by Katie Kausch
"It's just a phase." "Oh, she's just experimenting." "He's too scared to say he's gay."
These seemingly harmless phrases are all examples of bi-erasure, a very real and very dangerous hurdle facing the bisexual community.
"Bisexual erasure is when the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright," Alexandra Bolles, a Strategist, Global and US South, at GLAAD, told MTV News.
In honor of Bisexuality Awareness Week, here are some ways you can avoid bi-erasure and be a good ally to the bi community.
When someone comes out to you as bisexual, believe them.
"Show them the same kind of respect that you would show anybody, because bi people are people, and the harmful thing about bi-erasure is that it tries to invalidate that notion," Bolles said. "Just meeting people where they are and welcoming their identities" is a great way to avoid bi-erasure.
This means not asking questions like "are you sure?" or "this seems like a phase" or "but you've dated people of the opposite gender before!" If your friend trusts you enough to come out to you, be a good friend, and believe and support them in their identity.
If You Are In A Relationship With A Bi Person, Trust Them
The media often portrays bisexual people as promiscuous or likely to stray, despite the fact that these individuals are just as likely as their straight, gay or lesbian counterparts to be in monogamous relationships. If you're dating a bisexual person, trust them the same as you would any other partner.
"Sometimes [bi people's] significant others can say that they [are] manipulative, or assumed to be cheating, or that their love isn’t real. All these things sort of point in the same direction, which is the feeling that bisexualality is not a real identity, that it's just a phase or a form of manipulation, and obviously that can create … a lot of anxiety on the bi person just trying to live," said Bolles.
Question Media Representations of Bi People
Bisexual people, especially bi-men, are under- and misrepresented in popular media.
"We see a lot more representation of bi women in the media than we do of bi men, because it's more common to hypersexualize women," said Bolles. "What this does when it happens is really render bi men virtually invisible in mainstream media."
This lack of representation for bi men has very real consequences for those living that identity.
"When men do come out a bi in their real lives, the common stereotype is they're just gay but they don’t want to admit it," Bolles said.
Understand That There are Different Experiences Within the Bi Community
Bisexual is sometimes used as an umbrella term for anyone attracted to more than one gender, the same way gay is sometimes used to refer to anyone who experiences same-sex attraction. "The bi community is sort of considered an umbrella for bi people, pan people, queer, fluid, and so on," Bolles explained.
While someone may feel comfortable with the bisexual label, they might also identify as pansexual (or queer, or attracted to more than one gender, or any other way that feels comfortable to them).
"The definition of pansexual is a person who's attracted to people regardless of gender, and the definition of bisexual is people who are attracted to more than one gender," Bolles said. "It's not just a semantics issues, because it is peoples lived identities."
It's important to understand these differences, and respect people's self-identifications and lived experiences.
Ask What You Can Do
As an ally, it's important to remember that unless you are a part of the community, the struggle for bi visibility and better representation is not about you. Take a supportive role, but also know when to step back.
"I think something that is really important for allies is to just listen, to ask 'what don’t I know,' 'what does the bi community need' and then,' what can I do to fill that need?'" Bolles said. By playing a supportive role and validating other peoples identities and experiences, you can help eliminate bi-erasure.