Liz Glazer on “Sexual Reorientation”

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Yesterday I had the good fortunate to hear an engaging talk by Feminist Law Prof Liz Glazer (Hofstra).  She was invited by the student LAMBDA organization in connection with our school’s Spotlight on Diversity Week, held annually each year.  Here is the event description:

LAMBDA, Pace Law’s LBGT student organization, is sponsoring a “Bisexuality” discussion on campus about Bisexuality and the law. The bisexual anomaly, where bisexuals are not fully accepted into the gay community and not understood in the straight community, is a contemporary topic that will draw the attention from both the straight and LGBT communities on campus. In addition to these so called societal mores of bisexuality, the community is wholly absent from legal protections as “bisexuals” do not fit within the “gay” or “straight” legal categories created in the law.

Her talk was all that and much more.  Liz Glazer is clearly a gifted teacher.  She had a wonderful rapport with the students and had an audience of students and faculty completely engaged with the topic.  Liz’s current project is “Sexual Reorientation.”  Here is the abstract from SSRN:

Ten years ago, Kenji Yoshino wrote about the “epistemic contract of bisexual erasure,” the tacit agreement between both homosexuals and heterosexuals to erase bisexuals. While the tenth anniversary of the publication of Yoshino’s article is reason enough to revisit the topic of bisexual erasure, the recent storm of same-sex marriage litigation presents an even more pressing reason to revisit the topic.

Lately, it seems more homosexuals than heterosexuals are erasing bisexuals, and more overtly than at the time Yoshino identified the phenomenon of bisexual erasure. Because the fight for same-sex marriage recognition is a fight to fit into the guarded category of marriage, members of same-sex relationships and their advocates have an interest in fitting into a stable sexual orientation category, which bisexuality is not. This Article, at the very least, hopes to make the bisexual slightly less invisible from legal scholarship at a time when the threat of bisexuality, and the erasure of bisexuals, seem to have intensified. More ambitiously, this Article introduces terminology that serves as a first step toward making bisexuals – along with other individuals along the continuum of sexual orientation who are even more invisible than bisexuals – visible.

This new terminology distinguishes between an individual’s “general orientation” and an individual’s “specific orientation.” An individual’s general orientation is the sex toward which the individual is attracted as a general matter. An individual’s specific orientation is the sex of the individual’s chosen partner. In many cases the two orientations are identical, but for bisexuals who partner with only one person the two orientations necessarily differ. While introducing new words will not solve the problem of bisexual invisibility, it might allow those who have struggled with asserting their bisexual orientations – those who were in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex and later wished to partner with a member of the same sex (or vice-versa) – to do so without having to recant their previous relationships. This terminology describes an individual’s sexual orientation with reference to her status as well as her conduct. It also describes her sexual orientation individually as well as relationally. Moreover, in addition to ameliorating the problem of bisexual invisibility, distinguishing between individuals’ specific and general orientations will help to debunk commonly believed myths about bisexuals, bridge the gap between diametrically opposed sides of the stalemated same-sex marriage debate, and clarify the purpose of the LGBT rights movement by broadening the concept of sexual orientation.

A draft of the working paper is available here.  This is a project to watch!

-Bridget Crawford

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