The Vicious Cycle of BI-Erasure
Bisexuals are not confused, greedy or in denial. Bi-erasure is harmful and one of the biggest threats to the entire LGBTQ+ community. We should all strive to end it.
How often have you asked anyone how did they know they were straight or cisgender? I know I never have. Being straight is not something we question or have to come to terms with. From a young age, we are exposed to heterosexual relationships, binary gender roles and we grow up expecting to be attracted to people that have been assigned the opposite gender to us.
In recent years the LGBT community expanded to include the ‘Q’ for all queer folk and the ‘+’ for everyone with a non-traditional sexual or gender identity whether they identify as queer or not (e.g. intersex, pansexual, asexual, genderfluid, non-binary and many more). For some, the ‘+’ also acknowledges the support and aid of straight allies.
This addition is extremely important because it recognises that gender and sexuality can be fluid. It moves away from the binary of female/male and straight/gay and introduces a myriad of possibilities that allow people to express their individuality.
“But I don’t care what people do in their bedroom!” Good. It would indeed be weird if you did. However, what people do in their bedrooms (or wherever else they have sex) is only a small part of someone’s sexual and gender identities. Straight cisgender people get to express their identity daily without even recognising this privilege. This is because the world is built to accommodate this expression. The way we present ourselves, the way we dress, the way we walk, the way we dance and the way we behave are all ways in which we express our gender and sexuality.
"Bisexual men may be deemed gay, but in denial and bisexual women are referred to as “curious straight girls”. A view that is not only bi-phobic, but sexist too."
Before the addition of the ‘Q’ and the ‘+’ and back when the ‘T’ only really represented binary trans folk, the only fluid identity represented in the name of the LGBT community was bisexual. Yet bisexuality is less often described as sexual fluidity and more often than not bisexual folk are labelled according to their current partners. Previous relationships or experiences are deemed ‘experimenting’ or ‘a phase’. Bisexual men may be deemed gay, but in denial and bisexual women are referred to as “curious straight girls”. A view that is not only bi-phobic, but sexist too. What’s worse is that this erasure of bisexuality is not only imposed on us by mainstream society, but by many people within the LGBTQ+ community. If you are in a hetero-passing relationship you will be treated as straight and if you call people out on it you may well be dismissed. After all, you are in a straight relationship. Right? Wrong.
"Even if you are monogamous you don’t suddenly lose the ability to feel sexual attraction towards others."
A straight relationship is one where both partners identify as heterosexual. If the partners are, or at least appear to be, of opposite genders, but they do not identify as heterosexual, then the relationship is hetero-passing. I hear you. You don’t care. The bottom line is the couple appears straight, they don’t face issues of discrimination and talking about their past experiences only reinforces the homophobic idea that being gay is a choice. But is this the bottom line or have we allowed it to become that? Moreover, it’s not only their past that makes a person bisexual. Are we really going to pretend that when we are in a relationship all attraction to other people stops? Even if you are monogamous you don’t suddenly lose the ability to feel sexual attraction towards others.
I have no intention of denying that a hetero-passing couple enjoys certain privileges a homosexual couple does not. That would be ludicrous. But we must acknowledge that a lot of those privileges are available only under the condition of pretending to be straight. Most people who identify as LGBTQ+ would have found themselves in a position of having to pretend to be someone they’re not. At best it’s an inconvenience, at worst it can lead to depression and even suicide. Bi erasure has created a vicious cycle which unless we break we are dooming the LGBTQ+ community. It is extremely important to talk about how normal being on a spectrum is. There are countless people on the spectrum and even outside of it that force themselves to fit in one of two ends to be accepted.
If we want to get it into people’s heads that being gay is not a choice we need to accept that being bisexual doesn’t mean you have a choice of which gender you end up with. If we want people to accept binary trans folk we shouldn’t silence or dismiss anyone who identifies as genderfluid, non-binary or those not interested in “passing”. We should make it clear that all these are possibilities – not options, but possibilities. And they are all equally real and equally valid.
When we erase bisexuality either by dismissing it or by forcing ourselves to live as either gay or straight when we are not, we are building a wall between the LGBTQ+ community and mainstream society. When this is the example we set for younger people questioning their gender and sexuality, we confuse them even more. I remember dismissing being trans-masculine because I felt good in my body and enjoyed aspects of femininity. I remember dismissing being lesbian because I was attracted to men. I was not allowed to explore the possibility of being on a spectrum both sexually and gender-wise. Had I not eventually discovered that, I would not now be in a position to offer that opportunity to younger generations.
"...we can end this vicious cycle once and for all and the whole world can finally accept that being queer is natural."
Bisexual and pansexual people in hetero-passing relationships have a responsibility. I am not suggesting we need to put ourselves at risk nor talk over less privileged queer folk. However, we hold a responsibility to break the vicious cycle of bi-erasure by giving up our privilege whenever possible. We owe it to our younger selves, we owe it to the rest of our community and we owe it to the next generation. Likewise, the rest of the community and straight allies need to honour the ‘B’, the ‘Q’ and the ‘+’. Allow us to be who we are and not dismiss us so that we can end this vicious cycle once and for all and the whole world can finally accept that being queer is natural.