UW-River Falls is pursuing a “Check Yourself” campaign. Its purpose is to teach faculty and students proper etiquette surrounding talk about sex, race, immigration, and so on. It’s a speech code designed to impose terms of political correctness by those who have appointed themselves bearers of truth on the matter.
One of the things its audience is warned about is the claim that all human beings are bisexual. The reason for this prohibition is because the claim denies bisexuality’s unique identity, as well as undermines the identity of those who do not believe they are bisexual. Everybody has a right, the campaign tells us, to their own identity. (Right, tell that to Rachel Dolezal.)
There are many problems with etiquette campaigns. But I find this item about bisexuality particularly troubling and representative of the problem of wide-ranging speech codes. There is a position, articulated for example by Sigmund Freud and Alfred Kinsey, albeit in different ways, that homo sapiens are, as are many other species of mammal, innately bisexual. We are born without a sexual orientation (or a race, religion, gender, etc.) but experience socialization in heterosexuality as an social and cultural imposition, albeit a process that is never completely effective – nor should it be. However much our homosexual tendencies are repressed, our bisexuality is not erased, but lies in a latent, or unconscious state in our psyche. We remain, somewhere in the layers of our mind, sexually attracted to members of our designated and acquired gender.
Acknowledging the possibility of this basic reality provides important insights into human attitudes and behaviors. For example, because a heterosexual man finds other men sexually attractive, even if he is not directly conscious of this attraction, he escapes into rituals that sublimate his sexual desire as higher-order asexual relations and activities. The structure of masculinity can be explained in part as a bulwark against culturally disapproved sexual feelings towards other men. Compulsory heterosexuality thus comes with a complex symbolic system of ritual self-denial, which, without being able to posit innate bisexuality, is mysterious. In other words, homophobia exists in part because heterosexuality is an imposition – we fear ourselves. Repressive sexuality is a source of self-loathing.
If we are told that we cannot argue that all human beings are bisexual, then what we are being told is that Freud and his ilk are wrong. An official, or at least official sounding position, has thus been taken on a contested matter. UW-River Falls is telling faculty and students that this is a settled matter. Why else would there be a speech code?
But it is not a settled matter. Indeed, we should be encouraging students to consider whether human beings are innately bisexual. It is an open question. Being able to make this claim is not only important for scientific reasons. It is also part of a political argument that faculty and students should be allowed to make. If we are all innately bisexual, then the justifications for compulsory heterosexuality, for example the notion that we are born with a sexual orientation, becomes problematic. The ideology of heterosexuality loses its naturalist appeal. The deconstruction of the normalcy of compulsory heterosexuality is accomplished, not with revised etiquette pamphlets, but rather through dialectal engagement.