Who are the black sheep of the black sheep? One could say bisexuals, members of the LGBTQIA2S community routinely expected to prove their own experience and sexuality against the doubts of others. Sometimes even others within the community. This is bullshit.
Wikipedia defines bi erasure as: “The tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or re-explain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, the news media, and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include the belief that bisexuality itself does not exist” (Don’t give me shit about Wikipedia, it’s as reliable as Britannica these days).
What does bi erasure look like in practice?
I spoke to Annabelle Fushisus, a third-year English student who identifies as bisexual. We spoke both about her coming out as bisexual and her own experience of erasure.
Fushisus spoke about how dangerous it was to come out and the physical and verbal abuse she faced because she dared to be honest with herself and the world. She believes it’s nobody’s business who she does and doesn’t sleep with. If she says she’s bisexual then she’s bisexual, no ifs ands or buts.
“You are bi enough”
Queer writer Zachary Zane explains this phenomenon better than I can in his article for the New York Times. He writes, “Bisexuality doesn’t imply an equal attraction to men and women (not to mention nonbinary folks). It’s not based on sexual behaviour (virgins still know they’re gay, straight, bi, or something else). And bisexuals are still bi when in a monogamous relationship.”
Fushisus’ experience sounds like the harassment I was used to hearing about from other LGBTQIA2S individuals. Many experience abuse in response to gender identity or sexuality.
Zane explains in his NYT piece how on top of the abuse LGBTQIA2S people face, bi people also often have to prove their own sexuality. He writes, “If we [bi people] decide to come out, we may then have to ‘prove’ we’re bisexual in the eyes of others by pulling up a résumé of everyone we’ve dated, loved and had sex with.”
Contrast that against most people’s conception of heterosexuality.
I assume most middle school boys are thought to be straight, despite the fact they’ve never seen a breast other than their mother’s.
The nature of our heteronormative culture is that straight is the default. So, the loneliest 40-year-old virgin in the world is still considered straight. But a young woman who breaks the heteronormative mould needs to actively prove her own desires to the world to have her sexuality taken seriously. And the world says “get effed bisexuals”, literally and figuratively.
It’s a default in society. One that’s still an ugly part of my own internalized perspective. Without meaning to, I often seek to determine which gender a bi person prefers, or is “really” attracted to. I unconsciously force someone into boxes I’m used to and contribute to bi erasure myself.
Fushisus called me out on this when I sent her the first draft of this article.
“You picked up on one detail of my life and ran with it, and ignored everything else I have said. I don’t think you did it maliciously or even knowingly,” said Fushisus.
That was a much-needed wake-up call. Since then I’ve pulled out that specific detail she was referring to. She was right and it’s bloody embarrassing. In an attempt to lift bi voices, I unconsciously appropriated their voices to make my point.
Kids and sexuality
Fushisus spoke to me about how her bisexuality interacted with her own body (no, not that way you sickos). She described her experience learning she was infertile. I asked what that had to do with bisexuality.
“It’s a woman thing I think. It’s so expected that you have kids, I can tell you exactly how many kids my girlfriends want to have,” said Fushisus.
She went on to explain that although she was questioning her sexuality before she knew she was infertile, she knew she was expected to have children with a man.
When she found out she was infertile, it caused her to re-evaluate her sexuality. She now knew there was no way for her to fulfil the expectation of motherhood in the traditional sense. Perhaps that seems like an arbitrary line (it did to me), but she further explained that once that structure of her life was broken, she could finally be honest with herself.
There was no way she was ever going to have a white picket fence with a small horde of mini-mes running around. Not ones she gave birth to naturally, anyway.
Once that future was shattered she no longer needed to hedge her bets and felt comfortable enough to come out to herself and other people. Unfortunately, these people then proceeded to, on far too many occasions, be complete and utter jerks to her.
Confused or misunderstood?
Thomas York wrote a paper examining bisexuality and it was eye-opening. York writes, “Bisexuals can be seen as confused about their sexualities and as untrustworthy to romantic partners … prejudice comes in part from people discounting the authenticity of bisexuality and wanting to know a bisexual’s ‘true allegiance.’”
Shwacked, absolutely shwacked. Yeah, it’s that drunk. Zane suspects this skepticism of bisexuality comes from people not knowing bi people who are publicly out in their own life (even though 54.6 per cent of LGBTQ+ people are bi). He writes, “But there’s power in visibility. And if more of us come out, our role models will soon include more neighbours, family members, friends and colleagues.”.
Role models are important, it’s a very real matter of life and death. York’s research found that people who were bi or identified as something other than strictly lesbian or gay were more likely to struggle with self-harm. He writes, “There is no beating around the bush here; young non-monosexual people self-harm at higher rates than their gay counterparts because they are bullied for being attracted to more than one gender.”
Understanding ourselves and others
Guidance counsellors and community leaders are great and everything, but sometimes just knowing that Phil down the street or Susan at church is bisexual could show young people it’s possible to live openly and confidently with their sexuality.
I strongly recommend reading Zane’s I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This, but You Are Bi Enough and York’s People Erase my Existence, published by the New York Times and The British Psychological Society respectively.
It’s a harsh world we live in. Do your best to reduce harm.
Remember, as easy as it is to place people into conventional categories (which I’m frequently guilty of myself), those people all have their own unique experience that deserves to be recognized.
Be patient, know you can never fully understand experiences that aren’t your own and try to learn as much as you can.