Individuals that identify as bisexual or biromantic experience the effects of erasure at higher rates than most other queer identities. GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) defines bisexual erasure as a “pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright (“Erasure of Bisexuality” by GLAAD).” Erasure also relates to the idea that many queer identities get erased, misrepresented and invalidated in media. The misrepresentation in media causes many people, queer or not, to believe that bisexuality is a stepping stone to being gay. Bisexual actors, musicians, and personalities get labeled as straight or gay depending on who they are dating at the time with the media not even acknowledging that they are actually bisexual. For example, Tom Daley. People and media tend to erase someone’s’ sexuality based on who they are in a relationship with at the time. (“’Double Discrimination,’ Loneliness Contribute to Bisexual Health Disparities, Study Says” (Sept 1st, 2017) by NBC News). This kind of behaviour causes bisexual people to stay in the closet and feel like they do not belong in LGBTQ+ spaces. It can also cause people to have multiple identities depending on who they are with. Bisexual erasure may also cause people to feel like they need to put up a front around certain people. This behaviour causes people to believe a multitude of negative stereotypes because of the media’s portrayal of bisexuality. The resurgence of research relating to bisexual health has allowed organizations to come in and educate both the queer and non-queer communities about what bisexual people experience day-to-day.
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There have been many organizations and educational hashtags popping up about bisexuality to help educate the general population about the issues that bisexual people face. Bi Visibility Day/ Bisexual Awareness Week is one of those “organizations”. Bi Visibility Day/Bisexual Awareness Week starts on September 23rd and runs through September 30th. “Bi Visibility Day was first observed at the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) conference in Johannesburg in South Africa.” Research shows that although bisexuals make up about 40% of LGBTQ+ Americans, only 28% are out. One of the reasons for this disparity is that bisexual people face a large amount of discrimination and stigma relating to their sexuality, which may keep them from coming out. In a study from American University, findings showed that bisexual people experience “double discrimination” from both the LGBTQ+ community and the non-queer community (“What is Bi Visibility Day and Why is it important” (Sept 22nd, 2018) by Pink News). Double discrimination refers to the idea that bisexual people are often stigmatized by both the queer and non-queer community (“’Double Discrimination,’ Loneliness Contribute to Bisexual Health Disparities, Study Says” (Sept 1st, 2017) by NBC News).
The idea of bisexual people experiencing ‘double discrimination’ also relates to the idea of the double consciousness (Schaefer et al. 2016, p.11). Double Consciousness refers to the division of an individual’s identity into two or more social realities (“A Comparative Analysis of Critical Race Theory to the LGBT Rights Movement: What does it mean to be invisible?” (April 19th, 2017) by LinkedIn). It can also refer to “feeling as though your identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity” (“Understanding W.E.B Du Bois’ Concept of Double Consciousness” by Kristen Does Theory). However, when relating to sexuality it is commonly referred to as a Double Identity as opposed to the Double Consciousness when relating to racial identities. This difference comes from the idea that being LGBTQ+ is an invisible minority. For example, if someone identifies as bisexual but their parents are not supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, they may keep that part of their identity away from their parents but be open with close friends. Therefore, this person would have separate identities based on who they are with at the time. This person would not be able to have a unified identity because of the fear that is included in having that identity (“A Comparative Analysis of Critical Race Theory to the LGBT Rights Movement: What does it mean to be invisible?” (April 19th, 2017) by LinkedIn). Another part of the Double Consciousness is that you look at yourself not only from your perspective but also the perspective of the world around you (“Understanding W.E.B Du Bois’ Concept of Double Consciousness” by Kristen Does Theory). Consequently, bisexual people can end up with a damaged self-esteem that is shaped by the thoughts and treatment from non-queer people. Life can become shaped by the stereotypes shown in everyday life and mainstream media. Media commonly “erases” or invalidates sexualities that are not considered mainstream. This kind of constant invalidation could end up leading some people to believe their sexuality is unreal or invalid (“A Comparative Analysis of Critical Race Theory to the LGBT Rights Movement: What does it mean to be invisible?” (April 19th, 2017) by LinkedIn). This means that they are stereotyped, invalidated, and invisible in both non-queer and LGBTQ+ communities (“’Double Discrimination,’ Loneliness Contribute to Bisexual Health Disparities, Study Says” (Sept 1st, 2017) by NBC News).
In the article “Bisexual Erasure in the British Print Media: Representation of Tom Daley’s Coming Out”, they describe bisexual erasure as one of the “most significant aspects of bisexual burden.” The bisexual burden refers to the large number of problems that bisexual individuals experience that goes beyond what gay men and lesbian women also experience. For example, stereotypes such as being incapable of love, being confused, or being cheaters are part of the bisexual burden. This article looked at the response from British media after Tom Daley’s coming out in 2013. Although he did not use the label of ‘bisexual’, Daley did indicate that he was both attracted to men and women. This would not necessarily indicate bisexuality, but it would indicate a non-monosexual orientation. The findings of this article showed that while reactions were overall positive, “only 4 of the 43 print media articles explicitly referenced bisexuality.” Most print articles wrote about Daley as a gay athlete. He was referred to as a gay man constantly and was compared to “other” gay athletes as well. Others avoided using any label at all. So, while the response was positive, the fact that very few sources explicitly called Daley bisexual shows that the print media either did not think that ‘bisexual’ would get them as many clicks or, that the media did not view bisexuality, or non-monosexuality, as a real identity.
Bisexual erasure is also evident in some people’s first-hand experiences. The LGBTQ+ community is somewhere that many people feel is a place they belong. However, for some bisexual people in relationships with people of the opposite sex, it is more difficult. Some feel that they do not belong in LGBTQ+ spaces because they “aren’t gay enough” or have had bad experiences with others in those spaces that make it seem like they are not valid because of their current relationship. In the article “Home isn’t here: being bisexual and being comfortable nowhere,” Chloe Sargeant describes her experiences with this feeling. Chloe experienced biphobia and bi erasure from both the queer and non-queer community. The queer community would say that she was just experimenting, was not gay enough, or that her sexuality did not exist. This resulted in her feeling like a fraud for dating more men than women. Chloe felt that she had to legitimize her sexuality by saying that she has had relationships with both men and women. This led her to put on an act whenever she was around other LGBTQ+ people by saying that she was queer instead of bisexual because that was more widely accepted (“Home isn’t here: being bisexual and being comfortable nowhere” (March 16th, 2017) by SBS). This is also known as the Dramaturgical Approach.
The dramaturgical approach is an interactionist method that compares everyday life to the setting of a theatre or a stage (Schaefer et al. 2016, p.18). We try to present certain things about ourselves the same way actors do. We hide qualities that we may not want to show or may make us feel unsafe. This concept relates well to the double consciousness theory because of the idea that while people may hide parts of their identity to keep themselves safe and happy, it also causes a disjointed identity that coincides with that of the double consciousness. Bisexual people may feel like their identity is split into different parts. The person they are when they are in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, and the person they are when they are in a relationship with someone of the same sex. Also included in those identities are the person they are when they are around someone that may not be supportive. However, this is not just an ununified identity, it is also, in some cases, a completely different way of speaking and acting around certain people. People may play up certain aspects of themselves to appeal to who they are talking to at the moment. This evidently takes a toll on one’s mental health.
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Health disparities are prevalent between bisexual individuals and non-bisexual individuals. The “minority stress framework” is used to explain the disparities in LGBTQ+ health issues. The framework shows that people that are a part of a marginalized minority group experience higher levels of stress than others because of the stigmatization of their identity. However, this framework does not explain differences in health inside the LGBTQ+ community. Bisexual people don’t typically experience sexuality-based discrimination as often as gay or lesbian people. This means that, in theory, bisexual people should have fewer health complications that their gay or lesbian counterparts. The findings show that the differences in health are most likely affected by other factors. The study conducted in “Young bisexual women’s health perspectives on the relationship between bisexual stigma, mental health, and sexual health: a qualitative study”, considered the effects of the stigma around bisexuality on mental health and sexual health specifically for young (16-29) bisexual women. The study consisted of seven women (“one non-binary person, one trans woman, and five cisgender women”). Three of these women were women of colour. The study found that the participants felt that they experienced a “burden of proof” related to their sexuality. This means that they felt that they had to prove their bisexuality by partaking in certain behaviours or relationships. For some subjects, the erasure they experienced caused them to feel that they were not welcome in LGBTQ-specific health centres. Most participants felt that the need to change their behaviour and actions caused negative mental and physical health issues. Many participants felt that the need to prove their identity to other people, ultimately put a strain on their relationships. Negative stereotypes of bisexuality also caused many participants to change their relationships in some way, which in turn, led to their demise. One participant disclosed that they felt they could not be open about their sexual health with lesbian women because they felt like they would not be taken seriously. The findings from this study clearly showed that experiencing erasure and stereotypes has negative effects on the mental and physical health of bisexual people.
Individuals that identify as bisexual or biromantic experience the effects of erasure at higher rates than most other queer identities. This is made evident by the necessity of organizations to educate the population, the prevalence of stigma surrounding bisexuality in LGBTQ+ communities, and the largely negative effects of that stigma on overall health. Educating the population and letting people understand their own internalized biphobia may help resolve these issues in the long run. However, much of the damage has already been done.
- Magrath, R., Cleland, J., & Anderson, E. (2017). Bisexual erasure in the british print media: Representation of tom daley’s coming out. Journal of Bisexuality, 17(3), 300-317.
- Flanders, C. E., Dobinson, C., & Logie, C. (2017). Young bisexual women’s perspectives on the relationship between bisexual stigma, mental health, and sexual health: A qualitative study. Critical Public Health, 27(1), 75-85.
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