In Part 1, I covered stereotyping for characters that are recognised as bisexual, or at least implied to be. This time, I’m getting into the meat of another issue: bisexual erasure. Find part 3, summarising how not to be a dick and also how to deal with being called out, here.
As a refresher, here are my other posts on biphobia/bimisia again:
- Writing Bisexual Characters: What IS Bisexuality?
- Writing Bisexual Characters: Stereotypes
- The Heartbreaker Bisexual Character
- Tangentially related: The Hypersexualisation of LGBT People (I use a more inclusive acronym within the body of the post, FYI)
- My Favourite Bisexual Books – some books that, in my opinion, get it right
Now, onto this fun topic.
Bisexual Erasure: WTF Is It and Why Does It Suck?
To my mind, there are a two primary streams of bisexual erasure:
- Passive, e.g. neglecting to consider bisexuality even when it should be/never labelling potential bisexuals/having no bisexuals exist in the story world
- Aggressive, e.g. outright saying bisexuals aren’t real/are actually straight/having a potentially bisexual character straight-up deny the possibility of bisexuality
This happens a lot, especially when gay and lesbian protagonists are wondering if their love interests are queer. A common phrase is “I don’t know if he/she’s gay.” I used binary pronouns in this example because I’ve yet to encounter it regarding a nonbinary character. Someone who can’t remember bisexuals exist likely isn’t going to remember nonbinary people, either.
It seems like a minor thing, but it happens often. The epitome of that old chestnut: “death by a thousand cuts.” It implies sexuality is a binary. You’re either straight or you’re gay. There are no other possibilities. This also screws over people of other orientations, not just bisexuals.
An alternative is something like, “I don’t know if they’re into [the admirer’s gender].” This is an easy adjustment that makes your story world less hostile to bisexuals and other orientations that don’t fall into the false dichotomy of gay and straight.
Another strain of passive bi erasure is the absence of bisexuals entirely. Now, a given story doesn’t have to contain every single kind of rep under the sun, but it is worth having a think why there are no bisexuals or people with other orientations such as pansexual or asexual. I can’t make you do anything, obviously, but if you never even write a side-character with another orientation outside gay and straight in your entire body of work, that’s a huge red flag.
That said, I’d rather have an absence of bi characters than poorly-written ones, so the absolute least you can do is make sure bisexuality exists as a concept. The bar is that low, and yet so many authors limbo right on under it.
I’ve read books that paid some lip service to bi inclusion, only for the author to turn around and apparently forget they were doing that. This is even worse than just erasing us entirely because it shows the author was, at the very least, trying to dodge criticism and still managed to fuck it up. Inconsistent bi inclusion has an extra layer of annoyance because I never know if I’m going to be erased or not every time I turn a page.
There’s also an unfortunate trend of quietly refusing to label characters who could be described as bisexual. This can coincide with the “Depraved Bisexual” stereotypes I discussed in my previous post. Sometimes, the author may have intended to write these characters as manipulative straight people, but these attempts often fall flat, especially when they are the only characters who interact romantically or sexually with multiple genders. Intent means fuck-all when you hurt real people. This practice can also slip into more aggressive forms of erasure when the character outright rejects labels.
This could also be called “active erasure” but I’m gonna make a bad joke in a minute that relies on it being called “aggressive” so that’s what we’re calling it.
I don’t often come across outright statements like “bisexuality isn’t real” in-text, but it does happen. (TW: sexual assault, sexual harassment, lesbophobic/lesbomisic slurs, bi erasure) Here’s a review for a book that I bought a while ago, so I will eventually add a review of my own when I can be bothered reading the damn thing. The potentially bi girl is just a “confused straight girl.” That crap needs to be challenged in-text, if it even needs to be included at all. It often doesn’t add anything to the story other than an excuse to upset your readers for no goddamn reason.
If I wanted to be a smartass I could describe “having a potentially bisexual character straight-up deny the possibility of bisexuality” as more passive-aggressive since it has elements of both types of erasure, but I feel it fits there better here because the author is directly flirting with the possibility of bi rep before deliberately ripping it away.
Don’t do that. Being erased hurts badly enough without the author dangling rep in front of us before striking a match and burning it to ashes, all the while maintaining creepy, unblinking eye contact.
To be clear, I’m not talking about characters who are still figuring out their sexualities, as long as it’s made very clear that’s what is happening. There are real people who never take on labels because nothing quite fits them. However, writing label-free characters does not happen in a vacuum. If you never write a character who uses a label such as bisexual or pansexual, that is yet another red flag.
Furthermore, putting lines like “Can’t some things just be?” (that’s real) or, my fucking favourite crock of shit, “We don’t need labels,” into characters’ mouths will cause harm. Straight people have said a variant of that second line to my face in order to dismiss me. My first (and only) case of drunk-crying* happened because of that. Don’t fucking do it. Don’t be that asshole.
*Note: I was already drunk when this happened. I was not drinking specifically because of that. We were at an after party. I am purely a social drinker.
The aggressive erasure of bisexuality requires a certain level of awareness and, often, malice. The bisexual-rep-burner is still staring us down, telling us right to our faces that we don’t exist and if we say otherwise, we’re lying to make ourselves look trendy or special or whatever bullshit buzzword is making the rounds this week.
Fuck you, rep-burner.
Also, don’t fucking use the word bi-curious unless you’re bi and know what you’re doing. I’m just gonna quote myself from the linked post because I do what I want:
As a bisexual, this is a word I never want to see again because it is used to invalidate bi women’s queerness as just a phase she’ll grow out of once her so-called curiosity has been sated.
It ties very neatly into the “confused straight girl” fuckery. Just stop it. It’s not cute.
This shit pisses me off. It’s gross and unnecessary. I’d much rather bisexuality never be mentioned at all than this shit, but that sucks as well. How about we all just make a pact to at least acknowledge bisexuality is a thing, okay? Enough with the low-bar-limbo.
One last thing: One big issue with no-labelling potential bisexuals is the fact we live in a heteronormative society where people are assumed to be straight until proven otherwise. Ownvoices authors can sometimes play on this expectation to make a statement in their work, but if you’re not affected by erasure (bisexual or otherwise), I wouldn’t advise doing it yourself. It’s very much a tightrope walk and if you get it wrong and fall off, people will get hurt.
My next post will go into more direct detail about how not to be a dick to bisexuals. I will probably repeat some of the stuff I’ve said in these first two posts, but let’s be frigging honest: some people need the repetition.
So, see you next time.