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Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include denying that bisexuality exists. It is often a manifestation of biphobia, although it does not necessarily involve overt antagonism.
There is increasing inclusion and visibility of bisexuals, particularly in the LGBT community. American psychologist Beth Firestone writes that since she wrote her first book on bisexuality, in 1996, "bisexuality has gained visibility, although progress is uneven and awareness of bisexuality is still minimal or absent in many of the more remote regions of our country and internationally."
According to scholar Kenji Yoshino, there are three main investments that motivate both self-identified homosexuals and heterosexuals to seek to culturally erase bisexuality. These motivations are firstly, sexual orientation stabilization. This relieves people of the anxiety of having sexual orientation questioned, an untenable position since it is in fact unprovable. Secondly, the maintenance of the importance of gender, which is seen as erotically essential to monosexuals while this notion is challenged by the existence of bisexuality. Thirdly, the maintenance of monogamy since for mainstream Americans, a pair bond is preferred. However, bisexuals are generally assumed by monosexuals to be "intrinsically" non-monogamous.
In an article written for the 10th anniversary of Yoshino's piece, Heron Greenesmith argues that bisexuality is in fact inherently invisible in the law, beyond the reach of deliberate erasure. Firstly, she says it is because bisexuality is legally irrelevant with plaintiffs presumed to be monosexual unless outed and secondly, that when bisexuality is legally relevant it is erased within the legal culture since it complicates legal arguments that depend on a gender binary nature of sexuality.
Straight and gay people who engage in bisexual erasure may claim that bisexuals are either exclusively homosexual (gay/lesbian) or exclusively heterosexual (straight), closeted gay or lesbian people who wish to appear heterosexual, or are heterosexuals who are experimenting with their sexuality. A common manifestation of bisexual erasure is a tendency for bisexuals to be referred to as heterosexual when they are intimately involved with people of the opposite sex, and to be labeled as homosexual when they are involved with people of the same sex.
In the LGBT community
Bisexual erasure may stem from a belief that the bisexual community does not deserve equal status or inclusion within gay and lesbian communities. This can take the form of omitting the word bisexual in the name of an organization or event that serves the whole LGBT community, including it as "bi-sexual", implying that there are only two authentic sexual orientations, or treating the subject of bisexuality in a derogatory way.
Bisexuals have been overlooked in the same-sex marriage debate. Firstly, where same sex marriage is illegal, those campaigning for it have failed to highlight the inconsistencies of marriage laws in relation to bisexuals, whose right to marry depends solely on the gender of their partner. Secondly, when same-sex marriage is available, a bisexual partner will generally be referred to as lesbian or gay. For example, one of the first people to take part in a same sex marriage in America, Robyn Ochs was widely referred to in the media as a lesbian, despite identifying herself in interviews as bisexual.
1991 saw the publication of one of the seminal books in the history of the modern bisexual rights movement, Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, an anthology edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu, but this anthology was forced to compete (and lost) in the Lambda Literary Awards under the category Lesbian Anthology. In 2005, Directed by Desire: Collected Poems, a posthumous collection of the bisexual Jamaican American writer June Jordan's work, had to compete (and won) in the category "Lesbian Poetry". However, BiNet USA led the bisexual community in a multi-year campaign eventually resulting in the addition of a Bisexual category, starting with the 2006 Awards.
Some media outlets have portrayed bisexual behaviors in ancient and non-Western cultures, such as ancient Greek pederasty or Native American Two-Spirits, as proof that homosexuality has been widely accepted in other times and cultures, even though it can also be seen as proof of the existence and acceptance of bisexuality.
In both the gay and straight media, individuals who have kept their sexual identity unknown have been portrayed as either gay or straight even when they engage in romantic or sexual relationships with both men and women. The same has occurred even with people who identify themselves as bisexual. Examples include Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist, who was publicly misidentified as a lesbian on the day of her wedding; Ani DiFranco, whose 1998 marriage to Andrew Gilchrist was portrayed in both gay and mainstream media as renouncing lesbianism even though she had been out as bisexual since the very beginning of her career; Cynthia Nixon, who faced public criticism in 2012 when an awkwardly-worded interview quote about her bisexuality led many to believe she was saying she had chosen to become a lesbian; Madonna, who has called herself bisexual in interviews and has frequently engaged in public acts of same-sex intimacy with other female celebrities, but is typically portrayed by media as a heterosexual woman who dabbles in lesbian imagery for pure shock value, with any possibility that she might be genuinely bisexual being discounted entirely; and Lady Gaga, who is sometimes labelled as either homosexual or heterosexual in the media even though she has publicly identified as bisexual.
On December 30, 2009, MTV premiered their 23rd season of the show The Real World, featuring two bisexual participants, Emily Schromm, and Mike Manning. Although Manning himself identifies as bisexual, many bloggers and commenters on blogs claimed that he was in fact gay. Furthermore, while a behind-the-scenes MTV Aftershow and subsequent interview revealed that both Manning and Schromm had had encounters with both men and women while on the show, the show was edited to make it seem as though they had only been with men.
- Mary Zeiss Stange, Carol K. Oyster, Jane E. Sloan (2011). Encyclopedia of Women in Today's World. Sage Pubns. pp. 158–161. ISBN 1-4129-7685-5. ISBN 9781412976855. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
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- Hutchins, Loraine. "Sexual Prejudice - The erasure of bisexuals in academia and the media". American Sexuality Magazine. San Francisco, CA 94103, United States: National Sexuality Resource Center, San Francisco State University. Archived from the original on 2007-12-16. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
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- Greenesmith, Heron (2010). "Drawing Bisexuality Back into the Picture: How Bisexuality Fits Into the LGBT Strategy Ten Years After Bisexual Erasure" (PDF). Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender 17: 65–80. Retrieved Feb 2013.
- Michael Musto, April 7, 2009. Ever Meet a Real Bisexual?, The Village Voice
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- Jennifer Baumgardner, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008. ISBN 0374531080.
- "'Bisexuality is a fact': Cynthia Nixon seeks to clarify her comments after causing outrage by saying she is 'gay by choice'". The Daily Mail, January 31, 2012.
- J. Randy Taraborrelli, Madonna: An Intimate Biography. Sidgwick & Jackson, 2001. ISBN 9781416583462.
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- Fraser, Mariam (1999). Identity Without Selfhood: Simone de Beauvoir and Bisexuality. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 124–140.
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- Curiouser and Curiouser: the Strange 'Disappearance' of Male Bisexuality by Mark Simpson
- Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited New York Times, July 5, 2005 (article primarily about bisexuality in males)
- Human Rights Campaign: Bisexuality