Activist Baumgardner’s intimate memoir doubles as an exploration of bisexuality in the context of the feminist movement.
Like feminism, she argues, bisexuality has freedom at its roots; her title refers not just to looking at both men and women, but also to appearing (i.e., dressing) as either. According to Baumgardner, who co-authored two well-known treatises of Third Wave feminism (Grassroots, 2005; Manifesta, 2000), same-sex relationships are very common among women of her generation who identify themselves as straight. The second wave of feminism, she contends, enabled women to experiment with new identities and connect with other women in ways that had not been possible before the 1960s and ’70s; through its exploration of gender, it challenged the assumption of compulsory heterosexuality. Once considered shameful and deviant, lesbianism and bisexuality became options that one could choose depending on one’s values, politics and understanding of freedom. Baumgardner draws examples from her own life and from the experiences of former girlfriends and other women she has known well, women whose writings she has read and women she interviewed for this work. Her text is replete with references to pop-culture figures, a favorite source being bisexual singer Ani DiFranco, whom she quotes at length. Bisexuality is a chapter of women’s history that has been suppressed and misunderstood, the author attests: While gay rights moved to the forefront of society’s awareness, the insurgent role of bisexuality has remained relatively invisible. Nonetheless, Baumgardner believes that bisexuality has the potential to further the goals of both feminists and gay activists.
This valiant but fragmented attempt to bring a marginalized subject into the light will be especially valuable for women’s-studies classes.