Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.4 (2002) 650-652
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A History of Bisexuality. By Stephen Angelides. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Pp. 296. $50.00 (cloth); $20.00 (paper).
Stephen Angelides's History of Bisexuality, published in the prolific Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society, is an ambitious project. Its main objective is to focus sexuality debates on bisexuality, which Angelides considers the hitherto neglected epistemological key to understanding sexuality. Angelides argues that bisexuality has been erased from contemporary sexual theory and politics, the notable exception being Marjorie Garber's Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (New York, 1995), which he takes as the starting point for his own investigation.
Angelides sets out to explore the mechanisms behind the marginalization of bisexuality, both in terms of its being an independent identity and with regard to its role within the realm of sexual theory and politics. His main contention is that, historically, the function of bisexuality has been as the structural other to sexual identity itself, whereby the epistemological categorization of bisexuality has served both to exclude the articulation of a bisexual identity and to reproduce the hetero/homosexual binary. Angelides aims to trace and reveal the forces that made bisexuality the antithesis of sexual identity, and to do so he embarks on a history of bisexuality that seeks to challenge contemporary assumptions of sexuality, both theoretically and politically.
The theoretical trajectory of A History of Bisexuality follows in the footsteps of feminism and queer theory of the last two decades of the twentieth century. Angelides rereads the works of some of the most influential theorists of the time, including Michel Foucault, Jane Gallop, Gayle Rubin, Diana Fuss, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Judith Butler, and scrutinizes their understanding of the interfaces between gender and sexuality. He [End Page 650] argues that a common fallacy in the theorization of sexuality is that it focuses on the dialectical interrelation of polar terms such as gender and sexuality, whereby any analysis is based on the either/or model of binary logic. This necessarily excludes bisexuality, which according to Angelides operates relationally, as a model of both/and. Angelides argues that bisexuality as an analytical category offers a way out of the entrapment of binary logic, and as such it is a key tool for rethinking queer theory.
Angelides covers a vast range of critical writings on sexuality. His strong point lies in the analysis of late-twentieth-century gender and sexuality theory, which he explores in the second part of the book, entitled "Deconstructing Sexual Identity." The first part, "Constructing Sexual Identity," is less convincing. Angelides's understanding of nineteenth-century sexuality draws heavily on Darwin's evolutionary theory and neglects the subsequent biological literature on sexuality itself, such as Geddes and Thomson's Evolution of Sex (1889). In his analysis of sexology, especially the writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Angelides relies heavily on critical literature instead of consulting the primary texts (at least in translation). This results in an at times hazy conflation of distinct theories and lines of argument. Angelides makes no reference to one of the most influential sexologists of the early twentieth century, Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science) in Berlin, editor of the first scientific journal on homosexuality, Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischensstufen (Yearbook for sexual intermediaries), and, together with Norman Haire and Havelock Ellis, copresident of the World League for Sexual Reform. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Hirschfeld's work has only recently been translated into English by Ulrichs's translator, Michael Lombardi-Nash. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, Hirschfeld's theories were widely disseminated in the medical, legal, sexological, and intellectual circles of the English-speaking world and were highly influential. Hirschfeld devotes a chapter of his magnum opus, Die Homosexualité des Mannes und des Weibes (The homosexuality of man and woman) (1914), to the conceptualization of bisexuality and its differentiation from homosexuality. In so doing he provides a discerning critique of the...