This will be brief.
People need to belong.
Abraham Maslow’s heirarchy of needs describes how people are able to get their needs met. First is survival. If you don’t have food and water, or other things you require to keep drawing breath, there is little else you can strive for. People stranded in lifeboats rarely write political manifestos. Once this need is met, you can attend to other matters of safety. Once you are safe, then you begin to look past the next breath and look towards belonging.
People need to belong. We are gregarious beings – not truly social like honeybees or naked mole rats or the coalescent hives of Stephen Baxter’s later Xeelee novels, nor pack animals, but like the bonobos we are close cousins to we assemble ourselves into troops and tribes – and communities. We define these tribes in many ways, from genetic and/or household familes all the way up to nations and races. In this early 21st Century milieu, one of the ways we define communities is by sexual orientation, something that some dismiss as “Identity Politics”. We are political creatures, though, and identity is important in a thousand ways.
There are a lot of models of identity development, some of which I have written about in this space, some of which I will explore more in future posts. The fundamental fact, though, is that the presence of a welcoming community of people who share important characteristics is a must. There is a reason that the header of this blog contains the phrase “To live a life of integrity in a community of mutual support”.
This is one of the many reasons bisexual erasure is a problem. It prevents people from recognizing themselves in others, because it prevents people from seeing others like themselves. A community of invisible people is not a community that can empower its members – a community of invisible people is not a community at all, but a Cantor dust of scattered atoms, occasionally randomly connected, with only the power that each individual is able to bring to bear.
If we cannot find each other, then, we cannot satisfy our need to belong, which means that on some level we are unable to build self-esteem, and without that ability, self-actualization is forever out of reach.
So how do they keep us from finding each other? Lots of ways, including the incessant redefinitions of bisexuality to justify Anythng But Bisexual labels. But the one that is catching my eye (and ear) recently? While it’s not exactly brand-new (it’s been going on for a bit), the newish way to erase bisexuality is gaining traction. Senator Al Franken has done it. Articles about LGBT issues have done it. And Entertainment Weekly recently did it. Now, I don’t think of EW as anything of real lasting value – those of you who have spent time with me in these pages know that academic journals and science fiction novels are more my cup of tea. But I recognize that things like EW and People and supermarket tabloids have a much wider readership than The Journal Of LGBT Issues In Counseling.
Which is why it’s a big deal that Entertainment Weekly devoted an entire issue to “gay, lesbian, and transgender entertainment”.
It’s just the most recent in this growing trend. I’ve been to functions in queer spaces where LGBT was unpacked as “gay, lesbian, and transgender”. It is undeniable erasure.
Part of the problem is that for quite some time the initialism LGBT have been being used in bothersome ways. For example, frequently articles about queer people in the news will say “gay” or “lesbian” if the person identifies as such (or, of course, is bi but has at any time in their life has even hinted otherwise for any reason, or if the author simply decided to gaywash them), but if someone clearly identifies as bisexual (or any of the other words that people use to stand in for bisexual) the media will refer to them as LGBT. Which is ludicrous on the face of it.
What that does is erase bisexuals, because let’s face it – you and I both know that 99% of the time, LGBT is pronounced “gay”. And no one is L, G, B, and T all at the same time.
So for some time now, there’s been this sort of half-assed inclusion where people will write LGBT, and then unpack it as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender”. Which seems better than nothing, right? Except if you look closely, the only place the Big Bad B Word is mentioned is in the unpacking. It’s a phenomenon I call “Ctrl-R Inclusionism”.
Only now, they are even omitting that tiny nod. Which shows just how much they never meant it in the first place. “Lesbian, gay, and transgender” may leave out half of the community they are talking about, but in a way it’s more honest (and easier to fight) because they’ve really been leaving us out all along.
We’ve simply been so used to settling for crumbs and will-o-the-wisps that we’ve let it happen.