Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Bisexuality and the Culture of Professional Philosophy

By Christina Rawls

“Feminist blogging is basically the 21st Century version of consciousness raising.”
Courtney Martin, Feministing

At the start of the film The Lobster, we learn that the protagonist enters a surreal world of dating and science fiction. After a painful divorce, he takes his dog and enters a strange, new program. He is to search for a mate, without which he will be turned into a lobster within weeks. Upon entering the ‘program’ he is asked to choose his sexual preference. Here’s the problem: there are only two choices, register as homosexual or as heterosexual. After a long pause and a humble request to register as Bisexual, he is denied and selects the hetero default category. Our protagonist is also not permitted to have, wear, or select half shoe sizes either. His choices of attire must include either a half size too large or a half size too small. Overall, the violence of the film disturbs. It’s not for me, but the lessons are interesting and the logic useful: we are a dominating species of binary preferences by conditioning, including the ways we use reasoning to justify our conclusions about Truth. Ironically, this problem is similar to academic philosophy. Some important aspects of what it is to use logical thought get left out depending on one’s preferences in the profession. It’s oddly binary in its Continental/Analytic divides, for example, unless you’re surrounded by philosophers who appreciate intellectual history across the board. It seems like a never-ending story of binary options between acceptable methods for gaining some knowledge. Citing Bernard Williams in a 2015 New York Times article, Gary Gutting wrote that debating philosophy in its usefulness by perpetuating the Continental Analytic divide is like “dividing cars into 4-wheel-drive and made-in-Japan.”

The social justice impulse in our new generations is astounding in its own ways. So many issues of both political and personal import are on the table. None-the-less, the “B” of LGBTQ discussions continues to be left out. There is much violence against the perceived Other coming from all sides. In our war mongering society everyone finds a reason to go to battle with others they disagree with too easily. They pick sides. Luckily, as global citizens we are becoming more aware of the variance and many preferences of human sexuality, at least its all coming back around again. We have more options for ways of being, ways of seeing, knowing, thinking, feeling, and creating. I am aware that as a woman of European-American decent my subjectivity is positioned accordingly, but there is much more to learn from others with different experiences. No one man or woman can have all possible experiences or all possible knowledge.

Today we have the more inclusive, modern acronym LGBTQIA+. According to the urban dictionary, LGBTQIA includes categories for both mainstream and “non-mainstream sexual orientation or gender identity.” The letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual. There are still even more categories, but currently the most common abbreviation relied on in publication and in academia is LGBTQ. Androgeny or gender ambiguity is becoming more socially acceptable again as well, although it’s been around for centuries in various cultures. In addition, higher education, for all its abuses and corporatization, continues to positively transform by supporting, encouraging, or beginning programs and offering courses such as Women’s Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, Queer Theory, and Sexuality Studies, as well as offering majors and minors in GLBT Studies (a more activist oriented label).

I’ve been assured the APA Blog is an educational, safe space so I can disclose that I am what is known as fluid. My bisexuality is complex, unique, and partially socially constructed. It is beyond issues restricted to biology or sexual activity. It is more like “pansexuality” or what is sometimes called “omnisexuality,” but these categories are also not so easily interchangeable, and I am acutely aware of my “epistemic limitations.” I am personally and intellectually fluid yet identify as white cisgender. I prefer to gender identify as a female and I prefer to date gender identifying (fluid) men. Yet, even this sounds oddly binary and confining, sort of like being forced or encouraged to choose between either Analytic or Continental philosophical methods and texts. The binary created between genders is, mostly, an illusion and a social construction, as is the binary between the divide in professional philosophy. American Pragmatism and the Philosophy of Education, for example, can be considered their own categories of philosophical thinking, with methods that do not easily fall into either Analytic (Anglo-American) or Continental (spans the continents) orientations. Philosophy of Art and Film also bridges such divides, as is lucidly demonstrated by John Mullarkey in his work Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image. To comfort myself from the pressure of society’s dominating social norms (and codes) and to take shelter from academia’s tensions, teams, and experiments, I have often fantasized about being a philosophical hermaphrodite, a sort of professor of theoretical and practical intersex.

As a philosopher, I am attracted to many different ideas and texts for intersecting reasons. I do not reduce consciousness to brain science when I work on the hard problem of consciousness, but I am an advocate of incorporating some elements of relevant neurophilosophy into our conceptual schemas. Big data does not scare me because we are not reducible or defined solely by data of any kind, and I can find my truly private spaces when needed. I am a lover of method and intellectual history, therefore, I am not epistemologically indentured to remain within a specific area because of my identity or background, but I do defer to others who are more knowledgeable, well read, or with direct lived experiences I do not or cannot possibly have. I enjoy studying Plato while taking notes in the margins of Nietzsche and Cixous. Simone Weil and Gilles Deleuze check in regularly while I also work on Spinoza’s proto-physics of force and motion as a responsible critical philosopher of race and quasi-feminist (more womanist). From Leibniz to Alison Jaggar and Roberto Sanchez, Memmi to Charles Mills, Rorty to Patricia Hill Collins and Lisa Gunther, there is much philosophy to absorb, research, respond to and teach. That’s the point; I’m always learning how to read, how to take it all up, how to write better, how to creatively enjoy my many preferences as a theoretical hermaphrodite. Sometimes I have been known to lay aside all texts temporarily to the sheer joy of imaginative and rational contemplation. Tapped out like Morse code on my laptop in the virtual space that is my Steppenwolf self, there have been many pen pal letters with friends in the underground with safety during all of graduate school and beyond. To infinity…and beyond. I am a monad kitty!

When asked, I tend to say to others, “I am bi-hetero. You?” I am outing myself on many levels. This blog, for example, is a public forum and I am feeling vulnerable, but we need more public vulnerability and tenderness in this world. I defended for my doctorate in philosophy at Duquesne University in October 2015. I am taking a great risk publishing on this topic so publicly and can almost feel my mentors cringe all the way to and from the Rio Grande Valley, like a standoff between cowboys and cowgirls upon la frontera. Yet, I would like to make another radical confession while I’m at it. I love both Analytic and Continental philosophy and much more, but I am continentally inclined, just like I am fluidly cisgender inclined. These seemingly divergent methods in professional philosophy equally have insights to offer and knowledge to share. My confession is that I’m in love with the omnisexuality of doing good philosophy, and good philosophy doesn’t build walls. It constructs bridges, invents new ink, links virtual tunnels, builds boats. It’s a wonderful place to visit from both sides. It’s never too late…

The study of sexuality as well as academic philosophy, especially in the United States, has been predominantly Western, defined as white and hetero-normative unless taken up specifically within the queer community and related (with the exception that everyone is now reading Foucault and that’s a good thing). Even the analytics are embracing Judith Butler’s intellectual prowess and rigor for philosophizing, but no-one talks about how many graduated as philosophers of women’s and gender studies decades ago at the University of Pittsburgh (which they did and do quite often). Why? We’ve known that Critical Philosophy of Race and Chicana Feminism are real philosophies for decades now, but are they taught in your average introductory philosophy course? As another example, Indigenous Epistemology is alive and well. Leanne Simpson was the keynote at this past year’s annual National Women Studies Association conference. Some of my tenured colleagues teach Illich too. What a revolution!

We’re at a turning point: less abstraction, more practical, contemporary rigor; less arguing about who has the best method and discrimination in professional philosophy, more fearless listening and creative experimenting. We read the great books, the classics from the Pre-Socratics through Augustine, Kant, and Wittgenstein. We always will, but George Yancy’s philosophy and edited anthologies should be read by all sides today too. Yet, oddly, some dominant trends in the philosophy of formal logic leave out studying Hegel’s Science of Logic, as another example. This is a mistake, as anyone who has attempted to take the time to truly understand that work can attest. Even Nic Rescher (of the Rescher Prize) taught Hegel in addition to Leibniz and Kant at the University of Pittsburgh, a well known (analytic) philosophy program that just hosted a weekend long conference on returning to Hegel’s logic in April 2017. That being said, Hegel’s philosophy is also understandably problematic for critical philosophers of race and feminists. I am torn between contemplating the benefits and the critiques of such a text. At times, it debilitates me. I prefer the Science of Logic over the Phenomenology of Spirit, for example, but from my own standpoint…

Feminism’s fourth wave is also upon us. It officially started with the Black Lives Matter movement and perhaps earlier in brown communities with the proliferation of Gloria Anzáldua’s awesome interdisciplinary work Borderlands/la frontera. Queer Studies, the Critical Philosophy of Race, Latina Feminism, Womanism, Philosophy of Film, Food Justice, Spanish Existentialism, Mexican American Philosophy, Philosophy of Technology, Environmental Philosophy and related areas often use methods involving intersectionality that we and our students can and do benefit from philosophically. Deleuze’s body without organs is no longer a laughing matter (as long as you have an excellent historian of philosophy to teach Deleuze, and it does matter). No longer can we avoid the liminal, virtual spaces that exist between subjects and objects, ideas and organs, corporeal sentiments and affects, computer screens and the simulation(s) and atomic gestures. So what can we say about philosophical omnisexuality? My teachers and colleagues are continentally, analytically, and pragmatically trained so one of many responses might include studying more philosophy and using it in public, scientific, and artistic forums combined.

My experience as professionally and personally omnisexual is the happiest, safest, most private space that I know. It often includes a community of thinkers and empathic, informed individuals who cross theoretical borders, a bit of ink on the edge, humbly speaking. I won’t be able to convince you using syllogistic proofs or psychoanalysis, and my graduate school cred waxes and wanes. My whiteness is also (always already) in question. I am a problem for certain circles of philosophy as a woman, as a race theorist, as someone who enjoys various strains of neuroscience, as an artist, as a bisexual with cisgender preferences, as a spiritual metaphysician who loves quantum mechanics, and as a serious philosopher and good teacher. Wasn’t it Herodotus who documented that the Sauromatae horseback riding women dressed as men in ancient times, taking to the field as equals, many a “….man-woman as skilled soothsayers called ‘Enarees’” for better and worse?

As a critical philosopher of race, I try to remain aware of my white privilege daily. I am an ally. I believe sisterhood is de-monstering each other. Yet, as a woman in a sexually binary world that only partially applies to me, embedded within a philosophical world that I tend to enjoy on the level of research and teaching and one of which informs my decisions professionally, I am often asked to choose sides, methods, and major Western figures to work with. This demand is more like an immediate critique with bolted intellectual doors of some gendered kind. I am still viewed as an ‘object,’ an object to be used for labor (former adjunct), for more understanding (part of experiments), as one who cannot decide for herself with trusted legitimacy, rumored as ignorant or ‘out there,’ used for the male gaze, for the lesbian gaze, as a woman with so many competing theories that I am asked to chose from and for institutional, educational profit and so on. Each side and group has differing opinions, and the microaggressions experienced has not been limited to any one opinion, theory, or group, including within LGBTQ community. As the editors of the anthology Finding Out: An Introduction to LGBT Studies write, “Within queer communities, intense debates have raged over who is ‘OK,’ who belongs under the queer umbrella.” In addition, Yale professor Kenji Yoshino has described this problem as one of monosexuality. Monosexuals adhere to strict lives as either homosexual or heterosexual but never both. The authors of the above anthology write, “For Yoshino, monosexuals have much to gain not just by ignoring bisexuality but by actively denying its existence.”

In my more fluid, private moments, wherever I can find them these days (everyone seems to be hacking everyone), I enjoy the contrast created as a Bisexual and as a philosophical lover of many methods and ideas. I enjoy crossing between methodologies, insights, theories, and texts of every kind of intellectual philosophical system, especially of the interdisciplinary kind. I am not afraid to change my perspective upon learning or add to my education when my position is humanely challenged and compassionately undermined. Did I say I need to read more too? Yet, how many of us would change our methods and ways after twenty years of serious work and publications? I am attracted to different personalities, creative ideas, and diverse possibilities in the same way that I enjoy reading almost all philosophers and almost all philosophical texts (especially the pragmatists and philosophers of film consciousness lately). I am attracted to Spanish poets and Spinozists, to philosophy of music and quantum encounters, to virtual cowboys and fellow hermaphrodites. Are my margins still too small? Gender becomes somewhat of a fluid concept and practice when I am at my best, as does my philosophical preferences and methods for thinking and being. I don’t read or publish enough because I am overwhelmed by the infinity of books, by great ideas, by good writing that injects a pause, sometimes too long of a pause, by labyrinths of arrangements in corporeal power and artistic expression. I am debilitated by the beauty of thinking and being and I try to keep up with a very long way to go.

In academic philosophy can still be found a binary system that perpetuates a choice in preference of texts, methods, ways of knowing, and systems that are either Analytically heavy (what is known as ‘real’ philosophy) or Continentally inclined (what is also known as real philosophy). The two groups might want to do yoga together meditating more on each other’s hard work and insights. I know I feel the need to when possible. Deleuze’s Leibniz book, for example, is inspired and brilliant, but you might not know that unless you have had an Early Modern scholar who also reads Deleuze closely (and knows their history of philosophy so to grasp the nuances of the footnotes, for example). This takes time and open mindedness. The same applies to psychoanalysis and its critics or the various types of feminism(s) today. We should be building bridges, as Alice Miller or Martin Luther King, Jr. knew, not veering away from each other as if the binary is an abyss that cannot be overcome. Each side holding sway that they have the most ‘logical’ or best deductions. We need to stop judging each other so quickly and be more generous, vulnerable. Let’s get our minds and bodies moving towards disability studies more often, as another example, and add to our syntax within various sign languages still in need of philosophical terms, concepts, and ways of doing philosophy more inclusively. Professional philosophy is, oddly, able body biased. There are no signs for the deaf, that I know of, of Kant’s transcendental aesthetic or Hegel’s negation of the negation. I wonder what those would look like?! Philosophy matters…as do images in the form of signs for sign language or lack thereof.

Briefly stated, if your philosophical preference is for the methods of Analytic philosophy, on average but not always, you are more apt to believe the world contains Absolute, Objective truths that can be demonstrated by the methods of Aristotelian logic, Western science, or mathematics. This then leads to even stronger scientific and mathematical thinking, generally speaking; to more ‘truths’ of language and logical certainties, so-to-speak. For all its benefits and strengths that I appreciate and absorb, it has its limitations. As philosopher Talia Mae Bettcher recently was quoted in a NYT article addressing the Hypatia controversy regarding scholarship on transgender and transracial issues, Analytic philosophy’s approach is not capable of fully addressing all of philosophy’s questions and topics. Professor Bettcher states, “That’s fine when you are looking at abstract metaphysical questions… But when you start philosophizing about racial oppression or trans oppression or other contemporary social issues, different methodologies need to be employed.”

If you are Continentally inclined, you prefer to think of the world and its relations in terms of power, virtual structures and hermeneutics, shifting contingencies of interpretations over time, of communities of political subjects, of difference, deconstruction, codes, the benefits of creativity in knowledge creation (all sides enjoy creativity, it may be our most stable bridge!), and the invention of new categories and methods for thinking, for feeling, and for Being. Sometimes this area of philosophy succeeds wildly. Continentals break the rules using logic itself. The effects create new harmonies, joy, and wisdom, but how might we apply the rift and preference for binary thinking in philosophy with a world that also perpetuates the false dichotomy between other structural binaries? Both sides are guilty of an aggression towards the Other. If the Western canon, in all its greatness and wonder is still predominately white and male, as another example, then the systems we are perpetuating, the preferences we are inclined to re-inscribe, the methods of thinking we teach our youth etc. are systematically gendered in a limited, racist, heteronormative, philosophically binary way.

What would an omnisexual system of philosophical proto-physics look like? Probably something similar to what I experienced learning from the Pre-Socratic/Aristotelian/Aurelius/Spinozist/Cavendish/Leibnizean/Hegelian/Deleuzian/Fanonean/Beauvoirean/hooks/Foucaultean/hermeneutic and phenomenological, feminist, literary philosophers of history between universities down the street from each other on the avenues of Pittsburgh. Will it harm my job prospects to ask these kinds of questions? Can’t I, in other words, have an active agency as fluidly omnisexual that includes my predominantly heterosexual activities within the same definition without being bullied from either side? God, I hope so. Anzáldua is writing to us from her grave and probably beyond. Gracias Gloria. I had the blessing of studying in the Valley where I can hear her spirit.

I’ll keep finding ways of writing letters to my Analytic and Continental mentors like a “Dear Abby…” column in the public newspaper even if it’s so much more than mere advice sought. They have the best virtual microscopes and collective bodies of affirmative force, but I am a rebel of sorts. I’ll point my letters towards the Analytic, Continental, Pragmatic, and other philosophers who never forget the body’s diverse forms of knowing, the quasi-perceptions that we too often ignore, and our many possible arrangements and configurations with others collectively into larger bodies in motion that include intimate lines and planes of shifting meanings, with our loving pens, textual gestures, close readings, conversations with students and colleagues, computer screens, ink with essay, vegan cakes, private reflections, Kentucky whiskey, and classroom wonder. We think, therefore we are.

 

Christina Rawls has just accepted a job as a full-time Lecturer in Philosophy at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.  Her primary areas of research are Critical Philosophy of Race, Early Modern Philosophy (with an emphasis on Spinoza), and Philosophy of Education.  She published “Code Switching and Synergy,” which appeared in the Public Philosophy Journal in July 2014, and a book review of Spinoza Now (edited by Dimitris Vardoulakis), which appeared in Critical Horizons: A Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory in September 2013.

Editor’s note: The bio has been slightly modified to better reflect the author’s specific publications.

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This series, Philosophy in the Contemporary World, is aimed at exploring the various ways philosophy can be used to discuss issues of relevance to our society. There are no methodological, topical, or doctrinal limitations to this series; philosophers of all persuasions are invited to submit posts regarding issues of concern to them.  Please contact us here if you would like to submit a post to this series.

 

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