Excerpts from Stacey Young`s “Dichotomies and Displacement

Excerpts from Stacey Young’s
“Dichotomies and Displacement: Bisexuality in Queer Theory”
from Carlin and DiGrazia’s Queer Cultures
The following excerpts are directly quoted from pp. 385-395
Reasons for “Bisexual Avoidance”
One reason some people avoid or dismiss bisexuality has to do with the garden variety (which is not to
say simple) revulsion of prejudice. Some people, queer and heterosexual, respond to bisexuals directly
through the phobic filter of stereotypes. They want nothing to do with people who are cast, variously,
as indiscriminate, disease-ridden, unwilling to commit, promiscuous, opportunistic, apolitical, in a phase,
cowardly, and deceitful.
Another factor in queer silence around bisexuality is the fact that silence tends to breed silence,
and the relative lack of bisexual theory no doubt impedes those who don’t think much about bisexuality
from acknowledging it as an important analytic category….
This relative lack of theoretical work on bisexuality is compounded by a general lack of attention
among queer theorists to the bisexual theory and writing that does exist—which is in turn compounded
by the fact that most of this work has been published in collections specifically of work on bisexuality….
A fourth consideration contributing to lesbian and gay resistance to taking bisexuality seriously
is the propensity on the part of some bisexual activists and writers to posit bisexuality as somehow
superior to all other sexualities, claiming that it is “universal,” that it transcends boundaries between
genders and between sexualities, that it escapes the “limitations” of “monosexuality.”
Identity Politics
The question of what one calls oneself, how one identifies one’s sexuality—and why it matters—is
bound up in identity politics as it has been practiced by various social movements in this country since
the 1960s (including the Civil Rights, Black Power, women’s homophile, and gay movements). Despite
these movements’ differences—in goals, targets, participants, and tactics—and despite increasingly
sophisticated analyses of identity, identity-based political movements have generally shared a common
set of assumptions about the relationships between identity, ideology and behavior, political
commitment and trustworthiness. These assumptions include the notions that
 People who belong to the same identity group have…the same political analysis of the
oppression they share (e.g., that all women share a feminist analysis of women’s status)
 That form of oppression supersedes all others for all members of the group (e.g. that people of
color are primarily concerned with racism)
 Identity group members are always each other’s natural allies
 Those in the “oppressor” group all benefit directly, consciously, and equally for their
subordination of the “oppressed” group (e.g. all men, regardless of race, class, etc. enjoy higher
status and more power than do all women…)
These assumptions in turn originate from two grounding binary constructions:
1. The binary split between “us” and “them”
2. The binary split between active oppressors and active resisters
On the basis of these dichotomies, identity politics has freighted the question of identity with the
baggage of legitimacy: one’s claim to being a member of a given category is gauged by one’s political
analysis and political commitments, which in turn are assumed to be evident in one’s personal
These notions are difficult to uproot not because they are “true” or compelling on a rational
level…they are difficult to uproot because they binary structures of thought they represent are so
ingrained, and are constantly reinforced.
Challenges to identity politics-based assumptions of homogeneity among those represented by
a given identity category have resulted in the proliferation of terms of difference….Thus we get terms
like “white, heterosexual, middle-class women,” “Jewish lesbian,” and “working-class gay men of
color.”…It is at this point that many people balk, sometimes because they recognize, when faced with
the task of making language more accurately reflect the diversity of social reality, that that diversity is
impossible to capture fully in language….
Critics of identity categories argue persuasively that these categories, far from signifying discrete
and coherent groupings of individuals, in fact function as representational fictions that do violence to
differences between people, as well as to individuals’ own internal complexities, in order to secure an
appearance of coherence among all those who “belong” to a given category.
This [stable] view of sexual object choice among members of identity categories—the view of a
stable center with flux relegated to the margins—obscures the degree to which uncertainty and
variability may be closer to a rule than an exception.
Marylynne’s summary of Young’s suggestions:
Young goes on to suggest that both theory and activism should strive to do three things:
1. Critique the view of bisexuality as a combination of heterosexuality and homosexuality in which
bisexuals have a gay side and a straight side.
2. Critique the Kinsey scale and others that insist on seeing sexual identity in terms of gender.
3. Critique gay rights language that employs the same stereotypes of bisexuals that had been used
against gay and lesbian people.