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Bisexual Literature  
 
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Although experiences that can be termed "bisexual" appear in works throughout literary history, they are rarely discussed from that perspective. Instead, explicit scenes or implicit evidence of erotic activity in which a single character is involved with members of both the same and other sex is usually considered as evidence indicating a primary sexual orientation that is either hetero- or homosexual. The continued reliance in modern Anglo-American and European culture upon binary systems of classification and identification has meant the practical erasure of bisexuality, as such, from most works of literary and cultural analysis.

But life in all its nonbinary complexity and as it is reflected in literary works continues to subvert such reductiveness. An overview of relevant theories of bisexuality and its pervasiveness in literature challenges us to recognize the continuing importance of a specifically bisexual literary heritage, one that both converges with and diverges from the lesbian and gay literary heritage.

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Theories of Bisexuality

Beginning with Freud, bisexuality has been acknowledged but heavily stigmatized by many psychological and social theorists. In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Freud asserts that bisexuality is, in fact, a natural state for infants and discusses at length young children's "polymorphous perversity" as they invite and enjoy all pleasurable tactile sensations. But the use of the word perversity is key here, for Freud argues that bisexuality is an inherently infantile, regressive state, one that is invariably abandoned as psychological maturation proceeds.

As David T. Evans explores in Sexual Citizenship (1993), Freud never really accepts the possibility of bisexuality existing among adults, implying instead that sexual orientation is primarily heterosexual (which is preferable) or homosexual (which is itself regressive), with other anomalous experiences placed for the most part under the heading "contingent" and dismissed as such.

Implicit in Freud's schema is a judgment found in much analysis, from Richard von Krafft-Ebing through Irene Fast, that bisexuals do not actually exist, that those who claim to be bisexual are being dishonest about their true orientation, and that such fence-sitting is simply childish.

Of course, this general condemnation has not gone uncontested, for even Freud and his numerous devotees affirm that bisexuality is a natural state, even if "normal" progression toward maturity requires its abandonment. But what, one might ask, is "normal"? Constructions of normality are invariably suspect, for they are always historically and culturally specific, determined by ideology and tradition.

Wilhelm Stekel, a contemporary of Freud, argued in Bisexual Love (1922) that both heterosexuality and homosexuality require repression and sublimation of natural urges; this often leads to neurosis in adults. Recent theorists, such as Fred Klein, author of The Bisexual Option (1978), have expanded upon such commentary to validate bisexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation, one that Klein even argues is psychologically healthier than others because it gives freest reign to innate desires for intimacy.

Polymorphous perversity has been reclaimed without stigma, as numerous bisexuals, writing in volumes such as Bisexuality: A Reader and Sourcebook (1990), Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out (1991), and Closer to Home: Bisexuality and Feminism (1992) have looked to each other and to literature for support and validation.

The Classical Age

It is not surprising that many find clearest evidence of positive, fulfilling possibilities for bisexual existence among classical writers, whose texts reflect designations and classifications radically different from our own.

As Eva Cantarella has explored in Bisexuality in the Ancient World (1992), bisexual activity existed among both the ancient Greeks and Romans, among both men and women. She finds overwhelming evidence of a general accommodation of mixed heterosexual and homosexual encounters for men in works by Homer, Anacreon, and Pindar among the Greeks, and Plutarch, Cicero, and Catullus, among the Romans.

This is not to say that binarism was nonexistent among these groups, but that instead of classifying people as heterosexual or homosexual, the Greeks and Romans tended to divide individuals into active and passive sexual groups, regardless of the biological sex of a given erotic object choice.

Nevertheless, the profound sexism of ancient Greek and Roman society did severely limit the possibilities for expressions of lesbian or bisexual love by women. Although Petronius' Satyricon (first century C.E.) includes vague references to bisexuality among women, the life and work of Sappho represents the one notable exception to a general silence on the issue. In fact, her love poetry directed toward other women as well as clear erotic involvement with men make her the paradigmatic strong-willed, healthy bisexual for theorist Janet Bode, who argues forcefully in View from Another Closet: Exploring Bisexuality in Women (1976) that Sappho has been erroneously appropriated as simplistically "lesbian" when in fact her poetry clearly mentions sexual attraction toward men and the value of heterosexual marriage.

Bode and Cantarella find that the post-Freudian impetus toward reductive classification of sexual orientations has meant the suppression of important information about classical writers whose complex works challenge our overly narrow notions of identity.

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The Romantic poet Lord Byron stands as one of the preeminent figures in the history of bisexuality.
  
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