Being Bi in a Mono-Culture: Towards A More Inclusive Perspective on Race and Sexuality

Being Bi in a Mono-Culture: Towards A More Inclusive Perspective on Race and Sexuality

Beverly Yuen Thompson

by Beverly Yuen Thompson
October/November 2000


“To use marginality as a starting point rather than an ending point

is also to cross beyond it towards other affirmations and negations.”

Trinh T. Minh-ha

Binary oppositions. Black / white. Male/ female. Straight/ gay. Self/ other. Objective/ subjective. Mainstream/ margin. You cannot mention one without alluding to the other. You must have both sides of the opposition in order to make either meaningful. Not only must both be present, but they must also continuously be in opposition. Characteristics defined as belonging to one cannot belong to the other (i.e. what is “male” cannot also be “female”). In the maintenance of binary oppositions the distinctions must be sharp and rigid, with no overlap allowed. Feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa states that, “Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them.”

Ying and yang; they must not only be opposing, the two must be complementary- they need each other. One cannot be in power without someone being subordinated. Apologists in their arguments for racism, sexism, bi/homophobia, etc. use binary oppositions. Superiority of certain groups over others are practiced and propagandized daily until they are “natural” and “self evident”, until even the oppressed believe that it is their fault.

Dominant groups claim ownership of all “positive and superior” characteristics and by definition all non-dominant groups are expected to have the “negative and inferior” characteristics. Dominant society defines the rules of the game. Non-dominant groups reclaim the margins as the fighting grounds and fight back by counting their enemies and allies by their positioning and relation to the line between margin and center. Those in the center (i.e. the members of the dominant group) are the clear enemies, the oppressors of the marginalized group. Those who fall well within the New Center of the margin are allies, the fellow oppressed. Those who fall outside of this newly created center are considered a mere distraction and are brushed off as either really members of the mainstream, or further marginalized as individuals who are too difficult to categorize. These individuals may remain at the gates of the New Center, begging admittance or they go off to create yet another center on the margins.

The dominant society creates centers and margins to guard their power and to keep it in the hands of members of the dominant group: men, whites, straights, etc. In her book entitled The Politics of Reality, Marilyn Frye states that, “To be white is to be a member of an in-group, a kin group, which is self-defining. Just as with fraternities and sororities, the power to draw the membership line is jealously guarded. Though a variety of traits and histories are revalent to whether one will be defined into or out of that group, one essential thing is that the group is self-defining, that it exercises control of access to membership.”

The non-dominant groups create boundaries around their New Center in a self-protective measure to avoid further harassment and oppression: a political identity is formed. Those who do not completely identify with those in the New Center must have an opposing political agenda; like me, not like me? Though they may not be the oppressors from the Mainstream, they are also not allies in the New Center.

In this paper I would like to demonstrate that binary oppositions always underlie “(political) identity” and therefore by definition always exclude an “other”. With such exclusionary practices of identity in a world that does not have such sharp distinctions, many are going to be cut out of the loop because of their “unclear identity”. In particular I will analyze the relationship of bisexual and bi/multi racial individuals in comparison to their mono-sexual and racial counterpoints. I will examine the representation of “bis” and “monos” in a variety of writing, from queer theory to literature. It is impossible to attempt to break down categorization and binaries by limiting the area of research to one school of thought. I realize that in my usage of the terms “bi” and “mono” I am creating yet another binary and I find myself trapped by the language that I would like to break out of. I have continued to employ this terminology however, because I am comparing the “bi” reality to that of the mono reality on both sides of the margin.

Using marginality as the starting point, as the central focus, is in itself radical and transformational. We will remove the dominant group from the defining center (imagine calling whites: non-Asian, non-black; or even people of no color). By placing our (marginalized) selves in the center, this is one way in which we can take the power back.


If heterosexuality is to exist, then it needs something to differentiate itself from. Judith Butler examines this issue in her article entitled “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” She states that, “in a way, the presence of heterosexual constructs and positionalities in whatever form in gay and lesbian identities presupposes that there is a gay and lesbian repetition of straightness, a recapitulation of straightness- which is itself a repetition and recapitulation of its own identity- within its own terms, a site in which all sorts of resignifying and parodic repetitions become possible.” When gay and lesbian society repeats and parodies aspects of heterosexual conditioning, they point out its constructed nature to the point where its “naturalness” becomes questioned. In effect then, by questioning compulsory heterosexuality they confirm a place for their own existence. Heterosexuality is no longer natural or at least, not natural for everyone. This means that there must be another option. And because we live in reality constructed by binaries, there is assumed to be only one other option. What’s the answer? The question never seems to be rather, what are several options that one might take? Is one a lesbian because one is not straight, a position of default categorization?

Heterosexuality and homosexuality need each other to exist in a way that bisexuality needs neither. Ethnic communities and dominant white society need each other in order to explain their own racial identity. Stating that one is white implies that one in not non-white. If everyone were white, then no one would use this as an identity. We can see this played out in daily life. When mainstream white people are discussing another person, they will not point out that person’s race unless that person is of color. White people would not state, “my white friend Mark”, but they would say, “my friend Mark- who’s black”. Even if one did not point out that Mark is black, other whites would automatically assume he is unless told differently.

Mono ethnic-racial people and monosexuals have something in common with the dominant society-they both marginalize the other. One comes from an aggressive position and the other from a defensive one, they do not have the same power and they fight each other but the end result is that they both exclude. The only way in which bis could find acceptance is if they focused solely on that group’s main agenda and ignored their own.

Mainstream/dominant society looks to the lowest common denominator. Anything other than pure white is not white, other than pure heterosexuality is non-heterosexual, other than purely man or woman is outcast. Purity is the key to fit into the Main Center or the New Center or any center. What “bis” do is deconstruct the reasoning and need for a center- the concept of a center. This is threatening to those who know the comfort of having a group or community in which they fit in.


Re-departure: The pain and the frustration of having to live a difference

that has no name and too many names already. Marginality: who names?

Whose fringes? An elsewhere that does not merely lie outside the center

But radically striates it.”

Trinh T. Minh-ha

One result of the marginilization of bi’s is that we end up outside of reality- we no longer exist. One characteristic of paradigms is that anything that cannot be explained by it either must be renamed and reconfigured in order to fit, or it no longer exists. Obviously bisexuals and bi- (and multi) racials exist. However if bis exist, then the paradigm is wrong. This may be accepted on an intellectual and critical level, but the binary paradigm infuses all aspects of our lives and to reject binaries in one area means that they are inadequate in all areas. This might partially explain the resistance in the rejection of binaries: us-them mentality informs our judgement on all people.

Gloria Anzaldúa states in her book Borderlands: La Frontera that: “Not only was the brain split into two functions but so was reality. Thus people who inhabit both realities are forced to live in the interface between the two, forced to become adept at switching roles.” The mono-culture(s) has framed the debates and arguments. Bis and multis have entered the room after all the terms have been defined and the agenda written. We answer their questions in their language and concepts. Now it is time for us to challenge and rename the debate, to use our words and concepts in debates that we have the power to choose and reframe. By arguing for acceptance into the centers of the binary, we are trying to find a place for ourselves in their game. This may be a goal for some, for others it may not be enough, and yet still others will consider other options that align with their personal and political goals. The question posed is: what is our end goal in attacking the binary? Are we seeking acceptance, seeking to impose a new paradigm, seeking to exist on many levels… Certainly there cannot be an end all goal. Our differences and similarities are endless, our goals span many ideologies and locations, our daily living challenges range the spectrum of violence and peace and desire. I personally want to align myself with other fighters for peace and equality. I want to be judged by my commitment to the movement, the belief and value system I carry with me in my head. If I must be expelled from the movement expel me because of that, do not expel me on a perceived danger or treacherousness based on my skin color, knowledge of certain languages, who I currently keep company with, etc. Ask me my alliances- do not impose your perception on me without my permission.

The challenges we are facing now in our fight is that of coalitioning with people and organizations (individually, politically, socially, etc.) who share similar beliefs and goals but which may not completely overlap with our own. Regardless of similarities of overlapping oppressions we must continue to engage in political alliances.


Passing is an outgrowth of internalized racism and homophobia. Not having conviction in one’s own value based on their gender, race, class and sexuality, one tries to become accepted by becoming what is acceptable: male, white, middle class, straight, etc. Or one tries to be perceived as being what one is not, knowing that they are not.

It is undeniable that bisexuality and bi-multi-racial identity are closely associated with passing. This is why biphobes are compelled to ask, “But which do you really like, boys or girls?” Those who are not clearly defined and labeled are feared because of their perceived ability to deceive (and desire to). “Most multiracials have experienced being stared at and asked insensitive questions about their physical appearance (e.g., ‘what are you?’), family experience and cultural differences (e.g., ‘where are you from?’). Connection is difficult when one is the object of curiosity, pity or fear.” In other countries that are more conscious of their mixed race heritage, they have designated terms that describe an individual with a multi-racial background. Our monoculture mentality tells us more about the dominant discriminatory mindset than about the bi individual’s confusion.

Bisexuals are closely related to the stereotype or myth that they are constantly passing as either heterosexual or homosexual, rather, their whole life is viewed as spent in passing unless they are non-monogamous. Bisexuality often times cannot be viewed in its entirety, unless it is viewed in retrospect. Biphobes state that there are only hetero and homo acts and that bisexuals commit one or the other at a specific moment (…therefore they are only one or the other at any given time?).

Bisexuals and multiracials are seen as passing/assimilating to the mainstream and leaving behind their oppressed comrades for comfort and acceptance. This is a divide and conquer strategy that can only weaken the movement and force bis to pass as lesbians and/or mono-racial in the New Center. Bis are not attacked as viciously when they pass for membership in the New Center as when they are perceived as trying to pass in the Mainstream. However by even claiming a bi and multi sexual and racial identity one is viewed as a traitor. Therefore in order to avoid alienation bis and multis are forced to pass in the New Center for acceptance.

The feminist theorist Norma Alarcón states that “to be oppressed means to be disenabled not only from grasping an ‘identity’, but also from reclaiming it. In this culture, to grasp or reclaim an identity means always already to have become a subject of consciousness. The theory of the subject of consciousness as a unitary and synthesizing agent of knowledge is always already a posture of domination.” Those political identities that come after the unitary and established identities are viewed with hostility and distrust-they are assumed to be trying to take back something from the first group. For example, true racism is viewed in black and white terms and therefore that which oppresses Asian is not necessarily racism. In order to fight oppression one must have already positioned themselves in historical and political locations and are therefore in a “posture of domination”.


Anne Wilson Schaef has used the analogy of air pollution to discuss how “The White Male System” works. You cannot see the pollution that you live in until you leave the city and look at it from a distance. The dominant group’s oppressive tactics are so all encompassing that we sometimes have difficulty seeing them. An example of this would be how Americans believe that they are free even though they are constantly controlled and manipulated by society, the government, the media and corporations. A system of domination can only be seen from the outside. White people may not understand white skin privilege but those who live outside the group certainly do.

An ideology is a theory that attempts to explain everything in existence such as science (observe the god like power that we give that ideology). Racism rationalizes the dominance of one race over the others by stating that it is natural. ________ rationalizes the dominance of one _____ over the other by stating it is natural (insert any “ism” in the blank). An ideology begins its descent when cracks develop in the theory, in short, when it can no longer explain everything. Ideologies die violent deaths, more and more explanations are developed, then violence is used to silence opposition and those who ask questions. In religion one is not allowed to ask questions but is required to have faith. We live in a system (ideology) that integrates theories of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, ableism, etc, into the whole. The ideology is based on binary oppositions and therefore people of color, gay and lesbians, poor, differently abled, old, etc are allowed to exist because they prove the existence of the dominant group. The oppressed groups are harassed and held up to everyone as an example of what happens to those who fall out of grace with the dominant group. They need each other. Bis and multis are not allowed to exist because they challenge the whole system. One can be both dominator and dominated. One can be both black and white. One can be both man and woman. One can be both gay and straight. What does this say about those who identify as part of the dominant group? It means that they can still have a part of them that is gay or of color, etc. One can find out that they are not as pure as they thought.

The ideology based on oppression and opposition is now cracking. Notice the violent attempts to prove correct what was false all along. Those in the New Center were given a few crumbs and ligitimizations because they served the dominant group in ways that bis and multi did not. The reality is not black and white (literally). Reality is a spectrum in which races and genders and sexuality’s mix, overlap and change over time (and generations). The ideology will continue to crack and fall because this truth is becoming harder to explain and cover up.

One way that the dominant ideology tries to fit bis and multis into the same framework in order to cover the fallacy of the ideology itself is in the creation of the “third option”. Therefore bisexuals and bi-multi-racials would be able to check their very own box on the list of pigeonhole categorizations.

In many instances the dominant society set out to define bisexuality. This always ends up in reinscribing it as non-existent. Essentialism brings the definition back to the body which is viewed as the proof that bisexuality does not exist. If there are only men and women then there are only hetero and homo-sexual acts and the bisexual must be one or the other at any given time. Ultimately it is impossible to bring bisexuality back “into the loop” without deconstructing it out of existence. This will not do. The Ideology is no longer The Truth.


                    “What I want is an accounting with all three cultures-white, Mexican,

Indian. I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch

the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods of my entrails. And

If going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my

space, making a new culture- una cultura mestiza- with my own lumber,

my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture.”

Gloria Anzaldúa

Ultimately we must start at a location in which the construction of knowledge “should abjure any attempt to construct a closed system in which the other or the ‘excess’ are ‘pushed to the margins’ and made to disappear in the interest of coherence and unity.” Currently we are seeing an opening in mono-sexual and racial literature that is becoming inclusive of bis and monos to a certain degree. There is also the development of literature specifically on the topics of bisexual and mixed race issues but these books may not always be completely inclusive of the other.

Ultimately we must fight from our subject positioning. We cannot allow ourselves to be co-opted into the larger schema without acknowledgment of our specific issues and placements. It is suffocating to live life in a box. It is painful to sit on fences. Our existence and our politics will unravel the binary realities that keep us cut off from our wholeness. Bisexuals and mixed race individuals are already involved in all political activism groups that fight against oppression, not only of ourselves, but also of other marginalized groups. I do not believe that it is necessary for bis and multis to remove themselves from mono activist groups but rather to admit to their multiplicity and demand inclusion for it. The political activism of this generation is a forging of political alliances, organizations coming together to fight oppression from different locations.



    Trinh, Minh-ha T.; When The Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics.(New York: Routledge, 1991)

    Anzaldua, Gloria; Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza. (San Francisco: Spinsters/ aunt lute books, 1987)

    Frye, Marilyn; p. 105

    Butler, Judith; “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” Appeared in Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, ed. Henry Abelove, et al (NY: Routledge, 1993)


    Trinh T. Minh-ha; When the Moon…, p. 14

    Anzaldúa, ibid.

    Root, P. P. Maria; “Mixed Race Women”, appeared in Race/Sex: Their Sameness, Difference, and Interplay, edited by Naomi Zack. (New York: Routledge, 1997) p. 160

    Alarcón, Norma; “The Theoretical Subject(s) of This Bridge Called My Back and Anglo-American Feminism”. Appeared in Making Face Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color. Edited by Gloria Anzaldúa. (San Francisco: aunt lute books, 1990)

    Schaef, Anne Wilson; Women’s Reality: An Emerging Female System in a White Male Society. (New York: HarperCollins, 1981)

    Anzaldúa, Gloria; Borderlands, ibid.

    Flax, Jane; “The End of Innocence”. Appeared in Feminists Theorize the Political. Edited by Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott (New York: Routledge, 1992)

Beverly Yuen Thompson holds a BA in Political Science from Eastern Washington University and an MA in Women’s Studies from San Diego State University where she wrote her thesis on the topic of bisexual and multiracial identity politics. She currently resides in New York City.

Also by Beverly Yuen Thompson

  • The Multiracial Activist – On Defining My Own Identity
  • The Abolitionist Examiner – Longing For Life Outside The Box

    Copyright © 1999 Beverly Yuen Thompson. All rights reserved.

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