Isn’t it frustrating when you know for certain that something is true, yet the person you’re talking to refuses to believe you? Maybe they’re questioning a theory that you spent years developing in graduate school. Maybe they’re misremembering the plot of your favorite book. Either way, their patronizing attitude and refusal to recognize your knowledge can be infuriating.
How much worse is it, then, when they’re questioning a deeply significant part of your identity? As though they understand your emotional, physical, and psychological experiences better than you do? This is a situation frequently faced by members of the bisexual community, and it’s been dubbed “bisexual erasure.”
What is Bisexual Erasure?
According to the GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), bisexual erasure occurs when “the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.” For example, some people hold the inaccurate belief that bisexual people are just confused and that, eventually, they’ll realize that they are truly gay or straight. Others may assume that just because a bisexual person has a same or opposite sex partner, they are only attracted to people with their partner’s gender identity. Both of these misconceptions are harmful.
Not only is it upsetting to have your sexual identity doubted, it can also cause major health problems. Studies suggest that bisexual individuals experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders than heterosexual, lesbian, or gay populations. Similarly, they report higher rates of destructive behavior, like heavy drinking and even self-harm. While the exact reasons behind these statistics vary from person to person, research suggests that bi-erasure and biphobia (“fear of, hatred towards, or discrimination against bisexuality”) play major roles.
It’s important, then, that we learn to fight against bi-erasure, whether for ourselves, our loved ones, or our communities.
How to Be An Ally
A great first step in being an ally is educating yourself on the issues being faced and the tactics others are using to fight them. The fact that you’re reading this post is a great start! We also recommend checking out GLAAD’s piece debunking common myths about bisexuality, or any of the helpful pieces at the Bisexual Resource Center. To learn more about all facets of sexual identity, check out the identity and discrimination page at the Resilient Brain Project.
You can also do your part to promote bi visibility in the media by learning more about and engaging with the work of bisexual writers, showrunners, and other creators. Lifting up the voices of marginalized individuals is a great way to increase your own knowledge, promote acceptance, and recognize the oft-underappreciated efforts of marginalized people.
If you notice anyone in your community promoting inaccurate myths about bisexuality that may increase biphobia or bi-erasure, such as the idea that bisexual people are “promiscuous” or “just looking for attention,” speak up. We recommend “calling people in,” or politely educating them (with the assumption that they don’t want to be offensive but may not know better), rather than “calling them out” (publicly shaming them, implying that they’re horrible, etc). Calling people out tends to put them on the defensive, whereas calling them in is a way of fighting offensive stereotypes while doing them the kindness of sharing important information.
What You Can Do If You’re Experiencing It
Whether erasure has us feeling angry, depressed, or confused, it’s crucial that we take time to care for ourselves. The Bisexual Resource Center recommends using both common self-care techniques like meditation and yoga, as well as techniques that allow you to take pride in and/or learn more about your identity. This may include watching a movie about another person’s experience with bisexuality, writing out your own experiences in a journal, or repeating mantras like “I am bisexual and proud!”
If you’re looking to untangle complicated feelings about your sexuality or to learn long-term coping strategies for dealing with bi-erasure, finding a bi-positive therapist could be a great next step. If you think you’ve found a good therapist but aren’t sure whether they’re bi-positive, it’s more than acceptable to ask them directly about their experience and training on the subject. For more advice or questions you can ask your therapist or general medical provider to determine whether they’re bi-positive, feel free to email us at email@example.com and we’ll give you some tips.
Everyone deserves to have their identity acknowledged, including you. What helps you feel more secure in your own skin? Let us know—we’re excited to start chatting with you!
Lilly McGee is Viva’s Director of Operations and Communication and supervisor of the Resilient Brain Project. A published poet, she enjoys writing about mental health, literature, and identity. Other blogs include “Going Gray” and “The Psychological Effects of Stereotyping.”