To understand bi-erasure, let’s start with the basics. Bisexuality, as defined by UC San Diego’s LGBT website, is the capacity for emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to more than one gender or sex.
Here’s the thing—there are a few widely accepted definitions, and bisexuality is different for everyone who identifies. Recent findings from the CDC discovered bisexual people are possibly the largest group in the LGBTQIA+ community. Despite having so many people in the community, bisexual people are often the victims of bi-phobia and bi-erasure, which is the prejudice against bisexual people or dismissing one’s bisexuality, according to Queer Grace. And bi-erasure is a very real health threat to the LGBTQ+ community. It affects nearly every part of us, from mental issues to overall physical health.
Very few studies exist solely for bisexual people, compared to the LGBTQIA+ community and fellow members who identify as anything other than cisgender and straight. But from what we know, it’s clear that bisexual people are at a tremendous disadvantage. Almost 20 percent of bisexual people have reported their overall health as either “poor or fair.” Nearly 60 percent of bisexual people report hearing bi-phobic comments, even while at work. Bisexual people experience higher rates of intimate partner violence and rape compared to their fellow members in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Along with this, there is a slew of harmful myths surrounding bisexuality. When talking about myths they’d like debunked, Jenna Slaughter, a self-love coach for the queer community, told me about a big one. “Bisexuality inherently means that you have an equal preference between genders," she says. "This thinking is also super erasing of trans folks and people who live outside of the gender binary entirely. Sexuality, like gender, is a spectrum.”
This deeply resonates with me, as I frequently have my cisgender friends call me 50/50 or try to make me quantify how much I like each gender.
Furthermore, bi-erasure affects both those who are open and those who choose to keep their identity private. While many folks identify as bisexual, a large percentage of people don’t come out. Most of the time, this happens due to overwhelming fear. Ari Antwine, a sexologist and fellow bisexual, told me that this is because bisexual people often don’t feel like they’re enough. “Bi people rarely feel ‘queer/gay’ enough to come out as bi, so we don’t speak up about our own sexuality explicitly; contributing to our own erasure. This ‘un-affirmed bisexuality’ as I call it, is especially true if we have led or are currently in hetero-normative romantic relationships. In short, the hetero-leaning part of our sexuality is both a qualifier and exclusionary.”
In the past, I’ve talked about how I haven’t felt bisexual enough, to the point where I have even lied about who I was dating. I’d tell my male friends that I’ve been with women back in my high school. And then when I said those things, I was fetishized. I had men tell me they could “turn me 100% straight” or ask me to “kiss hot girls in front of them.” This—discrediting, violence, and fetishization—is sadly very common in the community. “Bisexuality can be fetishized as a type of over-sexualized being who is experimental and open to all things sexual, as opposed to being an orientation that involves sexual attraction and does not necessarily connote if one is monogamous or polyamorous,” says Dr. Lori Lawrenz, a clinical psychologist specializing in sexual health at the Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health.
In my experience, when people see you with someone of the same gender, they assume right away that you’re gay. When you’re with someone of the opposite gender, then you’re pegged as straight. It’s a double-edged sword and a situation where you’re rarely seen as who you really are, even by fellow members of the LGBTQIA+ community. "I’ve found that there is a through-line of not feeling queer enough to have permission to show up in the queer community, and also not feeling accepted or seen in the straight community,” Slaughter told me. “This is a special type of ‘gatekeeping’ that we see in the queer community that is inflicting the same damaging ‘this or that’ thinking that was used on us growing up.”
The first time I came out, I was twelve years old and was met with the unanimous response of “it’s just a phase” and “every girl is bisexual now.” Eventually, I found that so many people who also identify as bisexual shared similar experiences when they came out.
To that— let me say this: bisexual people are valid. They are seen, heard, loved, and are not invisible. They’re not confused, lying to themselves, or “stuck in a phase.” Frequently, bisexual people hear the disparaging phrase. “Bi now, gay later.” Nope, bi now and forever.