Bi and Pan Erasure: Can it end?
Our society is still deeply stuck in the binary: that an opposite sex couple must both be straight and a same sex couple must both be gay. Can we dismantle this bi erasure?
A few days ago, I was taken aback when a friend of mine asked if I had a partner or significant other. The reason for my sheer surprise was two fold: 1. I had never been asked about partners without genderised pronouns being used, and 2. The friend clearly acknowledged my bisexuality and who I am.
You may wonder why I took it so personally and have kept this conversation in my mind for so long. You see, I am usually questioned about my love life by people who only ask whether I have a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Notice the ‘or’ in between. People tend not to include the two in a question and instead, only refer to the one.
This is an obvious case of bi erasure, a core part of biphobia which often takes place. The term ‘bi erasure’ is the act or thought, whether intentional or not, to ignore, disregard or downplay bisexuality in our society. This can be in terms of narrowly interpreting historical characters or events, ignorantly discussing a person’s love life with them, acknowledging only certain aspects of the news or a person’s life, or falsifying the lived experiences of a bisexual person.
In similar instances, the pansexual community faces erasure too. Some may argue that pansexual people face it more severely because ‘bisexual’ is included in the LGBTQ acronym but pansexual is not. Either way, both communities face similar hardships in terms of being recognised and validated in society. Hence, it is important for the communities to support one another.
The sad reality is that whilst heterosexual people are often guilty of erasing bisexual and pansexual people, gay people have also been guilty. There have been many cases of biphobia and panphobia within the LGBTQ+ community where some gay individuals have argued that bisexual and pansexual folk are not “fully out” yet in terms of being queer. This is extremely problematic as it dehumanises and disregards their full identity.
In addition to this, we, as bisexual and pansexual individuals, need to check ourselves too. Often we mistakenly erase our own identities by just assuming that if a person finds someone of the opposite sex attractive, then they must be straight or if someone finds a person of the same sex attractive, then they must be gay. Thus, we need to ensure that we have an open mindset by not assuming a person’s sexual identity by one simple deduction of who they like.
The question of this piece is to ask whether it is possible to end bi erasure and pan erasure in our society. Obviously it will take time and it is clear that the majority of the LGBTQ+ community is reportedly bisexual or queer. Therefore, we have the benefit of being able to reach out more towards the community and dismantling the biphobic, panphobic views that exist within our own community.
However, in terms of changing the views of bi erasure in the larger society, which includes straight, cis-gendered folks’ views on it, representation is vital. But, it must not just be any form of representation. Instead, it should be the accurate and realistic representation of bisexual and pansexual people in society to normalise the fact that we do exist. This applies to book characters, TV characters, movie characters, politicians, celebrities and leaders. Being able to create platforms for bisexual, pansexual and queer people is vital to ensuring that we have spaces to empower ourselves and be acknowledged.
Whilst we may have a long way to go in dismantling bi erasure, pan erasure and queerphobia, overall, there has definitely been an improvement in society. Hopefully, in the near future, when we are questioned about our significant others, we will not have to squirm or feel uncomfortable having to explain or hide the fact that you don’t just find one sex or gender attractive, rather an all inclusive phrase makes you feel safe and comfortable to answer the question as a queer, bisexual or pansexual individual. The way it should be.