Resisting Monosexism: Representations of Bisexuality in Literature
In a New York Times review of James Baldwin’s 1968 novel Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, Mario Puzo writes that “A propaganda novel may be socially valuable… but it is not art.” Puzo’s claim is a function of what creative writing pedagogy scholar Janelle Adsit calls “the particular privilege that comes with a denial of marginalization.” Assumptions of rigid binaries that categorise people as either hetero- or homosexual, a phenomenon that scholar Kenji Yoshino calls “the epistemic contract of bisexual erasure,” create and reinforce harmful ideas about bisexuality. Bisexual representation in literature can operate as a creative resistance to the status quo, undermining the alleged necessity for a rigid binary system of sexuality. From James Baldwin’s 1968 Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone to Jen Wilde’s 2017 Queens of Geek, this article traces representations of bisexuality in literature, with special attention to the ways in which bisexuality is demonstrated, described, and labelled in literature. However, while acknowledging the problematic representations of bisexuality in older fiction, such as Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 The Well of Loneliness, this paper resists a narrative of pure progress of bisexual representation, examining both problematic and nuanced representations in contemporary literature.
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