Bi-Erasure and Its Damaging Effects
Updated: Oct 30, 2020
Image via SBS.
The standard definition of bi-erasure is the act of ignoring and dismissing bisexuality by questioning its legitimacy. In fact, many people, including the LGBTQ+ community itself, contribute to bi-erasure. Although bi-erasure is frequently overlooked, it must be talked about because of its harmful effects.
When people come out as bi, they are often told “It’s just a phase” and that they are just temporarily confused about their sexuality - that they will figure out their “true” sexuality when they choose between being gay and straight. This belief is detrimental in that since it fails to acknowledge the fluidity that bisexuality has. Bi advocate and author Robyn Ochs's definition of bisexuality is “the potential to be attracted to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time [and] not necessarily in the same way.” This definition recognizes that bisexuality, just like other sexualities, can’t be contained in a “box” because it is part of a spectrum. Bisexuality is different for everyone. People often invalidate bisexuality because its fluidity is viewed as indecisiveness. Research suggests that bi-erasure and the stigma that surrounds bisexuality are major causes of the severe health disparities that bisexuals experience.
Many bi people struggle with the position of not being “straight enough” for the heteronormative community and not being “gay enough” for the queer community. On the one hand, if a bi person is in a straight relationship, their relationship may be perceived as proof that they are following the heteronormative standards, and others believe that this person is straight. On the other hand, if another bi person is in a gay relationship, other people automatically assume that they are lesbian/gay. Essentially, people judge their sexual orientation based on the sex/gender of their partner, which promotes a “black-and-white” mindset since people think that they are either straight or gay.
“Yeah, I noticed that when I was in a straight relationship, a lot of people wouldn’t believe me when I came out as bi. They just told me that I was straight because I was with a boy,” Isabella* reports. “Sometimes, it felt relieving to appear as straight because I didn’t get criticized for it, but then, I had to remind myself that the only reason that I was being accepted was because the part of myself that also liked girls was being ‘concealed’ during my relationship.” She discusses the backlash she received when she started dating a girl afterwards; for her, the day-to-day comments, such as “I liked you more when you were straight” and “Why are you so wishy-washy? Just choose if you’re a f** or not” hurt her the most because they constantly reminded her “that [she] couldn’t be [her] actual self without getting sh*t for it.”
When I was in a straight relationship, and I came out as bi to my boyfriend, he told me that it would be best for me if I just kept it a secret. He told me that I had the privilege of being able to blend in with the rest of society and that I should use it to my advantage. I remember feeling like there was something crushing my heart because he was right; I could just not say anything about my sexuality, but at what cost?
Unfortunately, this type of mindset expressed by our communities is common; it can appear in snarky comments embedded in everyday conversation, and it can also manifest in people’s attitudes, whether that be in the form of disregarding bisexuals because they are just looking for attention or ignoring their cries for help. This mentality results in bisexuals feeling like they are alone in the world while trying to figure out their identity by themselves.
Pride is a word that is strongly associated with the LGBTQ+ community because we aim to be unashamed of our lifestyles, and we will love ourselves and others as loudly as we possibly can. Because of this, we must work together to celebrate bisexuality. September 23, Bisexual Visibility Day, is coming up! Use this opportunity to be an ally by educating yourself on bi-phobia, bi-erasure, and other challenges that bisexuals face. Gently correct anyone who expresses any inaccurate beliefs about bisexuality. Acknowledge when you may say something that contributes to bi-erasure, and believe people if they come out as bi by welcoming their identities, just as you should welcome other queer people’s identities. Hopefully, one day, bi-erasure will be so rare that we won’t be afraid of being ourselves anymore.
*First name changed for privacy reasons
Written by a writer