Our project member Annukka Lahti defends her doctoral dissertation in gender studies “Bisexuality in relationships: a queer psychosocial approach”. Public defence takes place in lecture hall Agora Delta at the University of Jyväskylä on 24th May at 12.00 o’clock.
Her opponent is Professor professor Ann Phoenix (University College London, Institute of Education) and Custos Professor Kimmo Jokinen (University of Jyväskylä).
You can access the dissertation here.
Bisexuality refers to the experience of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of more than one gender. Bisexuality is persistently culturally associated with being only a temporary identity, having multiple partners and being promiscuous. This study explores how bisexuality emerges in contemporary relationships: how it fits, contests or expands normative understandings of couple relationships, which continue to draw upon the discourses of romantic love, marriage and the ideal of finding ‘the one’ who meets all our romantic and sexual needs. In particular, it examines how a sample of Finnish bisexual women, and their (ex-)partners of various genders, negotiate bisexuality in their relationships, and the affective consequences it has for those partners and relationships.
The study draws on a longitudinal set of interviews, which consists of five (originally seven) couple interviews with bisexual women and their partners conducted in 2005, and 11 individual follow-up interviews conducted some 10 years later in 2014–2015. It develops a theoretical-methodological hybrid: a queer psychosocial approach to analysing participants’ relationships talk. This means attending to interviewees’ investments in certain heteronormative discourses and identity categories, as well as taking account of affective, unconscious and excessive aspects of experience, which can be noted by paying attention to affectively intensive moments, thickly narrated passages, tensions and discrepancies in interviewees’ talk.
The analysis highlights how the binary logic of the heterosexual matrix together with the strength of the monogamous norm produce conditions of possibility for bisexualities to emerge in relationships. Through those conditions, bisexuality emerges as a ‘weak’ identity. Given the strength of the homo/hetero binary, bisexual women’s accounts of their desires wavered between this binary, which implied that bisexual women did not easily gain ‘a sense of being’ as a bisexual person in a relationship. Bisexuality often disappeared in normative relationship talk.
The majority of the interviewed bisexual women and their (ex-)partners lived in monogamous long-term relationships. Yet, the women’s bisexuality and the presence of their desires for people whose gender(s) were other than their partners’, often brought the monogamous norm under explicit negotiation. Bisexuality highlighted the typical tension of contemporary relationships: the tension between ‘unstable’ and excessive sexual desire and the wish for a stable and secure (monogamous) relationship. Several of the bisexual women also discussed affective experiences of sexual excess beyond cultural norms about relationships and gender. Excessive sexual experiences often played a propulsive role as women strived to become sexual subjects. Sexuality’s excess thus has the potential to complicate bisexual women’s relationship with norms that dictate how they should be sexual.