A recent New York Times editorial called out the GOP for trying to pass “religious freedom” legislation that would threaten Americans’ First Amendment rights. The article points out how this legislation not only undermines the same principles it purports to uphold, it also protects discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and others. Overall, it’s a well-written and well-intentioned article. But one detail got my queer hackles raised.
Over and over, this editorial says the GOP’s legislation would hurt “gays and lesbians.” This is true! It would hurt gays and lesbians. But gays and lesbians are not the only people it would hurt—not even the only queer people.
Wouldn’t this legislation also make it possible for a doctor to deny care to trans* patients? Or protect the DMV worker who refused to put the correct sex on their driver’s license? Yet the article doesn’t once mention the threat it would pose to trans* people.
Even if your only focus is people who experience same-sex attraction, the article’s word choice excludes the majority of those people. That’s right. The “Bi+” is over 50% of the LGB part of that big queer jumble of letters—bi or bisexual used here as an umbrella term for anyone who experiences attraction to more than one gender, hence the plus sign. But “bi” does not appear once in that editorial. Neither does “pan/pansexual” or “queer” or any other variation that describes a non-monosexual identity.
But, hey. It’s just one article, right? And their hearts were in the right place.
This week is Bisexual Awareness Week. It would be nice if we didn’t need one, but read even one of those links and you’ll see that we do. And bisexuals aren’t the only ones who need a little extra signal boost: other marginalized groups within the QUILTBAG speak out during the annual November Transgender Awareness Week, Intersex Awareness Day every October 26th, and Asexual Awareness Week, which will be October 19-25 this year. Please mark your calendars and take a moment to listen to these often-ignored groups, no matter what day of the year it is.
However, since Bi Awareness Week is upon us and I myself am bi, I’m going to focus on my own experience for this blog post.
Have you heard of bi invisibility or bi erasure? No, it’s not a cool superpower or sexually liberated synth-pop band. (Unfortunately.) It’s a name for our society’s assumption that everyone is monosexual (i.e. gay or straight) until proven otherwise. It’s not too different from the assumption that everyone is straight until proven otherwise—when’s the last time you heard of a straight person coming out of the closet?—except that society tends to demand a whole hell of a lot more proof from us. Bisexuals who are in monogamous relationships are often accused of “picking a side;” funnily enough, that logic doesn’t extend to incorrectly labeling single straights or gays as asexual.
Bi erasure can be intentional or careless. This chart from the Bisexual Resource Center shows some common examples:
See that “non-inclusive language” bubble? Even the most well-intended allies can stumble over this one, and that’s where our NYT editorial falls.
I want to be clear that the editorial in question did some good by shining a light on legislation that would hurt me, people who are like me, and people who are different from me but who deserve the same rights and respect that we all do. I also want to be clear that gays and lesbians are an important part of the QUILTBAG who still suffer from discrimination just for being who they are.
But if there’s enough discrimination to go around for all of us, why can’t there be enough advocacy, too? The people at the New York Times are writers. They know that words are weapons and they are balms. A few small words can make a great big difference.
The problem here is not one article. The solution can’t be one, either.
The next time you talk about “the gays” (yes, that is how you sound), take a moment to think about your word choice. Think about the bi, pan, and queer folks, the transmen and transwomen and all our wonderful non-binary siblings, the intersex and aromantic and asexual people standing right next to them.
We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re probably nearer than you think. You never know who’s listening when you forget to mention the rest of us. You may not see the disappointment cut them as they file this information away: you don’t acknowledge people like me. You might not be safe to talk to.
And—hey. Everyone makes a mistake every once in a while. No one knows everything. It’s a big QUILTBAG, and even inside it we fuck up and ruffle each others’ feathers from time to time. But here’s how you fix it: listen. If you don’t know what QUILTBAG stands for, or didn’t recognize any of those terms up there, allow me to introduce my good friend Google.
And when you do fuck up, worry a little less about saving face and a little more about actually repairing the damage your disrespect has caused—intentional or not. I can’t speak for everyone, but you know? I don’t care if you didn’t know being bi was an option. I care a lot more about how you react when I tell you it is.
Do you want to know a secret? Ten years ago, I didn’t know bisexuality was a “valid” option, either. I was in the closet and it was too dark to find the doorknob; I didn’t even know there was a closet, I just thought I was in a really shitty room. You know, maybe one of those shoebox Manhattan apartments you hear about. I assumed a lot of “heterosexuals” struggled with these feelings and pushed them down, because gay meant not attracted to different genders and if you were then you “didn’t count.” That’s a closet, friend.
But the first step to getting rid of that closet is to turn on the light. And you know how you do that?
You look at us and you say this:
“You’re here. You’re queer. And I’m listening.”
Thank you, and have a happy Bisexual Awareness Week. If you need a bisexual to be aware of, I’ll be right here.