Bisexual erasure is an issue that faces the LGBTQ+ community in all forms of media. But how prevalent is it on YouTube? How can we combat it? And are labels and coming out videos helpful in preventing it? TenEighty chats with Melanie Murphy, Savannah Brown, Courtney-Jai Niner, Rosie Spaughton, and Sammy Paul to hear their thoughts.
Bisexual erasure is broadly defined by GLAAD as when “the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright”.
However, it can take many forms and can come from outside or within the LGBTQ+ community. Speaking to TenEighty, Melanie Murphy, who identifies as female and bisexual, says that her experience with bi erasure mostly lies with being “assumed straight until I state otherwise and often, when I do, I’m told that I’m either ‘going through a phase’, ‘confused’, or ’jumping on a bandwagon’.
“Lesbian women often tell me that they’d be concerned I’d leave them for a man, whilst many men don’t think I’m ‘actually bisexual’ if I’m dating them,” she adds. “I’ve had family and people in my life change the conversation any time the bisexuality elephant appears in the room. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and I wish people didn’t question it so much.”
Savannah Brown, who identifies as bisexual, also mentions that her relationships have been a significant part of her experience with bi erasure: “Often people will assume I’m actually straight and just looking for attention, or decide that there’s no way I can ‘know’ I’m bi since I haven’t dated a girl.”
Rosie Spaughton, a cisgender female bisexual, says: “Unfortunately, because of society and also the porn industry, a part of women’s sexuality is sometimes performing for men. So I believe that some women may say they are bisexual for attention, and that’s what I got accused of in school. People just assumed I was making something up about myself to look sexy, cool, or for ‘drama’.”
Courtney-Jai Niner identifies as male and bisexual and agrees that bisexual erasure within the LGBTQ+ community is a problem. “I think bi erasure happens a lot; the problem is its legitimacy is denied by not only people outside of the LGBTQ+ community, but people inside of it,” he says. “I think one aspect I don’t like is people are always looking for some form of proof [of bisexuality].”
As Courtney-Jai points out in a video with Calum McSwiggan, sometimes bisexuality is also seen as a ‘stepping stone’ to coming out as gay.
This invalidation of sexuality has often led to creators stating that they don’t feel ‘bi enough’, a topic that Melanie covered in her spoken word film Femme and that Dodie Clark mentioned at Summer in the City 2016’s LGBTQ+ panel.
“Bisexual people need to come out of the closet over and over again throughout life – a closet I never agreed to be in in the first place, because I’ve never lied and said I was straight,” Melanie asserts.
Sammy Paul, who identifies as “a human male and human bisexual”, believes that the erasure of sexuality is an issue that affects not just bisexuals but every part of the wider LGBTQ+ community. “It’s shit and not least because it’s hard to know how best to respond in the face of such stupidity,” he says.
Rosie and Savannah both feel that bi erasure is prevalent on YouTube, particularly in the comments section. Speaking of her experience in the early days of her relationship with her wife Rose Dix, Rosie says: “The number one comment we’d get on YouTube was: ‘Rosie is going to leave Rose for a man.’ I get it a lot less now that we’re married, but everyone always assumed I’d be the one to leave, and always for a man.”
“We can combat bi erasure with communication, breaking down those walls and busting stereotypes…”
But how can we combat bisexual erasure on YouTube? “With integrity and tolerance,” Courtney-Jai says. “Rome wasn’t built in a day so we shouldn’t expect people’s views to change in a day either.”
Rosie adds: “Communication! Talking about it. Breaking down those walls and busting stereotypes…. All we have to do is have a voice, keep uploading, keep talking about it. Spread the word and the love.”
Savannah focuses on the normalisation of bisexuality: “Sharing the stories and experiences of people who are bi is the best way to reach people and normalise bisexuality.”
“We need to talk about the same sex in the same way we talk about the opposite sex, often, and without making a big deal of the label,” Melanie adds. “To just allow it room to breathe, so others can observe and feel less confused and intimidated by it.”
As Melanie says, one of the issues with using the label of ‘bisexual’ is that it sometimes comes with confusion and misconceptions. Rosie elaborates on this, saying that “the stereotype is that bisexuals cannot be trusted, because they may lie or cheat. But ultimately, if someone doesn’t trust you, it’s down to that person’s insecurities that they are projecting onto you.”
Speaking about how he views the use of labels, Sammy says that, ultimately, they “legitimise and destigmatise. Although they come with some disadvantages – a perceived ‘need’ to come out for example – I really think they’re for the best.”
Nonetheless, he doesn’t see his bisexuality as character-defining. “I don’t really feel any particular need to shout about it,” says Sammy, while stressing that’s only in reference to his own experience. “It’s undeniably part of who I am, but there are lots of labels I’d sooner attribute to myself before getting to bisexual.”
Some creators have expressed their preference for other labels, such as pansexual. In I’m Pansexual!?, US-based creator Laci Green discussed how she identifies more with this label than with bisexuality, while Ash Hardell, who identifies as genderqueer, said they use both labels equally in My Identity. Others have expressed their decisions to not use labels to define their sexuality at all.
In 2014, Dodie Clark uploaded My Sexuality in which she said that “personally, I don’t like to conform to any labels”. Inspired by this video, Savannah uploaded my sexuality in which she also explains her decision not to use labels.
This decision has since changed. “I made that video when I was still in the process of figuring things out, and the way I view myself has evolved a lot since then,” says Savannah. “Also, I feared that because I hadn’t publicly ‘proved’ my sexuality, I wasn’t allowed to go ahead and call myself bisexual.”
She realises now that this point of view is “silly and untrue!”
Dodie later came out as bisexual too, and at Summer in the City 2016 she said on the LGBTQ+ panel that combatting bi erasure was one of her main goals with her coming out video.
Other creators who have made coming out videos include Rosie, who discussed the complications involved in coming out as bisexual, and Fiona Morris, who revealed that bi erasure played a role in her not initially using the label of ‘bisexual’.
Melanie has made a number of videos about coming out and is very open about her bisexuality online. “I’m open about everything else so I figured, why not?” she says. “And because I have a voice, when so many other bi people experiencing bisexual erasure on the daily do not.
“Openness and discussion about sex and sexuality are very important to me, having grown up in a school run by nuns where the term ‘lesbian’ was used as an insult,” states Melanie. “I’ve washed away that Catholic guilt and I’m an activist at heart, so simply sharing my own experiences online feels like no big deal that can have a big impact.”
Openness online is also important to Courtney-Jai. He mentions that he struggled with his sexuality when he was growing up. “I found it difficult when I was younger to comprehend who and what I was,” he says. “I felt as though I was a broken record on loop telling myself that I couldn’t be gay because I liked girls, to the point where I actually… felt like taking my own life.”
He says that a turning point came when a friend of his came out as gay. “I saw the courage he had and it really helped me get a handle on my life. I feel as though when I make content now [about being bisexual] it’s something that someone can relate to and make that change for themselves.”
While Savannah agrees that coming out videos are helpful, she stresses that nobody should feel “obligated to come out. Someone should decide to come out based solely on their own feelings, comfort, and safety, not because they believe they have a duty to do so,” she says. “Obviously, if they’re ready and comfortable, they should go for it! But until then, I think it’s best to consider yourself first – it’s not selfish to keep some things private.”
“There are so many things in life infinitely more interesting than who I’m attracted to…”
Sammy prefers to be less open about his bisexuality online, having only mentioned it a handful of times. “I’d rather people were invested in what I make as opposed to who I am. There are so many things in life infinitely more interesting than who I’m attracted to.
“And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for proudly owning your sexuality, particularly in the face of bigotry, but thankfully I have a very accepting circle of friends,” Sammy continues. “To me it’s never really been that big of a deal.”
In the past he has also asserted that his bisexuality does not have much of an effect on the content on his channel, tweeting: “I’m no more a ‘bisexual filmmaker’ as I am ‘a filmmaker who somewhat prefers blondes’. Sexual preference is such a tiny part of who I am.” Savannah has also said that her bisexuality has had little impact on her content.
I'm no more a 'bisexual filmmaker' as I am 'a filmmaker who somewhat prefers blondes'. Sexual preference is such a tiny part of who I am.
— Sammy Paul (@ICOEPR) April 24, 2016
Rosie, on the other hand, has uploaded numerous videos about her bisexuality, including The Bisexy Series, which she describes as “originally just me getting stuff off my chest. I’m really lucky that people love it just as much as my other content, if not more! It’s so rewarding being passionate about something and other people being passionate about it too!
“I also love that whenever Rose and I make any LGBTQ+ related content, people can find other people in similar situations in the comments and it brings people together,” she adds.
Rosie believes representation on YouTube is important. “I never knew any bisexuals on YouTube and could have really done with watching videos and hearing people talk about their experiences of bisexuality, especially when I was younger. I grew up in a small town with not many LGBTQ+ people (or to my knowledge anyway) and I had no one to look up to or even relate to.”
Melanie’s bisexuality has had an impact on some of her content, with videos such as My Bisexuality: A Candid Chat, How I Realised I’m Bisexual, and What NOT To Say To Bisexual People. Mentioning the reaction to her sexuality-related videos, Melanie says that “now, in 2017, we have many bisexuals out in the open, talking about bi issues and their experiences, and it’s beautiful.
“I’ve experienced an outpouring of support – from viewers and other YouTubers,” she continues. “But of course there are always a few comments on every sexuality-based video that are basically ‘you’re a liar!’, or ‘just pick a side, there’s no such thing as bisexuality!’”
When we consider channels such as Rosie’s and Melanie’s, YouTube seems much more representative in terms of bisexuality than other forms of media. As an article entitled Bisexuality in the Media: Where are the Bisexuals on TV? points out, bisexual representation on television is questionable at best.
Sammy says that he normally thinks about the representation of other minority groups more than bisexuals on television, such as how often television shows include women, people of colour, and gay and lesbian characters: “I guess as a white guy I’m not used to wanting more ‘people like me’ on our screens.”
However, he still feels that representation within mainstream media does help. “Granted, it’s always going to be somewhat limited due to the inherent distance that exists between media and reality, but it can make a notable difference.”
He adds that he has enjoyed bisexuality being used as a narrative device in the media, for example in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the Black Mirror episode San Junipero.
“How often do you see a bisexual celebrity? Hardly ever…”
“So often it seems as though the B is forgotten in favor of the L and the G,” Savannah adds. “When I was first exploring my sexuality, I was able to relate my experiences to those of people who were openly bi, and go, ‘oh, that sounds a lot like me’. It was (and is) a huge source of comfort.”
While Courtney- Jai believes that it could be helpful to have more bisexual representation on television, he also says that “part of me is happy there isn’t; the problem [with LGBTQ+ representation] is that people start to define the sexuality by people in the media.” However, he adds: “I think what I would really like to see is more celebrities coming out but not making it a big thing. It helps it to be the norm while also not making it something that defines an individual.”
Rosie also refers to the treatment of bisexual celebrities in the news, mentioning that when Karen Danczuk came out as bisexual, headlines wrongly stated that she was gay. “The bi erasure is just unreal,” she says. “Then I also saw a really scathing article in the Daily Mail where a journalist spoke to bisexuals and asked them to ‘explain’ bisexuality and it was so condescending, I wanted to cry.”
Courtney-Jai agrees, saying that “there’s just not that much emphasis on [bisexuality] in the media. How often do you see a bisexual celebrity? Hardly ever.”
“The more openly bisexual celebrities, the better,” states Rosie. “I’ve been rejoicing that Susan Sarandon has just come out as bi! That’s why YouTube is so important, because people can be who they really are without someone else editing them for headlines.”
“We’re all fighting the same fight…”
While there is clearly still a long way to go in the fight against bisexual erasure, Rosie and Melanie have some advice for those who experience it or feel alienated from the LGBTQ+ community because of their bisexuality.
“They are not alone. And it is getting better,” Rosie asserts. “I’ve been out as bisexual since I was about 14 years old and over the years I have seen so much progress happening within the LGBTQ+ community and outside of it, in general, in the whole world! People are getting more clued up on myths and judging people less on stereotypes… I would urge people to join a community, talk to other LGBTQ+ people and if you want, make videos!”
Melanie’s advice echoes this. “What’s helped me is joining forces with other bisexuals who really get that feeling, and having deep conversations with gay friends and lesbian friends who’ve in the past shown hesitancy in attempts to understand and accept bisexuals,” she says. “When other LGTQ+ people understand that they sometimes make us feel how straight people have always made them feel, something just clicks.
“I’ve had so many wonderful friends in the community really get behind me after allowing me to open up to them about the confusion and isolation I’ve felt all my life,” she adds. “Don’t be afraid to go head-to-head with someone in a discussion in order to be heard.
“We’re all fighting the same fight – we all just want to be accepted,” says Melanie. “Love is love is love is love and that message should unify us all.”
Check out some of the following features by TenEighty:
- 2016 on TenEighty in Review
- TenEighty: YouTuber Picks 2016
- TenEighty’s Christmas Extravaganza 2016
- Is YouTube Leaving Creators Behind?