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literature

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Bisexual Literature  
 
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At best, bisexuality is present in early twentieth-century, Anglo-American literature as a tortured, tense state, such as that indicated in many of D. H. Lawrence's novels, where emotional commitments to both sexes are possible only if expressions of physical intimacy between members of the same sex are severely limited.

Even more typical of the middle years of the century is the representation of bisexuality in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1945); though possibly bisexual himself, Waugh portrays it as a phase through which, at best, one passes on the way to a firm identity (which in the case of Brideshead means a healthy heterosexuality and pathological homosexuality). The same idea is echoed later in James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room (1956), where bisexuality is portrayed as a phase that, if not moved beyond, becomes unstable and leads to personal disaster.

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But the rich complexity of human emotional response and the diversity of human desires cannot be so easily suppressed and dismissed. Gore Vidal, in his afterward to The City and the Pillar (1948), reclaims bisexuality as the most "natural" human state.

So too did the French novelist Colette, who both in her life and literary works celebrated bisexual eroticism. In the "Claudine" novels and later works, Colette portrays the many quandaries faced by a woman attracted to members of both sexes, ones that Colette herself encountered in her marriages to men and affairs with other women. Colette's novels from the early part of the twentieth century anticipate the portrayals of relatively healthy bisexuality that would only become common many decades later, after the gay and lesbian rights movements had gained a sense of legitimacy and rigid rules for self-identification began to erode.

In the years since the 1969 Stonewall uprising and the publication of the Kinsey sex surveys (in which bisexual activity was found to be very common), many more positive and complex portrayals of bisexuality have appeared in print.

Ursula K. Le Guin's celebrated science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) remains a remarkable exploration of sexual diversity, describing an alien people who can change biological sex as reproductive cycles demand. They have the natural, innate potential to respond to each other with enormous sexual freedom.

Similarly utopian in its vision of future erotic liberation is Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), which portrays a human society in which bisexuality is the norm and where narrow gender roles and definitions of sexual orientation have been abandoned as unnecessary historical constructs.

Bisexuality also plays a key part in the protagonist's growth toward fulfillment in Alice Walker's celebrated novel The Color Purple (1982), where erotic bonding between women is shown not only to be compatible with heterosexual desires, but even necessary for women's political strength and security.

Lastly, important nonfictional discussions of bisexuality appear in the works of the French feminist theorist Hélène Cixous and those of the American literary and cultural critic Kate Millett, both of whom decry the oppressiveness of binary constructions of identity.

Numerous works by male writers of the mid- to late-twentieth century are equally "bi-positive." Paul Bowles's short stories, set in North Africa, explore the relative freedom allowed for bisexual men by some modern Arab cultures, even as they dramatize the harsh and unrelenting sexism of the same societies.

A similar double-standard is explored in Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings (1983), which brings to life Egypt during the reign of the pharaohs and takes as one of its basic assumptions the bisexuality of its male characters.

Tom Spanbauer's The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon (1991) explores bisexuality in yet another non-Western culture, that of the Native Americans; this first-person narrative is told from the perspective of a berdache, a biologically male, though , individual whose sexual ambiguity meets with relentless hostility from conservative Christian settlers on the American frontier.

And finally, similar internal and external tensions confront bisexual characters in the works of David Leavitt and the poet Gavin Dillard, both of whom portray bisexuality as a natural state for some people, even as social and interrelational forces continue to urge, and sometimes force, individuals to choose between hetero- and homosexual identities.

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