Stop misunderstanding bi-erasure

Opinions_Bierasure_ Caitlin Childs_flickr

Caitlin Childs/ Flickr

Ailey O’Toole
   Staff Writer

How many times have you heard someone explain away bisexuality as being a stage where the person is just confused or experimenting, or heard someone state that if a bisexual person is involved with someone of the opposite sex, they are not really bisexual?

Maybe you have even been told that bisexuality was invented by men in denial about their homosexuality or by women who will eventually settle down with a man.

These ideas come from a cultural stereotype known as bisexual erasure, the tendency to ignore, re-explain or even deny the existence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media and other primary sources. This thought process tends to arise from feelings of biphobia, although it doesn’t always involve explicit antagonism.

In the New York Times article “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality is Real,” Benoit Denizet-Lewis explains that “bisexuality is systematically minimized and dismissed.”

People often fear bisexuality or deny its existence because it threatens monogamy, as bisexuals are assumed to be non-monogamous. However, that is a generally false stereotype: bisexual people are not typically in non-monogamous relationships.

Kenji Yoshino explains in his legal article “The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure” that heterosexual people are concerned about the perceptions of people about their sexuality if bisexuality is embraced: no longer could a onetime opposite-sex crush be dismissed as unimportant to their sexuality.

This thought limits society’s incentive to change attitudes about sexualities that are not gay or straight; we need to start addressing the heterosexism that is the root of these issues if we are to create change.

Unfortunately, bisexual people do not face discrimination solely from heterosexual people; a large portion of bi-erasure (maybe even more than half) comes from lesbian and gay people.

Bisexuals are often shunned from the LGBTQIA+ community for the same reasons they are discriminated against by heterosexuals.

Another reason lesbian and gay people express bi-erasure is because bisexuality destabilizes monosexual sexualities; bisexuality creates a culture where sexualities are more strongly questioned. This is especially difficult for lesbian and gay people who already experience so much discrimination.

As people are becoming more and more accepting of homosexuality, it is becoming a widespread belief that homosexuality is not action-based in the same way that heterosexuality is not action-based; they are both just are part of who the person is, a part of their identity.

However, it is almost solely bisexual people who hold the same belief about bisexuality; monosexual people tend to assume that a person who expresses bisexuality stops being bisexual when the settle done with monogamous culture. At that point, the bisexual person becomes either straight or gay.

That is neither fair to bisexual people nor accurate; it would be like saying a gay man isn’t really gay because he dated girls in high school before he came out of the closet. How many people do you know that hold that belief? Probably none.

In an interview with Larry King, Anna Paquin, a star of the TV show “True Blood” and an openly bisexual woman, explained her sexuality well when King asked if she was a “non-practicing bisexual” because she was married to a man.

King expressed to her the assumption that she was no longer bisexual, and Paquin gave this retort: “Are you still straight if you are with somebody — if you were to break up with them or if they were to die, it doesn’t prevent your sexuality from existing.”

This goes back to the idea of whether bisexuality is part of one’s identity or not.

This unfounded stereotype is expressed all over pop culture; Madonna, who has referred to herself as bisexual and who has frequently engaged in acts of same-sex intimacy publicly (think her kiss with Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards), is often portrayed as a straight women who dabbles in lesbian imagery solely for shock value.

Why do people think it is okay to tell Madonna what her sexuality is when they wouldn’t do the same to a homosexual person?

Another great example of bi-erasure is in the much-loved and very popular Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black”: the main character, Piper Chapman, has serious intimate relationships both with men and women, but because she is engaged to a man at the time of the show, most refer to her as a “former lesbian.”

Do you think Piper is no longer bisexual because she plans to settle down with a man? I can go ahead and tell you that is false in the same way Anna Paquin doesn’t stop being bisexual just because she married a man.

These stereotypes about bisexuality are so strong that bisexuals are incredibly unlikely to come out of the closet; in a 2013 Pew Research Survey, only 28 percent of people who identified as bisexual said they were open about it. The San Francisco Human Rights Commission even recently referred to bisexuals as “an invisible majority” in need of resources and support.

Categories: Columns, Opinions, Uncategorized

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