First and foremost, in a contemporary western society like the United States, I have to acknowledge how media portrayals and representations, especially of minority groups, help the general public acknowledge, relate to and humanize groups that they may not interact with in their day-to-day lives.
The underrepresented individuals that I want to dedicate this article for those who identify as bisexual. Bisexual visibility, both in the general population and media representations, is incredibly bleak. For a nation that prides itself on expanding the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, where is all the love and accurate portrayal of bisexuality and bisexual identifying folks?
For the record, if you were going to give yourself a pat on the back after my "expanding LGBTQ+ rights comment"—please don't! The United States has a long way to go before we can start celebrating because marriage equality is only the beginning of the issue of addressing the inequalities facing non-cisgendered, heterosexual individuals. Sorry, that's just facts.
But back to bisexual visibility—it doesn't exist. At least, it doesn't exist in an accessible and genuinely representative format within the USA, especially where media portrayals are concerned.
So if bisexual visibility doesn't effectively exist in the U.S., then what does? How does the general populace interact and learn from the bisexual community? The simple answer is that the general population doesn't. In fact, in response to the lack of visibility of the bisexual community, a term has been coined to describe the experience or phenomena of the media ignoring bisexual lived experiences.
I bet you're wondering what that word is. Fret not! The word coined to describe this phenomenon is bi-erasure (or bi-invisibility for some).
Bi-Erasure (Bisexual erasure) or bisexual invisibility is a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.
It would almost seem as if bisexuality is too complicated for pop culture and mainstream media.
To illustrate my point further, I have point together a short list of some of the worst offenders of bi-erasure in the media.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer" is one of the greatest things ever created by humans. But still, it is perhaps the textbook example when it comes to bisexual erasure in pop culture.
For the first three seasons, Willow is clearly attracted to men. Her relationship with the werewolf Oz is one of the biggest romances in the show. But then, when she gets into a relationship with the witch, Tara, she calls herself gay. Admittedly, when she met her vampire doppelganger, she did describe her as "kinda gay."
Like seriously, Joss Whedon? I expected better from you. This is a problem with the writing. If they wanted to make Willow a lesbian from the beginning, they could have done something to make her relationships with men feel disingenuous or her "trying to fit in." But they didn’t. And the word bisexual isn’t even mentioned as a possibility, it’s "kinda gay."
"Bisexual is a term gay guys use in high school when they want to hold hands with girls and feel normal for a change."
This is a quote said by Kurt, played by Chris Colfer. This is when Blaine, another "gay" character, was expressing doubts about his sexual orientation.
Even though Kurt is called out on his double-standard, in the end, Blaine is 100 percent gay by the end of the episode. Why? Creator Ryan Murphy said they made the decision to make Blaine gay instead of bisexual because the "kids need to know he’s one of them." And bisexual kids don’t need some representation?
"Orange is the New Black"
Or what about "Orange is the New Black?" Piper identifies as bisexual, but this self-identification occurs once in the show. From then on, Piper is either referred to by Alex as "the straight girl" or by her husband as the "lesbian." I definitely think that it constitutes bi-erasure in my book.
And for my lovelies of other sexual orientations, you deserve representation, too! But today was about demanding equal space and representation for the bisexual community.
And remember, September 23rd of every year is Bi (sexual) Visibility Day!