On Bisexuality and Cultural Pluralism

Pluralism hardly ever comes up, in conversation. Once in a great while I’ll hear that somebody “won” something by a plurality of votes, and that always sounds weird. Right away I’m wondering, does that mean s/he got more votes, or what? It’s not clear. It’s not win or lose. It’s not yes or no.

Because I live inside the same popular culture that saturates the consciousness of my neighbors, I am conditioned to regard “clarity” as the construction of reality in terms of either/or. For example: You love me or you do not. You love me or you love somebody else. These formulations presumably lead to clear conclusions that void, or avoid, complexities such as, “You love me and I am not the only woman you love.” But complexity is the essence of everything real.

And so I find myself increasingly resistant to allegedly “simple” anything. I don’t trust “simple.” I don’t believe in it. And, with our Western bent toward insidious evaluation, and analysis, I worry about the dangerous, Aristotelian, here-or-not-here implications of “simple.”

So I turn to the concept of pluralism. Is that a start, at least, toward an intellectual illumination of our complex identities and experience?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, “pluralism” is “the condition of being plural”; “a condition of society in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups coexist within one nation”; “the doctrine that reality is composed of many ultimate substances”; “the belief that no simple explanatory system or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life.”

And, after thinking about these definitions, I arrive at my own related ideas:

A. A democratic philosophy of cultural pluralism: A society in which numerous distinct ethnic and racial and religious groups rightfully and equally CO-exist within one nation.

B. Sexual pluralism: A condition in which one person advocates and/or adheres to two or more kinds of sexuality.

C. A democratic philosophy of sexual pluralism: That advocating and/or adhering to more than one kind of sexuality is duly consistent with individual and collective values basic to the creation, and the upkeep of cultural pluralism per se (of, the value of freedom).

 

In my pocket I have twenty-six cents: one quarter and one penny, official American currency decorated by the Latin inscription E Pluribus Unum. For a long time I thought nothing in particular about that particular motto, “from many, one.” It seemed to make (common) sense if only because I’d never heard any ideas to the contrary.

But actually that’s a pretty dangerous notion: E Pluribus Unum.

Unless we’re looking at strawberries and bananas and kiwi California smoothies, “from many, one” could mean some awful, even horrifying state policies and beliefs. It could mean the Aryan race. It could mean ethnic cleansing. It could mean apartheid. It could mean the Naturalization Act of 1970, which decreed that only white people could become naturalized citizens of the United States.

I could mean “English only” legislation. It could mean I’d better forget about who I really am, or why; it could mean I’d better identify with that dominant force, I’d better embrace and espouse that domination.

But also, E Pluribus Unum is not God’s truth, or God’s plan. How we got here, as a species, for example, does not support that ambition, E Pluribus Unum. And, in general, evolution flows in an opposite direction. Evolution flows into diversity by dint of infinite diversification: from The one, many.

If you put something on your money I would assume you mean it and the fact that E Pluribus Unum appears on my twenty-six cents suggest that, as a cultural and sexual pluralist, I am in serious trouble here. I am swimming in too many rivers

because

A. There should be one river.

and

B. That one river should be speeding on its way from one starting point to one

 

Get with it!

What is my problem?

 

How can I fail to accept the simple truth/the natural state of affairs/the divine order of whatever prevails, whatever dominates?

Especially when whatever prevails, whatever dominates, protects its power through cautionary folk tales, primitive law, and state-initiated or state-sanctioned violence, then how can I deny those simple truths so abundantly wedged inside popular consciousness? For instance, Western civilization:

Why would I want to disturb that unified, that deified, focus with some sort of multicultural rearrangement?

And, anyway, multicultural? Doesn’t that simply imply a harebrained hodgepodge leading to explorations of no intellectual validity? Multicultural! Doesn’t that imply something unlimited, which is to say chaotic and nonlinear and nonhierarchical and open-ended and, therefore, possessing no intellectual validity?

Why do I want to know French and Chinese? Why do I think I need to travel to Calcutta, Osaka, Luande, Dar es Salaam, Belfast, and Brooklyn, along with London, Amsterdam, or Rome?

Why don’t I settle down in central Idaho, study the rise and fall of the Prussian Empire, and watch a little football on the telly?

What’s the matter with me?

Or why should I be curious about my complicated heritage:

 

My mother, Afro-Caribbean and East Indian

My father, Euro-Caribbean and Chinese

My childhood: East Coast-Urban-Negro-Community and

Universe

My education: virtually all-Black public school followed by

virtually all-white prep school and Ivy

League college.

Why should I be concerned? Should I fathom these varying

parts and then attempt to

configurate them into a coherent, but nonhierarchical whole

of many varying parts?

I should choose one!

My father of my mother/my neighborhood or my prep

school.

I should simplify and stabilize!

From many, one!

 

And besides, how do I dare dismiss common arguments against cultural pluralism:

 

  1. That it consigns Western civilization to a lottery that may not

defer to white or Western supremacy;

  1. That it complicates that picture so that distinctions blur from

among different peoples of color, for example. Accordingly,

some marginalized groups fear they may lose even their

marginal visibility.

I am a cultural pluralist because I am in my right mind. What else should I be? given that I see and I hear many peoples around me in this one country of ours, what else should I be?

I am in my right mind.

And, therefore, I do not propose that those many peoples should be homogenized into one prime-time sitcom. I reject E Pluribus Unum as a guideline or goal. I have to!

Yes, I understand the hierarchal urge of individuals and groups wanting to imitate, or better yet, merge with Dominant Culture because, otherwise, they fear disastrous dependency, invisibility, or extinction. And I even understand the pathological urge to act like the Number Ones; I understand the urge to copycat the hateful, violent, and disgusting, dominant history of dominant response to those who differ from those who would dominate.

But that hierarchical urge is antidemocratic, at least, and, I believe, immoral, besides. That hierarchical urge to be The One out of the many (or despite the many), that urge to be the One above the Others cannot be satisfied for any individual or any groups of individuals except at the expense –except at the possibly exterminating expense—of another individual or group.

And so, I am a cultural pluralist: from the one, many, many, many. Because many is natural. Because many is always happening—more and more, in fact. And many is the way things will continue to proliferate and abound—short of some 1990s Final Solution to the many perceived as A Problem.

Yes I am in favor of the absolute unqualified preservation of the complicated, pluralist society that already exists, whether we like it or not! I favor this completely, this pluralism, because I am not a supremacist of any sort, whatsoever. And I persist inside a critical experiment which must confer equal rights and equal protection upon the many, one by one, or fail as a democracy.

Now, any examination of culture must include the psychology as well as the biology of its specifics: the mind of the body and the body of the mind. Nowhere is this indivisibly dual dynamic more obvious than inside the sphere of human sexuality.

Sexuality, like culture writ large, has been subjected to the E Pluribus Unum approach to diversity for a long time. Regardless of the physical and emotional varieties of sexual interest/desire/need represented by the variety of human beings that we, all of us, make manifest, the E Pluribus Unum Club of Dominant Culture—members only—would have us accept that sexuality is something clear/something simple/ basic/ God-given, or, in short, heterosexual.

I would agree with basic and with God-given, if, by God-given, you meant extant, here; in existence, for real.

But simple? Gosh, I don’t think so!

Somehow I have never noticed a remarkable simplicity peculiar to or employed by heterosexual men and women! And yet, a hefty part of the E Pluribus Unum sexuality campaign rests upon claims like “diamonds are forever” and heterosexuality is “simple” because it’s “dominant,” because it’s “simple,” and so forth— “forever.”

On the other hand, I have noticed a remarkable Dominant Culture inclination to define sexuality in its own heterosexual image—and to exclude/criminalize/ derogate/vilify any other sexuality.

I am a cultural pluralist. And, as sexuality is a biological, physiological, and interpersonal factor of cultural experience, I am a sexual pluralist.

What else should I be?

Given men who desire women and women who desire men and men who desire men and women who desire women and men who want to become women and women who want to become men and men who desire men and women both, and women who desire women and men both, what else could I be, besides a sexual pluralist?

I understand why women who identify themselves as lesbians and why men who identify themselves as gay might wish to ostracize, or condemn, bisexuality. It is that fearful emulation of the history of the Dominant Culture’s response to those who differ/who choose to be different. It is feat that an already marginalized and jeopardized status will become confused and or obscured and/or extinguished by yet another complicated sexual reality seeking its safety and its equal rights.

But you cannot draw the line on freedom, you cannot draw the line on equality. And if I am not free and if I am not entitled to love and desire both men and women, in other words,

 

if I am not free and if I am not entitled equal to heterosexuals

and homosexuals

then

homosexual men and women have joined with the dominant

heterosexual culture in the tyrannical

pursuit of E Pluribus Unum

and I

a bisexual woman committed to cultural pluralism and,

therefore to sexual pluralism, can only

say, you better watch your back!

 

Any abridgement of anybody’s right to exist places in jeopardy each one of us, regardless of race, class, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, proportional size.

So I am a cultural pluralist. I am a sexual pluralist. And to those who do not agree with me I say, “Good luck!”

From Sea to Shining Sea

 

1

Natural order is being restored

Natural order means you take a pomegranate

that encapsulated plastic looking orb complete

with its little top/a childproof cap that you can

neither twist nor turn

and you keep the pomegranate stacked inside a wobbly

pyramid composed by 103 additional pomegranates

next to a sign saying 89 cents

each

 

Natural order is being restored

Natural order does not mean a pomegranate

split open to the seeds sucked buy the tongue and lips

while teeth release the succulent sounds

of its voluptuous disintegration

 

The natural order is not about a good time

This is not a good time to be against

the natural order

 

(voices from the background)

 

“Those Black bitches tore it up! Yakkety

yakkety complain complaints couldn’t see

no further than they got to have this

they got to have that they got to have

my job, Jack: my job!”

 

“To me it was Black men laid us wide open for the cut.

Busy telling us to go home. Sit tight.

Be sweet. So busy hanging tail and chasing

tail they didn’t have no time to take a good

look at the real deal.”

 

“Those macho bastards! They would rather blow

the whole thing up than give a little: It was

vote for spite: vote white for spite!”

 

“Fucken feminists turned themselves into bulldagger

dykes and scared the shit out of decent

smalltown people. That’s what happened.”

 

“Now I don’t even like niggers but there they were

chewing into the middle of my paycheck

and not me but a lot of other white people

just got sick of it, sick of carrying

the niggers”

 

“Old men run the government: You think that’s

their problem?

Everyone of them is old and my parents and the old

people get out big numbers of them, voting for the dead?

 

“He’s eighteen just like all the rest.

Only thing he wants is a girl and a stereo

and hanging out hanging out. What

does he care about the country? What

did he care?”

 

Pomegranates 89¢ each

 

2

 

Frozen cans of orange juice.

Pre-washed spinach.

Onions by the bag.

Fresh pineapple with a printed

message from the import company.

Cherry tomatoes by the box.

Scallions rubberbanded by the bunch.

Frozen cans of orange juice.

Napkins available.

No credit please.

 

3

 

This is not such a hot

time for you or for me.

 

4

 

Natural order is being restored.

Designer jeans will be replaced by the designer

of the jeans.

Music will be replaced by reproduction

of the music.

Food will be replaced by information.

Above all the flag is being replaced by the flag.

 

5

 

This was not a good time to be gay

 

Shortly before midnight a Wednesday

massacre felled eight homosexual Americans

and killed two: One man was on his way

to a delicatessen and the other

on his way to a drink. Using an Israeli

submachine gun the killer fired into the crowd

later telling police about the serpent in the garden

of his bloody heart, and so forth.

 

This was not a good time to be Black

 

Yesterday the Senate passed an anti-busing

rider and this morning the next head

of the Senate Judiciary said he would work

to repeal the Voter Registration

Act and this afternoon the Greensboro

jury fully acquitted members of the Klan

and the American Nazi party in the murder

of 5 citizens and in Youngstown Ohio and in

Chattanooga

 

Tennessee and in Brooklyn and in Miami

and in Salt Lake City and in Portland Oregon

and in Detroit Michigan

and in Los Angeles and in Buffalo

Black American women and men

were murdered and the hearts

of two of the victims were carved

from the bodies of the victims, etcetera.

 

This was not a good time to be old

 

Streamliner plans for the Federal Budget

include elimination of Social Security

as it exists; and similarly Medicare and Medicaid

face severe reevaluation, among other things.

This was not a good time to be young

 

Streamliner plans also include elimination

of the Office of Education and the military

draft becomes a drastic concern as the national

leadership boasts that this country will no longer

be bullied and blackmailed by wars for liberation

or wars

for independence elsewhere on the planet, and the like.

 

This was not a good time to be a pomegranate ripening on a tree

 

This was not a good time to be a child

 

Suicide rates among the young reached

alltime high as the incidence of child

abuse and sexual abuse

rose dramatically across the nation.

In Atlanta Georgia at least twent0eight Black

children have been murdered, with

several more missing and all of them feared dead, or

something of the sort.

 

This was not a good time to be without a job

 

Unemployment Compensation and the minimum

wage have been identified as programs

that plague the poor and the young

who really require different incentives

towards initiative/pluck and so forth.

 

This was not a good time to have a job

 

Promising to preserve traditional

values of freedom, the new administration

intends to remove safety regulations

that interfere

with productivity potential, etcetera.

 

This was not a good time to be a woman

 

Pursing the theme of traditional values of freedom

the new leadership has pledged its

opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment

that would in the words of the President-elect

only throw the weaker sex into a vulnerable

position among mischievous men, and the like.

 

This was not a good time to live in Queens

 

Trucks carrying explosive nuclear wastes will

exit from the Long Island Expressway and then

travel through the residential streets of Queens

en route to the 59th Street Bridge, and so on.

 

This was not a good time to live in Arkansas

 

Occasional explosions caused by mystery

nuclear missiles have been cited

as the cause for local alarm, among

other things.

 

This was not a good time to live in Grand Forks North Dakota

 

Given the presence of a United States nuclear

missile base in Grand Forks North Dakota

the non-military residents of the area feel

that they are living only a day by day distance

from certain

annihilation etcetera.

 

This was not a good time to be married

 

The Pope has issues directives concerning

lust that make for difficult interaction

between otherwise interested parties

 

This was not a good time to not be married.

This was not a good time to buy a house

at 18% interest.

This was not a good time to rent housing

on a completely decontrolled

rental market.

This was not a good time to be a Jew

when the national Klan agenda targets

Jews as well as Blacks among its

enemies of the purity of the people

This was not a good time to be a tree

This was not a good time to be a river

This was not a good time to be found with a gun

This was not a good time to be found without one

This was not a good time to be gay

This was not a good time to be Black

This was not a good time to be a pomegranate

or an orange

This was not a good time to be against

the natural order

 

—Wait a minute—

 

6

 

Sucked by the tongue and the lips

while the teeth release the succulence

of all voluptuous disintegration

I am turning under the trees

I am trailing blood into the rivers

I am walking loud along the streets

I am digging my nails and my heels into the land

I am opening my mouth

I am just about to touch the pomegranates

piled up precarious

 

 

7

This is a good time

This is the best time

This is the only time to come together

 

Fractious

Kicking

Spilling

Burly

Whirling

Raucous

Messy

Free

 

Exploding like the seeds of a natural disorder.

A Short Note to My Very Critical and Well-Beloved Friends and Comrades

First they said I was too light

Then they said I was too dark

Then they said I was too different

Then they said I was too much the same

Then they said I was too young

Then they said I was too old

Then they said I was too interracial

Then they said I was too much a nationalist

Then they said I was too silly

Then they said I was too angry

Then they said I was too idealistic

Then they said I was too confusing altogether:

Make up your mind! They said. Are you militant

or sweet? Are you vegetarian or meat? Are you straight

or are you gay?

 

And I said, Hey! It’s not about my mind.

Case in Point

A friend of mine who raised six daughters and

who never wrote what she regards as serious

until she

was fifty-three

tells me there is no silence peculiar

to the female

 

I have decided I have something to say

about female silence: so to speak

these are my 2¢ on the subject:

2 weeks ago I was raped for the second

time in my life the first occasion

being a whiteman and the most recent

situation being a blackman actually

head of the local NAACP

 

Today is 2 weeks after the fact

of that man straddling

his knees either side of my chest

his hairy arm and powerful left hand

forcing my arms and my hands over my head

flat to the pillow while he rammed

what he described as his quote big dick

unquote into my mouth

and shouted out: “D’ya want to swallow

my big dick; well, do ya?”

 

He was being rhetorical.

My silence was peculiar

to the female.

Meta-Rhetoric

Homophobia

racism

self-definition

revolutionary struggle

 

the subject tonight for

public discussion is

our love

 

we sit apart

apparently at opposite ends of a line

and I feel the distance

between my eyes

between my legs

a dry

dust topography of our separation

 

In the meantime people

dispute the probabilities

of union

 

They reminisce about the chasmic histories

no ideology yet dares to surmount

 

I disagree with you

You disagree with me

The problem seems to be a matter of scale

 

Can you give me the statistical dimensions

of your mouth on my mouth

your breasts resting on my own?

 

I believe the agenda involves

several inches (at least)

of coincidence and endless recovery

 

My hope is that our lives will declare

this meeting

open

Re-forming the Crystal

 

I am trying to imagine

how it feels to you

to want a woman

trying to hallucinate

desire

centered in a cock

focused like a burning-glass

desire without discrimination:

to want a woman like a fix

 

Desire: yes: the sudden knowledge, like coming out of ‘flu, that the body is sexual. Walking in the streets with that knowledge. That evening in the plane form Pittsburgh, fantasizing going to meet you. walking through the airport blazing with energy and joy. But knowing all along that you were not the source of that energy and joy; you were a man, a stranger, a name, a voice on the telephone, a friend; this desire was mine, this energy my energy; it could be a hundred ways, and going to meet you could be one of them.

 

Tonight is a different kind of night.

I sit in the car, racing the engine,

calculating the thinness of the ice.

In my head I am already threading the beltways

that rim this city,

all the old roads that used to wander the country

having been lost.

Tonight I understand

my photo on the license is not me,

my

name on the marriage-contract was not mine.

If I remind you of my father’s favorite daughter,

look again. The woman

I needed to call my mother

was silenced before I was born.

Tonight if the battery charges I want to take the car out on sheet-ice; I want to understand my fear both of the machine and of the accidents of nature. My desire for you is not trivial; I can compare it with the greatest of those accidents. But the energy it draws on might lead to racing a cold engine, cracking the frozen spiderweb, parachuting into the field of a poem wired with danger, or to a trip through gorges and canyons, into the cratered night of female memory, where delicately and with intense care the chieftainess inscribes upon the ribs of the volcano the name of the one she has chosen.

The Stranger

Looking as I’ve looked before, straight down the heart

of the street to the river

walking the rivers of avenues

feeling shudder of the caves beneath the asphalt

watching the lights turn on in the towers

walking as I’ve walked before

like a man, like a woman, in the city

my visionary anger cleansing my sight

and the detailed perceptions of mercy

flowering from that anger

 

if I come into a room out of the sharp misty light

and hear them talking a dead language

if they ask me my identity

what can I say but

I am the androgyne

I am the living mind you fail to describe

in your dead language

the lost noun, the verb surviving

only in the infinitive

the letters of my name are written under the lids

of the newborn child.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

Often remembered for her poem “Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich was a poet and essayist. Bringing her identities as Jewish-American Woman and a Lesbian to the front of her poetry and prose, Rich was a well-known thinker and academic of second wave feminism.

Among her many poetic contributions, Rich also wrote the essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience,” which has since been recognized as a foundational text in queer and feminist studies.

 

Planetarium

Waking in the Dark

The Stranger

Re-forming the Crystal

 

Waking in the Dark

 

1.

 

The thing that arrests me is

how we are composed of molecules

(he showed me the figure in the paving stones)

arranged without our knowledge and consent

like the wirephoto composed

of millions of dots

in which the man from Bangladesh

walks starving

on the front page

knowing nothing about it

which is his presence for the world

 

 

2.

 

We are stsanding in line outside of something

two by two, or alone in pairs, or simply alone,

looking into windows full of scissors,

windows full of shoes. The street was closing,

the city was closing, would we be the lucky ones

to make it? They were showing

in a glass case, the Man Without A Country.

We held up our passports in his face, we wept for him.

 

They are dumping animal blood into the sea

to bring up the sharks. Sometimes every

aperture of my body

leaks blood. I don’t know whether

to pretend that this is natural.

Is there a law about this, a law of nature?

You worship the blood

you call it hysterical bleeding

you want to drink it like milk

you dip your finger into it and write

you faint at the smell of it

you dream of dumping me into the sea.

 

3.

 

The tragedy of sex

lies around us, a woodlot

the axes are sharpened for.

The old shelters and huts

stare through the clearing with a certain resolution

—the hermit’s cabin, the hunter’s shack—

scenes of masturbation

and dirty jokes.

A man’s world. But finished.

They themselves have sold it to the machines.

I walk the unconscious forest,

a woman dressed in old army fatigues

that have shrunk to fit her, I am lost

at moments, I feel dazed

by the sun pawing between the trees,

cold in the bog and lichen of the thicket.

Nothing will save this. I am alone,

kicking the last rotting logs

with their strange smell of life, not death,

wondering what on earth it all might become.

 

4.

 

Clarity,

 

spray

 

blinding and purging

 

spears of sun striking the water

 

the bodies riding the air

 

like gliders

 

the bodies in slow motion

 

falling

into the pool

at the Berlin Olympics

 

control; loss of control

 

the bodies rising

arching back to the tower

time reeling backward

 

clarity of open air

before the dark chambers

with the shower-heads

 

the bodies falling again

freely

 

faster than light

the water opening

like air

like realization

 

A woman made this film

against

 

the law

of gravity

 

5.

 

All night dreaming of a body

space weighs differently form mine

We are making love in the street

the traffic flows off from us

pouring back like a sheet

the asphalt stirs with tenderness

there is no dismay

we move together like underwater plants

 

Over and over, starting to wake

I dive back to discover you

still whispering, touch me, we go on

streaming through the slow

citylight forest ocean

stirring our body hair

 

But this is the saying of a dream

on waking

I wish there were somewhere

actual we could stand

handing the power-glasses back and forth

looking at the earth, the wildwood

where the split began

Planetarium

Planetarium

 

A woman in the shape of a monster

a monster in the shape of a woman

the skies are full of them

 

a woman          ‘in the snow

among the Clocks and instruments

or measuring the ground with poles’

 

in her 98 years to discover

8 comets

 

she whom the moon ruled

like us

levitating into the night sky

riding the polished lenses

 

Galaxies of women, there

doing penance for impetuousness

ribs chilled

in those spaces            of the mind

 

An eye,

 

‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’

from the mad webs of Uranusborg

encountering the NOVA

 

every impulse of light exploding

from the core

as life flies out of us

 

Tycho whispering at last

‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

 

What we see, we see

and seeing is changing

 

the light that shrivels a mountain

and leaves a man alive

 

Heartbeat of the pulsar

heart sweating through my body

 

The radio impulse

pouring in from Taurus

 

I am bombarded yet     I stand

 

I have been standing all my life in the

direct path of a battery of signals

the most accurately transmitted most

untranslatable language in the universe

I am a galactic cloud so deep        so invo-

luted that a light wave could take 15

years to travel through me       And has

taken        I am an instrument in the shape

of a woman trying to translate pulsations

into images      for the relief of the body

and the reconstruction of the mind.