The rumor is spreading like wildfire throughout the United States. Earlier this week, New York Magazine ran an interview with Hillary Clinton — the first in-depth interview since she retired as secretary of state early this year. During the interview, she said it was likely she would run for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 2016 presidential elections — a matter about which there has been much speculation, of course.
Coincidentally or not, the British newspaper The Daily Mail ran an interview with Gennifer Flowers, Bill Clinton’s alleged former mistress, several days before. During the interview, Flowers said the former president had told her that Hillary was bisexual.
Such gossip would have little importance in a civilized world. After all, what does a person’s sexual preference have to do with their policy decisions? In a truly civilized world, it would not be reported at all, any more than a report that a politician’s heterosexuality would be. But it doesn’t work that way in our far-from-civilized world.
The “rumors,” as they are called — the word “rumor” itself is a charged one — about Hillary Clinton’s bisexuality have been going around for years. Last May, an item even appeared in the American media that Clinton was about to publish a book “admitting” her bisexuality, as some of the reports put it.
That hasn’t happened yet. After the interview with Flowers (who would be well advised to move on, as her alleged affair with Bill Clinton took place more than 20 years ago), Bryan Fischer, a high-ranking official of the American Family Association, “warned” that Clinton would be not only the first woman president, but also the first lesbian president. Of course, that sounds fine, but not for Fischer, who once criticized President Obama’s position on same-sex marriage, making such statements as “Homosexuals do not have a constitutional right to engage in sodomy” and “All men are created equal, but nobody, nobody, nobody is born gay.”
Let’s lay aside, for a moment, the inevitable associations (somehow, it’s always the ones who preach family values who end up getting caught with their pants down in some hotel). It seems that rank-and-file heterosexuals find bisexuality perhaps the most confusing, annoying and threatening of all sexual identities.
It’s an identity almost entirely denied. In a lecture at the An Other Sex conference at Tel Aviv University last year, Shiri Eisner, a prominent bisexual activist, enumerated the common stereotypes and prejudices about it, including the statement “There’s no such thing as bisexuality” and the prejudiced belief that men who identify as bisexuals are actually gay men who choose not to come out. There’s also the statement “Bisexuals are confused; they haven’t decided, or they’re in a transitional stage.” That is a stunningly patronizing statement: if you identify as bi, you’re wrong. According to Eisner (whose book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution was published recently in the United States), some people blame bisexuals for infidelity and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, including AIDS.
Eisner explains these stereotypes by saying that society tries to deny the existence of what it finds threatening. Bisexuality is seen as undermining stability and encouraging skepticism of all things — not only in issues of sexual identity, but also of the continuum of sex, gender and sexual preference, and of social constructs such as patriarchy, heteronormativity and racism. A fear of the undermining of clear boundaries is also involved. Just as bisexuality is often denied, so is biphobia — the fear of it — unlike homophobia, which is recognized.
As far back as the 1950s, Alfred Kinsey showed in his research that human sexuality ran along a continuum, with heterosexuals at one end and homosexuals at the other, and many men and women at various points along it. But 60 years later, it seems that social attitudes have taken one step forward and two steps back. Binarity — the unequivocal opposition between men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, black and white — is a cornerstone of the prevailing social institutions such as patriarchy, nationalism and capitalism. Without a clear distinction that allows the preservation of the existing balance of power, where will we (actually, they) end up?
Even before the question of Hillary Clinton’s bisexuality arose, Americans had been dealing for years with the question of whether she was a feminist and, if so, to what extent. Of course, this is a particularly complex story: a woman of the baby-boom generation and second-wave feminism, the brilliant Hillary Rodham got into the White House as the president’s wife. The first time she ran on her own for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, in 2008, she was defeated by Barack Obama.
Quite a few Democrats, men and women alike, had a tough time choosing between “black” and “woman” as their preferred candidate (conclusion: the presidency needs a candidate who is a black woman; even better if she’s LGBT). The elections campaign at that time was also flooded with sexist comments about Clinton. How unsurprising. During her term as secretary of state, she put the topic of women’s rights throughout the world at center stage any number of times. The topic is an appropriate one in and of itself, but we must also remember that Clinton did so as a representative of a superpower that is involved in quite a few conflicts that have brought disaster upon women as well.
Will 2016 be the year in which the United States has not only a woman presidential candidate, but also — for the first time in its history — a woman president? Is there a chance that the woman who aspires to this important position might risk coming out? If the most important woman in the United States, and one of the most important women on earth, were to do so, it would convey a significant message of encouragement for both men and women to live openly according to their preferences.
But there is small chance that a wise and experienced woman politician with an ambition to become president of the United States, a conservative country, would do so (what is this — Iceland, which had a lesbian prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, without making silly problems about it?). Even if that happens, we should remember that the election of a black president did not help the situation of black men and women in his country; it seems that the hegemonic agencies and institutions are strongest of all. Still, we can hope that developments of this kind, which may not seem all that important in the short term, will accumulate with the years until they bring about real change.
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