meanings it would not be cautious to try and anticipate here.
 My sources are Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking (University of Chicago Press, 2009), Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran (New York: Random House 2008), and her Things I’ve Been Silent About (2010).
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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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