When Charmee Taylor, an LA-based actor, came out as bisexual two years ago, she hoped it would be a climactic moment. “A band is going to play, people are going to be like ‘Go Charmee, you’re out!’” she says. But the euphoria was tempered by a sinking realization: As a Black bi woman, Taylor would be coming out, in one way or another, for the rest of her life.
That’s partly due to bisexual erasure, the tendency of both straight and queer communities to overlook, ignore, and perpetuate negative stereotypes about people who are attracted to more than one gender. Bisexual erasure intertwines with racism, ableism, transphobia, and other forms of marginalization to harm bi folks in all our intersecting identities.
Like the bi folks I spoke to for this piece, I define “bisexual” as meaning attraction to more than one gender, which can include people across the gender spectrum. Bisexual people can be cis, trans, or agender; we can identify as fluid or find that our attractions are more fixed; and we can be attracted to different genders, at different times, to different degrees. “Bisexual” and “pansexual” are different labels for people attracted to multiple genders, and there are many reasons folks prefer one or the other, but we share similar concerns and solidarity.
Bisexuals are the largest subgroup of LGBTQ-identified people. Yet most of us have, at one point or another, had to contend with the myth that we don’t exist. Bi erasure is rooted in the misunderstanding of gender and sexuality as a binary, in which we must be either men or women, gay or straight. Partly as a result of bi erasure, bisexual folks are less likely than our gay and lesbian siblings to come out; we have limited data and funding dedicated to our health; and we experience increased rates of poverty and violence.
While bi erasure is harmful and persistent, Deana Williams, a sexual health doctoral candidate and researcher at Indiana University, reminds us that it’s not the whole story. Bi folks have long pushed back against a world that overlooks us, turning our sexuality into a source of solidarity. “We can use identity for resilience,” she says.