Notes for a Bisexual Revolution


By Shiri Eisner

Formats and Prices




$14.99 CAD



  1. ebook $11.99 $14.99 CAD
  2. Trade Paperback $18.99 $23.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 2, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

“A groundbreaking exploration of bisexual politics by a revolutionary thinker” (Publishers Weekly) provides the missing piece of the puzzle for readers who identify as bisexual

Depicted as duplicitous, traitorous, and promiscuous, bisexuality has long been suspected, marginalized, and rejected by both straight and gay communities alike.

Bi takes a long overdue, comprehensive look at bisexual politics, from the issues surrounding biphobia/monosexism, feminism, and transgenderism to the practice of labeling those who identify as bi as either “too bisexual” (promiscuous and incapable of fidelity) or “not bisexual enough” (not actively engaging romantically or sexually with people of at least two different genders). In this forward-thinking and eye-opening book, feminist bisexual and genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner takes readers on a journey through the many aspects of the meanings and politics of bisexuality, specifically highlighting how bisexuality can open up new and exciting ways of challenging social convention.
Informed by feminist, transgender, and queer theory, as well as politics and activism, Bi is a radical manifesto for a group that has been too frequently silenced, erased, and denied — and a starting point from which to launch a bisexual revolution.



                  “I hope they’re revolting against our methods. I think it’s the duty of every generation to revolt against the older generation and to go further. My expectation is that they ought to have a higher level of consciousness than I did, because they’re standing on our shoulders.”          

                      —David Lourea, bisexual activist (1945–1992)          

I started doing bisexual activism in 2009, after many years of being active with the radical queer, feminist, and Palestine solidarity movements. Up until then, I had no idea that these two places in my head—bisexuality and activism—could connect. I (as well as my bisexual friends) were all active in those movements, organizing and participating in projects that changed events and politics. Throughout this time, we kept talking about our bisexuality, about erasure and biphobia in our communities, and wondered why no one was doing anything about it. I remember waiting for years for something to start, all the while never thinking about bisexual activism as an option.

In 2008, the first bisexual support group in Tel Aviv was started by Elad Livneh, a long-time bisexual activist and one of two people running Bisexuals in Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization active between 2004 and 2007. From the moment I heard about the new support group (while marching with the first transgender block in the Jerusalem pride march), I became so excited that the two dots had finally connected. Very quickly I found myself writing about bisexuality, distributing fliers, promoting the support group, and organizing groups and events of my own. Within a year I had published an article in a book (Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World, second edition), was regularly publishing texts online, had founded a bisexual film club, organized the first bi/pan block in the Tel Aviv pride parade, started an Israeli bisexual online mailing list, and formed the second-ever bisexual and pansexual organization in Israel/Occupied Palestine, Panorama—Bi and Pansexual Feminist Community.

At around the same time, my learning about bisexuality started as well. I swallowed up anything I could get my hands on: anthologies, articles, books—both academic and political. As my knowledge expanded, my bisexual politics deepened with it. Very soon I found that I needed to explain it to everyone else. I knew why I did bisexual activism, but if I wanted to encourage others to join me, I had to elaborate. I opened a bisexual blog in Hebrew, and later in English. But one of the first things I discovered was that no matter how much I wrote, everything seemed partial, like fragments of a bigger whole. I also discovered that I not only had unique views about bisexuality, but also unique knowledge—since I had read so much about bisexual politics and theory, I was able to draw on information that most people didn’t have access to.

For a very long time, I had a vague idea that one day I would write a book about bisexuality. At first, I didn’t know what it would be about, but later it grew into an outline. One day I sat in the kitchen with my girlfriend, Lilach, and told her (for what must have been the millionth time) that I had a book in my head. Unlike the previous times, this time her response was: “Write it.” And I did.

This book is about why I do bisexual activism. It’s the full explanation that I could never quite provide on either of my blogs. Everything written in this book, no matter how theoretical or academic, informs everything I do as a bisexual activist. As such, I view this book as a field guide. No matter how theoretical it is at times, the theory doesn’t—and shouldn’t—remain on the pages alone.

This is the first book to attempt a distillation of a coherent radical, rather than liberal, bisexual politics. The word radical stems from the Latin radix (“root”), and denotes anything relating to the root. In the case of politics, this signifies an examination of the roots of oppression in society. As opposed to liberal politics, whose goal is to gain access to social power structures, radical politics criticizes these very structures and ultimately seeks to take them apart. As opposed to liberal politics, which prioritizes hegemonic viewpoints and “top to bottom” change, radical politics prefers marginalized points of view and “bottom to top” solutions. While liberal politics presumes that the system (whether social, political, economic, and so on) is basically okay and simply needs a few corrections, radical politics recognizes it as the very source of oppression. According to radical politics, liberation can’t be gained by further contributing to these systems or by requesting them to extend their control. Rather, what needs to be done is minimize their control and finally tear them down. Radical politics is not about receiving rights, protection, or privilege; it is not about inserting small changes in the system so that it “works better”; it is not about changing legislation and waiting for the effects to “trickle down.” Instead, radical politics is about the revolution.

What a radical viewpoint might offer for bisexual politics is an opportunity to examine and oppose bi people’s oppression, as it pertains to the roots rather than the surface. So far, the main goal of mainstream bisexual movements in North America and Western Europe has been to become “accepted” by society and to “gain rights.” But instead of looking at things from a bird’s-eye view, as liberal politics does, this book attempts to shed light on how things look “down below” in people’s lives. It also tries to uncover the reasons these things happen, and show how, rather than being isolated, they relate to other forms of oppression. Rather than trying to normalize bisexuality, this book tries to extract its enormous subversive potential, and utilize it to break down social order and create a revolution.

In keeping with radical politics’ preference for marginalized viewpoints, this book is also strongly queer, feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive. Where it can, and where appropriate, it reaches out to those and other groups, examining intersections between them and bisexuality. This comes from the understanding that no one struggle is complete without connection to others. Oppression of any one group doesn’t happen in isolation, but parallels, draws from, and intersects with that of others. Further, these types of oppression don’t only exist in the “outside” world, separate from various communities and movements, but also affect them from within. For this reason, ignoring other types of oppression in favor of “single issue” politics means reinforcing them. This is why the book constantly takes care to make these connections alongside examinations of monosexism and biphobia.

This book is very much influenced by academic theories, and takes the time to explain them. Being both an activist and an academic, I find in theory the language and tools needed to understand how things work. It allows me to examine how oppression is created and maintained, and then provides the antidote for taking it apart. In writing about academic theories, I hope to achieve two things: first, bringing this inaccessible knowledge back to people who might not have the financial or educational access to it; and second, allowing people to use these theories to take a hard look at monosexism and biphobia, how they work and why. Following these understandings, I hope the theories I use can also supply the antidote for resisting oppression.

By now you’ve probably noticed my insistence on the word bisexuality rather than pansexuality, omnisexuality, or queerness, identities that hold more currency within radical queer communities and politics. A full explanation for why I insist on keeping the word “bisexual” can be found at the end of chapter 1. Having said that, one can also view this book as an attempt to radicalize bisexuality, and thereby also reclaim it. Though I support the identities mentioned above and consider them part of my community, I must also acknowledge that this book is not (fully) about them. This is not meant to erase, disregard, or exclude them, but rather to acknowledge existing differences and points of view. That said, I also hope that this book might serve as a resource for other nonmonosexual groups, that they find inspiration and empowerment within, perhaps enough to join extended bisexual movements as part of an umbrella struggle for all of us.

This book is also limited in perspective mostly to North America and Western Europe (with some references to Israel/Occupied Palestine). While I acknowledge that other cultures have multiple, complex, and different systems of sex, gender, and sexual practice, I must also acknowledge my own limited viewpoint. As a result of white cultural imperialism, despite my living in the Middle East, I was not taught, nor do I know much about gender and sexuality in cultures other than the ones I discuss. The colonial project that is Zionist Israel imagines itself as an extension of the “enlightened” white world in the “primitive” East, and draws its cultural influences from minority-world cultures (North America and Western Europe). Ironically, though I, as a Middle Easterner, might have more in common with majority-world bisexuals than American or European ones, I nonetheless don’t know enough about them—certainly not enough to write a book about them. I realize that in writing a book about white cultures, I might be reinscribing the same kind of cultural imperialism. However, I must also acknowledge my own limitations, and allow myself the space to research the cultures that I am informed about. That said, I hope that my staunch antiracist and anticolonial position balances out this initial bias.

Some readers might find the radical perspective of this book challenging. In fact, the book often makes a point of challenging readers to examine their own privileges and oppressive behaviors, alongside examining their shared oppression. In this I do not mean to alienate my readers or to make them feel attacked. Rather, the criticism contained herein is done in the spirit of community support, recognizing that calling out our friends and communities is an important part of the learning process in which we all partake. Debate, dissent, and conflict are the living fire of a community’s heart. They allow us to learn, teach, form opinions, develop concepts and language, and ultimately grow and change. To criticize a movement from within is to express solidarity with it, to contribute to it, and support it on its way to the revolution.

Another very different challenge contained in this book is that it sometimes discusses difficult topics such as violence, sexual violence, and other issues. For this reason, the book contains trigger warnings throughout its length. A trigger warning is a statement coming up before a text or an image that might cause extreme emotional responses, such as post-traumatic flashbacks, anxiety, panic, and so on (that is, it might “trigger” such a response). The purpose of trigger warnings is to allow people to choose whether or not to expose themselves to potentially triggering content. They are about being attentive to our own, as well as others’, emotional state. Their goal is creating a safer space for everyone, acknowledging that many people are survivors of violence, sexual violence, and other traumatizing experiences. When you encounter a trigger warning in this book, please consider whether or not the content following it might trigger you. If so, please consider reading it somewhere that feels safe for you, and at a time when you have emotional support available should you need it.

Writing this book has been a long, often fun but sometimes difficult process. While I owe much of it to my own abilities as well as to my friends’ support, I also need to acknowledge the privileges that enabled me to begin this pursuit in the first place. First and foremost, as a Jewish citizen of apartheid Israel/Occupied Palestine, I have access to many privileges: I am a citizen of the country rather than “resident” or refugee; I am allowed to reside in my home without being expelled from it or having to fight for my right to live there; I live in relative safety rather than under siege or the constant threat of military attack; I have regular access to clean food, water, and medicines; I enjoy freedom of movement as well as freedom of speech, being able to participate in political struggles, to read and to write about politics. These are only a few of the benefits that I hold directly on account of Palestinians, as well as of non-Jewish migrant workers and asylum seekers. The racist apartheid system of Israel directly benefits me for the sole “virtue” of my Jewishness while oppressing others for the “crime” of wanting to live here.

In addition to this, I hold various other privileges that enabled me to write this book: I’m an English speaker, meaning that I could choose to write a book in this language and expand my potential circle of readers; I have academic education, as well as access to books, articles, and other resources about bisexual and queer politics. This means that I’ve had access to the necessary knowledge required to write a book; I work at a steady job that pays enough for me to be able to afford housing, clothes, and food; it also enables me to own a computer and to have enough spare time to use it for writing; I have the knowledge and ability to operate a computer. This includes physical ability, as computers are built to cater to those who can move their hands and see the screen. In addition, I’m in the “right age” to be considered an “edgy, young writer” on the one hand, and to be taken seriously on the other. This contributes to my status as a writer, and consequently to the status of the book. While these are not all of the privileges that I enjoy, they are nonetheless the main ones. Most people in the world do not have them, and in taking advantage of my relative privilege I do not mean to forget or dismiss those on whose backs this privilege exists. I stand shoulder to shoulder with all these groups and people, and I strive for their liberation alongside my own.

If I could ask any one thing of my readers, it’s that they don’t leave this book on the shelf but take it to the streets. Use this book to inform and create your own radical bisexual movements with which to take apart oppression and work toward liberation. The purpose of this book is to serve as inspiration for activism, for getting out there and changing the world.

In addition, I hope this book will influence a change within existing bisexual movements in North America and Western Europe. Though these bi movements have had fiercely radical, feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive histories, they have also suffered from problems that the book takes the time to address. I hope it could also plant a seed of change within these existing movements, leading to a more radical, less assimilationist path, to creating new alliances—and to revolutionizing our bi communities.

The bisexual revolution is there waiting for us. Let’s start making it happen.


What is Bisexuality?

Too many books are written about bisexuality without first asking, or indeed explaining, what bisexuality means. As with many other concepts in minority world cultures (such as feminism, for example, or radical politics), it seems as though many people are sure that they know what bisexuality means, when there is far more to the concept. Many assume that bisexuality has a single, straightforward definition with little to no added meanings. This leads to a situation in which many people are at best convinced that they already know all about it and at worst sure that it’s so simple that there’s nothing to talk about, think about, or (in the activist field) organize around.

Minority world is a term denoting the geographical areas and countries usually imagined as the “West” (west of what?). It corresponds with the term majority world, which comes to replace the use of the problematic term “third world.” It allows us to keep in mind that, while minority-world thinkers have been busy pathologizing sex, gender, and desire, many majority-world societies have long had mainstream, socially acceptable patterns of practices and behaviors that minority-world people might understand as “queer.”

So let me be the first to say this: I have no idea what bisexuality means. Thinking about this section of the book, I got so confused that it took me a while to realize that I didn’t need to—and couldn’t possibly—cover all the possible meanings that bisexuality can have. To do that would take a whole other book, and even that wouldn’t be close to comprehensive. I do have a few guesses, though.


Bisexuality, as a term and as a concept, was born around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, a time when minority-world men (mostly Europeans) first started their all-encompassing project of categorizing (and pathologizing) the world around them—and specifically, where it came to bodies, sexualities, and desire. Researchers such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Henry Havelock Ellis, and Magnus Hirschfeld considered bisexuality either a physical or a psychological condition, having traits of what was once thought of as “both sexes.”

At the time, one of the popular theories about sexuality was that of inversion. According to inversion theory, gay men and lesbians were “inverts”—people who were physically male or female, but internally the “opposite sex.” Same-gender desire was explained as latent heterosexuality: gays and lesbians were really just heterosexual people born in the wrong bodies. Inversion theory understood sex, gender, and desire as one and the same, imagining homosexuality and transgender as expressions of one another, and creating the still-standing myth that gay men are necessarily “internally feminine,” that lesbians are necessarily “internally masculine,” and that transgender people are actually “gay men” (when applied to trans women) or “lesbian” (when applied to trans men).

According to this theory, “bisexuality” was used to describe what we now call intersexuality (formerly hermaphroditism, meaning bodies with nonbinary genitals and other sexual traits). Bisexual desire was called psychosexual hermaphroditism, linking the concepts of bisexuality as both a physical state and desire. Bisexual people were seen as psychologically intersex, bringing the logic of inversion (latent heterosexual attraction) into the field of bisexual desire. In other words, a bi person’s “male” part desires women, whereas her “female” part desires men.

Transgender is anyone whose gender identity is not “appropriately” aligned with the sex one was assigned at birth. In addition to being an adjective, “transgender” can also be used as a noun in place of “transgenderism,” which bears negative connotations.

You might notice that this theory is at once incredibly gender-binary and androgynous. Despite its binarism and heterosexism, I like the way that this theory connects bisexuality to intersexuality and opens a sort of “third space” for both bodies, genders, and desires. In minority-world societies, both intersex bodies and bisexual identities are perceived as an aberration. They are perceived as needing immediate “correction” to fit the binary standards of society: intersex babies are treated as a medical emergency and undergo imposed sex-reassignment surgeries, often immediately after birth and without consent. In a similar, though certainly less violent and more symbolic way, bisexual identity is often treated as a sexual emergency: bisexual individuals face strong resistance and social pressure to immediately change our sexual identity into something else (often anything else, just as long as we don’t use the “B-word”).

Freud was one of the first minority-world thinkers to use the word bisexuality in order to describe desire (instead of a physical or psychological state). The way Freud described it, bisexuality (also named “polymorphous perversity”) was the ground from which (“normal”) heterosexuality and (“pathological”) homosexuality developed. Very few remember to mention bisexuality as the basis for Freud’s oedipal theory: According to Freud, the (male) child is born bisexual, desiring both his mother and his father, overcoming and repressing his bisexual desire through the oedipal process. Success in this process would leave the child heterosexual (read: “healthy”), while failure would make the child homosexual (read: “sick”). Bisexuality, in itself, ceases to be an option for the child, and is relegated to a “primitive” psychological past.1 In Freud’s theory, then, bisexuality can’t be thought of as a sexual orientation (such as hetero- or homosexuality), but only the repressed basis for the development of other sexualities.

As a result of this, Freud’s theory is responsible for several of the popular beliefs generally associated with bisexuality in minority world societies:

         Everyone is “actually bisexual” or “born bisexual.”

         No one is, in fact, bisexual.

(These first two are different sides of the same coin.)

         Bisexuality is a passing phase.

         Bisexuality is an unfinished process.

         Bisexuality is immature.

(Note, by the way, that I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with the three latter meanings, and I intentionally refrained from calling them myths. In fact, I think many of these so-called myths can be very helpful in building radical bisexual political thought—more on that later.)

The first important minority-world researcher to have treated bisexuality as an existing sexuality, and as a viable option, was Alfred Kinsey in his landmark research Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, first published in 1948. Kinsey, bisexual himself, famously wrote:

Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black, nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes.

Kinsey was also responsible for creating the now-famous Kinsey Scale, categorizing different degrees of homosexuality and heterosexuality, using numbers from zero (exclusively heterosexual) to six (exclusively homosexual). On Kinsey’s scale, the “true bisexual” was imagined to be a three, equally attracted to both males and females (other sexes and genders were not regarded). In this way, Kinsey is responsible for the popular concept that we all experience desire on a sliding scale, adding to the Freudian-based myth that very few people are actually monosexual (a homophobic notion that disrespects monosexualities and erases unique bisexual identity and experience).

Monosexual means someone who is attracted to people of no more than one gender.

Cisgender is someone whose gender identity is “appropriately” aligned with the sex one was assigned at birth, i.e. men who were assigned a male sex at birth, and women who were assigned a female sex at birth.

Discourse is a term coined by French philosopher Michel Foucault. It means everything spoken, written, or otherwise communicated about a certain topic. An important derivative is dominant discourse, meaning a discourse created by those in power and which dominates social understandings about a given topic.

You will notice that so far, the only people who talked about bisexuality in minority-world cultures were the white cisgender of the medical and psychological institutions and schools. This means that the people who controlled the definition, concept, and discourse about bisexuality were people representing the system, medicalizing and often pathologizing our desires and ways of life. By this, of course, I don’t mean to insinuate that these people didn’t make important contributions to our understanding of sexuality in general, and bisexuality in particular, or that their importance is to be dismissed. I also do not mean to insinuate that they meant to harm bisexual people or operated maliciously. What I do mean is to highlight that, much like many other LGBT and queer identities, bisexuality, too, was first invented and scrutinized by hegemonic powers under the mass project of categorizing and then pathologizing various human experiences and behaviors, only later to be reclaimed by the bisexual movement. Bisexual people themselves served as research objects, the ground upon which to base theories about bisexuality and, indeed, about the entire continuum of bodies, gender, and desire. This means that bisexual people served as the “raw material” for theories that they could not control. Researchers gained their prestigious reputations and symbolic capital


On Sale
Jul 2, 2013
Page Count
224 pages
Seal Press

Shiri Eisner

About the Author

Shiri Eisner is a feminist bisexual and genderqueer activist, writer, and researcher. Eisner lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Learn more about this author