Experiences of Bisexual Erasure
Edited by Bethan Collins
Compiled in this article are a range of some anonymous students’ experiences of bisexual erasure and how these experiences have impacted and shaped the way the view and feel about their bisexuality.
Our first student had this to say:
“Bi erasure is something that is important yet may not get the attention that it should. I’ve heard stories of the people who treat bisexuality as a trend or something to look cool, possibly hurting the feelings of people in the process and giving a bad reputation to those who really are bisexual. Unfortunately, this is something that can also be taken advantage of; many a thing can be covered up with a simple ‘I was just curious’ and whilst in some instances it might be true, it can also be hurtful. I can remember times, even back as far as school, where people thought it was okay to do things just because they were curious regardless of if I wanted to or not. It is simple to see that bi erasure can cause a lot more harm than some people may believe. However, with more awareness we can bring down stereotypes such as ‘greedy’, something that has been heard often enough, and prevent the harm that comes with it.”
“When growing up I looked for myself in the media, I wanted to be one of the characters I could see on screen. The girl with the glasses, I could be her. What about the one with the same coloured hair? Yep her too. But I could never find someone who was attracted to the same people as me. The films and TV shows I grew up with didn’t have the representation I needed to feel accepted and “normal”. The closest I came to having the bisexual characters I needed was in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, but even Ramona used the dreaded phrase ‘I had a lesbian phase’. So where was I left to look? The answer came from a surprising place; video games. An industry that had been dominated by men was suddenly a safe space for me and other members of the bisexual community and had been for a long time. One of my first experiences of this was in Saints Row the Third- a third person shooter that was very much aimed at a masculine audience. Yet, I could play as a woman and still complete romance tasks with the female or male lead. And it didn’t stop there, I played more RPGs that allowed me to select different romance options. This wasn’t a new phenomenon in the gaming industry. Dragon Age Origins didn’t limit romance to between just heterosexual couplings with the NPCs in 2009, Mass Effect allowed a bisexual player character in 2007, The Sims added the “open love” feature in 2002. As recently as 2019 the Telletale game The Walking Dead allowed for both male and female romance options in its final series, and 2020’s The Last of Us 2 had the leads romance be a bisexual character.
People I could see myself in were finally in the media. It may not have been in the most conventional place but here it was. I was able to see myself on screen. It can’t be argued that more mainstream media isn’t attempting to catch up. The Boys and The Umbrella Academy in 2018 both contained bisexual characters. Orange is the New Black also had a bi character in 2013, although the term “bisexual” was not applied to the lead until the 89th episode in 2019. It may be a few years behind, and not as prevalent as it is in the video game industry, but other media is catching. Hopefully soon no one will have to settle for “the girl with my glasses” and can instead see “the one who loves like me”.”
A third student had this to say:
“The first time I was attracted to another girl, I was 12. I’d never heard the word bisexual, and while I had some vague knowledge that same-sex attraction was a thing, I grew up in a country where it was illegal and I certainly didn’t know you could like both! All my crushes until then had been on boys, so I wrapped up the new one neatly in a box in my head and promptly forgot about it. When I eventually came out to my friends at 16, I’d managed to come to terms with it without even noticing!
I never had a problem being a girl who liked girls. What I struggled with was the implications of liking both. If, at 12, I had realised that I liked girls and didn’t like boys, I think I would have come out, at least to myself, much sooner. Even today, there are people I haven’t come out to – or been scared to come out to – because even though they’re not homophobic, they ‘simply wouldn’t know how to trust someone like that’.”
The next person had this to say:
“My first experience of bi erasure happened before I had come out as bisexual. I knew since the first year of secondary school and arguably even before that that I wasn’t straight, but it took a very long time to figure out which label felt comfortable. In year 9 my closest friend told me that bisexuals were “greedy, carried disease and should choose a side” all in one 30 second conversation. (It’s safe to say we aren’t friends anymore). I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I do think the anger I felt in that moment solidified something in me that I was, in fact, bisexual. I came out as bisexual a year or so later at 15 whilst in my first serious relationship (heterosexual) and a completely different friendship group. At the time it was weighing on me enormously and I felt that I wasn’t being true to myself. My boyfriend at the time, closest friends and family were incredibly warm and supportive with my ‘coming out’.
Although I will always be thankful for my easy coming out experience, the years following would be a landmine. As a bisexual woman who has only experienced serious heterosexual relationships there is a constant overwhelming feeling of external pressure. I’m incredibly comfortable with my sexuality and don’t feel incomplete in my experiences. However, there have been many people who have judged me for my ‘lack of experience with women’. An ex-boyfriend told me during our breakup that he would be “more understanding if I dated a woman after him” because I “needed the experience” along with questioning my sexualitie’s authenticity. Although I was able to laugh it off hearing it from him and didn’t take it to heart, it is when I experienced a similar judgement from a small minority of the lesbian community at pride that I began to truly feel bi erasure. I must be clear that I am aware that most of the community are incredibly warm and accepting of bisexuals. But it is hard to shake off the “how do you know you’re bisexual if you’ve never been with a woman” comments and the looks of shame when you express you have a boyfriend when it comes from within the community itself. I recognise that my experiences although unpleasant have not been awful. However, I do think that there is a constant pressure to prove your worth as a bisexual woman. Being considered not gay enough or not straight enough by certain people. I think I have learnt to use my voice in the last 5 years. I feel more comfortable and confident in my own sexuality than I ever have.”
And here is our final person’s perspective:
“I’d always assumed I was privileged when it came to my sexuality. Although the first few years of realising I liked all genders had struggles – with many people questioning ‘which side’ I would choose – I was very comfortable in my wants and desires, often taking these queries comedically. However, growing up has exposed me to the microaggressions of these comments. The binary implied in these comments undermined my own sexuality, but also the legitimacy of non-binary and transgender genders. Bisexuality doesn’t have sides; we are attracted to all genders. I didn’t consider my sexuality something to be weary of until university. Freshers saw boys at parties’ question whether I’d have threesomes with them, girls asking if I fancied them, and general looks of discontent when talking about my sexuality. Subtly, this taught me that my identity could sometimes become contingent on my desires: I felt the stereotype of bisexuality attach itself to people’s perceptions of me. I learned to be cautious about who I would express my sexuality to and determined to disprove the stereotype: I became uncomfortable sexually and stopped explicitly expressing my desires for women – I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. Consequently, I became uncomfortable in myself. Since then, I have experienced similar scenarios. I find myself pushing myself to discuss my sexuality, but still searching for signs of discomfort on my friends faces. The microaggressions in ‘comedic’ comments have made me paranoid about something as simple as who I like. Of course, I still must stress the privilege I have as a white, cisgender, bisexual woman – it is improbable I will be exposed to violence or extreme abuse. However, these subtle comments still had a strong impact.”