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Semiformalishmaybe

On Bisexual Erasure

I recently stumbled on the term 「Bisexual Erasure」 while browsing tvtropes, which is a recognition that bisexuality only rarely is represented in media. Looking the thing up on Wikipedia provided a link to another term that I've generally just dismissed as silliness, biphobia. I'm not sure if phobia is really a great suffix there given that I suspect that most of the time there's just a strange insistence that bisexuality doesn't really exist, in one of two forms:

  • People who don't believe that anything but heterosexuality is real, which is probably not what's being talked about
  • People who believe everyone is either straight or gay
I would be very surprised to see an actual phobia of bisexuals among people who accept gays. But then, this is part of a string of related terms with very poor names (the term 「feminism」 itself really sucks, and for those of us who are gender-role-abolitionist it's even worse because we consider femininity and masculinity twin things to combat/transcend).

The only characters I can think of in media that are publicly bisexual are:

  • One of the Pet Shop Boys (weird coincidence: the music video for their song 「Minimal」 just came up randomly on my TV-PC)
  • The character of Jack from the Dr Who remake series
  • The stereotype of heteroflexible women in certain kinds of bars, occasionally seen on TV
As you probably are aware, I am categorised as bisexual but mostly heteroromantic; I imagine I might end up romantically involved with a guy again at some point, but there are parts of that where my instincts seem to be a bit off (I socially relate to women a bit differently than men, and bits of my personality and neuroses probably would make that challenging at best). I don't often find myself sexually attracted to people, and there are bits of male bodies and female bodies that are each more attactive to me (both can have nice faces, men have more interesting stomachs and a better butt shape, women have better pelvis shapes and shoulders, and the legs of each are interestingly different). Mixing these physical features usually just ends up looking like a freakshow rather than something great though. (Note that these are my aesthetics, you have your own, I'm not telling you what you should find sexy/attractive, and if you give me a hard time over my aesthetics you can go DIAF).

I find it interesting that there *are* issues with the standing of bisexuals in the gay communities; we don't necessarily share the same trials that homosexuals do because we could choose to just go for heterosexual relationships, and yeah, if we are monogamous and settle into a long-term relationship we're likely to either be effectively straight or gay, at least publicly (someone looking at our pr0n, or potentially someone who knows us well enough should we be attracted to people outside our relationship might be able to tell, but the general public would not unless we choose to make it public). It doesn't necessarily make for easy shared suffering, which is often part of the gay communities (at least, as I remember from undergrad it was). I'm not super bothered by uncertainty of the roles of bisexuals in gay communities personally, as while I am categorised as bisexual, it is not a significant part of my self-identity. My full solidarity with gays (and varying solidarities with other groups in the face of varying kinds of oppression) is because of my liberal values, not because of the raw facts of my sexuality. I have not been part of any gay/bisexual/sexual-alphabet-soup/queer communities for a long time, and really don't care whom they include/exclude; if I felt there were serious issues of justice involved in some exclusions I'd be concerned, but shared suffering versus open-entry seems a potentially valid foundational question. If they want to exclude bisexuals for some or all parts of their community, maybe they have a point; the usual arguments for and against high-inclusivity apply.

Is the bad media coverage bothersome? Maybe a bit; the frequent portrayals of bisexuals as being oversexualised might lead to prejudice (and I have occasionally been disappointed by people on OkCupid who won't date bisexual people because they think we have a need for sex with both guys and gals in our lives and thus can't possibly manage fidelity; it's even weirder when people say that they've had homosexual sex but would not date someone else who has, but I suppose people tend to trust themselves more than they trust others). My instinct is to just treat negligible presence of bisexuals in media the same way I do negligible presence of certain worldviews and the oversimplification of human nature; it's not a fundamental justice concern so much as a simple inaccuracy.

Again, a lot of the reasons this is not a big deal for me comes from my belief that while we have a (relatively objective) set of categories that describe us, and a self-identity we project outwards, others also have identifications they project onto us and that's ok; humanity won't ever see the world the same way and people not working from the same identity (or categorical) frameworks is a sign of philosophical maturity. From that perspective, any PR on the behalf of groups of identities is, at best, best-effort and not something to get too worked up over on the small scale. (And yes, I recognise that this negates/neglects things some people care about a lot; I'm willing to talk about the details of this if anyone's interested)

Also found on Wikipedia: Klein Sexual Orientation Grid.

Maybe this is just another journal entry where I've mostly surveyed opinions while asserting that not having a stance is reasonable. Yay.

Comments

Willow, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was bi. Or rather, I think it was left deliberately ambiguous whether she was bi or just didn't discover she was a lesbian till college, but if you believe the latter then you have to believe her feelings for Xander and Oz weren't real. Also, the girl in Chasing Amy is rather famously bi, and isn't one of the dudes in Brokeback Mountain?

I was surprised, when I interned at a GLBT counseling center, that a lot of the therapists seemed to view people who identified as bi as either straight people trying to be trendy or gay people in denial. It really irked me that they wouldn't take someone's assessment of their own orientation at face value. My supervisor consistently referred to me as straight, which I am not. Like you, though, I'm more understanding of her perspective these days. As a person in a long-term monogamous opposite-sex relationship, I benefit from straight privilege as much as actually straight people do. So in the ways that mattered to her, I was effectively straight.
Ahh. I never watched Buffy, or Chasing Amy, or Brokeback Mountain (never even heard of the last two, actually). Maybe I should've put a big disclaimer at the top that not watching TV may be limiting my impressions :)

The one area where I'd differ in what you've said is that I generally find it entirely unoffensive for people to not take someone's self-assessment (on whatever topic) at face value. There are ways to do that that *are* offensive, but they have to deal with the motivation and other bits of meaning behind it, not the raw fact of it. Some of this is definitional (mormons self-identify as christians, many mainstream christians don't accept that, and I'm ok with both definitional frameworks), some of it is that sometimes people lie to themselves and others, and there are some rarer reasons.

Of course, sometimes it's just laziness (having had orthodox jewish friends has sometimes led to awkward moments with their families where instead of calling me a goy (which is mostly accurate), they called me christian, and I had to remind them many times that I am not even in the ballpark).
Chasing Amy and Brokeback Mountain are movies, not TV shows. :-)

Alright, you're right that there are self-assessments we reasonably don't take at face value. However, it seems to me that the gay community frequently suffers from homophobic Christians (to name one group) saying that gay isn't a legitimate orientation but instead a "choice" or a symptom of rebellion against God or whatever. I would hope that people who had experienced that would be a little more reticent to do basically the same thing to bi people.

I got called a Christian a lot in Qatar, and again in that context I can see why. (I celebrate Christmas, etc.)
I think I've given up on being approved of by religious folk, generally speaking, so my perspectives are kind of weird on this.

For those who have some works-based notion of whether you're a good person or going to the good place or something, I can imagine someone might find me a reasonably decent person on balance; yes, I've had consensual sex with men and women (one-at-a-time, never been married), and I do believe atheism is a positive thing, but I also stand for civilisation and against a lot of things generally considered bad by the religious lot.

Christians who are reasonably close to standard christian theology would have a much tougher time ever approving of me (or thinking I'm going to some good place after I die) because of that whole faith-based salvation perspective. Rejecting a belief in gods or salvation or sin, in that framework, marks me as hellbound. Practically, as all religion is nonsense, this is angels dancing on a pin, but it means that any respect they might have for me be more of an accidental instinctual thing rather than something happening on an intellectual level (unless they're of a heretical form of christianity).

In general I don't expect worldviews to easily respect each other in the world and so long as that doesn't lead to violence/harassment or limited political rights (nervous about how this actually plays out in a democracy), I don't think pushing for real respect is very doable unless we're going to truly push against the foundations of other people's worldviews.

On bi people particularly, I could imagine someone who says they only fantasise about one gender, they're only interested in sex with that same gender, and so on, but they choose to take on the label of being bisexual out of some kind of solidarity, or to make a point, or something; I'd be ok with not attributing them the identity even if they claim it as a self-identity.

I am curious what you mean (or think they mean) by legitimate; do you mean "actual", or do you mean "acceptable"? Not meaning to ask about judgement; I'm reasonably certain that we (and most people reading this) find it acceptable and actual that some people are homosexual or bisexual, I'm just unsure in what sense you meant the word here.

(If this conversation has faded from time and you're not keen to prolong it, that's ok too)
"any respect they might have for me be more of an accidental instinctual thing rather than something happening on an intellectual level (unless they're of a heretical form of christianity)."

I don't think they have to be heretics. Christians have a wide variety of perspectives on what happens to non-Christians after death and why, and a wide variety of perspectives on what makes someone a good person or a person worthy of respect. My parents are progressive but basically mainstream Christians (my dad is a Methodist minister, my mother a Catholic and a former nun) and they have a lot of respect for people from different faith traditions. They used to teach a world religions class, and some of their closest friends are a couple of rabbis and a Buddhist nun. I don't want to get into the complexities of their interpretations of various Bible passages that allow them to feel that non-Christians aren't hellbound, but suffice it to say that I think it's unfair to paint "the religious lot" with the same brush.

"I am curious what you mean (or think they mean) by legitimate; do you mean "actual", or do you mean "acceptable"?"

Oh, good question. I meant "actual." As in, the fundies who say stuff like, "God didn't make you gay, you just chose to do something unnatural because you're rebelling against God." They're not just saying homosexuality is immoral; they're denying that it's a real orientation in the first place. And I feel like people like my former supervisor (who would find that claim abhorrent) are doing pretty much the same thing when they say "You aren't really bi; you're just not being serious about your real orientation."