By Amanda Emmet
I have spent a lot of my life struggling with identity; never feeling like I truly fit into the boxes designated for my being. In grade school those boxes revolved around popularity, intelligence, friend groups, and religion. The rules stated I couldn’t be cool AND smart or a good Christian girl AND wear nail polish. As I got older, the parameters changed, telling me I couldn’t have a true college experience unless I went to a state school. When I went to a deeply religious college, I didn’t have the knowledge of the bible that every other student had, so I was perpetually stuck in a liminal state. My experience of being the in-between is not a singular or rare occurrence, but on top of my seemingly eternal status as a floater, I disregarded one of the most beautiful parts of my soul: my sexuality.
I recently came out as bisexual to the internet (HI! Happy to be here & queer), but I’ve had a gut instinct for as long as Kristen Stewart has been in my life. My journey has been long and winding, another experience that is not unique to me. The scariest part, however, is being a young woman (who is deeply repressing the urge to kiss her tiny artsy sorority sister) and feeling as though the identity I was grasping for wasn’t even real. Even if I had wanted to cram myself in a box to tell the world “I’ve finally found one I like!” the box didn’t exist.
Bisexual erasure is a deeply personal topic for me because I spent most of my life not realizing the influence it had over me. According to The Bisexuality Invisibility Report, bisexual erasure refers to a lack of acknowledgment and ignoring of the clear evidence that bisexuals exist. The guilt or confusion that can be associated with identifying as bisexual (or bi+) is societal and deeply rooted in an undercurrent of distrust from all sides. Bisexual women are often isolated from the LGBTQIA+ community if we currently are (or have ever been) in a relationship with a man and are often told that we are just going through a phase. Bisexual men are told that they are gay and “should just accept it.” Additionally, bi+ men and women are often assumed to be unfaithful because of our attraction to a wider range of people. The logic here is truly astounding. Coming from a community that has been bombarded by constant hate and a relentless uphill climb to safety/justice, the invisibility many people face because of bi-erasure within their own community is heartbreaking. Anecdotally, I’ve witnessed far too many Bumble/Tinder profiles that explicitly state they will NOT go on dates with girls who are bisexual, many referencing an unwillingness to be someone’s experiment or curiosity. On the other side of that, I’ve also seen an incredible amount of profiles asking for someone to be their “third,” because that’s clearly the desire of every bisexual woman/man!
It may not come as a shock to you that according to Invisible Majority (a report by The Movement Advancement Project about bisexuality from 2016), 40% of bisexual identifying high school students have considered attempting suicide. When society tells a group that the identity they feel comfortable with is fake, a phase, or attention seeking, how can we expect the mental health of that group to remain unscathed?
I was introduced recently to an incredible poet named Megan Falley who often writes about what it feels like to be at the intersection of being femme and also queer. In her poem “Coming Out (And Being Pushed Back In),” Falley writes “When I see two women holding hands and I am alone, I just start smiling at them, wishing for some kind of secret code or handshake so I can say, YES, ME TOO—but I’m just a weird, smiling, homicidal freak unless I have a butch there to validate me.” When I first heard this at a poetry reading with Megan’s partner Andrea Gibson (also an incredible spoken word poet), my heart felt seen in a way it never has before. Although Falley is likely talking about how her femininity can make people hesitant to explicitly label her as queer, there are parallels to how many bisexual individuals often feel invisible. As someone who presents and often “passes” (a term I feel comfortable using for myself, but should not be a term used to describe someone else you don’t know) as a straight woman, I have the pleasure of constantly coming out (subtly or otherwise) to new friends or coworkers as a queer woman.
Bi-erasure kept me from fully feeling comfortable in my identity for so much of my young adult life. I hope reading some of my experiences with it has given someone a new lens to view this beautiful community of humans.
So what helps?
- If you are friends with someone who has either come out openly as bisexual or has confided in you about being bisexual, validate them and support their relationships/feelings!
- Assess your terminology. Using the terms lesbian or gay about someone that is bisexual can be hurtful regardless of who their partner currently is.
- Donate money to LGBTQIA + and bi-specific organizations that are doing work to create space for those that can often feel invisible.
- Confront your own biases. Turn inward and acknowledge when in your life you may have contributed to making someone feel like their identity was invalid or like there wasn’t space for them in the LGBTQIA+ community.
I’ll end this post with another quote from Megan Falley’s incredible poem that I mentioned above. “I am queer, so I am what queer looks like.” How beautiful is that? I dream (literally though) about a future where bi+ individuals feel safe, seen, and supported in their various communities and feel just as queer as everyone else.
Lastly, I want to be sure to mention that a lot of the discrimination discussed in this post is not exclusive to the bi+ community and can intersect with many of the areas of discrimination that others in the LGBTQIA+ community face daily.
For more information on any of the statistics, lovely people, or resources mentioned above, please look at the following organizations and websites.
The Bisexual Resource Center | www.biresource.org
Human Rights Campaign | www.hrc.org
GLAAD | www.glaad.org/bisexual
Megan Falley | www.meganfalley.com