Goodbi-erasure: We Need to Get Better at the Portrayal of Bisexuality

Freddie Mercury – idol, hero, LGBTQIA+ icon. In the 2018 biopic, Mercury looks to Mary Austin with fear in his eyes and says, “I think I’m bisexual.” Mary looks down to him. “No, Freddie. You’re gay.”

Bi-erasure or bisexual invisibility is the predisposition to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, the news media, and other sources. Bisexual erasure can even include the belief that bisexuality does not exist.

I’ll start with an example of this in my personal life. After announcing my engagement to a man, my boss asked me if I was straight again. What followed was the awkward politeness that comes when you’re deeply offended but also don’t want to throw the F word in your boss’s face. I have faced this discrimination all my life. If I’m not just a lesbian lying to myself, then I’m called promiscuous for loving both genders.

I have also been told “give it a few years and you’ll realise you’re actually a lesbian and will run away with a woman from the gym like Carol and Susan in Friends.” No, actually, I am Bi.

Our media shows a distinct misunderstanding of bisexuality. The most damaging thing about this is the pressure and guilt this puts on both young and older people who haven’t yet come out. Bisexuality is seen as a step to being gay – why can’t we just love both genders and not have other people tell us who we are?

Remember that awesome show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Willow, iconically portrayed by Alyson Hannigan, was straight for the first three seasons with romantic relationships only with men. She then falls for the witch, Tara, and proclaims she is gay. Later, when meeting her vampire self, she states she is “kinda-gay”. Not a mention of the word “bisexual” from the writers. This is a perfect example of bi-erasure.

Shall we talk about the cure to bisexuality? Yes, it’s Ben Affleck. In both Chasing Amy and Gigli, Ben Affleck turns a lesbian straight. No mention of bisexuality ever crosses the scripts of these movies which flaunts the message that you are either gay or straight and there is no in-between.

Finally, begrudgingly, I have to bring up season one of the Netflix original Van Helsing, a show dear to my heart, filled with feminism and diversity. But you got the bisexual stuff wrong. In season one, our protagonist gets a little rosy on a few apocalypse beers and kisses her long-time friend, Susan. Thinking this would be the start of a great representation of bisexuality in a sci-fi, I rejoiced. But by the next episode both Susan and Vanessa are back to hooking up with men again and the queer kiss is never explored. So what was the point? Well, who knows – I personally think it was a ploy by writers to hook men in by making the main character have a girl-on-girl moment, or maybe it was an attempt at making Vanessa seem more interesting to the viewer? Either way – introducing a queer kiss then never explaining it is a form of bi-erasure. Vanessa Van Helsing had a make-out session with another woman but now she’s back to men and saving the world…just like that. Oh – and Susan was killed off shortly after.

Van Helsing - Vanessa and Susan - Syfy, Netflix
Van Helsing – Vanessa and Susan – Syfy, Netflix (Photo by: Dan Power/Nomadic Pictures Inc./SYFY)

As defined by GLAAD, “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.”

I, too, am guilty of my own bi-erasure. When asked about my sexuality, I used to say “I’m a little bit gay, a little bit straight.” Well no – I am bisexual and bisexual voices need to be louder.

As a bisexual woman, I do not want to be disregarded. I do not want the world to think it’s a phase, or that I’m just a lesbian in waiting. Bisexuality needs to be legitimized in the media. A dear friend of mine came out as bi recently in her 30s. She cited her main worry as she didn’t want to be seen as jumping on an LGBTQIA+ bandwagon or to be seen as it just being a phase. The media is making it harder for people to be themselves and embrace their sexuality. We need strong bisexual role models.

Van Helsing - Vanessa and Susan kiss - Syfy, Netflix
Van Helsing – Vanessa and Susan kiss – Syfy, Netflix