The Problem of Bi-Erasure

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It’s been a long road to acceptance for bi-sexuals

September 23 is National Bisexual Day

Even today when more of us recognize that someone’s sexual attraction can evolve over time, and that there is a wide spectrum of sexual identities being recognized, there remain people who are binary and only think on the gay side and on the straight side of the spectrum and who want to deny that there is something in between: bisexuality.

For most straight folks, the moment they learn a so-called “straight” man has had any form of sex with another man or even felt an attraction for one, he is closeted gay, period. For some gays, if a so-called “gay” man has sex with or feels an attraction for a woman, he is lying or trying to keep a foot in heterosexual privilege. In these people’s opinion (who tend to be over 40) there is only this binary view of sexual identity, and there’s no such thing as a bisexual.

The opinion is common enough that too often I hear bisexuals complain of experiencing “bi-erasure,” that their bisexual orientation is not valid or nonexistent. Often people see only what they want to or are enculturated to see. This runs so deep in our culture that women who have a lesbian encounter are often fetishized, especially by men. I once asked someone over dinner what they call a one-time lesbian encounter, and he said, “I call that college.” And yet if a man has a homosexual encounter even once, he is stigmatized as being gay.

Tribal identity

The strong resistance in both the gay and straight communities to considering bisexuality is, I believe, attributable to our tendency to strongly identify with the values and ideas of the community in which we are an accepted member. I call it tribal ego or tribal identity. If tempted to step outside of this bubble with our words or actions, we are at serious risk of being upbraided or even cast out of that community.

I’ve had many bisexual men and women in my office crying because when they revealed they were bisexual they were immediately cut out of the queer culture in which most of their friends lived. Their home culture is the LGBT community, but the lesbian and gay communities see them as trying to keep a foot in heterosexual privilege, so they aren’t allowed to choose their own community. You can understand how this social agreement, however unconscious it may be, prevents all but the bravest souls to really examine their desires and attractions.

Let’s get real

It’s long past time for us to awaken to the complicated sexual beings that we are, and to recognize that it is not up to any of us to determine what a person’s label should be. No one but that person has the right to call himself or herself whatever label he ultimately chooses.

I hold out hope that the stigma about and prejudices against bisexuality will one day disappear, and we can all learn to accept reality.

The Problem of Bi-Erasure was originally published in Modern Sex Therapy Institutes on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.