Bisexuality frequently falls between two beds, not (as one might expect) male and female but hetero and homo: the concept is rejected both by heterosexuals (unwilling to accept the possibility that they may not be as straight as they think they are) and by homosexuals (outraged by the easy option offered to make them straighter). The very term is semantically ambiguous, vacillating between the original botanical meaning - 'of two sexes' or 'having both sexes in the same individual' - and the mythological meaning: 'sexually attracted to members of both sexes'. When applied not to plants or gods but to people, the botanical definition, conceived in terms of the subject of desire, evokes the fantasy of unity, foreclosing desire because both sexes are already present; while the mythological definition validates multiple sexual objects of desire for one person. At stake in the argument between these two definitions is the larger question, in Marjorie Garber's words, 'of whether any sexuality has reference to subject or object', whether gender entails not merely an identification with one sex but the desire for someone of the other sex.
LRB 8 February 1996 | PDF Download