Lesbian, Gay, Bicycle?… Trains?23 February 2015
“Bisexual girls are attention seekers, bisexual boys are just in the closet.” “Pansexuals are sluts.” “Asexuals are prudes.” “You’re trans? Well, you’re probably just like Caitlyn Jenner.” The list goes on.
Erasure is a serious issue within the queer community. It involves individuals or groups ignoring or removing a sexual orientation or gender alignment and attempting to discredit it and the people who identify with it. While the gay rights movement has been imperative in gaining visibility for gay and lesbian people, bisexual, transgender and asexual people are being left far behind in gaining both social and legal status.
Recently I participated in a ‘Queer Reality’ project identifying myself as a bisexual woman in a relationship with a man. As the photo circulated around the university and on social media, I received variations of the same comment: “But if you’re in a relationship with a man, then you’re benefiting from hetero-privilege.”
Hetero-privilege is the idea that people in a heterosexual relationship receive privileges that same-sex couples cannot attain. These privileges include not having to ‘come out’, being in a socially accepted relationship, seeing relationships similar to yours in movies and TV shows, and being able to get married legally.
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to the idea that I was benefitting from heterosexuality when I had blatantly stated that I was bisexual. Do I tell them that bisexual people have consistently shown higher rates of depression than gay and lesbian people? That bisexual women are almost twice as likely to experience sexual violence than straight women? That bisexual women are fetishised by straight men but erased by the queer community?
This was not the first experience I’d had with people discrediting bisexuality as a valid sexual orientation. When I first came out as bisexual at fourteen, many of my friends agreed that I was probably just a lesbian. Later on in high school, I was told by a school counsellor that I probably just liked kissing girls for the attention it gave me from straight boys.
The response to my Queer Reality project however, made me think more deeply about the issue of bisexual erasure, and erasure within the queer community as a whole. Bisexual people aren’t the only ones who have experienced having a significant aspect of their identity erased and ignored. Similarly, many of the transgender students have experienced erasure, even here on campus.
Transgender people are those who don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Non-binary people are often included under the umbrella term ‘transgender’ and they are people whose gender does not fit into the binary of male or female.
Several transgender first year students take gender studies, also known as the first year subject ‘Sex, Gender, and Culture: An Introduction’ and known by the students in the Queer Space as ‘gender hell.’ The subject can be inclusive and intersectional at times. But often you’re forced to wonder how many times the lecturer can mention ‘male and female bodies’ before the trans kids give up and shrink into their seats forever.
In the recent UMSU student elections, many transgender women were prevented from voting for Women’s Officers, as most are not registered with a feminine honorific title at the start of their names.
For transgender people who risk violence and verbal abuse when using the bathroom of their choice, and for non-binary people who do not identify as either male or female, there are still no gender-neutral bathrooms in Union House and many other buildings on campus, putting them at risk of harassment in the gendered bathrooms.
But trans erasure extends far further than this. Trans people are commonly erased from history and importance. Historically, trans people of significance have been consistently re-written out of important events. Recently, the trailer has been released of a film called Stonewall, which depicts the 1969 Stonewall Riots, an event that is credited with starting the contemporary queer rights movement. These riots are known to have been spearheaded by transgender women of colour. However, in the Stonewall movie, a cisgender (someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) white male is credited with starting the riots, in an all too common case of whitewashing and trans erasure.
“Even in movies about transgender people, trans characters are so often played by cisgender people,” said one transgender student.
When asking around the Melbourne University Queer Space about the issue of non-binary erasure, one non-binary student summed up the general consensus saying, “when isn’t non-binary erasure a thing?”
“When I fill out forms, they [ask]: male or female. Then when I go to the bathroom, again they demand to know if I am girl or a boy. But I like it when people say ‘ladies and gentlemen’ because then I don’t have to listen anymore,” they joked.
Similarly, asexual people also experience erasure: “Being asexual is just like wearing an invisibility cloak – no one thinks you really exist,” said an asexual student. “Asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction or experience it to a limited extent,” they explained. However, many asexual students were positive about their experiences in the queer community and were even happy to make some jokes.
“Asexuals make the worst pirates,” another asexual student told me, “We do not want the booty.” “And we’re absolutely no use to sirens because we’re not attracted to their singing at all”.
All jokes aside, it’s important to be aware that both the queer and straight communities can be dangerous and uncomfortable places for asexual people. Living in a society that so often has sex-focused media and advertising, as well as dealing with the constant pressure to be sexual in schools, universities and workplaces can be exhausting. It can even be traumatic for asexual people who experience sex-repulsion. The queer community can be even worse as it is often a place where sex is discussed openly and the focus on sex and sexuality is intense.
The importance of awareness cannot go unacknowledged. It might seem like a simplistic notion, but having widespread awareness of the existence of a marginalised group is key to enforcing and creating policies that can protect that group.
Recently, the Queer Department has launched the campaign ‘Queer Reality’ where queer students are able to share their unique experiences. Posters of the campaign can be seen all over the university. Additionally, collectives for transgender and asexual students have been organised this year by the Queer Officers in order to give these students a voice in the queer community.
When the contemporary gay rights movement raised awareness for their cause, same-sex marriage was legislated in the United States and many other countries, resulting in many same-sex couples gaining a social and legal status that they previously could not attain. It is equally important that now, other marginalised sexualities and gender alignments be acknowledged around the university and in the wider community.
By erasing bisexuals, transgender people, asexuals and a range of other queer minority groups from society, we are silencing the voices of a prevalent and important part of the queer community. By staying aware of these groups and the issues that affect them, we can take important steps to creating a society that is safe and equal.