Against Monosexual Bigotries

26 March 2014

This originated as a response to an online posting, but then articulated out into something bigger.

It addresses the structural (socio-cultural) constraints on bisexuality in males, particularly those seen as (or accused of) cheating on their partner. I focus on males because I know the male experience better and hope that ignorances on my part do not ruin whatever I might claim for the male experience.  I have two fundamental points to make, even as this meditation tracks over several themes:

  • I want to resist identifying as bisexuality any opportunistic or pragmatic bisexual behaviour especially by otherwise heterosexual (married) males;
  • I want to propose as socially just and necessary the articulation socio-cultural forms of the “home” (as the main site of social reproduction in our culture) that honour the full expression of bisexuality

“Bisexuality” or “Cheating”?

Let me pretend for moment that only two kinds of men exist who seek out extramarital encounters with other perceived male-bodied individuals: (1) those who are not strictly heterosexual in some sense and would claim a genuine desire for such encounters with other men, and (2) those who pragmatically or opportunistically use non-heterosexual males as an additional sexual outlet.

The reality of (heterosexual) married life may often involve unequal sexual appetites. The stereotype makes men the horn-dogs; patriarchy makes women into virtual or actual or tacit victims of domestic rape or at the very least sexual encounters that become extremely problematic, where the consent given (by women) often seems (very) coerced. &c. Men who aren’t dirt-bags may desire to avoid such coercion and thus wind up going outside of the marriage.

In Vietnam for instance (and elsewhere I assume, but I’ve seen it first-hand in Vietnam), this “cheating” becomes formalized in male patronage at massage parlours. Wives sometimes will resort to a public social gesture to “co-sign” this: the husband declares he intends to go to the massage parlour with his friends, and the wife gently scolds him, “No happy ending.” The husband, of course, agrees to this. And then events take their course. This gesture allows the wife to save social face, allows the husband to obtain the sexual activity he desires, and the marriage (which may have been arranged anyway) does not get threatened.

In fact, both the arranged character of many marriages (or the social inertia that still exists from traditions of arranged marriage in the past), along with the actual commitment of Vietnamese parents to place to continuance and welfare of the family nest above all else, makes this arrangement rational, precisely because of likely unequal sex drives in people in the house. None of this precludes any critique the economics of prostitution in all of this, or that one might ask what social structures exist to gratify the sexual desire of wives (none would give me an answer to that). In general, we see that massage parlours subsidise marital relations in the home.

We don’t have anything so structurally formal in the United States. Prior to the Internet hook-up, finding one’s way to the Red Light district could likely seem perilous, the cost might prove prohibitive, and sometimes something like a massage parlour (and/or a brothel) did exist. The conceit involved in all of this requires in part a plausible cover: in Vietnam, one gets a massage (not a happy ending); one simply visits the gentleman’s club (the brothel) for socializing, &c. Again, I suggest this plausible cover involves face-saving in part for the wife, being able to public avow her husband remains faithful, whatever the open secret of massage parlours, brothels, and Red Light districts. And this as well, in part, because women and men have historically allowed themselves often to dismiss sex with prostitutes as “not real” (in part because “good people” scorn prostitutes as “bad women”); such sexual activity then provides mere release for the patron and a safeguard against jealousy or threat on the part of one’s partner, &c.

In this light, the putatively “bisexual” hook-up may be read in at least one strictly opportunistic and pragmatic way. Of course, this requires sufficient pragmatism or opportunism in the male spouse to not mind that the mouth he gets off in attaches to another male or that the hairy ass he ploughs seems slightly less than stereotypically feminine. This suggests, I’d venture, that getting off on oral intercourse probably makes by far the more common dalliance.

In any case, I would not call this kind of opportunistic hook-up bisexual just yet. In a similar way, some men in prison will propose that another inmate “knock the dust off” (whether that other inmate serves as a “prison bitch,” positions himself as an out drag queen in prison, a gay guy who “passes” as straight, or any other male willing to do it for whatever reason: out of curiosity, for money, for tobacco, to forestall violence, &c). These pragmatic or opportunistic sex-seekers, upon their release, my well revert to women-only status again and see nothing inconsistent about their claim, “I’m straight.” And rightly so. I would hesitate to call this behaviour bisexual just yet.

The era of the Internet hook-up particularly enables these sorts of pragmatic and opportunistic encounters. If previously, finding the Red Light district and the cost of prostitutes put up obstacles for males, now one can easily find (or can relatively easily locate and identify) any number of enthusiastic volunteers just by trolling Craigslist or similar sites or lists. Of course, one may find heterosexual hook-ups that way too, but these destroy the “plausible deniability” aspect of such dalliances.

The “heterosexual” husband who meets some random guy has a hundred likely excuses for doing so, and the spouse’s suspicion “you were having sex” likely doesn’t come up as a first response. &c. So, in this case (just as massage parlours in Vietnam subsidize marital relations), here actually homosexual or bisexual males get used in random Internet hook-ups by heterosexual males to subside marital relations in our culture. The main distinction of this, as compared to having a queen on the side (or an octoroon of yore), shows up in the wholly temporary character of the encounter. It functions like prostitution but without cash. And so, as also with prostitution, what one pays for involves not the services rendered but the “right” to walk away afterward without any demand or continuing obligation on the one rendering the service.

I remain disinclined to call any of this behaviour “bisexual,” mostly out of respect to bisexuals and the bisexual identity.

Whatever pragmatism or sexual opportunism that heterosexual and homosexual people might exhibit from time to time, we respect their sexuality by understanding it as a significant (or even core) part of their identity as a human being. So unless we extend that same presumptive respect to bisexuals, then we slander their experience by equating it with the pragmatic or opportunistic behaviour of certain (married or incarcerated) men.[1] This brings into the picture—less or more incidentally—the betrayal (the “cheating”) that such extramarital shenanigans involve and unfairly imputes it as (or it gets taking as imputing) a general character trait of bisexuals overall: a group of people historically looked at sideways as refusing to ally unambiguously with either “gay” or “straight” in the first place.

Why Hate Bi?

Our culture (we’re not alone in this) posits general a resistance, if not outright hostility, to bisexuality. Why?

I suggest one root of this comes from our (cultural) conflation of procreation and social reproduction (in the family). By social reproduction, I mean all of the cultural practices and exigencies that support and enable the production of the next generation of people. Procreation, as the literal biological reproduction of that next generation, then gets conflated with social reproduction, and thus the heterosexual family (narrowly or broadly conceived) becomes the stridently defended necessity for achieving social reproduction. Lately, the LGBT community has made clear the heterosexual presumption in this conflation as unnecessary, since social reproduction of the next generation may occur without procreation as a necessary element in any given family (e.g., because homosexuals may adopt).

This burdens the notion of the nuclear family—one the most toxic and radioactive inventions in the history of humankind, says Dr Patch Adams—with the demand that any two individuals must provide any and all resources necessary for such social reproduction (for the raising of the next generation). In days of yore (and still in many places in the world, of course), extended families provided these necessary supports. But under the nuclear family, we must stand generally on our own.

The more or less formally arranged marriages (or cultural inertia stemming from those traditions) made it unambiguously clear that marriage could not (even would not) serve as the site for the full (or even satisfactory) gratification of every human need, including the sexual—such that brothels, massage parlours, and the like became social necessities in cultures all over the world.[2]

We see this “inadequacy” of marriage as an inherent part of it—that placing the burden of fulfilling all possible human desires on a single person (the spouse) in a relationship makes for an untenable claim much less an infeasible desire. In days of yore, lords and ladies did expected neither to spend 24/7 with their mate nor that every need (sexual, intellectual, spiritual, &c) would get met by the other. Rather, these various desires got “farmed out” into the social structure per the desires of those involved:[3] the café culture of men, for instance, as a form of intellectual gratification, and the craft circles (or meetings in the home over domestic work) for women—something one still sees in many places in Vietnam (and elsewhere around the world), but not so much here. Women, paralleling the covert behaviour of males, must hire a maid to knock the dust off (literally). A woman recently confessed embarrassment to me that she even wanted to hire a maid to clean her house. The parallels (with male cheating) seem intriguing here. Meanwhile, even these days while we may pay lip services to the hopelessly romantic notion of “you and me 24/7” the reality of long-term relationships shows that what makes for a stable home-life involves ensuring the re-production of whatever “core” forms the household.

For me and my mate, for instance, this involves maintaining a certain emotional sweetness and succour that the rest of the world does not supply. I can go out into the knock-about world but then come home to a place where (as one woman professor put it) “I can feel loved.” This can form the core of our relationship, in part because we have no children.

Once we attempt to generate a social environment where the nuclear family must bear the burden for the entire social reproduction of the world along with the welfare of the child—as opposed to that truly wise African observation that it takes a village to raise a child—then we enter into a zone of inevitable desperation, which gets staved off primarily (if not only) by externalising the costs of that social reproduction onto the backs of others. The notion of “cheating” becomes rationalized because the ideology of the nuclear family doesn’t or won’t acknowledge the inability of the nuclear family to supply every necessity for social reproduction.

This must hardly seem controversial. Even the ideology of the nuclear family acknowledges that one (or now both partners) must go out of the home to work (ignoring along the way how domestic work in the home subsidises such going out).[4]

These factors, then—and especially the (romantic) ideology of the nuclear family—con tribute to the demonization of bisexuality and makes the social enactment of bisexuality (for bisexuals) problematic.

A requirement for “fidelity” in marriages (especially in the past) involved not only reputation and face-saving (as the Vietnamese examples show) but also no disruption to the fabric of social reproduction that a marriage primarily served to enact. Saying this, we must remember that marriage proposed a (sometimes overwhelmingly) extensive set of social relations and obligations; the very fact of the sometimes assumed legitimacy of adoption as a practice (as a non-biologically related case of child-acquisition in the home) shows that the primary emphasis of marriage does not centre on literal, biological reproduction but on the wider social character of marriage. With the rise of bourgeois ideology and even more so the ideology of the nuclear family, however, the demand for fidelity shifts from supporting these socio-structural aspect of marriage and devolves into something non-social, i.e., into a merely personal or individual affair. Thus, when you “betray” me in a modern relationship or marriage, I will feel entitled to break up the home and put in peril the welfare of the children for selfish reasons.

By definition, the bisexual person overtly declares a sexual orientation also towards someone not his or her spouse. Thus, bisexual people may never be rid of this suspicion that they threaten to break up the home—thus, the animus toward bisexuality, but let us keep in mind our “modern” context. In days of yore, the husband who wanted a masculine dalliance could have done so on the same grounds he might visit a massage parlour, because the “ultimate value” in the marriage involves the maintenance of the site of social reproduction (the home, marital relations) and not the “feelings” of the spouse.

These days, a spouse may fret about her husband getting something on the side (or she may be grateful for it), but that worry gets diminished so long as that urge finds its outlet in denigrated outlets (i.e., with “whores”). Again, a very great deal of this sort of thing seems to involve assuring that no wound get inflicted against one’s sense of security about the home—just as the Vietnamese wife makes the gesture, “No happy ending.” She knows better, but the social world she inhabits wants to hear her admonishment along with the reassurance given by the husband that he intends only to get a massage.

I know of one married couple (perhaps it matters that the wife hails from Vietnam) where the wife specifically commanded her husband to “go to the whores” rather than pester her for sex after the birth of their son. While many spouses might find these extramarital services disgusting or troubling—demanding instead that people should just shut off their sexual desires in some way (we might explore and wonder over the merit of such a proposal)—such dalliances do serve the instrumental end of supporting the marital setting.[5]

But with the person of a bisexual orientation, it becomes more difficult often for the ideology of the nuclear family to reassure itself. Whatever slightly queasy consolations heterosexuals might offer themselves about the unregenerate character of their spouse’s (depraved) sexuality (“men are dogs”), we at least find social techniques and institutions that service those urges, as described above. This provides (or can provide) some domestic peace of mind.

But when one lives constantly with the awareness that one’s spouse has a whole other portion of their sexuality that the domestic (marital) setting cannot address or even honour (except by demanding one nobly not indulge in it), then it becomes much, much harder to feel reassured that extramarital resorts will defuse, rather than exacerbate, that desire. True, a husband might fall in love with a prostitute, but the odds remain statistically much lower that she would actually run away with him as compared to the same risks with a mistress. In a way, the prostitute and the wife become allies of a sort in the perpetuation of the domestic sphere—the wife “permitting” her husband the dalliance, and the prostitute “guaranteeing” not to run off with the husband.

Not so much, then, when the husband trolls amongst the enthusiastic male volunteers on Craigslist. Moreover, it must finally seem a very tenuous proposition to pretend that this kind of “random hook-up” would actually and for all time satisfy a spouse’s authentic bisexual strivings.

The Absence of Sociostructural Support for Bisexuality

At root, then, the (bourgeois, or “nuclear family”) demand for monogamy becomes or remains expressly hostile to bisexuality. It implicitly demands (and trumpets as highly noble) the total denial of it as the partner simply never practices that bisexuality, on the one hand, or it at best only “allows” or “suffers” “casual hook-ups” as an “outlet,” as if that might ever hope to meet in the long-run a genuine desire on the bisexual’s person’s part. It seems precisely this kind of “casual only” restriction created some of the social pressure at work during the early phases of LGBT liberation—the ultimately unsatisfactory character of this restriction (for those who found it unsatisfying) helped to drive a more visible social demand for sociocultural structures that would permit the expression of homosexual social identity. These days, neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals would accept that the expression of their sexuality must limit itself only to casual “Park encounters” or “Internet hook-ups,” yet the dominating norm of our culture—the ideology of romantic “marriage”—tacitly demands exactly hat of bisexuals.

Insofar as the norm of human relationship manifests as serial monogamy with cheating, this amply represents the only “allowable” form open to bisexuality and thus serves as an indirect proof, if we wanted it, that human beings are actually bisexual at root. What I must emphasize here, however, involves exactly the wording serial monogamy with cheating, because “cheating” has negative connotations. Whether imagining marriage in an “old” sense (where social techniques and institutions existed to accommodate “cheating” in light of arranged marriages) or according to our current ideology of romantic relationships (where “cheating” gets valued as the veritable kiss of death), either way “cheating” retains its negative connotations. In the old sense, the “worst” form of cheating meant (literal) divorce, with the breaking up of the family and all of the social obligations the marriage entailed; these days we still have this, of course, but any form of extramarital dalliance may get construed as world-ending and destructive. Nonetheless, as human being work their way emotionally through life, this “cheating” turns up from time to time, and apparently (again) as the norm of human relating: serial monogamy with cheating. But this discourse requires only bisexual people, in every relationship (with only one other person), to resort to heating for total fulfilment of their identities. In principle, whatever the case in practice, the heterosexual or homosexual person might find sufficiently ideal satisfaction in the one partner a relationship limits them to, but that structure demands, by definition, that the bisexual person disregard an entire portion of their sexual identity.[6]

To more fully honour bisexuality would require the integration of spouses of both sexes into the picture. I do not mean to equate bisexuality and polyamory—polyamory seems to me a domestic social arrangement whatever the affects of those involved, whereas bisexuality points to a sexual orientation. Nor do I suggest that bisexual people cannot find happiness “one sex at a time” in domestic settings. I suggest, rather, that by definition the available domestic structure of the monogamous nuclear family precludes support, within the family, for the full range of bisexual sexual identity. I suggest, rather, that we might interrogate whether any socialized practice amongst bisexual people to establish domestic partnerships with “only one sex at a time” does not itself already imply a rational or sensible response to a piece of cultural prejudice against bisexuality—a prejudice, again, that mistakes the character and content of the (monogamous) family as the (only type of) site necessary for social reproduction.

Homosexual males have for a long time now pioneered the combination of the “established home” in conjunction with openly toying round with other males, if not actually bringing them home for both spouses to enjoy. But this eminently sensible solution, which accepts at face-value the habits of male sexuality to the extent that culture shapes them, does not particularly lend itself to the introduction of a permanent third party, and especially not a female one. A bisexual male in this scenario might well find himself on the receiving end of suspicion often. &c. And if I emphasise the homosexual case here, I do so because the corresponding case in the heterosexual realm—that a wife would accommodate her husband’s male spouse to live openly in the home with them—seems already wildly beyond the pale of consideration. We might imagine scandalised Jerry Springer show about this topic before any “level-headed” consideration of the option.

It seems obvious that any real cultural support that domestic settings might extend to bisexuals cannot get around opening it up to a kind of polygamy. If in days of yore, it helped (in extended families) that one could move amongst multiple domestic sites (i.e., from one’s parents to one’s uncle’s, &c), we might considering dropping any requirement that a triple (the three-part version of a couple) must all live in the same space, but only if any other “external” space really constitutes an acknowledged part of the “home”. If the “bisexual spouse” must live outside of the “marital home,” then the status of the one on the outs seems little more than the same level of a “mistress” with all of the socioeconomic problems that entails.

From all of this, we may see that the hostility expressed by the dominating discourse toward bisexuality forms something of a tautology or self-fulfilling prophecy. Society fails to provide adequate social structures for the fulfilled expression of bisexuality, and then demonizes bisexuals for resorting to the one route currently available: “cheating”. Moreover, the availability of the Internet “bisexual” hook-up, which more or less adequately suffices for lusty (monosexual) male “spill-over,” does not suffice or make a valid “solution” to the full and complete expression of bisexual sexual identity for those involved in the ideology of romantic relationships in our culture. The demand to satisfy their longing for identity in such a way fails on human grounds.

Re-Envisioning Marriage

This all points to the necessity of re-distinguishing the function of “marriage” (as a social structure for the social reproduction of culture) apart from the sort of affective ideology of the nuclear family currently in vogue. I feel certain that, in the old days, a wife might quite openly keep her lover in the mansion with her, just as husbands dallied with serving-maids and the like. By this, I mean to say that because very few people had any silly or naïve fantasies about the function of “marriage” socially, then the working out of one’s sexual urges (along with any silly or naïve “ideals” about marriage) got subordinated and were set side when it became necessary to do so in order to ensure the actual social reproduction intended in marriage.

I cannot stress enough the “social” aspect of this social reproduction. The old adage, when you marry you marry someone’s family, offers no mere proverb, and out of this recognition arose (in some cultures) the prohibition on divorce (except for in the most extreme of circumstances) because marriage entailed an intensive and extensive set of social obligations to others that would also sever if a divorce occurred.[7] Thus, in these cases tremendous pressure can get brought to bear to make such marriages “work” whatever that takes: up to and including the husband mounting the pool-boy and the wife enjoying the company of her handmaid. &c.

In the main, this social aspect of marriage has fallen away in our culture; marriage has become (in our culture) a fundamentally private affair, and the articulation of the ideology of the nuclear family shows what a toxic idea that amounts to. But if we would accept the dubious premise of this ideology, which certainly offers an incoherent misprision of the function of marriage in the first place, then we should be willing to “adjust the definition” again—because our current ideology represents an adjustment of the “definition” of marriage in the first place.

The marriage equality movement represents one direction of this redefinition, but its critics have rightly observed that broadening “one man/one woman” to “one person/one person” leaves wholly intact a sort of heteronormative structure of marriage, i.e., that marriage remains always a folie a deux (or a folly of two families), and never more. We may say that the dominating discourse takes a monosexual view of the matter, where monosexual means the either/or of heterosexual and/or homosexual.[8]

Meanwhile, if we understand or imagine the “home” as the site of (desirable) social reproduction, then it would seem we should not a priori rule out any structure that supports that desirable reproduction.[9]

By desirable reproduction, I do not mean only the sexual reproduction of the next generation.  We see with utter clarity that all throughout culture each “home” does not consist always or merely of “parents and children”—many homes have all sorts of variations on this while still remaining culturally legitimate. One may see this in a homophobic context. Rom a case where the State of Michigan sought to limit and denounce adoption by LGBT community members:

But on cross-examination by the ACLU’s Leslie Cooper, [anti-gay adoption witness] Regnerus’ testimony quickly broke down. Cooper forced Regnerus to admit that he had sought to conceal the role of conservative funders and of his religious faith in influencing his research, both of which were later revealed with smoking gun evidence from his prior words. He acknowledged that he was “not a fan of same sex marriage” before he started his research and that his opposition to it was not primarily based on his research conclusions. And he had to concede that he had singled out gay couples in opposing their right to marry based on alleged family instability: aware that African-Americans, the poor, step-families and divorced people are all at higher statistical risk of marital collapse and family instability, he nonetheless had no strong opinion on whether those folks should be banned from marrying—just gays, strongly suggesting his views are rooted in bias above all (¶7, see here, links in original, emphasis added).

I do not cite this in order to demonize any of the families of African-Americans, the poor, step-families, or divorced people, but only to underscore how these structures of social reproduction do not get branded otherwise, as Regnerus’ bigotry against LGBT people makes clear. He accepts the legitimacy of family instability in divorced families, for instance, as no grounds to deny marriage or adoption even though a consistent argument would demand it—just as any insistence that marriage only serves the purpose of procreation would require, then, the annulment of all marriages with people incapable of procreation. Regnerus’ bigotry also points then to the desirability of divorced families, so to speak, so far as the “cunning” of neoliberal capitalism goes. [10] The demand for social justice, of course, requires the amelioration of the social factors that lead to family instability or any sort, and while we work toward that end, we need not pretend such unstable sites of social reproduction  lack social legitimacy.[11] On the contrary, we might well worry why our unjust social order and how it benefits from it.

Meanwhile, homes with children do not comprise the end of what we might consider as part of the network of site(s) that support social reproduction. Other “familial supports” exist that do not have children: unmarried aunts or uncles, sexually non-reproductive grandparents, the gay couple next door, the bachelor one floor down, & so forth may all figure in some way into the kinds of support structures that make possible (that subsidise) socially reproductive conditions in a given “home”. Just as patriarchal (sexist) economics bracket out the work of women in the domestic sphere as “not work,” to consider a site of social reproduction as extending only so far as the boundary of the “home” not only provides an egregiously propagandistic picture, it also proposes an unnecessarily artificial one. Since it takes a village to raise a child, we see how families (even in our ostensibly stand-alone milieu where marriage gets divorced from the wider social networks it once got embedded in) do indeed construct a sort of village as best they can: precisely this network of unmarried aunts or uncles, friends next door, &c, who further supply as much as they can the necessary supports for social reproduction.[12]

We may say then that the myth of the domestic hearth—a major part of the ideology of romantic relationships—simply refuses to take cognizance of any of the support structures for social reproduction. It asks us to insist on thinking about social reproduction strictly in terms of the “home” and not the “village,” even though (1) villages remain necessary for social reproduction, and (2) we do in fact construct villages, without acknowledging them as such.

We could call this myth a “lie,” but as Jung states in in too many places to cite individually, we would deceive ourselves to call myths lies in the sense of falsehoods. We may look, instead, at the “work” that such lies do, along with the consequences of them. And in the present case of an ideology in our social world that construes the “home” (not the “village”) as the recognised site of social reproduction—even in the cases of poor families, step-families, and divorced families, &c—then we may see in this a larger-scale echo of the sort of “subsidy” that brothels, massage parlours, and (male-male) Internet sexual hook-ups provide for the maintenance of marital relations.

In other words, in the same way that brothels, massage parlours, and (male-male) Internet sexual hook-ups function to subsidise marital relations without enjoying recognition as such (and in fact carrying instead a “negative” connotation), we may see that the “villagification” of the “home” subsidises the domestic hearth without acknowledging those contributions as such as part of the “home”. The Vietnamese wife disavows an expressly denies, if you will, the integral (not incidental) role of the masseuse’s sexual services in the maintenance of her domestic space, just as the married couple disavow and expressly deny the integral (not incidental) role of any villagizing that occurs as making possible their own domestic sphere.

I propose we imagine this as insisting on a rigorous distinction where one does not actually prevail, and moreover a distinction that has two basic “gestures”—one that incorporates (or allows or acknowledges) and another that expels (or disallows or refuses to recognize). What I would emphasise in this particularly: whether one allows or disallows involves a choice. Thus, as the Vietnamese wife desires to keep the masseuse/prostitute out of her domestic space both imaginatively and literally, so does a couple making a “home” desire to keep the “village” that supports it external to it both imaginatively and literally.[13] In principal, nothing absolutely prohibits a wife from allowing a masseuse in her home, though social pressure obviously and heavily constrains the weighting—yes or no—of any choice involved. So too, nothing absolutely prohibits a “home” from acknowledging any factors externalised from that home as integral (not incidental) to the successful maintenance of that home.

I can imagine someone saying that couples who make a home very often recognise in some way the support structures that allow their home to continue. For instance, they offer money (to baby-sitters or day-care providers) as a form of acknowledgment, or they simply express their gratitude to the unmarried aunts or uncles or neighbours downstairs. The presence of money points to a formalization of social relationships, but leave this aside. What none of this embodies involves  an acknowledge of these “others” as “members of the home”. Just as in the case of prostitution, where the exchange of money signals an end to all obligation (so that one may walk away), the money paid to child-care providers or babysitters similar signals and demarcates the extent of any involvement. It signals, “We are done and paid in full, an may make no further demands upon one another.”

Precisely on this ground does the villagification of the home get erected, such that those who inhabit the village have no claim on the “home,” which of course directly contradict the social arrangement of most historical villages. An exchange of money, again, makes for the currently conventional way to signal this separation, and thus the prostitute does not stir up trouble by showing up at the wife’s house. &c.

As such, it seems that the marital sphere literally cannot recognise the massage parlour, brother, or male-male Internet hook-up except in an unfavourable comparison. At the end of the day, the marital sphere insists, “You have no claim here.” And this same social dynamic informs the more general distinction between the “home” and the unrecognised village that subsidises it. At the end of the day, the “home” insists to the village, “You have no claim here.” Whether anyone or any entity finds this agreeable or not, it points to a social inequality which comes also with a note of denigration. As the wife may access a discourse that permits her to way superior to the masseuse, so do the same dynamics permit those making a home to feel entitled vis-à-vis any support structures (the village) that supports their home. This needn’t manifest only in a scornful way: the wife might feel scorn or pity or sympathy or even gratitude toward the masseuse, but this does nothing to challenge the demarcation, inequality, and separation that the social structure insists upon.[14] In fact, were the wife to bring the masseuse into her home, she might very well suffer social repercussions. In parallel, the couple making a home might feel superiority or entitlement or compassion or even gratitude toward the villagers who help make possible their home, but this does nothing to challenge the distinction insisted upon by home and village itself. And were the home-makers to bring villagers into the home (as acknowledged home-makers as well), then not only might they experience social repercussions, even more threateningly, those villager would have the right (therefore) to make demands on the functioning of the home. Imagine how affronted most people would feel if the plumber they’ve hired insisted on giving advice about how to raise your children.

Addressing the Problem of (the Discourse of) Monosexualism

I say all of this to point to a key resistance on the part of “marriage” (the “home”) as far as bisexuality goes.

The (romantic) discourse of monosexualism wants to insist that the “home” can deny the presence of the other-gendered spouse within its domestic sphere, so that at the end of the day, it may insist, “You have no claim here.” It wants to insist that any gratification of authentic bisexuality must locate its practice outside of the “home” and only in what social forms it finds available: all of which currently amount to “cheating” with a pejorative connotation.

The (Vietnamese) husband who goes to the massage parlour, as also the (pragmatic or opportunistic heterosexual) husband who indulges in male-male Internet hook-ups (or sex in prison), may avail themselves more or less satisfactorily of these resorts because the need that drives them attaches primarily (if not exclusively) to sexual pleasure alone, however much of  a “taste” they ultimately develop for these things.

The full expression of bisexuality—as the expression of the monosexualities in general—does not involve only (or even primarily) sexual gratification. In the original post that inspired this entire meditation, the pathos emphasised there focussed on the otherwise not honoured sexual longings of bisexual men, but one might imagine instead a scene where a man meets with another man (or a woman meeting a woman of course), simply to experience being held, or to go out in public to a restaurant to enjoy a romantic meal without the evening ending in grunting and sweatiness and full-throated cries.

Again, the point here does not involve whether bisexuals can and do currently (and cleverly) figure out how to live fulfilling lives under these  constraints, but rather to point out the roots of the socio-structural constraints in the first place and to question their supposed necessity.

Just as white supremacist culture “counts on” or expects people of colour to conform to the (socially unjust) range of culturalities (made) available to them—lest the “uppity” ones suffer the consequences of mass incarceration, entitled racism, the smug arrogance of white privilege, or outright murder heinous dirt-bags like Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman  demonstrated—so also does monosexual culture expect bisexuals to “politely” assimilate to the available culturalities, lest they too run afoul of various social punishments, repercussions, up to and including physical violence and murder, of course.

What this points to amounts to a pernicious distinction, proposed and enforced by Power, that sorts individuals between “conforming” and “uppity” types, more or less prising and rewarding the former while marginalizing and punishing the latter. I can hardly fault individuals for winding up in the “conforming” category, since the alternative tends with increasing violence toward the very denial of the possibility of life itself. And the history of both formal and informal violence against people of colour and LGBT people seems like a loud warning against any lone individual not acting collectively (because the exposure as an individual remains that much greeter). To insist upon sociocultural structures to support the full range of bisexuality, and not only to patronisingly allow and praise the “conforming” bisexuals while continuing to marginalise and persecute the “uppity” varieties, itself amounts to a call for uppitiness.

Opponents of the slippery slope will already infer from this that the one-on-one notion of marriage itself must give way to more multiple configurations, so that we shoot immediately past any platform for bisexuality per se and on into the realm of pansexualism and polyamory. Besides that this hardly worries me, I also think this amounts to a reactionary dodge. We might as well reprise the bigoted slogan that if we allow “gay marriage” then people will want to marry goats next.

If we can speak of staging-grounds or way-stations for social justice, to overcome the cis-gendered bias in culture would not suffer (I’d think) by also seeking redress for those who find themselves caught—happily or not—in the zone where homosexuality and heterosexuality both have appeal. I suspect that any advance we might make in creating social structures to support bisexuality would frame and help (on-going) efforts to critique an address cis-gendered biases. And any critique from that domain would improve any advances and proposals for “bisexual social structures”. Also from those in the asexual community who change the valence of this dialogue by just as fundamentally questioning assumptions in the discourse.

To say this acknowledges that addressing the discourse of monosexualism for the sake of bisexuality does not point to the end of the road. I would sooner have any broadening of the understanding of “marriage” (as the site of social reproduction) not fatally or by default become vulnerable to the critique rightly levelled against problematic aspects of marriage equality: specifically that the form that marriage equality has taken rewards only conforming but not uppity homosexuals .

To introduce social structures that acknowledge another-gendered spouse in the “home” does not hinge a numerical increase, such that such an acknowledgment becomes the ground for “having to tolerate” marriages with seen people in it or more. It may serve as an argument for the workability of polyamory, but it really acknowledges the inclusion of a type (rather than an increase in number). The “problem” of multiple spouses in any case already has manifold solutions from around the world, as polygamy and polyandry historically attest. The specific change that “bisexual marriage” proposes—or, rather, a marriage equality that recognises the already existing human right of bisexuals to marry in a way amenable to their sexuality—amounts to something different than a difference of number.

Opponents of this notion will happily conflate this difference of type as a difference in number (polygamy, polyandry, or polyamory) but this again jumps the gun.

We can imagine, for instance, that the radical change “bisexual marriage” might demand would involve a distribution of the site of social reproduction. Nothing demands in any such arrangement that everyone must cohabit, so that we see precisely what gets fundamentally drawn into the picture involves an extension of the acknowledgment of what constitutes the “home” as occurring in two places at once. And although I (as the bisexual person) ivied my time between this house and that house, for legal purposes those two spots comprise one home. Not only socially but also legally do our social practices need to accommodate this reality (with respect to property taxes, marital tax breaks in different states, &c). It would seem that people have negotiated some of this already insofar as divorce does generate divided living situations, but obviously any sort of accommodation that might come from my proposal would not have the “hostile” element of divorce or the (now admittedly less stigmatising) connotation of divorce.

Conclusion For Now

Toward the end of the foregoing, the topic begins to expand out perhaps to an excessive degree. Hopefully, at least a couple of minimums nonetheless remain clear.

First, I hope to have made clear not only that we should not let the identification of bisexual behaviour by heterosexual (married) males as bisexual go by unchallenged, but also the way that such bisexual behaviour subsidises heteronormative pretences of the “home” (as the preeminent site of social reproduction). Just as the wife and the prostitute engage in a sort of uneasy collusion—one where the wife may allow herself to scorn the prostitute as her social inferior—so we may see the same pattern at work here, where the wife may place blame for his “cheating” on the morally depraved homosexual who services that (reprobate) husband. This gesture of scorn itself, of course, rises as a function of patriarchal sexism. It misses the source to “blame” the wife for paying forward this blame to either the prostitute or the homosexual.

Second, the monosexual milieu of the “home” rests on a myth of the domestic hearth that itself simply fail to recognise the supports and subsidies provided by the “village” around it. Social justice demands then the articulation of socio-structural forms that accommodate bisexuality. This does not necessarily entail only to permit another person into the “home” (though for some individual families they might desire exactly this), but rather a social articulation of “home” that acknowledges as part of the home what currently gets rigorously cast out of the domestic sphere. It means, to give simply what the “home” considers as one of the most “alarming” consequences of this, acknowledging that another spouse has a claim to demand certain forms of child-care and child-rearing. It means, most simply, to treat another person as a spouse and to articulate social structures in the world that allow bisexuals (whether they ever fully resort to them or not) to have them as readily to hand as currently monosexuals do with regard to their own (sexual) identities as they live their lives.


[1] Here we would find the witticism about marriage and incarceration as identical.

[2] Again, we may well critique how these institutions and customers and wives look down socially on those who subsidise marital relations; I simply note the social pattern they generate.

[3] Of course, in a patriarchal culture, this means more articulation of necessities to fulfil male needs than female. A more desirable culture must redress this inequality.

[4] This outside/inside distinction articulates in the rural (or farm) model of the nuclear family as becoming embedded in a wider experience of extended families or sociability. But once you have one farmhouse with thirteen kids in it, arguably this already makes its own village and no longer reflects, strictly speaking, a nuclear family in its now-conventional sense.

[5] I have to say, the objection of a spouse that husbands engage in “disgusting” behaviour with whores has to amount to the trivial objection. The denigration of sex-workers, as an obviously needed part of a relatively unjust social structure, should prevent us from letting such “middle-class” prudery frame the issue so that we may focus on the class-injustice involved in requiring certain women (and men), almost always of lower-class origin, to have to experience exploitation in their circumstance. I don’t doubt that the history of this has many marks of negotiation, resistance, and demands to the pimps and madams of the world to secure better working conditions for this useful service. If we must have such more or less covert sex work to subsidise marital relations, then let us advocate fair pay, safe working conditions, and even social respect to such workers, rather than attending to pearl-clutching and groans of “whore!” from scandalized marriage-mongers.

[6] I do not mean a bisexual person cannot make this work. How person (of any sexuality) negotiates a satisfying relationship remains far too full of details to tidily generalize. But however a given individual works these details out, this does not change the demand, made by the exclusively monogamist ideology of romantic relationships that dominates our culture, to exclude a portion of one’s sexuality from expression, whether that portion makes for a tiny percentage or huge percentage. People very cleverly find ways to inhabit unjust social structures; that cleverness does not provide an argument in favour of the unjust social structure.

[7] The distinction between matrifocal and patrifocal cultures seems to introduce an important distinction here. In some matrifocal cultures, wives might divorce their husbands to the drop of a hat, but this in part because the wife’s familial structure permitted such a severing.

[8] Since it takes a village to raise a child, and since capitalism destroys villages, we cannot rationally expect (without a revolution first) our current social ethos to permit the necessary preconditions (a village) for the raising of children. Or widening the critique, we may interrogate the desirability of villages as forms of social reproduction in the first place while attempting to articulate some desirable structure in our own culture, as opposed to the wholly unworkable and undesirable nuclear family. We can object that social reproduction will itself never cease to be a problem, or something that will forever require critique itself. The possibility of socially just social reproduction might seem merely unimaginable in principle. &c. I don’t think so, since the problem of social reproduction arises in preferentially privileging forms of it, rather than the existence of it per se.

[9] Thus, adoption by the LGBTQ community does indeed become an elemental issue and brings with it all of the problems associated with adoption as well. By such problems, I mean those fundamental to adoption itself—such as the increased risk of suicide or suicide attempts by (transracially) adopted children or the structural function of adoption as a means for securing middle-class respectability on the backs of those forced to shoulder the costs of that—and not those issues raised by fraudulent or bigoted opponents of “gay adoption”. Such people, as a matter of deliberate social strategy, falsify or simply concoct evidence to suggest that children raised by LGBT parents suffer various (psychological) disadvantages.

The strategy is for sociological experts to sow just enough doubt about the wisdom of change such that preserving the status quo seems the only reasonable path. As the New York Times recently reported, in 2010 the conservative Heritage Foundation gathered social conservatives consisting of Catholic intellectuals, researchers, activists and funders at a Washington meeting to plot their approach. The idea was for conservative scholars to generate research claiming that gay marriage harms children by placing them in unstable gay homes and by upending marital norms for straights. A solid consensus of actual scholarship—not the fixed kind being ginned up at Heritage—has consistently found that gay parenting does not disadvantage kids, and no research has shown gay marriage having any impact on straight marriage rates. But trafficking in truth was not the plan. The plan was to tap into a sordid history of linking gay people with threatening kids, and to produce skewed research that could be used as talking points to demagogue the public (¶3, from here, links in original).

[10] I say the “cunning of neoliberal capitalism” not the “logic” of it, since using the word logic would ascribe a rationality to the irrational faith and activity of (neoliberal) capitalism.

[11] In point of fact, one might argue it remains unfortunate they do have social legitimacy not because this normalizes “substandard” familial conditions but because it distracts us from recognizing that those “substandard familial conditions” form a necessary pillar of unjust white supremacy.

[12] The nasty history of heterosexual adoption (especially since after World War II) makes unambiguous that couples needn’t make their own babies to count as constructing or providing a site of social reproduction. Thus, barren people might raise children. At the same time, the provision of children (theoretically the objects of social reproduction par excellence) to any “home” structure capable of supporting them points exactly to the need for an adjusted notion of marriage, precisely as proponents and opponents of marriage equality claim. I would say, rather, that the “adjustment” has already occurred and that social recognition of those adjustments come to the fore as necessary. To the extent that children benefit from the tax status of married spouses, why must their welfare lose those benefits because their parents’ divorce? Child support supposedly offers some amelioration of this fact but why the subsidy must shift from a “tax break’ to the “male progenitor” remains logically obscure. &c. Meanwhile, the fact that adoption becomes a problem for opponents of marriage equality fails as an argument against marriage equality. Where marriage equality occurs, trolls will often pass laws making adoption impossible, &c. This, of course, when they don’t simply make up fake research to use to lie in court. So the “redefinition” of marriage that marriage equality purports does not automatically entail change vis-à-vis adoption, even s worriers over slippery slopes insist otherwise. Opponents who complain, for instance, remain unwilling to annul marriage licenses to barren couples or those who have ceased to procreate; quite the opposite: our Occidental discourse articulated the social practice adoption as we now have it in response. And so the bad faith in saying that homosexuals can’t marry because they can’t reproduce already refutes the opponent’s claim that the “rights” of the (heterosexual) nuclear family somehow legitimizes (or—cart-before-the-horse-style—actually itself gets legitimized in the first place by) adoption. This remains unclear and muddled because the premises remain unclear and muddled.

[13] Precisely in the zone of child-care this explicit separation readily gets blurry: a babysitter may come into the home, a day-care provider might come over for dinner, &c. By contrast, to imagine as welcome any sort of incursion into the “home” by an employer other than the provision of a pay check—as for instance when an employer attempts to fire employees who even smoke in their own homes—starts to sound far-fetched.

[14] I would say it makes any feeling of solidarity fundamentally self-deceptive or illusory.


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