Look Both Ways Bisexual Politics

Jennifer Baumgardner

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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For author and activist Jennifer Baumgardner, bisexuality has always been more than "the sexual non-preference of the 90s," and in Look Both Ways she looks closely at gay and bisexual people on the national cultural stage and the issues their growing visibility raises, particularly for younger women navigating the murky waters of identity. In a society that has supposedly grown more open and accepting in the wake of Stonewall, women's liberation, and AIDS activism, bisexuality continues to be marginalized by both gay and straight cultures, often dismissed as either a phase or a cop-out. With intimacy and humor, Baumgardner discusses her own experience as a bisexual and the struggle she has undergone to reconcile the privilege she's garnered as a women who is perceived as straight with the empowerment and satisfaction she's derived from her relationships with women.

Part memoir, part pop-culture study, part feminist theory, Look Both Ways connects the prominent dots of a bisexual community (Alix Kates Shulman, Ani DiFranco, Rebecca Walker, June Jordan, and Anne Heche) that, Baumgardner argues, has bridged feminist aims with those of the gay rights movement—and discusses what that means for all women. Look Both Ways contends that the phenomenon of "straight girls who date girls" actually has its roots in women's fundamental instinct toward liberation. A compelling and current study in bisexual lives lived quietly and loudly, Look Both Ways is an exploration of the lessons learned and the freedoms gained by writers, artists, and activists who have refused the either/or paradigm defended by both gay and straight communities.


Praise for Look Both Ways

"Warm, unpretentious and funny . . . [Baumgardner's] arguments for sexual complexity and openness are compelling as are her claims that bisexual experiences can supply a kind of stereotype vision."—Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, Salon

"Revealing, smart, titillating . . . Look Both Ways [cuts] straight to the heart of many young women's fraught relationship to both feminism and their own femininity."—Jessica Clark, In These Times

"Contending that increasing numbers of women are coming out of the closet of single-gender relations to embrace their own diversified desires, Look Both Ways documents an emerging sexual consciousness that builds on the feminist dream of a better world. According to Baumgardner, bisexuality is the hallmark of contemporary feminism. We couldn't agree with her more."—Tikkun

"Baumgardner . . . makes plenty of astute observations about the intersection of bisexuality and feminism, particularly how bi women bring 'gay expectations' of equality, respect, and sexual fulfillment to their relationships with men."—Ann Friedman, Mother Jones

"Baumgardner's Look Both Ways is a jaunty, fearless, personal and political look at bisexuality today. Because she knows that sex is a way we communicate, not just procreate, she gives us a glimpse of a freer future in which sexuality is less about who is talking and more about what is said."—Gloria Steinem

"Look Both Ways is at its best when Baumgardner zooms out for the big picture. She sets up a beautiful dichotomy between herself (as a representative of young feminists) and the late, great Ellen Willis (representing the old guard) . . . Baumgardner shines at the center of this book as a titillating, thoughtful, and refreshingly earnest model of that kind of engagement. Look Both Ways is about exploring and expressing the range of attractions that originate within one person—the unlikely and radical marriage of freedom and inclusion."—Courtney Martin, Bitch

"The premise of Jennifer Baumgardner's Look Both Ways is an important one: agents for social change whom gender activists love to hate but whom we disavow at our own peril by overlooking, among other things, the boon of their advantageous proximity to men and, thus, the instruments of patriarchy itself . . . Look Both Ways is a necessary read for those looking to expand their understanding of both bisexuality and the contribution of Third Wave feminism."—Rebecca Walker, Bookforum

"In her new book, Feminsta supreme Jennifer Baumgardner traces the roots of her bisexuality and explores the ways in which it has informed her perspective on politics, activism, writing, feminism, and the world at large. Part memoir, part cultural critique, Look Both Ways is a sharp, entertaining read thanks to Baumgardner's penchant for witty self-references and personal anecdotes."—Bust

"[Baumgardner's] own experiences as a bisexual woman serve as the often amusing and always engrossing backdrop for an in-depth examination of its place in our culture . . . Baumgardner's voice remains as compelling as ever, not only because she writes with the candor of your closest friend, but because she herself appears to be learning and questioning along with the reader."—Nylon

"In a time when the powers that be are closing borders, narrowing our thinking and sexuality, Look Both Ways is a brave and celebratory call to open to complexity, to live in the questions, to surrender to the non-PC world of desire, to become sexual nomads."—Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues

"From the personal to the political, Baumgardner speaks about bisexuality with honesty, eloquence, and authority. This interesting and contemporary book deserves a spot on every tuned-in woman's bookshelf."—Cathi Hanauer, author of Sweet Ruin and editor of The Bitch in the House

"I can't believe it's nonfiction! From subway to bathtub and back again, this book reads like a great novel."—Kathleen Hanna, activist and musician, founding member of Riot Grrrl

"In Look Both Ways, Jennifer Baumgardner elucidates the pivotal—and too often unacknowledged—role that bisexual people are playing in America's social awakening. Deriving her own inspiration from renegade truth-tellers like Ani DiFranco and June Jordan, Baumgardner unleashes a gentle assault on those of all sexual preferences who would deny the complexity of human sexuality."—Johnny Temple, writer and publisher, Akashic Books

"My god, it's all so complicated! In Look Both Ways Jennifer Baumgardner does a wise and witty job of figuring out the hidden messages and reading them to us in her deliciously cool and contemporary voice: the one that gives us hope for the feminist future."—Vivian Gornick

"Jennifer Baumgardner is the big sister you've always wished you had. She is daring, intimate, and raw. She shows you how normal she is, how normal you are."—Leora Tanenbaum, author of Slut! and Catfight

"Activist Baumgardner's intimate memoir doubles as an exploration of bisexuality in the context of the feminist movement. Like feminism, she argues, bisexuality has freedom at its roots; her title refers not just to looking at both men and women, but also to appearing (i.e., dressing) as either. According to Baumgardner . . . same-sex relationships are very common among women of her generation who identify themselves as straight. The second wave of feminism, she contends, enabled women to experiment with new identities and connect with other women in ways that had not been possible before the 1960s and '70s; through its exploration of gender, it challenged the assumption of compulsory heterosexuality. Once considered shameful and deviant, lesbianism and bisexuality became options that one could choose depending on one's values, politics and understanding of freedom. Baumgardner draws examples from her own life and from the experiences of former girlfriends and other women she has known well, women whose writings she has read and women she interviewed for this work. Her text is replete with references to pop-culture figures, a favorite source being bisexual singer Ani DiFranco, whom she quotes at length. Bisexuality is a chapter of women's history that has been suppressed and misunderstood, the author attests: While gay rights moved to the forefront of society's awareness, the insurgent role of bisexuality has remained relatively invisible. Nonetheless, Baumgardner believes that bisexuality has the potential to further the goals of both feminists and gay activists. This valiant but fragmented attempt to bring a marginalized subject into the light will be especially valuable for women's studies classes."—Kirkus Reviews

"Insightful . . . this cultural study pries open that ambiguous can of worms called 'sexual choice' and looks at it with eyes wide open. Baumgardner . . . discovered her own bisexuality shortly after graduating from college, when she unexpectedly fell in love with a 'girlie girl' co-worker at Ms. magazine, which was, significantly, the first place she 'truly saw women without men as being successes, not failures.' Her story of how she explored her 'urge toward bisexuality as a means to figuring out how to have a satisfying, truly equal and truly intimate relationship' weaves a personal thread through the book. In between, she evokes the heady days of second-wave feminism, lauds Ani DiFranco as the quintessential bisexual of her generation and analyzes the TV heroine Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a powerful, vulnerable, tragic, feminist superhero. Baumgardner controversially argues that bisexuality, especially in younger women, is more widespread than we think, and that recognizing this 'could harness the multiplicity of attraction that Kinsey described' and 'lead to better relationships, both political and sexual, between men and women.' Her insistence that bisexuality has the potential to further the goals of feminism and gay rights challenges the limitations of 'gay' and 'straight.'"— Publishers Weekly

"'Images of bisexuality in ads, on TV, and in erotica reflect the lives of real women and girls—including me,' Baumgardner says, noting that during the last decade she has encountered 'hundreds of girls who have had significant experiences with other women and not simply in order to turn on their boyfriends.' She theorizes that female bisexuality represents an evolution in women's feminist consciousness and sexual freedom. Today's high-school and college students, straight-identified and in favor of gay-straight alliances and clubs, will be the next generation of parents, and they will view these struggles over sexuality 'as bigoted as segregation.' Employing telling details from her own and others' experiences, Baumgardner consistently emphasizes the need for listening to women's stories rather than focusing on the gender of their sex partners. Part memoir, part pop-culture study, part analysis of a bisexual community (including Anne Heche, even), this significant contribution to sociosexual and gender studies helps build bridges from feminism to the gay rights movement."—Whitney Scott, Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jennifer Baumgardner

  • Jennifer Baumgardner, co-author of Manifesta and Grassroots, frequently writes and lectures on feminism, activism, and popular culture for magazines and on college campuses around the country. She lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with her son, Skuli.

  • Jennifer Baumgardner Ali Prince
    Jennifer Baumgardner