Bisexualism and Polar Thinking

The following remark at the Sexual Freedom Coalition ‘conference’, London, Spring 2003, by a ‘bisexual activist’ brilliantly sums up so much of the bisexualist sensibility

Polar thinking leads people to believe you’re either black or white, rich or poor, male or female, gay or straight. It’s easy, it’s quick, it’s wrong.

So there are two kinds of thinking: polar thinking (which is wrong) and the other kind – un-named (which is cool)! Now it is, I think, fairly obvious that this is itself a kind of ‘polar thinking’ (either something is polar thinking or the other kind). It’s much the same kind of fallacy as promoted by those who say they dislike ‘Western thinking’ because it is ‘binary’ and prefer ‘Eastern thinking’ because it is not … binary. But, of course, this incoherence is no more noticed by its utterers than is the similar absurdity by those who so confidently assert that ‘all truths are relative, everything is just a matter of opinion, truth is just a matter of perspective’ (often said by the same persons a few breaths apart).

But, more importantly, that remark is such a good example of idealism; in that it regards particularities as emanations from an essence – polar thinking: Other people (not us good ol’ boys who don’t do polar) think in terms of oppositions because they are ‘polar thinkers’ – perleese! The remark mentions four examples of oppositions, and assimilates them to an essence – polar thinking. It misses the ways in which those pairs are so different from each other.

Black or White

Well that, of course, is the easy and unproblematic one. It’s one of the tropes of uber-liberalism to assimilate any position it dislikes to ‘racism’. It is only in rare and extreme cases that ‘black or white’ have ever been taken to be absolute oppositions. One of the few was the segregationist South, where actually what was behind that opposition was another one: being descendants of slaves or not – in itself a very real opposition. See opposition (4). It really is not very radical, or progressive or whatever to realise that what are called ‘races’ are temporary and local associations of characteristics which have no necessary connection. It is just part of the cultural logic of globalisation: of the erosion of all local differences and allegiances – the better to produce a global mass, undifferentiated except by the categories useful to the megacorps. To deny that black and white are discrete and opposed is to make a big deal of denying something which hardly anyone asserts. So what is the strategic function of this denial? Only to ‘soften up’ the audience and cause its white liberal conscience to feel tender in case someone asserts any of the subsequent dichotomies and thus opens themself to the charge of being ‘racist’ *.

Gay or Straight

Is it really such a big deal to counter this opposition? I think not. There is indeed an argument that there is a small proportion who are genetically hom, but so what? Who cares? There really is nothing subversive about supporting gay rights or being anti-racist, or denying the scientificity of taxonomies of sexual orientation. (Yet, bizarrely so many bi-folk seem to have time for the .. what’s it called .. the ‘Klein grid’?) Anti-racist and gayphiliac positions are now the common-sense promoted daily by the Propaganda Apparatus. Admittedly sexual libertarianism is opposed by cultural conservatives; but that is just about them failing to understand what is in the objective interests of that which they ally themselves with. Capital does not care whether you are black or white, gay or straight, all it is interested in is you as a pair of ‘hands’ – in that delightfully honest phrase of 19th C factory owners. What I think the speaker had in mind was that representations of sexual orientation in the media are overwhelmingly of being either gay or straight, with little space for bisex. I think this is true and is the strongest part of his case.

Male or Female

This has a stronger claim to be a simple binarity. But nothing follows from this fact in terms of essences of masculinity and femininity. Of course, there is a small proportion of hermaphrodites – but do they produce both male and female gametes? Some claim that there are persons born with a male brain in a female body. If so is so, then this confirms, rather than confutes, gender binarity.The idea that it does not is the same mistake as that made by Jung who holds that each male or female person is constituted by different proportions of the Yin and the Yang – a mystified hypostatisation of actually existing cultural/psychical/behavioural maleness and femaleness.

Rich or Poor

It is here that the fundamental conformism of bisexualism comes in. I take it that the point being made here is the true and banal one that there is a continuum from very rich to very poor, and that therefore there is no real difference between rich and poor. Even put in that formal way the fallacy should be obvious – substitute any pair of opposed terms for ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ and you will see what I mean: try ‘tall’ and ‘short’. But if you consider the stats for wealth distribution, then it really is absurd to deny the relevance of those categories e.g. 200 persons own 40% of the wealth of the world. There are many other stats which make the same point.

But to be serious abut this issue: ‘rich and poor’ are distractionary terms. They only point to locations on a scale, they are categorisations and as such elide structure and dynamism. Behind these distractionary categories there are those which refer to the processes by which the rich become rich. The rich become rich because they rob those who are poor. Behind these bland categories are those which refer to the process of surplus-extraction: slave-owners and slaves; capital and wage-workers. Now I have just stated this dogmatically (as did the author in stating the contrary). I’m not going to argue for it (nor did the author). My point is just that this is a way of comprehending what he blandly refers to as ‘rich and poor’ which he choses not even to mention. He thought it beneath his consideration: just another one of those ‘polar’ fallacies. That is why what he promotes is not remotely radical or subversive – it is part of the daily output of the media.

There are so many ways in which the logical grammar of those four pairs are different from each other. I don’t think they were assimilated to the category of ‘polar thinking’ by any conscious dishonesty; just that ‘non-binarity’ has become so much a part of the common-sense of bisexualism, more or less explicitly drawing on the rhetoric of postmodernism, that it seems utterly obvious.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that bisex, or gaysex or transexualism or polyamory *should* be subversive or radical or progressive or revolutioanary. In fact the folks who now most think it so are the conservative Right (Uncle Bob [Heinlein] is a curious and interesting exception here.) All I would like is for the proponents of bisexualism to stop pretending that it is anything other than part of the vanguard of the logic of capital, and just get on with being what they are without covering themselves in the hand-me-downs from SF c. 1970.


* It still astonishes me how so many folks who regard themselves as alternative and non mainstream think they are so being so damn cool and even courageous by proclaiming that they are ‘anti-racist’ – Bush’s aide in his war on Iraq was Condoleeza Rice – an AfroAmerican. Have they not noticed how much his fellow war-criminal Tony Blair valorises ‘multiculturalism’? Anti-racism is not mostly about solidarity with the oppressed – it is about a refusal of any kind of discrimination.

It takes about as much courage nowadays to be anti-racist as it did in 2003 metropolitan hip circles to be anti-war (I am thinking of the UK, not of the USA). Remember how all that quietened down once the war was under way and it was clear that the Four Horsemen were not riding?! So much of that knee-jerk pacifism was nothing more than a fear that the war would be the ending of that long Edwardian summer which we have basked in since the Stalinist states imploded in 1990. Once it was clear the Ba’athist state would collapse and that it would shortly be business as usual most of the protestors went back to their vid games.


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