Again, this chapter beings with Sedgewick and the crisis of masculine identity, i.e. how thought, society and sexuality have been defined by a ‘now endemic crisis of homo/heteroseuxual definition, indicatively male, dating from the end of the nineteenth century,’ and as such, Sedgwick believes, ‘an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of the modern homo/heterosexual definition’ (quoted on 23). This sounds particularly deconstructive, to my ears: the recognition of a dialectic structuring modern epistemology and thus requiring critical engagement.
Angelides calls this the ‘economy of (heterosexuality)’ which emerged at the turn of the century in order to categorize and define the sexes and their desires. Angelides goes to show how the emergence of sexuality, alongside sex/gender, came to be an additional, intertwined ontological category for individual identity. Believing bisexuality to have been erased from the historiography of sexuality, he figures bisexuality as ‘central to the shifting epistemological structure of sexuality’ and offers bisexuality as a ‘corrective to the presentist tendencies within much recent queer studies’ (25) which, I assume he believes, have deconstructed homo/hetero without recourse to the influence of bisexuality.
I have to say at this point that I didn’t find this chapter easy, and the amount/length of quotes apparent in what follows is an attempt to help me work through what is being said, rather than a full attempt to critically engage with it; although I will try to do that also.
Beginning with the psychomedical tradition and looking at how sexuality became an ontological category defined by the sex/gender of object choice, Angelides now turns to Luce Irigaray and phallogocentrism – the symbolic order of male epistemological representation, which structures the figure of ‘woman’ to be the lesser of two binary terms, and is thus dependent on ‘man’; which, as Elizabeth Grosz says, takes three forms: ‘the negation or opposition of man, as similar or equivalent to man, or as the complement to man’ (25). In these, ‘all others are reduced to the economy of the same’ (Irigarary). This line of thinking argues that Western epistemology is created and dominated by the male subject, making women ‘unrepresentable in phallogocentric discourse’ (26), so that woman can never be the subject, but only the object. She is ‘other’ in the same way that Edward Said ‘oriental’ is the other to the European selfhood.
Angelides points to how Irigarary comes to the conclusion that gender itself is a phallogocentric concept, and thus in nineteenth century medical discourse sexual dimorphism, which came to signal sexual difference, was ‘nonetheless a dimorphism of the one, the same, the masculine subject’ (27). [Here, Angelides is careful to signal to us that his notion of ‘masculine identity’ is not recapitulating a universality he desires to deconstruct, but rather refers to ‘a general epistemological organizing system’ i.e. phallogocentrism, which through ‘a series of hierarchical relations’ produce a masculinity based upon social and discursive power at the expense of others (including other masculinities).]
Within the discourses of science there is a particular desire to solidify and assert the specificities and differences of men’s bodies at a time when ‘white, middle-class, imperialistic and patriarchal social hierarchy’ was under threat, due to ‘the rise of industrial capitalism, the consolidation of the hegemonic middles classes…the expansion and formation of women’s associations’ (28). Gender roles were being challenged in ways previously unknown, such as education, the right to vote, ownership of property, custodial rights wider range of employment opportunities, etc. This was just one aspect of the anxiety found in the white male identity, structured around ‘gender, race, nation and class’ (29). Science then called upon ‘Nature’ as it’s most trusted ally in attempt to maintain the status quo of the belief in ‘innate biological differences between the sexes, races and often classes, [a] common objective of these theories [being] to defend and justify existing social hierarchies and social sex roles..[…]…scientific theories were constituted through a phallogocentric economy of the Same’ (29). Here we see how not only gender, but race and class were key taxonomical figures of oppression.
Angelides goes on to show how evolutionary scientific discourse propagated the primacy of white Western male identity, by affirming biological differences between the sexes and races. He begins with a 1871 text The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, where ‘the fundamental thesis was that sexual selection as a central component of the evolution of all species resulted in a greater differentiation of the sexes proportional to the level of evolution’, resulting in radical dimorphism and racial superiority, as sexual selection was seen to be the ‘most powerful means of changing the races of man’, hence a structuring principle of social darwinism which perpetuated the justification of ‘the social position of women and blacks’ (30). Within scientific discourse, women’s demands for equality were met with the desire to direct this energy into the ‘proper channels’, i.e. reproduction and domesticity. This equated women with nature and men with culture and civilization.
The blatant sexism and racism of ‘objective science’ is fairly stunning, and I’m still shocked when I read things such as these comments by natural historian Carl Vogt: ‘it is a remarkable circumstance, that the difference between the sexes, as regards cranial cavity, increases with the development of the race, so that the male European excels much more than the female, than the negro the negress’ (quoted on 31). Further to this, Angelides documents how ‘race and gender became mutually constituting structures’ such that ‘racial difference was largely constructed, as Sanger Gilman has demonstrated, “on the sexual difference of the black,” generally, female body’ (31).
I think I’m still a little surprised at the depth of intersection between sexist and racist epistemology. While being aware of it, I think this is the first time I’m really taking it in; and I’m feeling a little ashamed of my ignorance. I wasn’t sure ‘exactly’ how this was going to relate to bisexuality, but it is through this lens of subjugation that the connection becomes elucidated. Detailing how the myth of black women’s large genitals and their sexual appetite being likened to an ape’s, we are shown how black women were understood to be less evolved from their primal heritage, and less differentiated from their male counterpart. By virtue of being ‘closer’ to the man in these two respects, the language and conception of the hermaphrodite appears. The epistemological category of bisexuality emerged with the discovery of hermaphroditic ascidians in 1866 (32), and thus ‘the concept of bisexuality was fundamental to [the] racialized evolutionary framework of gender’. Darwin posited that ‘the sexual organs of even ‘the higher vertebrata are, in their early condition, hermaphrodite’, thus human development went through a period of hermaphroditism, or bisexuality (32). Again, quoting Darwin, we are told that ‘some remote progenitor of the whole vertebrate kingdom appears to have been hermaphrodite or androgynous’, leading to the conclusion, for these scientists, that women and blacks were just ‘undeveloped men’, closer to our bisexual ancestors. In this context however, Angelides isn’t hugely clear in detailing the etymological or epistemological link between hermaphroditism and bisexuality, but mentions in a footnote that the terms were interchangeable, with a further quote to illustrating how scientists used the terms similarly. But this interchangeability allows him to propose that ‘In this phallogocentric economy of (evolutionary) sameness, then, bisexuality provided the metonymic link between men, women, blacks and our hermaphroditic ancestors’, and, more than this, that the ‘universal starting point for all human development, and thus human differentiation, was embryological bisexuality’ (33). Thus, following this logic in the domain of phallogocentrism, women and blacks were not fully human, but had ‘arrested development’, which linked them to their primordial bisexual/hermaphrodite ancestors. Angelides writes
‘Only the prototypical Western bourgeois male, however, had successfully completed this transition from (bisexual) nature to (sexually differentiated culture, divesting himself of his animal heritage. In fact, man, was synonymous with the totality of culture, or ‘civilization’ itself. Nature, on the other hand, was that unruly, animalistic (black), and feminine sphere to be dominated, subdued, and controlled, that over and against which ‘civilized’ Western society was instituted. There is clearly only one sex, one citizen, one (hu)man, in this framework: a male ‘one’ against which everything else is measured as an anomalous arrest or developmental failure. Bisexuality was therefore installed as both the figure of (hu)man sameness and the figure of (hu)man difference. It was employed as a rhetorical concept to explain and justify, in scientific terms, the social order in which women and blacks (and not to mention those of ‘ambiguous’ sex) were rendered not only subaltern, but subhuman (34).
This may sound familiar in other contexts, in terms of racial and gender superiority, but the association of bisexuality as a ‘central’ term in the debate is new for me. But also one I’m suspicious of placing in the centre. Angelides doesn’t explicitly say he is doing this, but his argument is concerned with identifying how and where bisexuality has been erased from the historiography of sexuality/sexology, and here it becomes a ‘fundamental’ term. I get a sense of claiming something ontological, as he shows Gerber to have done in Vice Versa, which he explicitly states a distance from. Perhaps this is a byproduct of a close epistemological study, and not necessarily Angelides’ agenda.
Nonetheless, the result of sexual dimorphism translated, obviously, into the social realm, most notably in gender roles: ‘Men were thus sanctioned cultural producers, women the reproducers’ and ‘to deviate from this reproductive division of labour, therefore, was to work against the gendered and racialized bifurcation of ‘nature’, a move considered both counter(re)productive and evolutionarily retrograde’ (34). However, this was inevitably happening, roles were being challenged, and with it the security of white male privilege. It is with this context in mind that Angelides encourages us to think about the emergence ‘of a scientific category of the third sex, and thus, the sex/gender distinction’ (36).
This third sex is the homosexual, which labelled effeminate men and masculine women as deviant, medically ill, and suffering from their sexual and gender inversion. This, Angelides points out, ‘ensured a safe distance between the sexes…the invert served to protect and delimit the boundaries of bourgeois masculinity, not only “transforming sodomites into non-masculine men who could not engender the virility of ‘normal’ men,” but also transforming female sex role transgressors into mannish lesbians’ (37). Naturalized sex roles were thus challenged and the category of gender arose. Masculinity and femininity were born out of the need to assign and contain a ‘normal’ and ‘naturally functioning’ sexual instinct with the sex. Again, Angelides wants to propose that ‘the shift in medical theory from sex to sexuality, from sexual inversion to sexual object choice, was made possible, at an epistemological level, by bisexuality’ (38).
At the level of gender, the homosexual came to be seen as able to ‘remain masculine in [their] non-sexual habits’, where as lesbians continued to be thought of as gender inverts, probably because they ‘challenged the socioeconomic power relations between the sexes’ in a way that homosexuals did not, i.e. the division between the sexes(39). Again, ancestral bisexuality as ‘arrested development’ came to be used as an explanation of gender inversion and perversion of sexual instincts in the homosexual desire of men and women, highlighting for Angelides that
The very process of speciation – of gender, race, and sexuality, takes place through the figure of bisexuality. Thus, the more highly evolved the species, the more the individual is divested of a bisexual heritage. Each of these three structurally intertwined axes cannot (and ought not) be thought of apart from the others (41).
The centrality of bisexuality against which the formation of gender and sexuality are produced is again advocated via sexology’s appropriation of the ‘biogenetic concept of bisexuality, [which] gave way to a biologically differentiated, dualistic, and individualized notion of sexuality’ (43), where sex and gender now opened up onto hetero and homosexuality, such that Angelides argues that ‘Bisexuality was…the pivotal epistemic tool employed for containing the crisis of masculine identity… [and in] this evolutionary schema, the path to (hu)manhood necessitates the stripping of race, and (bi)sex’ (45).
The picture being built here is that nineteenth century scientific discourse and sexology were founded on a evolutionary biology which recognised the straight white male subject as the pinnacle of humanity (or ‘arrogance personified’ we might want to call it). Anything which strayed from this combination of factors didn’t meet the standard, and thus had not been successful in the ‘repudiation of bisexuality’ (46).
‘Bisexuality’, Angelides states was figured as ‘the elusive Other in the evolutionary process of (hu)man speciation’. Types of psychological bisexuality had been recognised by scientists of the time, but it was usually subsumed into homosexuality and thus critically engaged with very little. He sees this as a resistance to construct a ‘bisexual species’ as this type of sexuality was ‘found to introduce uncertainty and doubt’ (47). I can certainly relate to this! But, the inability to fix and bring it into the ontological still seems important at this juncture, and a reflection in science of the inability to present or define bisexuality. Angelides states that bisexuality ‘threatened to absorb both [the] differentiating human registers (sex/gender and sexuality) and dissolve the boundaries of human identity’ (47). This would appear close to the utopia and deconstructive qualities that bisexual activists proclaim, which Angelides was reserved to fully embrace in the first chapter.
Again, deconstruction comes to mind when he writes in the conclusion to the chapter (yes, we’re coming into land now!) that ‘The coherence, or self-sameness, of the entity of the (hu)man was thereby structurally predicated on a repudiation of a difference internal to itself: that is, bisexuality’ (48). I wonder in some ways if bisexuality is being, or could be, figured as one of Derrida’s third terms, like supplement, or hymen etc? This difference internal to itself would then be undefinable, wholly other, and unrepresentable. But I’m not sure this is the type of ‘third’ term that he is introducing into the hetero/homosexual relationship yet. What we do know, is that bisexuality was both ‘avowed as an originary human state and yet disavowed, as a distinct sexual identity’ (48) by nineteenth century scientific discourse. This language seems appropriate for the ending of the chapter before he moves on to how bisexuality was then translated from evolutionary biology and psychomedical science into Freudian psychoanalysis.
A Note: This has felt very dense and challenging in comparison to the introductory chapter. Therefore, I’d like to come back the notions of sex/gender and sexuality, and how bisexuality figures in their emergence and changing modes, when I’ve had time for them to make some more connections in my unconscious.