“You’re just confused”, “you’re dating a man, you must be straight”, “it’s just a phase, you’ll find the right guy eventually”, “you’re just greedy”. I’ve heard these phrases and more the majority of my life since I “came out” in 2006-ish. I’m bisexual, or at least that was the term that fit me best in the language of 2006. I’ve stuck with it because it feels right, like a perfectly worn in jean jacket. I suppose if you look at some definitions “pansexual” is more accurate.
Now, I imagine I’ve lost a few readers, let me back up and define some terminology to make sure everyone understands where we are. For the most part, I’ll be using the definitions from University of California San Francisco’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center.
Bisexual– A person whose primary sexual and aﬀectional orientation is toward people of the same and other genders, or towards people regardless of their gender.
Pansexual– Terms used to describe people who have romantic, sexual or aﬀectional desire for people of all genders and sexes.
As you can tell, bisexual and pansexual have overlapping definitions. Both identities are often shamed or erased for the flexibility of their desires. Often when someone is in a committed relationship they are lumped into whichever category “makes sense” (heterosexual when a female presenting individual and a male presenting individual are together, or homosexual when both individuals present in similar gender identities). The general social narrative of sexuality is focused on the binary of homosexual-heterosexual and avoids addressing the middle ground of the sexualities resulting “bi-erasure”. The terminology of “bi- erasure” was coined by Kenji Yoshino in his article The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure in 2000. Yoshino’s research showed that there were significant discrepancies between online search presence between the terms “homosexuality” and “bisexuality” regardless of popular media resources or scholarly articles. This is true across more than just the social narrative but infects the laws and federal regulations around relationship dynamics (such as marriage and insurance).
You may be wondering why “bi-erasure” is so important. Well, first of all, it is important to me as it is part of my identity. Second, the erasure of an entire identity creates confusion and potentially dangerous situations for any individuals who identify as bisexual. The erasure, or invisibility, of the bisexual identity isn’t just reserved for heterosexual individuals who may shy away from understanding the LGBT+ community. There are many people a part of the LGBT+ space that disregard the idea of bisexuality. This erasure of the bisexual identity further ostracizes these people from either groups (heterosexual or LGBT+ community). Research by Trankin, Morton, and Bell (2015) showed that bisexual identifying individuals felt less comfortable or accepted within the wider LGBT+ community. Community is an integral part of maintaining a healthy life. Feeling excluded from communities can result in significant mental health distress and other health concerns. A study done in 2018 by Taliaferro et al, showed that 68% of bisexual female youth and 47% of male youth showed symptoms of depression. These results are similar across multiple studies conducted on the mental health of individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.
So what does this all mean? First, more research and general conversations should happen around sexual identities outside of homosexuality and heterosexuality. Representation and visibility are important and needed to help the general health of individuals in marginalized communities. Building a more inclusive community setting can improve quality of life for those within the bisexual community and other, lesser seen, identities. What can you do? Recognize that a person’s relationship does not define their sexuality. Sexuality is fluid and some people may not identify on one side of the spectrum or the other. Respect other’s personal lives, someone with an identity you may not understand does not need to “prove” or “explain” their identity to you. Most importantly, don’t use phrases like this article started with, be sensitive and respectful to all individuals you meet.
Happy Pride month!
University of California San Francisco’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center.
Marcus, N. C. (2015). Bridging Bisexual Erasure in LGBT-Rights Discourse and Litigation. Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, 22(2).
Pennasilico, A., & Amodeo, A. L. (2019). The Invisi_les: Biphobia, Bisexual Erasure and Their Impact on Mental Health. Puntoorg International Journal, 4(1), 21–28.
Williams AJ, Jones C, Arcelus J, Townsend E, Lazaridou A, Michail M (2021) A systematic review and meta-analysis of victimisation and mental health prevalence among LGBTQ+ young people with experiences of selfharm and suicide. PLoS ONE 16(1): e0245268. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245268
Yoshino, K. (2017). The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure 1. Sexuality and Equality Law, 329–352. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315088051-11