Bi-ting my thumb
Bisexuality and Shakespeare… and BiCon
‘I will bite my thumb at them, which is disgrace to them’
Many BCN readers will already know that I write and do research on bisexuality and Shakespeare. I’m not so much interested in what Shakespeare himself got up to (although that’s fun to speculate about) but I’m very interested in Shakespeare as a cultural phenomenon and how his works and words impact on modern day bisexuals. At the moment I’m investigating how Bi spaces (like BiCon) might relate to aspects of Shakespeare. Until now I’ve found academic environments to be very understanding and accepting. Most of the staff members I meet are enthusiastic and supportive of my work.
But there are pockets of ignorance. I’ve recently been asked by a certain academic why bisexuals need their own spaces, and why they can’t just go to gay or straight spaces depending on which of their ‘personas’ they are using. Somehow I managed to keep calm and explain some of the difficulties faced by bi people in gay space. I also pointed out that my sexuality isn’t a hybrid of two other identities. I don’t have a split personality (or set of ‘personas’), I amwhole, and wholly bisexual – the whole time! (it may not have come out quite so neatly but I think I made my point!)
This same person also said to me that if there was prejudice it hadn’t stopped there being lots of queer people in academia, so they didn’t see the problem. They also said elsewhere that queer people want to ignore ‘empirical history’ (sic) and make everything about sexuality all the time.
There is no such thing as ‘empirical’ history, I wanted to seek them out and say. History is written by the winning, richer and more normative side! And there are more important people in the world than academics. People whose experience of Shakespeare is of a stuffy playwright who was forced on them in school, who may be unaware that some of the most quoted words about love and relationships in the English language come from him, let alone that a lot of those words were to a same-sex subject. I don’t expect all bisexuals to be as enthusiastic about Shakespeare as I am but I do expect Shakespeare scholars to have more of a clue about the social implications of the Bard’s status.
As for creating bi space… The Queering Shakespeare workshop at BiCon 2010 was hugely successful. People liked messing with Shakespeare, and that’s OK. If you’re going to elevate anyone to the status of literary icon, if you’re going to use his words out of context and make him ubiquitous, then he has to belong to everyone. Our workshop involved rope, dildos, suggestive vegetables, condoms and cross dressing. Shakespeare is not an untouchable god figure. He’s there to be played with, and he has a lot to offer the bisexual community.
I’m not going to get angry at any one person for their lack of understanding, but I am going to carry on doing what I’m doing. I’m not going to bite my tongue, but I will bite my thumb.
I do not bite my thumb at you sir, but I bite my thumb.
(quotations from Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene i)
In May 2011, Kaye gave a talk about Shakespeare workshops for bisexuals at the Demystifying Public Engagement Conference at Newcastle University (run by PEGS – Public Engagement in Gender and Sexuality): see www.pegsuk.org for info.