A new report on the bi erasure running rampant at Pride highlights the trauma and exclusion endured by bisexual people in their own community
A report conducted by Pride in London’s community advisory board (CAB) has condemned, among other things, the rampant bi erasure at Pride. The report also discussed the breakdown in communication between Pride in London and UK Black Pride, the “normative, cis, white and erasing of BAME people, bi people, and trans people” nature of the #LoveHappensHere campaign, and general exclusion of anyone who isn’t a young, white, cis gay man. This will likely come as very little surprise to anyone within the community who is not a young, white, cis gay man.
The extensive report highlighted in particular the fact that the Pride board closed registrations early for the parade, meaning that not one bisexual group had a chance to register in time. No allowance was made for a late registration, and a bi parade entry was included only following an uproar on social media. The report also cited concerns about “biphobic remarks” made by a Cabaret Stage Presenter and Parade commentator. The CAB recommends that to compensate for these failures and to “combat bi erasure more generally, ‘Pride in London should follow the example of Tel Aviv Pride this year, by making bi people the central focus of the Pride Parade in 2018 or 2019”.
The report rightly states that “bi people, despite forming the largest component of the LGBT population, remain marginalised within that community and in society at large”. While this year was a particularly controversial one (thanks in part to the dire #LoveHappensHere campaign that the report highlights) this erasure is not remotely new. I cannot speak directly on what it’s like to be any other minority or identity at Pride, but something I have experience in is erasure as a “straight-passing” bisexual woman. The idea of “straight passing” is, of course, problematic in itself – while I mightn’t be beaten up in the street, it doesn’t prevent me from being abused, excluded, fetishised, or oppressed. There are also plenty of bisexual people who are not straight passing who feel excluded by the community; I spoke to bi people of all genders who agreed with what they CAB report stated: that Pride, and the community at large, needs to be more inclusive of bisexual people.
First up, really: do bisexual people even feel welcome at Pride? Rachel, 25, told me that she doesn’t go because she “feels this weird guilt thanks to bi erasure” that makes her feel like she’s “not entitled to any space in the LGBT+ community”. She added, “I'm very aware I have the privilege of being perceived as straight because I'm a femme presenting woman, so I exclude myself.” Alma, 19, told me that she has “never been to Pride as a participant – not because I'm scared of family finding out, but because I feel like it's not for me”.
as soon as you begin to say the word "bisexual" you got 56 questions about percentage of attraction or how many same-sex partners you've had— nothing™ (@fifimaeve) May 22, 2017
Desirée, 21, added “I don’t attend Pride because of bi erasure and the exclusion I have felt from the community specifically. I have been told by people within the LGBT+ community how I should identify, and that even though I am bi, and because of the way my partner identifies, that we should give up our space at Pride events because we are straight passing. My partner, who is a trans man of colour, has also shown me the degree of transphobia and racism in the community as well – issues I would have otherwise had the privilege of avoiding”.
While it’s nice to try and prioritise bi people at Pride, there’s the chance that maybe it’s not actually the best way to combat the resentment many members of the community feel towards us. I spoke to Sophie, 22, who said that while she “loves the idea of a bi-focused Pride”, she is “concerned though that it would make bi people targets for criticism or harassment” adding that she can “already see the accusations that we're unnecessarily dividing the community or that we're not queer enough”. It’s fair to worry, Sophie adds, considering the “hate and dismissal that Black Pride gets from a lot of white LGBT+ people”. Regardless of whether or not a bi-centric Pride is the best way to go about it, there needs to be more effort within the community to include us at all.
The people I spoke to had countless recollections of erasure and microaggressions they’d experienced within the community; Rachel told me that she “went to a queer karaoke night that marketed itself to be an inclusive place for people of all gender identities and sexual identities. On the event page it said: ‘everyone is welcome, homos, heteros, queers and trans!’ At the door the woman gave us a lecture about inclusion and how it was an LGBT+ night and that we need to be tolerant and behave ourselves, and we said ‘what about bi?’ She told us they ‘don't say that because some people say they're ok with bi but not gay’?” Rachel added that despite the microaggressions she experiences daily, she had never experienced bi erasure so directly. Olivia, 20, told me that even though they are bi they have “never really felt part of the LGBT community” adding that even after they came out at uni, they “couldn't (and still can't) find a space for people like me.”
That erasure starts with how we are permitted to identify and to what extent our bi-ness is believed. Our identity is always up for discussion; it is never ours to decide. Joey said that they feel as if “there is an accepted 'type' that pride focuses on and it does not include people with penises that sometimes sleep with people who have vaginas and vice versa”. They added that “there is an idea that bi people are getting ‘the best of both worlds’”. Olivia added that “I currently have a boyfriend and (if I go to Pride) I'm worried that I'll get people having a go at me because I read straight. Bi people constantly have their queerness questioned, and this coupled with an LGBT community that prioritises cis gay white men means a lot of people feel excluded from spaces which should be theirs. Although biphobia is rampant in our society, the most hurtful comments i've had have come from my own community. I am queer enough and it's time for bi people to make ourselves heard, even if it means screaming”.
“Bi people constantly have their queerness questioned, and this coupled with an LGBT community that prioritises cis gay white men means a lot of people feel excluded from spaces which should be theirs”
The thing that is so constantly exhausting about being bisexual, that this report highlights, is feeling as if you constantly have to prove that you belong in spaces. It’s the balancing act between proving you’re queer enough while trying to avoid stereotypes surrounding bisexual promiscuity. It’s never fully being wanted by anyone. Because of course, it’d be unfair to act as if it’s only the LGBT community that’s responsible for bi erasure; it happens from all sides. Rachel said that “we're totally ignored in the gay community and fetishised in the straight community, and then when you do date or sleep with a girl, people think you're doing it for attention or out of rebellion”. Will, 24, added “family and friends won't believe your identity until you bring home someone of the same sex, seeing heterosexuality as the norm, especially when I've only ever had girlfriends, they see the expression of bisexuality as 'a phase' or attention seeking”.
The CAB report also touched on the way in which Pride excludes LGBT people of colour, and while I have no experience in this, there are far too many people who do. Clarkisha, 23, told me that she has a lot to say about how race intersects with her queerness, but that for a start, “the hypersexuality that is projected on me as a dark skinned black femme combined with the promiscuity that is assumed in bisexual people is a deadly combination”. In terms of general erasure, she said that “if you happen to be femme and are dating a male, the assumption is straightness. If you are dating your own gender, the assumption is that you are simply ‘seriously’ (?) gay. There is no room for bi-ness or pan-ness based on this assumption.”
Growing up, I had to listen to everyone talk about how bisexuality was attention seeking. Straight bullies called me homophobic slurs. Friends said they were worried about getting changed in front of queer girls. Men wanted me to kiss women for them. My gay friends echoed the rhetoric that bisexuality was a phase. The media I watched told me that bisexual women were a burden who could eventually be changed (The L Word) that we were troublemakers and heartbreakers (The O.C.) or they just skipped over that word entirely (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, literally everything else). It didn’t touch on bisexual men at all. The big B word was (is!) so rarely uttered in the community, on TV, ever, and if it was, it was always tainted with a little bit of judgement and resentment. So I avoided it.
It took me a long time to get to a point where I can say: I am bisexual, I am a member of the community, and any sex I may or may not have with cis men will never, ever contradict that. The CAB report highlights what we already know: that within and outside our community, there is very little space for us. We face similar, if not identical, oppressions as the rest of our community, and we deserve space at Pride and in other LGBT spaces. Pride and the community have a long way to go in its inclusion of anyone who is not a cis white gay man; maybe a bi-focused event isn’t the best way to go about it, but at least the discussion is finally taking place on a large scale.