Bi-Erasure in Queer Spaces

by Anna Swanson.

For queer and LGBT+ folks, the reality is that our society is largely heteronormative. The formation of queer spaces, where queer individuals can meet others who share a similar sexuality or gender experience, help foster the growth and strength of queer communities. For example, Omaha has monthly Revel parties for women who want to meet other women and have a fun night on the town. Flixx and The Max are frequented by queer folks who want to go out without limits imposed by the overwhelmingly heteronormative scene in many popular bars and clubs.

Queer spaces are crucial; they form a safe and supportive environment for people to talk about gender and sexuality openly. Many spaces appear to be virtually exclusive to gay and lesbian communities. While it is important and necessary for these individuals to create and enjoy their spaces, there is a noticeable lack of existing spaces for biseuxal and other non-monosexual individuals beyond social media. Monosexuality refers to sexualities which are attracted to only one gender, including hetero- and homosexuality. This exclusivity within existing spaces is a factor and manifestation of bi-erasure.

In our largely monosexual society, non-monosexuality is a deviation from the norm and makes some folks – straight and queer alike – uncomfortable. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) defines bi-erasure as “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned or denied outright.” Frequently, bi-erasure is expressed through microaggressions, or commonplace verbal and behavioral interactions that invalidate, isolate, and belittle marginalized groups. Some common microaggressions imply that bisexual folks are “confused” or “will pick a side eventually”.

Another faulty and harmful assumption is that all bisexuals have had romantic and/or sexual relationships with men, women, and/or folks of other genders. A related stereotype is that bisexual folks are inherently promiscuous. This implies that bisexual folks who have only been with partners of one gender are not really bisexual. A recurring issue within queer culture is the idea that one’s sexuality must be validated in order to join queer spaces. Lesbian characters on The L-Word appear to idolize women who are “gold-star” lesbians. The term “gold-star” refers to a homosexual individual who has never slept with a person of another gender. The idolization of “pure” homosexuality is an example of the gatekeeping culture within some queer spaces. Gatekeeping calls for “proof” that an individual is queer enough for the community. These practices are not always immediately identifiable; they can manifest in many of the ways discussed above. In gay or lesbian spaces, a bisexual person might feel rejected if they have previously been in heterosexual relationships. Rejection may lead to questioning of their own sexuality or an intrinsic drive to prove that their bisexuality is legitimate.

There should be no pressure on individuals to prove the validity of their sexuality to anyone, especially not as a prerequisite to enter queer spaces. Bi-erasure and biphobia are immensely detrimental to the bisexual and queer communities at large. The toxic beliefs these issues perpetuate can be internalized, leading to lower rates of happiness and higher rates of depression, suicide attempts, and alcohol abuse. Combatting bi-erasure and other forms of gatekeeping should be a priority when considering the emotional and physical safety of all queer folks in queer spaces.

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