Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ladies cast on true blood must love innies and outies

Evan Rachel Wood just recently announced that she's bisexual to Esquire magazine. Evan plays vampire queen Sophie-Ann Leclerq on HBO's True Blood.

Friends of Charlaine Harris' by way of Alan Ball vampire series may remember that it was about this time last year that Anna Paquin (Sookie Stackhouse) also came out as bisexual. What is it about that show that makes it's female stars feel compelled to confess their sexual desire for both men and women? Am I the only person who's wondering if bisexual Evan and bisexual Anna have gotten together? And did Stephen Moyer, Anna's vampire paramour Bill Compton on the show and now real life husband, join in?

But seriously, the reason I mention this story isn't because I have any fondness for Hollywood gossip. Rather, it's because Ms. Wood's announcement is very much a non-story. It's as if she announced she's a vegetarian. Or prefers panties to thongs. And the question is: why?

Immediately she was suspect as unpersuasive for any rom-com leads because no one would buy her on-screen chemistry with a man knowing her off screen sexual preferences. (Though this criticism applies more to Anne Heche, Ellen's former love interest, than to Ellen herself who never really courted rom-com leading lady status.) But Ellen kept at it with poise and dignity and now has one of the most popular daytime talk shows on television. Since then, Rosie O'Donnell, Wanda Sykes, Portia di Rossi (Ellen's current love interest), and others have come out as openly lesbian.

On the one hand, we might say this trail has already been blazed when Ellen DeGeneres became the first widely-recognized actress to come out as a lesbian. Yes, she initially endured a rather savage backlash. Ellen Degenerate, anyone? Besides homophobia, the other major question is how would it effect her career.

So perhaps Ellen's bravery in helping to start a national conversation that resulted in major shifts in America's sexual mores. After all, now Bravo, HGTV, TLC and other cable channels are dominated by obviously gay men giving style advice to both women and straight men. I mean, there's a show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, for heaven's sake. And I did mention that Ms. Wood's True Blood co-star revealed her own bisexuality about a year ago.

But I think there's another force at work here. In loosest terms, bisexual females do not threaten to disrupt the logic of heteronormative phallocentrism. Accordingly, the female body might be the site at which sex happens but sex itself is defined as the penetrative act. The phallus must be present / present itself to institute the order of a sexual encounter. The lack of the phallus in girl-girl encounters relegates those acts as something other than sex since genital stimulation, pleasure, orgasm, while possible in the phallologic encounter, are merely ancillary to the sexual act.

Bisexual females, in other words, don't upset the norm of penis-with-vagina. Dildos, vibrators, fingers, fruits & vegetables, etc. merely imitate the phallus; they cannot displace it. Note here that the penis does not actually need to be inserted into the vagina for the encounter to constitute sex. Oral stimulation of the penis and anal sex between a woman and man suffice when the penis is present.

Not to go too far down a detour, but because the phallus itself is an abstraction, real penises cannot partake of the order of the ideal. They are deficient, not completely present. Men cannot live up to the ideality of the phallus. Such a view has implications for representations of the masculine and theories of porn.

The penis, then, is not merely a sign of the male; the phallus is virility, the masculine, maleness. Sex requires both this presence and the lack, the absence that is the order of the feminine. The presence presents itself into / among / amidst this absence.

Girl-girl is simply the "encounter" between two absences. Quite literally nothing comes from their meeting. On the other hand, the encounter of the duplicated phallus, presence against presence, explains the revulsion at male homosexuality. The presence of the phallus must be ignored, even partially and temporarily, in the encounter. I guess the point is that the problem with homosexual male sex isn't that it's "not sex" but that it's unnatural; it deforms the "natural order" with dual presences instead of presence presenting itself by erupting out of or thrusting into / through absence.

Getting back on track, bisexual women are not an "issue" for heteronormative phallocentrism because nothing, literally no thing, is at stake in girl-girl play. As she still desires the phallus, she does not attempt to displace the centrality of the phallus to the sexual encounter. There may be temporary substitutes but they are admitted to be only poor imitations and lack the present presence of the penis.

These are just theories, ideas that I've been tinkering with for years now. I struggle against the quasi-Freudian implications, essentialism, and ahistorical assumptions of that kind of description. But I've also been studying Foucault's notions of sexuality as a historical construct of discursive practice, a power-effect and not a thing upon which power acts. And just recently I've been working through Victoria Grace's _Baudrilliard's Challenge: A Feminist Reading_ about the overlooked value of Baudrilliard's social theories for feminist critique.

Lastly, some observations about the place of bisexual women in sexual society.

The MFF threesome has been elevated to the status of "every heterosexual man's fantasy." We could explore possible why's of this particular combination of bodies with the above analysis of the presence/absence dyad of the phallologocentric order. A girl who doesn't mind playing with other girls seems more amenable to the "desired" multi-partner play than a girl who doesn't have any physical interest in other girls.

Dan Savage speaks a lot in his podcast about the hostility some self-identified lesbians have towards self-identified bisexual women. The view is that these bisexual women are trawling lesbian bars in search of another woman to bring into the bedroom to entertain their male partners. The hostility seems to emanate from two places. First, that lesbians would not mind playing with a man if there is also a woman present. Second, that girl-girl play doesn't constitute a relationship. The so-called bisexual women treat lesbians as a means to attain their heterosexual sexual satisfaction rather than treating them as an end in themselves.

Final thought. I read somewhere a theory that vampires are a symbol of the vagina. The empty space of the mouths, parted lips, the bloody wound left on the neck. But I don't remember what said theory had to say about the fact that the most popular instantiation of the vampire mythology in the Western imagination is Count Dracula, Bram Stoker's mesmerizing blood-sucking lothario.

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