What is Bi-Erasure?

Aug 7, 2019

Ashlee Cain can be found @RoseGlassPhotos @RoseGlassIntimacy (FB/IG/Twitter)

This video first appeared on SDC.


Dr. Liz Powell: What is bi-erasure? Hi!

Ashlee: Hi!

Dr. Liz Powell: I’m Dr. Liz with Sex-Positive Psych.

Ashlee: And I’m Ashlee Cain from Rose Glass Photography.

Dr. Liz Powell: And I’m so glad that Ashlee joined me today because we’re going to talk about bi-erasure. Such a thing. So Ashlee, how do you define bi-erasure?

Ashlee: I think bi-erasure is anything that in general either invalidates, creates I guess – should I look it up? But I want to collect my thoughts.

Dr. Liz Powell: No, it’s OK. No, it’s OK to collect your thoughts. I think bi-erasure is a tough thing to define in a lot of ways.

Ashlee: Yeah. That’s why I was like …

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. So like for me when I think about bi-erasure, I think about the ways that we – like for instance, I’m bisexual. If someone sees me with a man partner, they’ll often say, “Oh, you’ve gone straight.” Or like if someone sees me with someone who is a woman partner, they’ll say, “Oh, you’ve gone gay.”

There is this way in which we assume that people are always monosexuals, so only attracted to like one gender or one gender kinds of presentation that ends up causing a lot of problems for folks who are polysexual or multisexual.

Ashlee: Right. Yeah. And specifically, those examples I feel a lot and I also feel as though there are a lot of kind of myths about bisexuals that feed into bi-erasure.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

Ashlee: Not just the midst of like, “Oh, you’re just confused or you haven’t picked a side yet.” But also, midst about like, “Oh, if you’re bi that means you inherently don’t like certain other genders. You are committed to only cismen and ciswomen or something like that.”

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. If you’re bisexual, you’re reinforcing the gender binary.

Ashlee: Yeah.

Dr. Liz Powell: Not true. Not true.

Ashlee: Yeah. And it’s frustrating because a lot of those myths were why I didn’t realize that I was bi until in my 20s. I went through my whole life being completely attracted to women and dating boys. Well, boys at that time, men now.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

Ashlee: And I assumed that I didn’t count as bi because I was under the impression that bisexual people either were equally into men and equally into women in the exact same ways, at the exact same time all the time. I was under the impression that like or bisexual people are like just kind of like really, really slutty. And none of the ideas I had about bisexuals fit how I felt. So I was kind of like, “I guess all straight girls really love looking at women and watch the kind of porn that I watched and fantasize about women.” That’s like a straight thing, right? Oh my God! Yeah.

Dr. Liz Powell: Totally. Totally straight. Yeah. I think for me, I read this great article recently that talked about kind of the origins of bisexual as a term and that for a long time up until even like the ‘80s, there wasn’t really a term for bi. And so, you are just loved under like gay or lesbian or queer.

Ashlee: That explains a lot.

Dr. Liz Powell: And that’s why there’s not like a really rich bi history even though there are a lot of bi people throughout history. And I think the most recent thing I’ve seen is that reinfor – the statement of like if you’re bisexual, you’re only attracted to cisgender people, which is weird for me to hear because a lot of the people I know who identifies as bi including me are people who are gender queer or trans or who are non-binary in other ways. So it doesn’t make sense to say that like we’re people who are against our own selves.

Ashlee: Right. And I mean even in my particular situation like I am not gender queer. I’m not trans. I am a cisgender woman. But my sexual preference has never in any way excluded someone on the basis of gender. If I’m attracted to someone, finding out that they are trans or finding out that they are in any way, their genitals were not what I was hoping or expecting them to be has never made me decide, “Oh, never mind. You are off my list of people that I’m attracted to. I’m only attracted to this list of types of genders.”

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

Ashlee: I don’t really know that many people who fall in between straight or gay have that feeling.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah, I don’t. Like I don’t know of any people except people who are like fairly transphobic or who went through their own like transphobia feelings who would exclude someone because they aren’t like a specific gender. Like I don’t of a lot of folks who identify not as completely straight or completely gay who would say, “Oh well, you’re at this place on the gender spectra so I’m not interested.”

Ashlee: Yeah.

Dr. Liz Powell: I think that that’s not an experience I’ve had within the bi community.

Ashlee: Yeah. It’s not for me either. And I find it really frustrating. I think the particular I guess brand of bi-erasure that I experienced the most is the assumption that once you are partnered and not only partnered but like committed in a partnership like I have a long term partner. He is a cis male. We’ve been together for a long time. We are poly. We are open. But he is my nesting partner.

Dr. Liz Powell: So you’re straight now.

Ashlee: Yeah. And so, what I – yes, I’m straight now. But what I specifically experienced was when I came out is as queer, as bi, I was already with him and I’ve been with him for a number of years and I had so many people ask me like, “So what is – like why are you – what does this mean? Why are you telling me? You’re with a guy so why does the fact that you’re bi matter?” kind of thing. Maybe not in those words. A couple of times but in those words.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. No, I’m totally – yeah, it’s really rough. And I think what has been challenging for me too is that there is not the same kind of bi community as there is like a gay community or a lesbian community.

Ashlee: Yeah.

Dr. Liz Powell: And I don’t know if this is still the experience but when I was younger even up until like probably 8 years ago, when I would try to date lesbian-identified women, a lot of them would refuse to date me because I was bi. That there was – there were a lot of lesbian women who thought that if I’m bi it means that I’m just going to leave them for a man or I don’t really mean that I’m into women anyway.

So even within queer communities, that’s hard for bisexual folks to feel like they belong. And I noticed this interesting assumption that if you’re bisexual and you’re someone who the people read as a woman that obviously you’re into men. And if you’re bisexual and someone who people read as a man, obviously, you’re into men.

Ashlee: Right. No more fun. [Laughter] Don’t you know that dicks are magical? And you know, you experience …

Dr. Liz Powell: I mean some dicks are magic. Let’s not lie. There are some dicks that are magic.

Ashlee: That is true. We can talk about that another time.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yes.

Ashlee: But yeah, the assumption is that like if you’re a – actually, what you said. I didn’t mean to repeat that, the idea that like the dick if you’ve experienced dating men and dick then like clearly, that’s your preference. For some reason, it goes either way.

Dr. Liz Powell: Misogyny. The reason is misogyny.

Ashlee: No secret. The reason is misogyny. And yeah, I’ve also – that was another really surprising thing to learn because obviously realizing I’m bi later in life, coming out later in life, I had to catch up to a lot of things about being bi.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah, I will just pause for a second.

Ashlee: OK. Makes sense. Let’s pause.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. No, it’s OK. Just close the door. Yeah. And then we’ll continue. All right. So just take a breath.

Ashlee: So yeah, realizing I’m bi later in life, coming out later in life, I had to catch up to a lot of things that perhaps other people who realized earlier have been dealing with their whole life. So one of the most surprising things I realized is like, OK, I already knew clearly we have a lot of like straight people have a lot of biphobic and bi-erasing ideas. I didn’t realize that the queer community also had those.

So when I first started, when we became poly and everything and I started seeing women and they would find out I’m bi, especially that I’m bi and partnered with a male, they had assumed, “Oh, so this is like a game or this is like a phase or you want me to sleep with your boyfriend.”

Dr. Liz Powell: Yes! Yes! You try to bring me in for a threesome.

Ashlee: As a bisexual woman, I’m like, “I don’t want that either. That’s what I face all the time.” So it’s like you know, I’m not – it’s surprising and I’m sure these people get this all the time. I’m sure that’s why that happens.

Dr. Liz Powell: I’m sure. I mean look, [0:08:22] [Indiscernible]. It happens a lot.

Ashlee: And people use it in a really like objectifying and dehumanizing way. I understand that. But – and I don’t try to hide the lead that I’m bi or that I’m partnered. I usually put that right on the profile. But I guess people don’t read them all the time. So when we start actually talking, I get ghosted when people are like, “Oh, I don’t date bi.” I’ve been told flat out, “I don’t date bisexuals,” by queer women. And it’s like …

Dr. Liz Powell: Yup. Yup.

Ashlee: OK.” So that was surprising. Just catching up to all of that like OK, well, I get the straight people don’t get it but the queers do, right? And then it was like …

Dr. Liz Powell: No.

Ashlee: Maybe not.

Dr. Liz Powell: No. Often the queers do not.

Ashlee: Yeah.

Dr. Liz Powell: I mean that’s frustrating because I think – when I came out, I came out at 17. I was the first person I knew like in my high school to come out. And then when I went to college, I was like very involved in our gay-straight alliance and I kept thinking that like eventually I was going to find this queer community that like accepted and understood bisexuals. And I still feel like outside of the community of people who are all like bi-pan queer. I still don’t find that, right?

Like these days, a lot of my friends are poly sexual. I don’t have many friends who are strictly straighter, strictly gay. But when I meet people who do, there’s still so much misunderstanding.

Ashlee: Right. Yeah. And I feel that thing you mentioned earlier about feeling like you don’t have that community quite, I get really excited when I meet other queer-identified or bisexual or pansexual people like you said. But I feel like just culturally, we don’t have that.

Dr. Liz Powell: No.

Ashlee: If I want to find something, if I want to find a shirt that says something about being bisexual, one of my bisexual friends has to make it. I don’t go – during Pride, I don’t have, “Oh look! That says – rainbow stuff, that says gay as hell. That says whatever.” I don’t have something that says bisexual or like it’s just not there.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. It’s not our serving lines [0:10:26] [Phonetic].

Ashlee: Yeah.

Dr. Liz Powell: So what would be like if you could give people like your top takeaways of how to make sure that they make space for bi people or they make bi people feel more welcome, what would your top tips be?

Ashlee: I think A, in the same way that culturally we’re trying to really, really push, you cannot assume what someone’s gender pronouns are just by looking at them. You cannot assume what someone’s sexuality is just by seeing them with a partner, just by seeing them moving through the world.

So yes, seeing me snuggled up on a cisgendered man, “Oh wow! I guess she’s straight.” Seeing me snuggled up with a cute girl, “Oh, I guess she’s a lesbian.” It’s not fair. You can’t do that. It’s not how it works.

And I guess the other big thing for me would be working through being able to let go the feelings of something has to be one or the other. Again, I feel like we’re working through a lot of this as a society when it comes to gender. And I think the idea of working through that when it comes to sexuality and preferences is a little bit less of a priority. But I often feel like they go hand in hand honestly. Just like there is no gender binary, there is no sexuality binary. You’re not either gay or straight.

Even people – I’ve met plenty of people who identified as gay or straight and then in talk and me getting to know them say, “Oh, I’m a little homoflexible or I like the right person.” So – and it’s fine that they identify as gay or straight but it’s just not true, the idea of you’re one or the other. We are both.

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. I mean I think that sexual orientation is likely to be a bi-model distribution, which means that there are clusters around more straight or more gay. But I think that there’s a lot more flexibility and mobility between them than we think there is.

I think my biggest tip for folks would be if you notice yourself having thoughts about people who are polysexual about like choosing teams or greediness or sluttiness or any of those things, just like asking yourself where did I get this idea? How did I learn it? Is it still serving me? And is it real? Like is this still in line with the experiences of the people that I’m meeting?

Ashlee: Yeah. That – spot on. Very great.

Dr. Liz Powell: Right. Well, thank you so much …

Ashlee: No problem. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Liz Powell: … for doing this video with me. And I hope that I get to shoot video with you again sometime soon.

Ashlee: Yes, love to. Thank you for watching.

Dr. Liz Powell: All right. Oh, what’s your website? Where can people find you?

Ashlee: OK. So you can find me on pretty much everything as a Rose Glass Photography. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also find my intimate photography which includes like kink, boudoir, nudes. You can find that at @rose.glass.intimacy. I’m on Instagram for that as well.

Dr. Liz Powell: All right. Awesome. And I’ll put links to that in the show notes so that you can find those and find Ashlee easily.

Ashlee: Thank you.

Dr. Liz Powell: All right. Thanks.

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