Academic journal article Hecate

Living Life in the Double Closet: Bisexual Youth Speak out. (Focus on Younger Women)

Academic journal article Hecate

Living Life in the Double Closet: Bisexual Youth Speak out. (Focus on Younger Women)

Article excerpt

We develop our bisexual identities within a context in which the homosexual/ heterosexual dichotomy is institutionalised and enforced socially, politically and linguistically. (1)

Traditionally, Western society has divided sexuality into two categories--homosexual and heterosexual. This binary insists that heterosexuality and homosexuality are mutually exclusive categories, and supports the belief that anyone whose sexual identity falls outside of these categories is psychologically maladjusted, (2) confused about their sexuality, or unwilling to commit to one sexual identity category or the other. Dominant public discourses endorse heterosexuality and homosexuality as legitimate sexual identifies, but do not recognise that some people are neither exclusively heterosexual nor exclusively homosexual. The bisexual, encompassing certain elements of both heterosexuality and homosexuality, upsets the balance of such a binary. In a system where the only legitimate positions are either heterosexual or homosexual, there is no space for bisexuality. As such, bisexuality is positioned as the problematic 'other,' and exists as an identity that lacks a clear definition.

Bisexuality, as a result, is a misunderstood sexual identity. Instead, it is understood as a number of stereotypes. Images of the bisexual as promiscuous, needing multiple relationships in order to feel satisfied, untrustworthy in relationships, or as 'fence-sitters, traitors, cop-outs, closet cases,' (3) reinforce the legitimacy of the heterosexual/homosexual binary and ensure the difficulty of publicly identifying as bisexual. Constructions of bisexuality are also gendered; in the discourses of sexual identity, it is presumed that bisexual women are experimenting with lesbianism and will soon return to their 'true' heterosexual identity; bisexual men, by contrast, are constructed as gay men in denial.

The pervasiveness of the heterosexual/homosexual binary, and the lack of understanding about the meaning of bisexuality, creates intense pressure on bisexual people to refrain from public admission of their bisexuality, or mask their true identity by referring to themselves as gay, lesbian or heterosexual. Jay Paul argues that because hostility towards bisexuality comes from both the wider mainstream heterosexual society and from gay men and lesbians, bisexuals face pressure to identify themselves as homosexual. (4) Amber ult concurs with this, arguing that 'some lesbian feminists insist that one is 'either straight or gay' and that bisexual women must locate themselves in one category or the other.' (5) Perhaps the most pervasive impact of the binary, however, is to reinforce the invisibility of bisexual people and emphasise the 'abnormality' of bisexual identity.

This has a number of effects on young people. struggling to understand a sexual identity that often cannot be explained by the meanings of words such as 'straight,' 'gay' or 'lesbian.' When young people are coming to terms with sexual attractions to both sexes, such invisibility creates a feeling that their sexuality is not real, valid or legitimate. The confusion this creates often results in young bisexual people feeling they do not belong anywhere, giving them an overwhelming sense of being stuck in the middle of two worlds that provide little comfort or support unless they choose a life of either heterosexuality or homosexuality.

In this respect, then, young bisexual people often face a number of obstacles in coming to terms with their sexuality, and these obstacles come not only from the wider community, but also from the gay and lesbian community. This paper examines two key areas of researching young bisexual people: the research methodologies that are needed to research a group who may be struggling with their bisexual identity, given that the lack of recognition of bisexuality as a legitimate sexual identity impacts on young people coining to terms with being bisexual, and what the implications are of this for research into youth sexuality. …

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