Poly Planet GAIA | ecosexual love | arts of loving | global holistic health | eros | dissidence: March 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Podcast - Gaia Science: Path to Human Love, Health, Relatedness

Listen to Podcast 03/24/10 - Start Serena's Segment at 44th Minute HERE

Now the story!

PRN, or Progressive Radio Network, describes itself as "The # 1 Radio Station for Progressive Minds."  It's also known as "the thinking person's forum."  I found out I was invited as a guest to talk about how Gaia science impacts human emotions.  "Wooow!" I thought, "your first time live on a radio show, Serena. You better make sure you know what's you're saying as your voice goes on the air."

I looked up my hosts.  PRN does indeed live up to its descriptions as far as I know.  On the Progressive Radio Network archives page I saw a whole range of interesting radio shows, with topics including energy, news, community, politics, writing, women, consumers, animals, health, and more, all in the context of critical thinking and presented in the form of debates.  "Great!" I thought, "this seems like the kind of place where one finds like minded people who have not stopped asking questions, regardless of how out of fashion critical thinking might be at the moment.  How refreshing!" 

One is Gary Null, who describes himself as the radio host who "takes on the real issues that the mainstream media is afraid to tackle."  His show covers a wide range of topics, including local and global ecology, the environment, science, religion, spirituality, nutrition, health, and human relationships.  He welcomes a stream of interesting guests, including scholars, professors, reporters, and other kinds of experts.  He heard of my new book, Gaia and the New Politics of Love, and invited me to speak of the Gaia Hypothesis and what it means for relationships among humans and those with other species.  "How wonderful," I thought, "I can't wait!"

"You studied the Gaia Hypothesis" Gary said, "Can you tell us what it is and how can it help us better understand human relationships? Relationships with other species?" he asked.

"The Gaia Hypothesis is the most important scientific hypothesis of our time," I explained, "because it is the foundation for the paradigm shift toward the new system of knowledge that will enable humanity to make peace with Gaia, the third planet, rather than commit suicide on it."  I gave the references to James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, on whose science the hypothesis is based.  "If this hypothesis is true, then all of the biota, including atmosphere, biosphere, and, of course, ourselves, is a body of interconnected life made of symbiotic elements.  This means that we are all already always related.  So developing healthy relationships is simply allowing this relatedness to actualize its potential in the most authentic form." 

Gary asked me about dissident science, including AIDS science.  "I have the highest respect for science that differs from commonly accepted knowledge because without these differences knowledge cannot evolve.  For example, Gaia science is still a form of 'dissident' science, since the Gaia Hypothesis is not the prevalent paradigm upon which today's accepted knowledge is based."

I then proceeded to explain how for myself I have chosen a vegetarian path to health and a holistic one as well.  In a Gaian context, one's health is a result of the health of the symbiotic elements with which one chooses to surround oneself.  For me, time-tested indigenous remedies make more sense than recently invented pharmaceutical drugs, especially when used regularly.  When something has been used from generation to generation, its impact on the body's balance is known.

It was a pleasure to be a guest on this program.  There were many more questions I would have been happy to address, and I would welcome another invitation.  It was great to have my work recognized by a host of Gary's experience and courage.  I hope more listeners become aware of how Gaia and the New Politics of Love can be a resource for them.

Listen to Podcast 03/24/10 - Start Serena's Segment at 44th Minute HERE 

Stay tuned for more PODCASTS featuring Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shutter Island and The Shock Doctrine: Connecting the Dots

I saw Shutter Island yesterday with a friend, and at the end we were sorting out the various parts of the plot to make sure that both versions were equally plausible, as in good Scorsese fashion, where by tradition fiction and reality, subconscious and performance inevitably blur.  The two stories being that Edward is either really the US Marshall with the mission to investigate the criminal asylum where Lewaddis, the man who set his house and wife on fire is held, or that he is a fool in denial of the fact that Lewaddis and himself are actually the same person.
As I saw the film I kept thinking of Naomi Klein's political theory book, The Shock Doctrine, which claims that the project of wrecking an economy as motive to activate a politics of privatization and wholesale of public assets, is actually a practice that started in psychiatric hospitals, when electroshock and lobotomies were common medical practices in mental hospitals.  The famous 'Chicago Boys,' the Milton Freedman acolytes who engineered the various economic crises in question in the subsequent decades, learned their trade from psychiatry.  They succeeded, according to Klein, in generating the kind of panic and terror that broke people resistance and gave political advocates of privatization a blank slate.
It is interesting to me that a director like Scorsese would pick up Klein's message in some roundabout way and create the concrete images that bring the message home for the next generation, which visually oriented and whose collective consciousness responds to cinema that way.
My friend and I enjoyed the movie even though we realize that the ambivalence of the plot might baffle some spectators.  To us, that ambivalence is a bonus not just because it is the hallmark of Scorsese, but rather because it reflects the confusion present in reality itself, the fact that if human experiments intended to control your brain are happening next door, it could very well be that will never, for sure, know. 
Leonardo di Caprio, whom I hadn't seen since Titanic (I miss a lot of movies), was in the part, I felt, his rugged charm improved with maturity.
I am a writer and an activist and a professor, and I blog about movies and other topics at

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sex will save our planet! says author of new book - Tinamarie Bernard on Modern Love Examiner

Sex will save our planet! says  author of new book

by Tinamarie Bernard

At first glance, sex and the environment don't make obvious bedfellows. How can the answer to our environmental problems - global warming, access to fresh water, ecological sustainability, and the use of fossil fuels, etc - possibly be found in the satin sheets of lovers? According to a growing number of greenies, free love may just save the planet. 
Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet
In her newest book, Gaia: The New Politics of Love (North Atlantic Books), author Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, attempts to lay the groundwork for this premise. And if you can get past any initial squeamishness, there is value in her message: Specifically, behaviors typical between lovers in open-relationships, also known as polyamory, may indeed be the secret to protecting Mother Earth from her errant, environmentally challenged children. That would be most of us.

Tinamarie Bernard is a top-rated writer of sex, conscious love, intimacy and relationships based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Serena's comment to Oregon Post's Review of Brent Leung's House of Numbers

Read review and comments to this brave documentary about the importance of dissidence in the production of scientific knowledge


Posted by Serena
March 14, 2010, 10:33PM
Brent's work is very important as it alerts an entire new generation to the scientific problems research on AIDS has not resolved yet, with the first voice admitting this the French scientist who discovered HIV back in the 1980s, Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier. I am a university professor and educator and I have researched and written extensively about the AIDS controversies, analyzing the cultural/political context in which official AIDS science was produced, and the likely effects that this context had on the results. Science happens in culture and is affected by it, it is not neutral or universal, never has been, if we think of how hard it was for Galileo to affirm something simple like the concept that the Earth moves back then when the powers that be had an investment in the opposite theory. The problem with AIDS science is that people get upset about it because it affects them intimately, having to do with what they do, or think they can do, in bed. What about separating the two problems? Asking the government to mandate that scientists officially run again the laboratory experiments said to prove that HIV causes AIDS, and in the meanwhile continuing to use condoms when doing something that would otherwise result in the exchange of deep fluids when unknown risk factors are involved? This is what I propose in my latest book, Gaia and the New Politics of Love (2009). See also my blog, http://polyplanet.blogspot.com/

I plan to organize a screening of Leung's documentary on my campus, so students learn more about the importance of maintaining the space open for free speech and knowledge that represents dissenting viewpoints.

With much respect and admiration for Leung's brave work. 

Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio, PhD
author of Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet (2009)
and of Eros: A Journey of Multiple Loves (2007)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

1 of 8 - What's in a Word? Dissidence, 'Denial,' and Health on a Poly Planet - From The G Tales

You call me ‘promiscuous,’ I call you ‘dishonest,’ a poly person tells the average person who believes that monogamy is the only natural way to love.
You call me ‘denialist,’ I call you ‘believer,’ a dissident person tells the average person who believes that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.
When you call AIDS Dissidents by their own name you exercise leadership in the sexual freedom movement.
Alternative lovestyle communities ignore AIDS Dissidence at their own peril.
From private conversations

Part One

It’s the Holiday Season and G’s classes are almost over.  “This is when the exciting part of my work begins,” she tells me on the phone.  “Why?”
“Well, in this case, for example, I have to fend off all the accusations of ‘denialism’ my latest book earned me.  I get to be called ‘radioactive’ by those in my own community, my fluid-bonding tales get mistaken for irresponsible behavior, and the political dissidence I present in relation to health science, immunity, and infection gets mistaken for some kind of generic denial that AIDS ever existed or that it affected our queer communities at all.”
“You got yourself in trouble again, G,” I respond.  “I can’t leave you alone for a minute and you manage to stir up some controversial mess around yourself.”
“This time I really didn’t do it on purpose,” she replies.  “It was upon me before I knew it and I actually got tempered by last year’s events and handled it quite well.”
“Good for you,” I say.  “Are you sure you don’t need any help?”
“I need lots of help, and I’m getting it, many are coming to my rescue.  And you can pitch in as well.”
“Tell me what it’s about first.”
“OK.  Well, you remember last year when Poly Pride invited me to read in Bluewich Village, at Greensocks Bookstore, from my memoir Eros?  I had contacted the store first, then a whole panel of poly writers came together.  And, on the spur of the moment, I decided to read from the chapters where I describe my shock when I first heard that the cause of AIDS was still uncertain, that clouds of doubt were gathering on the official hypothesis, and that when the brunt of this impacted me, I could not get any sleep for two nights and felt a bit like a philistine, wondering when I had stopped asking questions?”
“Yeah, I remember how humiliated you felt when you were told that the organization would publicly distance itself from the content of your reading, and then realized it went well beyond that, publicly decrying you and branding your works as dangerous to civil society and public health.”
“Right, and I also felt very bad, because, in the same way that I was shocked when I first heard about the International AIDS Dissidence Movement, several people in the audience were shocked as well--some were speakers that day, and had lost close relatives to AIDS.  And obviously I realized that my choice had ruined their day.  I got a vague sense of how long it would take for the community to even begin to metabolize the content of what I read.  And I was mostly concerned about taking attention away from the keynote speaker of the day--who was especially hurt--with the effect that the mutual admiration we had for each other’s work all of a sudden evaporated as we became positioned on opposite ends of the controversy.”
“You were especially concerned about her.  All right, then what?  Is this all?”
“No, no, of course not, there is a lot more to the story.  Are you interested?  Ready?  Tell me if it’a a good time for us to talk.”
“Sure, now you made me curious--go ahead.”
“Well, a whole profusion of email apologies ensued after that day, including mine.  The main accuser was never heard from in that context though.  I did feel the brunt of public humiliation for a while, until a Poly Leadership Summit was organized and I participated.  The whole episode was not touched upon again directly, even though, I felt, it was an undertow of tension below the surface.”

End of Part One, G Tale # 5

Oxidation, Water, Food, and AIDS in Africa
Interview with Luc Montagnier
2008 Nobel Laureate in HIV Science

Disclaimer:  This Tale does not constitute medical advice in any way.  Readers are invited to consult their own healers and health care providers. 
References: For scholarly and scientific references to contents and theories referred to in this dialog, refer to Gaia & the New Politics of Love, whose bibliography lists all sources involved.  

Friday, March 12, 2010

2 of 8 - What's in a Word? Dissidence, 'Denial,' and Health on a Poly Planet - From The G Tales

You call me ‘promiscuous,’ I call you ‘dishonest,’ a poly person tells the average person who believes that monogamy is the only natural way to love.
You call me ‘denialist,’ I call you ‘believer,’ a dissident person tells the average person who believes that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.
When you call AIDS Dissidents by their own name you exercise leadership in the sexual freedom movement.
Alternative lovestyle communities ignore AIDS Dissidence at their own peril.
From private conversations

 Part Two
“Well, at the time of the Poly Summit I was finishing the Gaia book, remember?” G asked.
“Yes G,” I replied, as we continued our long winded conversation.
“I already had a contract, an established text, which went into the ‘dissidence’ versus ‘denialism’ controversy in the context of global ecology and health.  In this book, I explained the whole issue in a lot more detail.  It wasn’t just an autobiographical impression of my shock at the impact of the new ideas on me.  It was really a full fledged discussion of how AIDS and other immunological diseases and syndromes (including cancer for example), are interpreted in very different ways depending on the scientific paradigm and perspective used to examine them.  For example, from an allopathic perspective, where health is viewed as a war against disease, one looks at AIDS as a result of infection, and focuses on the infectious agent believed to be at cause.  From a holistic perspective, health is viewed as a result of systemic balance in one’s inner and outer landscape, and so one looks at AIDS as a result of immunodeficiency caused by air, water, and food pollution, stress, fear, and other factors that affect body ecology.”
“Sure, I remember us talking about that.  Ok.”
“Well, as the book was going to press, the discoverer of HIV, French scientist Luc Montagnier, was awarded the Nobel Prize.”
“Oh really?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, it happened simultaneously,” G confirmed.
“And how did you feel about that?  Didn’t it get you to think that maybe the allopathic hypothesis was right after all?  That the dissenters were really just ‘denialists’ who were up to no good?  That perhaps you had been accused and humiliated with just cause? I know you tend to respect the decisions of the Swedish Academy.”
“I do.  And to be honest with you, some of that feeling was there.  I had no experience of infection or even of partners with infection.  I had a roommate who was HIV+ at one point, perfectly healthy, but then that was just one case I could bear witness to.”
“What did you do?”

“I looked up Montagnier on the web immediately.  I had known about him from day one, because when the whole panic about AIDS broke, I used to hang out with a bunch of French expats who were scientists.  They were my social circle, and, when the American scientist Robert Gallo claimed victory in the discovery of the cause of AIDS, they felt a bit slighted in their national pride, wishing that due credit be given to their compatriot as well.” 

“Right, but that did not mean that Gallo and Montagnier did not agree on the cause or the method?”
“I wasn’t sure then.  The extent of the difference in their philosophy had not been quite apparent to me.  I frantically looked up Montagnier.  Found out he was now working on oxidation, writing books on antioxidants, the remedies that holistic healers recommend to those whose excessive stress damages their body’s system of self-defense.  ‘Woooooooow!’ I thought.  Then I reread Montagnier’s scientific papers: there were two, published at about the same time as those Gallo had published on Science.  Papers that ended up constituting the ONLY scientific evidence of the HIV hypothesis for decades, since all laboratory experiments designed to either refute or corroborate it were banned as ‘dangerous’.”
“Banned as ‘dangerous’?  Why so?” I asked, surprised.
“Good question.  Dissidents suspect that the National Institute of Health was very happy with the ‘solution’ Gallo proposed, which was also good business for pharmaceutical companies who could manufacture medical drugs designed to combat the presumed viral cause, and establish medical protocols that would make these drugs mandatory for anyone with the virus in question--even when perfectly healthy.”
“Ouch . . . . sounds pretty dangerous to me.”
“Sure does.  Gets worse.  That was also the time, remember, when awareness of impending ecological disaster was growing in environmental science circles.  All of a sudden, environmentalism was no longer about local problems: how to keep our good neighborhood neat, how to make sure the landfill ended up located somewhere else.  It was now becoming a global awareness that if the switch to a non-fossil fuel economy wasn’t made on time, we would all go under—that the Earth would turn into a scorching hell.  There was this sense that all research moneys and energies should be invested in figuring out how to replace oil.”
“Aha!  Makes sense.  But . . . how did you know about that?”

Oxidation, Water, Food, and AIDS in Africa: 
Interview with Luc Montagnier
2008 Nobel for HIV Science
Video: courtesy of House of Numbers, by Brent Leung

End of Part Two, G Tale # 6 

Disclaimer:  This Tale does not constitute medical advice in any way.  Readers are invited to consult their own healers and health care providers. 
References: For scholarly and scientific references to contents and theories referred to in this dialog, refer to Gaia & the New Politics of Love, whose bibliography lists all sources involved.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

3 of 8 - What's in a Word? Dissidence, 'Denial,' and Health on a Poly Planet - From The G Tales

You call me ‘promiscuous,’ I call you ‘dishonest,’ a poly person tells the average person who believes that monogamy is the only natural way to love.

You call me ‘denialist,’ I call you ‘believer,’ a dissident person tells the average person who believes that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.

When you call AIDS Dissidents by their own name you exercise leadership in the sexual freedom movement.

Alternative lovestyle communities ignore AIDS Dissidence at their own peril.

From private conversations
Part Three

“Well, I told you,” G said as we continued the conversation, “I knew about global warming back then in the 1980s. I was a foreign graduate student at the University of California, Riverside, which had the largest Soil and Environmental Science department in the nation at that point, and the crowd I hung out with was a bunch of post-docs who did that kind of research. I used to not want to believe what they told me myself. Do you think it was fun to learn that we were all going to be cooked unless the switch was made quickly and with full resources for that kind of green-tech research. I was the only one with a kid in this whole group. I liked modernity, I liked gadgets, I liked to drive my own car, I liked consuming nice products, and yet . . . ”

“Wait a minute” I replied, “I’m sure you were not the only one to resist the idea that now all research resources and efforts would be devoted to finding ways to eliminate the need for oil.”

“Right, I wasn’t alone--now you’re getting to it. Oil companies, oil tycoons, automobile makers, and all of the elites that got rich from the black gold were also very unhappy at that prospect. If there ever was a way for us to invent an oil-free society and economy, they wanted to make sure nobody found out.”

“Ok now,” I said. I was feeling a bit confused. “And how does that actually relate to AIDS?”

“Well, awareness of impending global disaster was growing in environmental research circles. They had good reasons to demand more funds for their research. What was a better way to divert attention from that necessity than generalized panic about a viral threat, a new killer disease that was caused by a subvisible pathogen--a virus, as it were?”

“Wait a minute, do you mean that the San Francisco outbreaks were engineered on purpose?” I asked, resentfully.

“No, of course not. But the rush to look for infectious agents was--and that’s where the difference between Gallo and Montagnier comes into play.”

“Sounds confusing to me,” I commented, impatient. “Explain!”

“Montagnier never claimed that he found the ‘cause’ of AIDS.”

“He didn’t?” I asked, curious again.

“No. As I answered the deluge of messages that ensued the trauma of Greensocks, I reread Montagnier’s 1983-84 papers and I also posted the Gallo papers online in response to a panicky request for ‘evidence’ by the person in New York who had mercilessly humiliated me. As I reread those papers I realized Montagnier simply said that, if the new syndrome turned out to be infectious, and if the infectious agent turned out to be a virus, then HIV (which he called LAV to avoid misleading labels) would be a likely candidate.”

“Is that all he said?”


“OMG! But then, why wouldn’t he say more? Wouldn’t it help people to know that there was some certainty?”

“To some extent, of course, it would. At that time so little was known that to have a strong reason to advise people to use condoms was a good thing. However, there was a need to verify the results of the experiments by repeating them in other laboratories, equally competent as Montagner’s at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and Gallo’s at the National Institute of Health, in DC.”

“And didn’t that verification happen?”

“That’s the crux of the problem. It did not.”

“OMG! G, are you sure?”

“Well . . . I’m telling you. I wish it had.”

“And why not?”

“Because Gallo mixed Montagnier’s samples with his own and erased all doubts from the record by declaring to the press that we now knew the cause of AIDS. The pharmaceutical companies and the oil industries colluded to establish the dictum that now any verification experiment would be dangerous because it would instill the seed of the doubt in the public and cause behavior that would result in infection.”

“That doesn’t sound very scientific per se. Nor does it sound trusting that people would behave reasonably,” I commented.

“Of course not. But the reality is that people didn’t know how to behave: you know, sex that is all about turgidity and getting off. No erotic gradation, no tantric energy. Rubbing. Barrier protection as in condoms was the only measure as long as people’s amatory skills were so basic.”

“Right, which is why safer-sex education came along, no?” I offered.

“Yeah, and I jumped right into that back in the early 1990s, with all my bi friends. And that opened up a whole ‘nother realm of erotic expression that was more inclusive and creative, precisely because we now had to invent ways to be ‘safe’.”

Disclaimer:  This Tale does not constitute medical advice in any way.  Readers are invited to consult their own healers and health care providers. 
References: For scholarly and scientific references to contents and theories referred to in this dialog, refer to Gaia & the New Politics of Love, whose bibliography lists all sources involved.  

Monday, March 8, 2010

4 of 8 - What's in a Word? Dissidence, 'Denial,' and Health on a Poly Planet - Part Four - From The G Tales

You call me ‘promiscuous,’ I call you ‘dishonest,’ a poly person tells the average person who believes that monogamy is the only natural way to love.
You call me ‘denialist,’ I call you ‘believer,’ a dissident person tells the average person who believes that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.
When you call AIDS Dissidents by their own name you exercise leadership in the sexual freedom movement.
Alternative lovestyle communities ignore AIDS Dissidence at their own peril.
From private conversations
Part Four
 “What about the scientific verification,” I asked G as we continued the conversation.  I was curious about whether or not the initial experiments about HIV as cause of AIDS had been repeated in other laboratories.  “There was none, you said.  What did other scientists say?”
“Many said nothing--continued the rat race in their cubbyholes.  But that’s where ‘renegade’ Duesberg comes into play.  He insisted on repeating the experiments, applied for grants to do so and was turned down over and over.  He has all possible qualifications.”
“Ouch!  That must have hurt him a lot.  And what did he do then?”
“He went public about being denied the money to do the verifying research.  He denounced this as a political plot.  And he became a dissenter.  Why?”
“I guess I can tell, G, but tell me . . . “
“Because of course,” she continued, now in a more passionate tone, “if you’re an honest scientist you cannot accept as true a hypothesis that you’ve proposed to verify over and over--only to find out that an a priori decision has been made that there will be no such multilateral verification by laboratory experiment.”
“Got it.  But let’s go back to Montagnier.  Why do you think he became interested in oxidation?”
“Because over the years he realized that alone HIV does not debilitate the immune system to the point of causing what manifests as the syndrome of AIDS.  There has to be a prior debilitation of the immune function for an infection to become chronic and therefore cause AIDS.  And oxidation often has this debilitating effect.”
“Ok.  So to go back to your process, what did you do when you found out what Montagnier had been doing?”
“I was overjoyed.  Now I knew how much hostility there was in my ‘home’ community to dissident views of AIDS.  Greensocks had been the unexpected lesson.  I have been told I was na├»ve on that occasion.  I cannot disagree with that.  You have to consider that as an American I am really from the West Coast, a place where people tend to take the Washington Consensus and other East Coast mentalities with a grain of salt.  I could never have imagined that in a city as cosmopolitan as New York people would be so ignorant of the AIDS Dissidence Movement.  I had known about it for years, while I still practiced various forms of safer sex because I believe in sparing one’s immune system any unnecessary, excessive work.  Yet major poly leaders ignored the whole scientific problem and asked for ‘evidence’ only after the fact.”
“Which fact, G,” I interrupted, “if I may?”
“The fact of publicly humiliating me for bringing it up at a bookstore reading where I’d been invited to read from Eros.”
“Ok,” I said faintly, waiting for more.
“So” G continued, “by virtue of the Nobel Prize, Montagnier was now back in the game.  And this gave me a good reason to integrate his view point, as it had evolved over the decades, into my discussion in the book Gaia.”
“Which was going to press right there and then.”
“Yes,” G confirmed.
“Let me ask you this: Did you feel that the American public, and polys in particular, were aware of Montagnier’s perspective?”
“Unfortunately, the mainstream press only spoke of the decision of the Swedish Academy in terms of national pride.  Why had Gallo not been included?  Was this fair?  Hadn’t they been in it together?  There was no mention of scientific differences between the two researchers.”
“So you did your revisions.  Did the press welcome them?”
“Yes,” G replied, “they were very accommodating.  I kept telling them that I was aware of resistance to dissident ideas in the ‘niche’ audience, and this required fairness and a carefully crafted argumentation.  I remember asking for one extra week to make sure I did a good job.”
“So then, when the book was released, did you present it in New York?  Did you consider the release a good occasion to open up the topic for discussion again?  To offer clarification and a more articulate perspective on your position and what motivated you to engage in this kind of science-studies, systems-theory research?”
“Yes, that was my first thought.”  

End of Part Four, G Tale # 5

Disclaimer:  This Tale does not constitute medical advice in any way.  Readers are invited to consult their own healers and health care providers. 
References: For scholarly and scientific references to contents and theories referred to in this dialog, refer to Gaia & the New Politics of Love, whose bibliography lists all sources involved.  

Saturday, March 6, 2010

1 of 5: We Are Everywhere: A Fiveway Review of A History of Bisexuality, Bisexual Spaces, Look Both Ways, Open, and Becoming Visible

Jonathan Alexander and Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio

Has appeared also in Bisexuality and Queer Theory, a special-topics issue of The Journal of Bisexuality, co-edited by Serena Anderlini and Jonathan Alexander. Pre-published with permission of Routledge, New York. 
Steven Angelides, A History of Bisexuality.  University of Chicago Press, 2001.  281 pages (with index)
Clare Hemmings, Bisexual Spaces: A Geography of Sexuality and Gender.  Routledge, 2002.  244 pages (with index)
Jennifer Baumgardner, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.  244 pages (with index)
Jenny Block,  Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage.  Seattle: Seal Press, 2009. 276  pages (with works consulted list)2
Beth Firestein, ed,  Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan.  Columbia University Press, 2007.  441 pages (with index)

For this special issue of the Journal of Bisexuality on the intersections among queer theory and bisexuality, we thought it would be useful to review books that have substantively engaged this intersection in critical, insightful, and provocative ways.  Two such books, Steven Angelides’ A History of Bisexuality (2001) and Clare Hemmings’ Bisexual Spaces: A Geography of Sexuality and Gender (2002), are somewhat “older” texts that have not yet been reviewed in the pages of this journal.  To correct that omission, and in recognition of the importance that these two studies play in so many of the articles in this special issue, we offer our review and thoughts here.  To set the critical theory of these books in a more contemporary and applied context, we link them to three more recent text.  Two, Jennifer Baumgardner’s trade book, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics (2007), and Jenny Block’s Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage (2009) memorialize various levels of personal experience as avenues to theorizing bisexuality for the lay public, and observing the ways in which this trope deploys itself in one’s personal life and in the life and culture of our era.  Finally, Beth Firestein’s edited volume Becoming Visible (2007) offers a store of applied research as well as theoretical knowledge directed to professional counselors and therapists who intend to provide bisexual patients with the mental and psychological health care they need.  The volume’s subtitle, Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan, is emblematic of the volume’s intent to dispel the myth that “bisexuality is a phase” one can overcome with “proper” medical attention.  The idea here is that there are no reasons to “overcome” bisexuality, while there are many reasons why counselors and therapists, as well as society as a whole, should think of bisexuals as very healthy, wholesome, and valuable members of the human community.  An overview of these five books, we believe, will help readers of this collection get a fairly articulate sense of where bisexuality stands at this time in the realms of human knowledge and experience touched by these books.

To start, then, Steven Angelides’ A History of Bisexuality offers a much-needed historical and theoretical intervention in both our thinking about the history of what the modern era knows as sexuality, and our theorizing about the development of sexual identity categories.  Co-editor Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, who was raised in Italy, brings to our reading of this book the perspective of a Mediterranean education, where awareness of bisexual behavior registers across the cultural spectrum since antiquity.  This awareness  has been articulated in a study of bisexual behavior in ancient Greece and Rome by Eva Cantarella, a professor of classical history at the University of Milan.  The book’s title, Secondo natura, encodes the concept that there is nothing unnatural about erotic expression across genders: the title translates, quite literally, as according to nature, and even better, asgoing along with nature, or seconding nature, as one seconds a proposal in a meeting.  The English elides the poetic aspect of this and reads, objectively, as Bisexuality in the Ancient World (1992).  As might be expected of a scholar based in Australia, where the legacies of Western culture have arrived only recently, Angelides’ book focuses on the past 150 years.  Oddly enough, however, Angelides’ perspective on the recent history of bisexuality helps to explain why the title of Cantarella’s book did not make it into English.  Nature came to be studied scientifically in modernity, under the aegis of Christian monotheism.  At this time, bisexual behavior came to be it constructed as against nature,because nature itself was now seen as the creation of a single deity.    In the ancient world the divine was ubiquitous, it was in the body of nature and not separate from it.  Bisexual behavior was just as natural as could be.  Indeed, as Foucault would put it, the focus was on acts, not identities, and only after the onset of Christianity, with its separation between good and evil, certain acts came to be seen as sinful.  In pre-Christian Rome and Greece, Cantarella’s book exemplifies in great detail, amorous behavior was considered an art whose forms and styles of expression were infinite, and the scientific concept of sexuality did not exist.  In the arts of loving, the young were being initiated by those with more experience.  For obvious anatomical reasons, if the students were of one’s own gender, those practical lessons in erotic love would be much ere easier to deliver.  With English being a major language of modern scientific production (if not the most important one), no wonder the original title of Cantarella’s study either makes no sense or sounds outright pedophilic; the kind of thing that gets one in trouble in today’s academe, where mind-centered learning processes prevail.   

Angelides’ book helps one to see what has been lost in this scientific modernization, and what a postmodern perspective can recuperate for itself and humanity’s future, in the ways of bringing back a positive, sustainable notion of the primitive. Angelides uses deconstructive strategies and a Foucauldian approach to the history of sexuality to trace the development of the category of bisexuality, from psychoanalytical and sexological theories at the end of the 19th century, through post-war gay liberation, to queer politics at the end of the 20th century.  With critical sophistication and a general command of his subject, Angelides rightly points out how seemingly central bisexuality was, conceptually, to early psychoanalytic and sexological theory.  For instance, Freud’s theories of polymorphous perversity and naturally innate bisexuality serve as foundations for his theories of sexuality, even as they ultimately position bisexuality as the “immature” (e.g., “perverse”) state out of which sexual maturity (i.e., heterosexuality) must arise.  Angelides adeptly shows how bisexuality is cast in this role both ontogenetically and phylogenetically, namely in relation to the genesis of each individual and that of the species.  From this starting point, Angelides deftly demonstrates how a series of controlling binary oppositions—man and woman, but also, fairly quickly, heterosexual and homosexual—come to dominate theoretical, and cultural as well as political, constructions of sexuality and sexual identity.
In the process, bisexuality becomes, in Angelides’ accounting, a kind of “ghostly other” to sexuality itself—there in the shadowy background, but ultimately something that must be denied in the pursuit of more mature sexual expressions.  In other words, the persistence of bisexuality in this ghostly role embodies cultural fears that “sexuality,” per se, may not exist; that it may be nothing but a cultural construct.  Even with the rise of gay liberation in the 1960s and 1970s, when some gay liberationists advocated a “bisexual chic” or a sexual freedom that would return us to our original polymorphous-ness, bisexuality never seemed to gain traction, either as an identity or a community or even a politics.  

Consider, for instance, Adrienne Rich’s famous “lesbian continuum,” which seemed to acknowledge, explicitly, like Kinsey’s famous scale, a continuum of sexual, erotic, and intimate interest, from the fully lesbian to the singularly straight.  In the hands of gay and lesbian activists and thinkers, however, the two poles become the focus of attention—gay and straight.  The minoritizing logics of identity politics figure “gayness” as another identity, like straightness, and the in-between status of bisexuality seems to question too much the non-threatening innateness upon which much of gay politicking came to depend.  We’re born this way, after all, so please don’t discriminate.  Bisexuality, by comparison, seemed too much the sexuality “of choice,” and particularly in the advent of AIDS, it came to be seen as the dangerous sexuality that vectored disease from promiscuous homosexuals to an otherwise pristine suburbia. So while bisexuality seemed to be the “centerpiece” of much gay liberationist thinking, it was a bisexuality in name only, a very theoretical bisexuality. 

Angelides moves deftly from history into theoretical discussion, focusing on the work of sexuality studies scholars such as Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick—thinkers whose work dominated the study of sexuality in the 1990s.  In particular, he uses the work of Judith Butler, particularly Bodies That Matter, to unpack the prevalence of binarisms that made bisexuality a difficult subject to consider, even at the headily questioning height of queer theory.  Angelides pointedly asks, “Why is bisexuality the object of such consistent and intense skepticism?  […]  In short, why has bisexuality been rendered, for the most part incidental and even irrelevant to the history, theory, and politics of sexuality”? (190).

Following the lead of Foucault and Butler, particularly in their genealogical mode, Angelides ultimately situates his historical survey of bisexuality less as a discovery of the truth of bisexuality or the revelation of a hidden history (see Marjorie Garber’s Vice Versa for that story), but more as a theoretical questioning of why bisexuality is a conceptually troubling category.  He writes, “[t]racking the epistemic path of bisexuality has been for me one way of bringing into clearer view the failure of our epistemology of sexuality; that is, the impossibility of any attempt to posit this thing called ‘sexuality,’ and its component identity-parts of hetero-, homo-, and bisexual” (196).  For Angelides, undertaking such a theoretical venture has real-world consequences, in a number of ways.  In many ways, attending to the theoretical difficulties that bisexuality poses to our conceptualization of sexuality mandates a complete theoretical reconsideration of sexuality; and indeed, Angelides calls at the end of his study for a substantive rethinking of how we understand the history of sexuality:

This deconstructive history has demonstrated that no analysis of sexuality can afford to ignore the category of bisexuality, which mandates a critical rethinking of some of the central terms and strategies of Foucauldian and queer theories.  While these theories have provided, and continue to provide, cogent political and theoretical tools for antihomophobic and anti-heteronormative inquiry, it is important to attend to their own structuring exclusions in order to strengthen their political and theoretical promise (199).

Put another way, a queer theory that misses bisexuality’s querying of normative sexualities is a queer theory that is itself too mastered by the very normative and normalizing binaries it seeks to unsettle; as he succinctly puts it, “[a]s deconstructive readers and cultural critics we need continually to monitor the sites through which the reiteration of sexuality, and its accompanying hierarchy of hetero- and homosexuality, is taking place” (201).

More interestingly, and speculatively perhaps, Angelides stretches the implications of his critiques beyond the humanities into the social sciences and even the hard sciences.  He suggests that “…science ought [not] to abandon questions relevant to those things assigned to the category of ‘sexuality,’ but…scientists ought to pursue a different set of questions altogether” (206).  For example, the much vaunted search for the “gay gene,” which seems to dominate some scientific inquiry into homosexuality, seems misguided at best, if not seriously theoretically flawed as an investigative project.  Angelides urges that we not let our scientific thinking be dominated by the same binarisms that have hampered psychological thinking.  Rather, he argues, we should consider other, potentially more interesting questions about the multiple and plural natures of desire, attraction, and intimacy—questions that would not simply replicate the old, normalizing, and constraining hetero/homo divide, which doesn’t do justice to the complexity of sexuality anyway, either theoretically or experientially. 

A History of Bisexuality is, in many ways, a stunning book, one which scholars and lay readers alike can learn from, appreciate, and ultimately enjoy.  What partially hampers Angelides’ approach in positing such questions is his failure to account for some scientists and medical professionals, such as Dr. Fritz Klein, in doing exactly what he suggests they do.  Indeed, Angelides’ elisions of Klein’s famous study and treatise, The Bisexual Option (originally published in 1978), seems grievous in this case, particularly since Dr. Klein’s Sexual Orientation Grid attempts to move questions about sex, sexuality, intimacy, and eroticism away from identity and towards a complex plurality of modalities.  Nonetheless,A History of Bisexuality still dazzles with the scope of its historical sweep and its theoretical acumen.

Also published in SexGenderBody.
Reprinted here with thanks to Arvan Reese and Routledge, NY.