The odd reality of bi-erasure
Kit Connor, who plays the role of Nick Nelson in the wildly popular Netflix series ‘Heartstopper,’ came out as bisexual last week, but not exactly by choice.
The 18-year-old tweeted that he was bisexual, however, he was very clear in his message that the choice to come out was taken from him and his hand had been forced: “I’m bi. Congrats for forcing an 18-year-old to out himself. I think some of you missed the point of the show. Bye.”
Connor’s coming out was the result of intense fan speculation and accusations hurled his way – the actor has been accused of “queerbaiting,” given that Nick Nelson is bisexual and Connor had not publicly defined his sexuality until now.
While queerbaiting has been an incredibly contentious topic as of late, there is another conversation to be had about bisexuality and biphobia, which can either take the form of denial that bisexuality is a genuine sexual orientation or negative stereotypes about people who are bisexual such as the beliefs that they are promiscuous or dishonest.
Kit Connor’s bisexuality came in to question when he was seen with a woman – the common belief is that once you engage in a heterosexual relationship, your bisexuality simply is no more, which further reiterates society’s tendency for bisexual erasure; people often try to ignore or re-explain evidence of bisexuality, simply trying to box such individuals as either homosexual or heterosexual, refusing to believe the possibility of an in-between and completely denying the fluidity of sexuality.
It’s a phase
Bisexuality can be defined as the romantic or sexual attraction or behavior toward both males and females. However in our society, this type of fluidity tends to get misconstrued and oftentimes dismissed.
One belief underlying bisexual erasure is that bisexual individuals are distinctively indecisive, noting that it is in fact a phase; an experimental period, a brief interlude before the main event – ending up either with a same-sex partner, which then makes you gay/lesbian, or your opposite-sex partner, which then makes you heterosexual.
Often times these discriminatory beliefs come from within the LGBTQ+ community – there is often a belief that ‘bisexuality’ is but a place holder and they’ll all just release it soon enough.
Ursula Bastiansz, who identifies as lesbian and is from the LGBTQ+ community, shared that while it was unfortunate that bisexuals were treated this way, much of this attitude was borne of bitter experiences of queer folk.
“Many like to limit it to a phase, they think that it is just what you label yourself until you make your final decision. It is sort of the banner under which you have your time to experiment and explore, before you eventually settle down and get married,” she said, sharing that while this was incredibly unfair to those who were in fact bisexual, that this was simply the majority view.
“I have a friend who is bisexual and they had a partner who was always dismissive of their bisexuality. This partner would often scoff at them whenever they expressed their interests,” shared Ursula, adding, “I think when it comes to insecure people, they tend to weaponise this. When people find out their partner is bisexual, they say stuff like ‘oh I thought I had to worry about just one set of people, now I have to worry about both genders’ and that type of thing.”
Proving your queerness
We also spoke to Puji Galappaththi, who shared that as a queer person herself, she too understood and had experienced this type of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. “Fluidity is a concept that even those in the community do not wish to accept or they try to but struggle with it,” she said.
Puji also said that for those people who may identify as bisexual, it was an existence of proving themselves: “If you want to be accepted by the LGBT community, then you have to prove that you are queer enough. If you haven’t been in a same sex relationship, then suddenly your identity is invalidated. Should it be this way where you must prove how queer you are? Is there a threshold to queerness?”
This experience of constantly having to prove oneself to either community – the gays and the straights – is something that many bisexual people have gone through.
She noted: “You don’t then belong in either category. While we should aspire to be free of these limiting labels and boxes, they are also necessary for people to feel a sense of belonging and to feel proud in their identities and true selves. In that, bisexuals tend to be left out or, rather, made to prove themselves, to work that much harder to belong.”
Saritha Irugalbandara also added to the conversation, sharing her thoughts on how she too had felt how community members themselves tended to dismiss your identity, especially when you were in a heterosexual relationship: “I have heard such unfortunate things from lesbian women. I get called a bad bisexual for being in a heterosexual relationship, which automatically erases my sexuality,” she noted.
In popular culture, bisexuals are often portrayed as ‘hypersexual’ – depicted with multiple partners. This is a problematic take on the bi experience which has lent itself to the erasing of the sexual agency that bisexuals have, effectively erasing their true identities as well.
“What are your thoughts on a threesome?” is a common topic approached for people who identify as bisexual. Speaking on this matter of hypersexualising bi people, Saritha shared that “bisexual women tend to take the brunt of this”.
Ursula also added to this, stating that often bisexuality was viewed as the time in someone’s life where they give themselves permission to be ‘promiscuous,’ in our cultural settings women are expected to be a certain way, to be conservative and not sexually forward, and so bisexuality has almost become a synonym for sexual agency, especially for women, to use it as a banner. Therefore it has been associated with ‘overt sexuality’ rather than simply a sexual orientation.
We do, after all, live in a patriarchal society and the media loves to portray women in objectifying ways. And what better way than to portray women as bisexual often under the guise of giving them sexual agency when it fact they are really being further objectified and hypersexualised to serve the male gaze?
In media, characters are made to be bisexual if they are to represent debauchery; they are unholy, or wild, and it is rare that bisexuality is viewed as what it is – an identity. It is ironic that a story about such a heartstopper, which was one of the rare few that has opted to have a bisexual character who is not hypersexualised and is the representation of a typical teenager experiencing their sexual awakening, resulted in a fandom that has demanded that its actors come out in the way that Kit Connor has had to.
The bi experience is a complex one and the erasure of these identities is one that cannot be denied. Bisexual erasure has resulted in bi people not only having to struggle with finding acceptance within general society, but also within the LGBTQ+ community itself. We can see that erasure is often a manifestation of biphobia, which is incredibly unfortunate for bisexual individuals, because, although it does not necessarily involve overt antagonism, they must endure a lack of total acceptance and a feeling of being in limbo – denied that sense of belonging we all so desperately seek.