Bi Erasure and Biphobia: Two Sides of the Same Coin
It was recently Bi Visibility day and as part of a Bi.org challenge, I was one of many in our community to change my Facebook profile picture to this now iconic purple ‘Bi’ square symbol. I didn’t receive any mean comments, but no doubt some people might have thought ‘Do you really have to tell us again?’ Yes, yes I do. Because we as bi people are still discriminated against, mocked, invalidated and made invisible. It is more important than ever to say: I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it. Biphobia and bi erasure are very real and hurtful.
It is not just overt biphobia which harms us bi people, but also bi erasure. The fact that both of these still exist in 2016 is astonishing. How can it be that humanity has invented the computer, sent people into space and made so many scientific and medical advancements, yet some people simply cannot understand that I am attracted to more than one gender? (I mean, as the saying goes – it ain’t rocket science.)
Here are some instances of bi erasure and biphobia I have experienced recently:
I was watching my favourite British soap opera, Coronation Street, when one of the show’s lesbian characters, Caz, developed feelings for her straight friend Maria and told her about these feelings. Maria’s reaction was ‘I’m not gay! I’m 100% straight!’ As a bisexual woman, I instantly said: But you don’t need to be gay to be attracted to the same sex. I am disappointed that the Coronation Street screenwriters have completely erased my sexuality despite there being gay, lesbian and trans characters on the show. Am I being pedantic? No. A bi youth (or indeed older person) who has not yet come to terms with their sexuality, like myself less than a year ago, would think: ‘But what if I’m not straight or gay? What am I? Am I normal?’ and by giving such lines to characters, screenwriters are emphatically erasing our sexuality and saying: ‘No, you are not normal’. But let me tell you, bi people who have not yet come to terms with who you are or come out of the closet: You are normal. You do not have to be either straight or gay. Bisexuality exists, and is valid and real. You are normal and loved, and deserve to be visible.
Amazingly, it isn’t just unknowing screenwriters (though as a screenwriter, you should definitely know about different sexualities, ethnicities and so on) who erase our sexuality, but even the so-called experts. For my Master’s in English Literature this past year, I took a module called Gender, Sexuality and Culture, which I had also done in my undergraduate degree. I was reading an essay by a key theorist in Sexuality studies, and came across a sentence talking about ‘gay and lesbian writers’ producing queer literature. I instantly thought: But what about bisexual writers? Trans writers? By not including bi and trans writers, this acclaimed Sexuality theorist effectively erased the B and T from LGBT, and made us bi and trans people feel unwelcome. The same goes for things like ‘Gay and Lesbian Guides to [insert country name]’. It is not only biphobic, but transphobic too. Why not say ‘LGBT+ Guides’ and include all of us?
Recently, I went on a speed dating event for ‘lipstick lesbian (femme) and bisexual women, or women who like women’. I was really pleased that my sexuality had been acknowledged in the event title. I went along, unfortunately didn’t find love, but made a few friends. One person asked me: ‘So what was your last relationship like?’ and I began saying how my last relationship hadn’t worked out because of our differences, and the new friend asked ‘So she wasn’t the one?’ and I said ‘He wasn’t the one for me, no, but after him I met another guy’. Everyone in the group went silent. I didn’t say anything, just carried on having my drink. Later, another new friend asked about my experiences with women. I said that I unfortunately had not yet been with a woman. She said ‘Aww, bless you, but you know you’re gay’ and I said ‘Actually bi’ and there was another awkward moment. This isn’t biphobia, and it’s fine to assume I’m lesbian or straight, but when I tell you I’m not then it shouldn’t really make the conversation awkward. It shouldn’t be the elephant in the room.
Dating itself is a struggle sometimes. I recently signed up to a very popular dating site, Match.com. The first question the site asks me is to choose one of the following options about who I am:
A woman seeking a man
A man seeking a woman
A woman seeking a woman
A man seeking a man
This erases our sexuality too. Why must I limit myself to one gender when I am attracted to multiple genders? There should be an option for those of us seeking a person from any gender. At least Tinder gives you the options ‘Men’, ‘Women’ or ‘Men and Women’. Much better than Match.com. But what about non-binary people? Their gender is valid too, just as my sexuality is. Remember that bisexuality itself is an umbrella, with some bisexual people being attracted to only men and women, and others like myself to men, women and non-binary people. The ‘bi’ in bisexuality is not binary and is not limited to two genders, but really means ‘two or more genders’, which is why those who prefer the term ‘pansexual’ are still under the bisexual umbrella. But I digress.
I gave up on Match.com, because it was too annoying to search for women one day, and men the next. Straight and gay people don’t have to change their settings constantly, so why must I? Why can’t I be shown people of all genders?
Even then, we won’t necessarily be accepted. I’m on ‘Her’, a dating app for queer women. I have seen quite a few profiles of lesbian women with the following written: ‘Lesbians only, no bisexuals or bicurious women’. That’s hurtful. Imagine if bisexual women wrote ‘Bisexuals only, no lesbians’? That would be horrifically discriminatory. And so is writing ‘No bisexuals’.
Another thing that feels like bi erasure is when monosexual (straight/gay) people say about a person of the gender they aren’t attracted to: ‘Ooh, if I were gay, I would…’ or ‘If I were straight, I would’, as if there’s no in between and as if they would have to renounce one gender for another. Something in my head always says, ‘Or if you were BI’ and sometimes I’ve said it aloud.
Please, non-bisexual people, don’t erase my sexuality. We exist, and we deserve respect and acknowledgement like everyone else.