Buy the Bi: Selling Bisexual Chic in the 1970s

Friday, January 6, 2017: 9:10 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center)
Joel Edward Baehler, Kent State University
In May of 1974, both Time and Newsweek published articles on the emergence of bisexuality as a national phenomenon. Newsweek, calling the trend “bisexual chic,” declared “anything goes” within the new sexual trend. These articles generally ignored the political message that fledgling bisexual political organizations were struggling to disseminate. This paper examines the early bisexual movement through the advocacy of activist Stephen Donaldson and how the commodification of bisexuality subsumed the political messages of organizations dedicated to that cause. Donaldson, who co-authored “The Ithaca Statement on Bisexuality” which appeared in the Quaker-published Friends Journal in June of 1972, later noted, “Some of us were perceptive enough to recognize that bi chic wouldn’t last.” While the wider acknowledgement of non-heteronormative sexuality was welcomed, the lack of interest in furthering the bisexual cause rankled many within the movement even as others welcomed potential supporters.  Additionally, those swept up in the current of the fashionable sexuality caused significant difficulties for those who identified as bisexual, as popular portrayals of bisexuality and androgynous fashions were often transcribed onto bisexual activists. This presentation fills a vital gap in the historiography of sexuality in the 1970s by examining the commodification of bisexuality in conjunction with the organizational efforts to generate positive responses to an identity that often was viewed dismissively by both the dominant heterosexual society and gay rights organizations. Though the wave of popularity that bisexual chic experienced subsided nearly as quickly as it emerged, its brief fashionableness suggests a larger trend towards public acceptance of previously proscribed sexual activities and identifications.
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