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VICE VERSA by Marjorie Garber


Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life

by Marjorie Garber

Pub Date: June 8th, 1995
ISBN: 0-684-80308-9
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A dazzling and provocative rendering of bisexuality in history, this book is sure to spark controversy. From Plato, Sappho, and Shakespeare to Madonna, Mick Jagger, and the androgynous Pat of Saturday Night Live, Garber sets out to make visible the seemingly ubiquitous but invisible presense of individuals who have had sexual relations with members of both sexes. But Garber (English/Harvard; Vested Interests: Cross- Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, 1991) seeks to call into question what she sees as rigidity in current understandings of sexual identity. Rather than pin people down to strict categories—whether straight or gay—she offers a fluid, ``narrative'' definition of sexual identity that allows for changes over time in understanding who we are sexually. This theorizing takes place throughout a remarkably broad analysis of literary texts and cultural icons. The first third focuses on contemporary culture and provides a detailed reading of ``bisexual chic'' and the scapegoating of bisexuals as transmitters of HIV to heterosexuals. This is the most accessible part of the book, and it provides a language and a set of theoretical concepts to understand the later chapters. The long chapter on celebrity bisexuals, including James Dean, Judy Garland, Laurence Olivier, and Gore Vidal, is a wonderful combination of gossipy facts and deep, serious insight. By the end, she has made a strong case that many people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who have been reclaimed by gay and lesbian historians are, in fact, best understood as having experienced sexual pleasure with both men and women. Throughout, Garber's playfulness with language, concepts, and scandals make this both a delightfully entertaining and a formidably important work of cultural criticism. A whirling wonder of history, analysis, and wit, and a serious contribution to burning issues of sexual identity and politics.