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Bi by choice?

In 'If we wanted to be straight, we would be' (Guardian, 14/12/04), academic and radical feminist activist Julie Bindel queried the continued scientific research into what 'makes' lesbians and gay men - taking slimming and thyroid pills during pregnancy,
apparently - as well as the ideological uses to which such 'evidence' might be put (as in Nazi eugenics).

In contrast to such 'pseudo-Darwinism', Bindel argued that if 'we wanted to be heterosexual we would be'. She was aware of the appeal of the 'born that way' argument in order to 'provoke sympathy and understanding', but saw her lesbianism as a 'positive choice'. Bindel's emphasis on sexuality as a social (rather than genetic) construct was, however, restricted to only two possibilities - heterosexuality or lesbianism - yet her article is more significant for bisexuals than the omission of the b-word. It has echoes of Adrienne Rich's famous essay 'Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence': namely, that if it wasn't for the twin forces of patriarchal and homophobic oppression, more (all?) women would be lesbian. Unfortunately, Rich never really explained why women would cross all the way over to the other end of the Kinsey scale given the chance - just as Bindel never explained why there were only two choices on offer.

My agreement with Bindel goes further than the reasons stated in her article. Firstly, as bi's of all kinds have shown, there are more than two choices available when it comes to sexual desire and identity. Secondly, one could infer from the article that homophobia is not just a force or attitude preventing an individual from realising their 'true' identity via coming out;
it also inhibits the capacity for same-sex desire on an occasional or long-term basis (especially in the case of 'straight' men). In other words, overcoming internalised and external homophobia and making a 'positive choice' would not 'produce' more lesbians and gay men, but more bisexuals. More precisely, it would produce more 'behavioural' bisexuals, since the
choice would be to love other individuals as prompted by the waywardness of desire, rather than conform to socially or politically approved forms of relationship. Sexuality, in this context, becomes what you 'do', not who you 'are'.

By contrast, Bindel's vision is limited to a choice of 'hets v dykes' - as captured by her concluding but unfunny reversal: 'Heterosexuals? Some of them are okay, but I wouldn't want my daughter marrying one.' What is potentially far more subversive is the plurality of desires which might bloom if we were all
capable of genuine 'freedom of choice' as regards sexuality and, to adapt an old Tory Party slogan (!), had the Right to Bi.

Bi Community News, BM Ribbit, London WC1N 3XX