A woman dumps a man after three dates. She’s afraid he might have given her an STI. They never had sex. But she feels at risk, dirty, lied to, because he told her that he’s bisexual. She was the second person he’d ever come out to.
A man tells me his ex is “bi.” He uses air quotes. I frown. “No, he says he’s bi, but come on. It’s a passing thing. He’s gay really.”
An emcee shouts at the audience: “who here is straight?” There are cheers. “Who here is gay?” Another cheer. “And who’s too drunk to care?” I shout “fuck you” but it’s lost under the laughter of the crowd.
A man who identifies as “mostly heterosexual” describes his first sexual encounter with another man. It is introduced with “some men test out a gay side.”
So I, and others, call it erasive. But no, we’re told that we’re mistaken. It’s not erasure. Gay can be used to encompass bi experience. Not erasure, just semantics.
There is a difference between derailing a conversation that is not about language by nitpicking word usage and having a conversation which is about language, meaning, and its effects. Because the former is a common technique for avoidance of issues, “it’s just semantics” is seen by many as a justified shut-down.
When a discussion is about the language people use and the effects that language has, the issue at hand is one of semantics.
Pointing out that a discussion about words and their meanings is a semantic discussion is not a valid dismissal. It is a tautology.
Bisexual erasure is real. Language is the simplest and most pervasive tool of that erasure. How do you think it’s done? We don’t exist: gay is close enough, gay pretty much covers it. We don’t exist: our identity gets air quotes. We don’t exist: we’re not addressed in the literature except as a subset of gay people. We don’t exist: research in bisexuality is still asking us to prove we do before it will deign to investigate or address the health disparities that affect us.
It is semantics. It is absolutely semantics. It is a pattern of excluding bisexuality from language. It is denying the accuracy and utility of the word we use to differentiate ourselves from the gay and lesbian communities that all too often exclude us, telling us instead that we should use their words.
The words are worth fighting for. Words inform research, policy, public opinion, funding. There is no way in hell I’m going to stand quiet while we’re continually left out of all of it. I’m not going to back down, because semantics are not petty.