International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is just around the corner. A day created to draw attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics. Today I talk about being bisexual.
With 17 May approaching, I felt it would be fitting to talk about an issue that I, as a bisexual woman, am affected by Bisexual Erasure. Having been victim to my own fears of others’ prejudice, I understand that it’s important to raise awareness of this issue and be part of the force to obliterate it.
I came out while in a relationship with a woman. When discussing it with friends and family, I felt compelled to insist that: “I doubt I will ever be with a man again”. Granted, I was hopelessly in love with my girlfriend and hoped she would be my life partner but I realised after the demise of the relationship that this wasn’t the case. I guess I was hoping that, while not saying so, insinuating I was gay would legitimise the relationship and ensure people took my sexuality seriously. Without knowing what the term for it was, I was trying to protect myself from the impact of, but actually partaking in, bi-erasure.
Bisexual erasure (or bisexual invisibility) is the propensity to ignore, falsify, remove and, at worst, completely deny evidence of bisexuality in history, academia and media.
Representation is one of the best ways to raise awareness of marginalised groups. It also gives those from marginalised communities a sense of belonging and self-acceptance. Yet examples of bi-erasure are continually seen within pop culture.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Even with all the dreadful SFX, I’d still happily consume the entire series in a weekend. But, like other fan favourites, there were issues with some of the language and storylines.
Willow was only attracted to men for the first few seasons. Her relationship with Oz was one of the great romances of the show. But then after his death, she gets into a relationship with a witch, Tara, and refers to herself as gay.
If there were clues of her relationships with men being disingenuous, or if she was bisexual, this would be fine. But no, there was no mention of the word or identity.
A cosmo and a cliche
A film I’ve watched many times and, I can’t deny, thoroughly enjoyed is The Kids Are Alright. With a great cast and interesting plot, this film, based on the kids of a lesbian couple, does have a degree of representation.
One of the kids goes looking for their sperm donor father and so, the plot highlights a reality many children from same-sex couples may face. But when ‘gay’ mother Jules sleeps with said sperm donor, it all gets a little weird.
If Jules had previously been attracted to men, or the word ‘bisexual’ had been used, the affair, though illicit, may have made more sense.
This list goes on. From SATC’s Samantha having a three-episode lesbian relationship to Chasing Amy’s lesbian character Alyssa falling in love with a man. There are no shortages of storylines that imply characters consider it easier to deny their attraction to a particular sex than to deal with what it means to be bisexual.
Sexual exploration is also a topic worthy of visibility. I do believe that experimentation is real and valid. But the examples I’ve listed above don’t touch on that subject either. They just ignore a specific sexuality completely.
Bisexual erasure has harmful effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of bisexual people. What makes this pervasive issue worse is that it also permeates the LGBTQ+ community. The term itself is often seen as synonymous with words such as ‘confused’ and ‘greedy’. The fact that bisexual people are being touted as ‘in denial’ can mean they fear being themselves.
There are many myths about bisexuality that feed into bisexual erasure. Having to continually define and legitimise our sexuality is often a burden for those who identify as bisexual. Their orientation is often assumed when in a relationship with a particular sex. This can put pressure on their relationships and can lead to inadequate healthcare.
Accepting that your sexuality doesn’t fit heteronormative standards can be the most difficult experience a person goes through. Before facing the many phobias that society throws at you, before understanding how you’ll navigate dating, before you’ve even fathomed how you might ‘come out’, acknowledging who you are can be a turmoil some people face for a lifetime. And so when you’re unable to see an identity to ‘fit in’ to, it can be torture.
Bringing about change
Bisexuality threatens the status quo. While the LGBTQ+ community have forged a place in society, there are still many factions of it that are ignored and denied. To effect change, we must come together as a community and draw on the strength of allies to put in the work.
Education is important. Sharing reliable information via networks and platforms can help. Highlighting LGBTQ+ definitions will enlighten those who don’t have personal experience to draw on. Giving space to those who do have experience, and want and are able to share their stories is ideal. When you don’t feel you can relate to a person, it’s difficult to empathise. Giving bisexual folk a place on our TVs, in our books, and on our social platforms proves they are human beings like everyone else.
Visibility is vital. The misconception that bisexual folk are ‘confused’ or ‘going through a phase’ is a cliché, when in fact, having a term to identify with has released me and many others from a potential life of confusion.