As I wrote in an earlier piece, while I didn’t practice polyamory until the last decade or so, I’ve been bisexual for as long as I can remember. And as such, I’m no stranger to bisexual erasure. It’s been a constant companion no matter where I go.
Bisexual erasure involves basically any attempt to invalidate bisexuality as a real sexual identity, whether intentional or unintentional. Bi erasure can take many forms, but I’ve found two to be the most common:
- The belief that bisexuality isn’t a real sexual orientation but instead a “phase” or transitory state, that self-identifying bisexuals are confused and experimenting, and that any bisexual person will eventually come out as “actually” straight or gay/lesbian when they stop being confused
- The assumption that when a bisexual person takes on a single partner that the bisexual person in question is no longer bisexual and is now either straight or gay/lesbian
That second one’s a killer. When I got married, many relatives expressed relief that I was finally “straight” and over my “gay phase” (i.e., quite a phase as it included a 6-year entanglement with a woman and a multitude of briefer/more casual connections). Lovely.
I grew up being taught to disregard past relationships as mere shadows of love, impostors, not real. And being taught that true love had to be monogamous.
I was raised to believe that you’re not allowed to have more than one loving relationship at a time. And that everything that happened in your romantic past doesn’t really count.
With this framework, bisexual erasure is inevitable, a natural byproduct of this belief system. It stems from the obligation to dismiss past relationships as less real than your current one. And to pretend you’ve never been in love with anyone else.
Under these terms, there’s basically no way to have “real” relationships with more than one gender. Because you’re not allowed to have “real” relationships with more than one person. Not just at a time, but over the course of your lifetime.
Like a coupon that reads “Limit of One Soulmate Per Customer.”
Under these terms, it’s awfully hard for bisexuality to exist.
The Difference Between Biromantic and Bisexual
And yet, even with all of this working against me, sometimes I did manage to be visibly bi. Well, I managed to be visibly bisexual in my small town. Granted, it was never exactly what I wanted, back in those days — the occasional threesome with a girl I had a crush on and her boyfriend thrown in like a timeshare pitch I had sit through to get tickets to the free show I really wanted to see (the girlfriend). Was it fun sometimes? Occasionally, yes. But other times, it led to heartbreak. And inevitably, these party-style situations were the cotton candy of relationships. They could be sweet, intense, fun — but would quickly dissolve into nothingness.
But being biromantic? Well, that was a much tougher ask. I never could seem to manage to have an actual relationship with multiple genders at once.
What’s the difference between biromantic and bisexual? Being bisexual is about having sexual attraction to more than one gender, and biromantic is having about romantic attraction to more than one gender.
Some people are bisexual but not biromantic. Some are biromantic but not bisexual. Still others are both.
Becoming Visibly and Actively Biromantic
I am both bisexual and biromantic.
But I’d never had a way to really be visibly biromantic when I was monogamous. Visible bisexuality? That could be accomplished, albeit in ways that were less than satisfactory with me, with casual no-strings-attached threesomes. Cotton candy that melted in your mouth.
But meaningful connections to more than one gender simultaneously? It just wasn’t possible in a world that kept telling me you were seriously monogamously committed or you were casual. Or I suppose, some were able to accomplish this by cheating (something I didn’t want to do; the pain and guilt that would result from betraying someone’s trust never seemed worth the momentary selfish pleasure it could potentially yield for me).
But it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s and a close friend came out to me as polyamorous that I ever saw there could be consensual nonmonogamy that fostered deep connections.
Within a year, I was visibly, actively biromantic. I went from understanding my sexuality in terms of my own inner life and history to living it every day in a way that was patently clear to others, who could see that I regularly dated both men and women.
I Stopped Being Defensive About My Orientation
It hit me harder than I would have anticipated. It was thrilling to finally be able to unite parts of myself that in spite of my best efforts had always felt more compartmentalized. Judged by others as relationships unfolded as a “straight phase” or a “gay phase.”
It was all me. It always had been. But I felt a sense of relief as any last trace of defensiveness I had about my sexual orientation melted away. That instinct I had that I always needed to assure others, “Just because you’re in a relationship with someone of a certain gender doesn’t mean you aren’t still attracted to people of another.”
It was still true, of course. But now it was more obvious. I was living it.
Once I was actively, visibly bisexual and biromantic, I stopped giving a damn if people understood my orientation or believed it existed. Because it was like believing that the sun didn’t exist. The sky. The air.
You could deny it if you wanted, but to me it was utterly absurd. Not worth arguing about.