There is a shelf on the third floor of Central Library in downtown Portland. It contains all of the nonfiction books specifically about bring queer: books about raising your gay teenager, coming out in later life, how to support your partner who is transitioning, and about four books on bisexuality. I have never done anything in my life without reading a book about it first, so I picked out the most relevant of those four books, which was Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.
It turns out that Bi has everything to do with why there are only four books on that shelf. Shiri Eisner has put together a book that discusses the particular political, economic, and social marginalization experienced by bisexual people—distinguished from the experience of gay, lesbian, and straight people (“monosexuals,” in her terminology). Eisner starts by describing how bisexual can be a radically inclusive term for all sorts of people that experience attraction to more than one gender, then goes through the myths, stereotypes, and stigmas attached to bisexual people. Next, Eisner examines how bisexual identity intersects with sexist and racist axes of oppression, then proposes this vision of a radical bisexuality that inherently destabilizes patriarchy and gender based oppression.
There is a lot of material in this book, and because of the jargon-bordering-academic language it uses, the tedious and repetitious disclaimers of privilege, and activist-y eye rolls at global capitalism and the police state, I would say that it’s more of a reference than a book to read front to back. I did appreciate the thoroughness of the work, and I have to admit to a certain bias against radical and activist thinking that sometimes provokes me into greater critical thinking and sometimes makes me churlishly dismissive.
Unfortunately, I was also turned off by some methodological loosey-goosey and an inconsistent analytical lens that made it seem like polemic. For example, a lot of Eisner’s evidence for the argument that bisexuals experience worse health economic etc. outcomes is based on a single set of demographic data. That’s certainly not Eisner’s fault—she argues persuasively that bisexuals are an understudied group of people. But in another part of the book, she points out that because this data set is based on self-reported categories, it dramatically under-represents the group within bisexuals that would have the best outcomes due to other kinds of privilege, namely cis bisexual men.
Whatever gripes I might have with the rigor of some of her evidence, I also have to admit that despite coming in with a lot of skepticism, Eisner ended up convincing me that there is a unique stigma attached to bisexual people, and I came to understand why she considered bisexuals and their relationships as a battlefield of patriarchy and queer liberation.
And yet, I did end up walking away a little disappointed. I was still looking for some idea of what the specific bisexual experience of the world is. My gay identity was built not only from crushes and eyes averted and inconvenient erections and hot shame, but also from books and poetry and movies and narratives and testimony and role models. And a lot of that just isn’t out there for bisexual men—or at least I might have to keep working to find it.