• Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Bisexuality in Literature: Is It Underrepresented?

ByElla Clamp

Feb 28, 2023

The sensuous depiction of Clarissa Dalloway and her close friend Sally’s veiled romance in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway quickly comes to mind when I think of bisexuality in literature.

Described as Clarissa’s most “exquisite moment of her whole life,” almost “religious” when Sally “stopped; picked a flower’ and “kissed her on the lips”. Virginia Woolf’s book explores the ecstasy of kissing a woman and the temporality of this experience as it quickly dissipates later when they both conform to societal expectations of domesticity, being married to men and having children. Is this thus an accurate and suitable picture of bisexuality? And is, more broadly, bisexuality given the attention it deserves?

The notion conveyed by these characters seems to be that bisexuality is ultimately futile and only a fleeting moment of sexual excitement that will fade, and that it is something beyond society’s norms; deviant if you will. The concealment and ultimate suppression of these desires to live out a domestic feminine role indicates that the attention paid to bisexuality in literature is limited and oppressive due to fear of being judged by society and being an outcast. Then, bisexuality is something aberrant that should be suppressed and corrected. It is seen as a liminal phase in which one experiences these impulses before transitioning into conventional normalcy. As Marshall argues in their journal by referencing Butler:

The fear of homosexual desire in a woman may induce a panic that she is losing her femininity, that she is not a woman, that she is no longer a proper woman, that if she is not quite a man, she is like one, and hence monstrous in some way.

Therefore, relying on this hypothesised explanation, bisexuality is represented in literature as a succession of liminal feelings that must be suppressed and then finally converted owing to the cultural construct of what a woman should be. Accordingly, women are unwilling to express their bisexuality and hide it because they are afraid of going against social conventions of femininity and becoming an outcast. As a result, a somewhat poisonous ideology is established in which to exist in society and live a peaceful life, you must be precisely what society instructs you to be. Moreover, due to society’s fear of abnormality, merely momentarily addressing bisexuality in literature and depicting it as a deviant trait that should not be shown externally makes sense. Therefore, we can conclude that the portrayal of bisexuality is not fully realistic in a contemporary sense because people are more openly bisexual nowadays, but it may be an accurate representation of the past and a reflection on society’s construction of normalcy and the repercussions of not being that.

As Virginia Woolf examined in “A Room of One’s Own,” an essay arguing that for women to write fiction, they need a room of their own and money, she simply stated that “women do like women,” which includes herself. Nevertheless, due to society, this conversation on bisexuality is merely a side remark and is only alluded to, never completely addressed, and given full attention. As Surya Monro amongst others acknowledges in their article, bisexuality is underrepresented and essentially invisible. So, there is not only an underrepresentation in literature but also a lack of scholars discussing this sexuality.

Image Credit: “Bisexuality symbol (bold, color)” by Kwamikagami is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.