Bisexuality and Trangenderism: Intersexions of the Others

Issue 69

Originally appeared in issue 69 of BCN

Book review:
Bisexuality and Trangenderism: Intersexions of the Others
edited by Jonathan Alexander and Karen Yescavage (Haworth Press)
Buy it on Amazon here: Bisexuality and Transgenderism: Intersexions of the Others

 

Bisexuality and Transgenderism is the latest special edition of the Journal of Bisexuality to be simultaneously published as a book. Its twenty pieces include empirical research on mental health statistics, poetry, life-stories, rousing speeches, and high-theory cultural analysis. In their different ways, each seeks to find a point of connection between bi and trans experience – this includes the autobiographies of people who are happily both, the analysis of public figures who flirt with being both (Angelina Jolie), comparisons of the psychology of the two groups, and historical and anthropological studies of the cultural overlapping of bisexual and transgender identities in Japan and Indonesia. Perhaps because of trying to cover so much ground, it is unclear who the collection’s target audience is. Many of the essays go to great lengths to prove that sex and gender is not as fixed as ‘we’ thought they were, as if they were aimed at readers with no experience of sexual politics or alternative sexual cultures, which seems unlikely.

Does it find the connections it is looking for ? The essay by Michaela Meyer seems to hit the nail on the head, arguing that bi and trans people have similar and comparable experiences: conventional descriptors for sexuality and gender do not fit us; others – including close friends – can insist on returning us to the categories from which we are seeking to depart (such as ‘male’ or ‘lesbian’); we helped establish the ‘lesbian and gay’ community and now it doesn’t want us; we hold onto a belief in a future where we won’t have to explain our right to our identities all the time. Of course, this is a very different thing from having linked experiences, and most contributors tend to duck the question of whether there is some shared philosophical connection between a positive, pleasurable ambivalence about the gender one desires, and a positive, pleasurable ambivalence about the sex one is – rather than merely the shared pragmatic ground of both being fed up about the narrowness of so-called ‘queer’ culture.

Ultimately, this is probably the right decision – I don’t think that any such ground exists. It may be – as I have just done – that you can phrase bisexuality and transgenderism in a way that makes them sound as if they should have something deep in common – but that is perhaps more because both groups have relatively few concepts with which to describe our experiences, and so often end up using similar terms. I’d also note that the way you make them sound similar is to push transsexual people out of the equation in favour of genderfuck. The idea that, as one writer in the collection says, the similarity is that we both “challenge the notion that one has to choose to be (with) one gender” (p.12) ignores the fact that to be transsexual is to have made up your mind which sex you are – a celebration of indeterminacy and fluidity need play no part in it. Perhaps that’s a book for another day – bi and trans people who aren’t ambivalent about anything?