Bisexual erasure

Bisexual pride flag, created by Michael Page

Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media and other primary sources.[1][2][3] In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include denying that bisexuality exists.[1][3] It is often a manifestation of biphobia,[1][2][3] although it does not necessarily involve overt antagonism.

There is increasing inclusion and visibility of bisexuals, particularly in the LGBT community.[4][5] American psychologist Beth Firestone writes that since she wrote her first book on bisexuality, in 1996, "bisexuality has gained visibility, although progress is uneven and awareness of bisexuality is still minimal or absent in many of the more remote regions of our country and internationally."[6]


According to scholar Kenji Yoshino, there are three main investments that motivate both self-identified homosexuals and heterosexuals to seek to culturally erase bisexuality. These motivations are firstly, sexual orientation stabilization. This relieves people of the anxiety of having sexual orientation questioned, an untenable position since it is in fact unprovable. Secondly, the maintenance of the importance of gender, which is seen as erotically essential to monosexuals while this notion is challenged by the existence of bisexuality. Thirdly, the maintenance of monogamy since for mainstream Americans, a pair bond is preferred. However, bisexuals are generally assumed by monosexuals to be "intrinsically" non-monogamous.[7]

In an article written for the 10th anniversary of Yoshino's piece, Heron Greenesmith argues that bisexuality is in fact inherently invisible in the law, beyond the reach of deliberate erasure. Firstly, she says it is because bisexuality is legally irrelevant with plaintiffs presumed to be monosexual unless outed and secondly, that when bisexuality is legally relevant it is erased within the legal culture since it complicates legal arguments that depend on a gender binary nature of sexuality.[8]

Common examples

Straight and gay people who engage in bisexual erasure may claim that bisexuals are either exclusively homosexual (gay/lesbian) or exclusively heterosexual (straight),[1] closeted gay or lesbian people who wish to appear heterosexual,[9] or are heterosexuals who are experimenting with their sexuality.[1][7][10][11] A common manifestation of bisexual erasure is a tendency for bisexuals to be referred to as heterosexual when they are intimately involved with people of the opposite sex, and to be labeled as homosexual when they are involved with people of the same sex.[12]

In the LGBT community

Bisexual erasure may stem from a belief that the bisexual community does not deserve equal status or inclusion within gay and lesbian communities.[13] This can take the form of omitting the word bisexual in the name of an organization or event that serves the whole LGBT community, including it as "bi-sexual", implying that there are only two authentic sexual orientations,[14] or treating the subject of bisexuality in a derogatory way.[15]

In 2013, a study published in the Journal of Bisexuality surveyed thirty people who identfified as part of the lesbian, gay, queer or bisexual communities and their individual experiences with coming out. Ten of these people reported that they claimed the label of bisexuality first, and later came out again as lesbian, gay, or queer. The theory that emerged in this study introduced the concept of the "queer apologietic," in which one attempts to reconcile their same-gender attraction with the social norm of heterosexuality.[16]

Bisexuals have been overlooked in the same-sex marriage debate. Firstly, where same sex marriage is illegal, those campaigning for it have failed to highlight the inconsistencies of marriage laws in relation to bisexuals, whose right to marry depends solely on the gender of their partner. Secondly, when same-sex marriage is available, a bisexual partner will generally be referred to as lesbian or gay. For example, one of the first people to take part in a same sex marriage in America, Robyn Ochs was widely referred to in the media as a lesbian, despite identifying herself in interviews as bisexual.[17]

1991 saw the publication of one of the seminal books in the history of the modern bisexual rights movement, Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, an anthology edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu, but this anthology was forced to compete (and lost) in the Lambda Literary Awards under the category Lesbian Anthology. In 2005, Directed by Desire: Collected Poems, a posthumous collection of the bisexual Jamaican American writer June Jordan's work, had to compete (and won) in the category "Lesbian Poetry". However, BiNet USA led the bisexual community in a multi-year campaign eventually resulting in the addition of a Bisexual category, starting with the 2006 Awards.

Theoretical Analyses & Literature

Theoretical frameworks

Alternate approaches to the concept of bisexuality have been developed that expand the definition of sexual identity outward from a “this or that” mentality to a “this and that” mentality. Jenée Wilde presents the idea of what she calls “dimensional sexuality” in an article for Sexual and Relationship Therapy, a theoretical framework in which gender is not the primary factor in sexual attraction, rather it is one of many axes. These other axes of attraction can include the desire for either monogamy or polyamory, and the fluidity of desire for the various gender(s) in a partner over time.[18] Wilde uses her framework to broaden the scale of sexual identity from a simple binary spectrum from “mono-sexual” to “bisexual," and to establish relationships between these identities; these relationships would not alienate individuals without a single “fixed object” of attraction.

Viewpoints like Wilde's have been applied by scholars such as Laura Erickson-Schroth and Jennifer Mitchell [19] to pieces of pop-culture and literature; Steven Angelides also produced a book on the place of bisexuality in research and societal awareness throughout history, using a similar framework.[20] Both pieces aim to achieve more inclusive readings of sexuality and allow for the re-designation of literary figures and real people as bisexual, rather than continuing with the assumption that any same-gender activity, explicit or implied, is homosexual, and any opposite-gender activity heterosexual.[19][20]


An example of a viewpoint similar to Wilde's is D.S. Neff’s reading of Lord Byron’s Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which finds that the poem is ambiguous in its mentioning of “concubines and carnal companie” as well as later parts of the work; Neff finds these ambiguities to be implications that both male and female lovers were had by the protagonist. This bisexual portrayal is supported through Byron’s real-world interactions with lovers of multiple genders, and the culture of his literary affiliates at Cambridge condoning those interactions in the midst of the 19th century’s moral panic around same-gender desires.[21]

Erickson-Schroth and Mitchell's 2009 article in the Journal of Bisexuality performs a similar analysis of Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson and Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall; the assertion behind these scholars' work is that bisexual experience has existed all throughout the history of humanity, and while it has only recently been acknowledged even in queer and LGBT circles, it is in no way an exclusively modern phenomenon.[19]

There are also interpretations of literature that focus on the symbolic expressions of bisexuality rather than its explicit mention. Linda K. Hughes' analysis of Alexander Smith's A Life-Drama contends the atypical nature of the heterosexual courtship in the poem stands in place of the romance between the main character's "intimate friendship" with another man.[22] Other analyses use the subtextual practices and common allusions of the Victorian period/19th century that referenced bisexuality or homosexuality[23] to show the presence of bisexual themes in Bram Stoker's Dracula[24] and Henry James' The Turn of the Screw.[25]

Media depictions

Some media outlets have portrayed bisexual behaviors in ancient and non-Western cultures, such as ancient Greek pederasty or Native American Two-Spirits, as proof that homosexuality has been widely accepted in other times and cultures,[26][27] even though it can also be seen as proof of the existence and acceptance of bisexuality.

In both the gay and straight media, individuals who have kept their sexual identity unknown have been portrayed as either gay or straight even when they engage in romantic or sexual relationships with both men and women.[28] The same has occurred even with people who identify themselves as bisexual. Examples include Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist, who was publicly misidentified as a lesbian on the day of her wedding;[17] Ani DiFranco, whose 1998 marriage to Andrew Gilchrist was portrayed in both gay and mainstream media as renouncing lesbianism even though she had been out as bisexual since the very beginning of her career;[29] Cynthia Nixon, who faced public criticism in 2012 when an awkwardly-worded interview quote about her bisexuality led many to believe she was saying she had chosen to become a lesbian;[30] Madonna, who has called herself bisexual in interviews and has frequently engaged in public acts of same-sex intimacy with other female celebrities, but is typically portrayed by media as a heterosexual woman who dabbles in lesbian imagery for pure shock value, with any possibility that she might be genuinely bisexual being discounted entirely;[31] and Lady Gaga, who is sometimes labelled as either homosexual or heterosexual in the media even though she has publicly identified as bisexual.[32][33]

The media in both communities also often refers to the "gay and lesbian" community, ignoring bisexual and/or transgender people.[34]


On December 30, 2009, MTV premiered their 23rd season of the show The Real World,[35] featuring two bisexual participants,[36][37] Emily Schromm,[38] and Mike Manning.[39] Although Manning himself identifies as bisexual,[39] many bloggers and commenters on blogs claimed that he was in fact gay.[40][41] Furthermore, while a behind-the-scenes MTV Aftershow and subsequent interview revealed that both Manning and Schromm had had encounters with both men and women while on the show, the show was edited to make it seem as though they had only been with men.[42][43]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Mary Zeiss Stange; Carol K. Oyster; Jane E. Sloan (2011). Encyclopedia of Women in Today's World. Sage Pubns. pp. 158–161. ISBN 1-4129-7685-5. ISBN 9781412976855. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  2. 1 2 Dworkin, SH (2001). "Treating the bisexual client". Journal of Clinical Psychology. 57 (5): 671–80. doi:10.1002/jclp.1036. PMID 11304706.
  3. 1 2 3 Hutchins, Loraine. "Sexual Prejudice – The erasure of bisexuals in academia and the media". American Sexuality Magazine. San Francisco, CA 94103, United States: National Sexuality Resource Center, San Francisco State University. Archived from the original on 2007-12-16. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
  4. "Queers United".
  5. "Task Force Report On Bisexuality".
  6. Firestein, Beth A. (2007). Becoming Visible: Counselling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan. Columbia University Press. pp. xvii. ISBN 0-231-13724-9.
  7. 1 2 Yoshino, Kenji (January 2000). "The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure" (PDF). Stanford Law Review. Stanford Law School. 52 (2): 353–461. doi:10.2307/1229482. JSTOR 1229482.
  8. Greenesmith, Heron (2010). "Drawing Bisexuality Back into the Picture: How Bisexuality Fits Into the LGBT Strategy Ten Years After Bisexual Erasure" (PDF). Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender. 17: 65–80. Retrieved Feb 2013. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  9. Michael Musto, April 7, 2009. Ever Meet a Real Bisexual?, The Village Voice
  10. "Why Do Lesbians Hate Bisexuals?".
  11. "Bisexual workers 'excluded by lesbian and gay colleagues'".
  12. GLAAD (22 July 2015). "Erasure of Bisexuality".
  13. Weiss, Jillian Todd (2004). "GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community". Journal of Bisexuality. Haworth Press. 3 (3/4): 25–55.
  15. "Dan Savage-Stop with the Biphobia Already!".
  16. Guittar, Nicholas A. (2013). "The Queer Apologetic: Explaining the Use of Bisexuality as a Transitional Identity". Journal of Bisexuality. 13 (2): 166.
  17. 1 2 "Bisexuals Overlooked in the Debate on Equal Marriage Rights".
  18. Wilde, Jenée (2014). "Dimensional sexuality: exploring new frameworks for bisexual desires". Sexual & Relationship Therapy. 29 (3): 320–338. ISSN 1468-1994.
  19. 1 2 3 Erickson-Schroth, Laura; Mitchell, Jennifer (2009). "Queering Queer Theory, or Why Bisexuality matters". Journal of Bisexuality. 9 (3): 297–315. doi:10.1080/15299710903316596.
  20. 1 2 Angelides, Steven (2001). A History of Bisexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-02089-4 via WorldCat.
  21. Neff, D.S. (2002). "Bitches, mollies, and tommies: Byron, masculinity, and the history of sexualities". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 11 (3): 395–438. ISSN 1043-4070.
  22. Hughes, Linda K. (2004). "Alexander Smith and the Bisexual Poetics of A Life-Drama". Victorian Poetry. 42 (4): 491–508. doi:10.1353/vp.2005.0005.
  23. Löftström, Jan (1997). "The birth of the queen/the modern homosexual: historical explanations revisited". The Sociological Review. 45 (1): 24–41. doi:10.1111/1467-954X.ep9710072419.
  24. Howes, Marjorie (1988). "The Mediation of the Feminine: Bisexuality, Homoerotic Desire, and Self-Expression in Bram Stoker's Dracula". Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 30 (1): 104–119. ISSN 0040-4691.
  25. Killoran, Helen (1993). "The Governess, Mrs. Grose, and 'the Poison of an Influence' in The Turn of the Screw". Modern Language Studies. 23 (2): 13–24. doi:10.2307/3195031.
  26. "Alexander the Great".
  27. Hall, Donald E. Bisexual Literature glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, & Queer Culture
  28. Summers, Claude J. (2009-10-20). "BiNet USA". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. glbtq, Inc. Archived from the original on 2014-02-20.
  29. Jennifer Baumgardner, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008. ISBN 0-374-53108-0.
  30. "'Bisexuality is a fact': Cynthia Nixon seeks to clarify her comments after causing outrage by saying she is 'gay by choice'". The Daily Mail, January 31, 2012.
  31. J. Randy Taraborrelli, Madonna: An Intimate Biography. Sidgwick & Jackson, 2001. ISBN 978-1-4165-8346-2.
  32. "The Rise of Lady Gaga".
  33. "Lady Gaga admits she's bisexual".
  34. "Anderson Cooper's Blog about "Gay and Lesbian" Issues". CNN.
  35. "Real World DC".
  36. "Real World Bisexuals".
  37. "Show me your bisexuals".
  38. "Emily Schromm talks".
  39. 1 2 "Mike Manning Metro Weekly".
  40. "Mike Manning Bi history and controversy".
  41. "Bi Now, Gay Later".
  42. "Emily Schromm AfterEllen interview". Archived from the original on 2010-04-01.
  43. "Aftershow Real World Episode 8".

Further reading

External links

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