All bi-myself: bi-erasure in the media

About a month ago, I came across this article at Huffington Post. Disregard the actual article for a moment and check out the slideshow at the bottom: “Celebrity LGBT Families.” I clicked through the pictures and was surprised to find that the final two were about bisexual women.

As a bisexual woman myself, who is so used to reading articles and watching movies or television that are seemingly about LGBTQ issues, or are LGBTQ friendly, and not seeing any fellow “B”s included, I was thrilled. But it quickly became a very sobering moment.

I was so excited about seeing just two of thirty-two examples referencing bisexuals, but why? (Although Cynthia Nixon doesn’t like to use the term.) It’s so hard to find bisexual inclusion in the media, that two (maybe one-and-a-half) slides were cause for a huge celebration.

Bisexuals are often overlooked and forgotten in discussions of LGBTQ issues in pop culture and the news, a tendency called “bi-erasure,” or the consistent overlooking or re-explaining of bisexuality in media, history, and academia.

I’d argue that the biggest issue with bi-erasure is that it can have detrimental consequences for young people who are bisexual.

In the same way that a gay or lesbian teen or adult suffers emotionally and mentally from not being able to come to terms with their sexual orientation, so do bisexual teens and adults. And without media exposure to the concept and existence of (let alone the acceptance and support of) bisexuality, it’s nearly impossible to know that it’s even an option.

I remember thinking, “I think I like girls, but I know I like boys, so I know I’m not a lesbian, so I must be straight.” It wasn’t until a few years (and tons of research) later when I finally had the knowledge and strength to identify as bisexual and come out to my family and friends.

However, we are making progress. There are bisexual characters on popular mainstream television shows, like Maya St. Germain on Pretty Little Liars and Nolan Ross on Revenge.

Celebrities have publicly come out as bisexual, like True Blood’s star Anna Paquin and Evan Rachel Wood from Across the Universe. Both publicly speak out against bisexual stereotypes. Slowly, but surely, bisexuals are becoming more present in pop culture.

With more media coverage of bisexuality — in television, movies, and the news — a wider knowledge and acceptance can be gained.

Young people should know, when potentially first confronting a sexual orientation that isn’t straight, that bisexuality exists, that support groups exist, and that strong bisexual role models exist.

If you find yourself questioning your sexual orientation and think you might be bisexual or know someone who might, there are tons of support groups and resources out there. Try this, this, and this for starters.

Molly Walter is a Pittsburgh-born Netflix enthusiast living and working in Boston.  She loves talking and writing about women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, and her unhealthy obsession with television.  She is currently trying to get up the courage to get her fourth tattoo, the feminist symbol in pink, purple, and blue — the colors of the bi pride flag.

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