Gender outlaws or a slow bending of norms?: South African bisexual women's treatment of gender binaries

SOURCE: Feminist Theory
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2017
TITLE AUTHOR(S): I.Lynch, D.Maree
KEYWORDS: BISEXUALITY, GENDER EQUALITY, WOMEN
DEPARTMENT: Human and Social Development (HSD)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 10008

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Abstract

A monosexual configuration of sexuality assumes that sexual desire is directed at either men or women. Bisexuality resists a choice between oppositional categories and is often theorised as having a transgressive potential to destabilise binary logic, not only in relation to sexuality but also to gender. There is, however, a lack of empirical work exploring how this potential might be realised in the accounts of bisexual individuals. Drawing on interviews with South African bisexual women, we use a narrative-discursive lens to examine the discursive resources employed by participants to trouble or resist hetero-gendered norms. Our findings demonstrate how resistance to the gender binary hinges on citational politics that are fundamentally gendered and linked to sexuality. Instead of entirely destabilising hetero-gendered norms, participants draw on gendered scripts that simultaneously expand norms to accommodate their sexual difference and, through processes of othering, function to reiterate hetero-gendered norms. While complete subversion of gender binaries is not possible in participants' discursive contexts, what does occur is a 'slow bending' of norms. Theorising bisexuality as transgressing oppositional categories closes off opportunities to interrogate the pervasive influence of gender binaries in contexts that remain marked by pervasive heteronormativity and heterosexism. Significantly, it also obscures more modest improvisations of gender scripts that hold potential for destabilising gender binaries.