Reviewed by Kristin M. Brown, PhD, MPA, MSW
I had the pleasure of meeting Surya Monro in the United Kingdom, and felt excited about this opportunity to review her recently published book Bisexuality: Identities, Politics, and Theories. In 2014, we met at the University of Huddersfield where she is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, and Director of the Centre for Research in the Social Sciences, distinguished in her long-time international research and advocacy with sexual and gender minorities. In this review, I share a few highlights from the in-depth analyses presented in her book.
Bisexuality: Identities, Politics, and Theories is based upon Surya Monro’s multinational qualitative and archival research, completed in collaboration with Camilo Tamayo Gomez of Columbia and Ahonaa Roy of India. For the US and India, published and written works related to bisexual life experiences were drawn upon. For the UK and Columbia, 40 contributors participated in interviews. Some research contributors were from within organized bisexual communities, yet some were reached despite not being members of organized sexual minority communities. Contributors ranged in age from 21 to 60, were multicultural and of diverse gender identities, socioeconomic backgrounds, faiths and lifestyles.
Addressed in the Introduction of Chapter 1 is an example of the valuable intercultural framework of Surya Monro’s scholarship:
“Temporality is important for understanding bisexuality, because if the entire lifecycle of an individual is considered, rather than a particular point in that lifecycle, then the likelihood of behavioural bisexuality (sexual desires or behaviours towards other people of more than one gender) is much greater…. The notion of temporal sexualities can be taken further by using the notion of reincarnation…. In an approach to bisexuality that seeks to avoid Western-centrism…. temporalized identities would extend not over the course of one lifetime but many” (Monro, pp. 3-4).
In Chapter 2 on Bisexuality and Social Theory, Monro summarizes:
“Interactionist, queer, and trans theory approaches to conceptualizing bisexuality would not in themselves be sufficient in interrogating the structural inequalities that bisexual people face. Therefore some materialist analysis that explains the structures that render bisexual people marginal is brought into the chapter…” (Monro, p. 56).
Chapter 3 on Intersectionality acknowledges the origins of intersectionality theory in the work of scholars such as Kimberle Crenshaw regarding the life experiences of African descent women:
“There have, recently, been concerns voiced about the transposition of intersectionality theory from its roots in critical race and black feminist thinking to other loci of analysis…. This chapter uses intersectionality approaches which address whiteness and racism…” (Monro, pp. 58-59).
In Chapter 4 on Sex, Relationships, Kinship, and Community, Monro explains:
“…there are some key areas of divergence between the bisexual, and the lesbian and gay, communities. These revolve around several axes; these include… the LG communities as reliant on, and reinforcing of, discrete gender-binary and sexually binary identities as opposed to the bisexual communities, which celebrate sex/gender diversities; and the LG community as primarily mononormative, in contrast to the mixed relationship styles supported by the bisexual communities” (Monro, p. 107).
In Chapter 5 on Bisexuality, Organizations, and Capitalism, Monro presents findings from several studies, stating that
“…both UK and US research to date indicates that there are strong patterns of marginalization, erasure, and discrimination with regards to bisexuality, and that this impacts negatively on bisexual employees and perhaps the organisations within which they work” (Monro, p. 119)…. “however… some bisexual people experience supportive workplaces” (p. 131).
In Chapter 6 on Bisexuality and Citizenship, Monro summarizes complex concepts:
“Both universal and particularist approaches to bisexual citizenship are useful… Universal approaches can be used to support claims for fundamental human rights, whereas particularist approaches are needed to tackle bisexual erasure, invisibility, and biphobia” (p. 154).
In Chapter 7 on Bisexuality, Activism, Democracy, and the State, Colombian contributor Liliam is quoted:
“For me, if you want to have a bisexual identity, you have to overcome three closets… gays and lesbians say all the time that you have to ‘come out of the closet’ and be proud of your sexual identity, but for bisexuals, we have to do a step more… the first closet is with yourself, recognize you as a bisexual; the second closet is with the Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender community, because sometimes they can’t accept you as a bisexual and it’s really difficult to try to construct your bisexual identity when non-heterosexual people, ‘your friends’ judge you all the time; and finally, with the society in general”
(Monro, p. 161).
Bisexuality: Identities, Politics, and Theories is a groundbreaking effort to bring bisexual theory into scholarly discourse and literature, building upon and expanding earlier social theories. While grounded in the context of historical scholarly frameworks, Bisexuality: Identities, Politics, and Theories is accessible to a wide range of readers, illustrated throughout with interesting quotations by scholars and research participants. Each chapter concludes with a concise summary, highlighting the main ideas.
The comprehensive bibliography, compiled with assistance from Antony Osborne and Anna Fry, is a valuable resource provided in this book. Surya Monro acknowledges the earlier work of exemplary scholars of minority well-being including Robyn Ochs, Beverly Greene and William Jeffries (US); and Meg John Barker, Christina Richards and Helen Bowes-Catton (UK). Also cited are the scholarly works of their colleagues and other seminal scholars such as F. Serrano and Maria Cecilia Zea (Colombia), A.V. Ravikumar and K. Anil Kumar (India); Sarah E. Rowley, Brian Dodge, Paula Rust, Ronald Fox, Beth Firestein and Kathleen Morrow (US); Diane Richardson, Claire Hemmings and Susan George (UK), as well as many other notable scholars.
Surya Monro’s contribution is necessary for a more holistic understanding of humanity. This book would be of interest to all social science scholars and historians, is essential for skilled, competent clinical practice and will serve as a source of empowering information for sexual minority communities and organizations.
Surya Monro’s book can be ordered in hardcopy or as an electronic book from Palgrave: http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137007308
You can also access the book today, on Amazon Kindle!
Reviewed by Kristin M. Brown, PhD, MPA, MSW. Dr. Brown completed a cross-national research study “The Voices of African Descent Bisexual Women: Experiences Related to Identity and Disclosure, in Social Support Networks and Health Care Settings, in the United States and United Kingdom,” in 2014, with forthcoming publications.