A Stranger Told Me That I Am A Lesbian
Bi/Pan erasure is prevalent and needs to stop please
I want to share a little story time with you in order to show how ‘normalised’ bi/pan sexual erasure is in our everyday society, and why it’s such a problem.
Let’s set the scene shall we?
It’s January the 4th. Frost adorned the ground leaving a chill in the air that nibbled at my cheeks. I huddled into the car, nuzzling my face into my coat to keep warm, as I embarked on my journey to return to the UK after spending Christmas in the states.
My internal flight was not noteworthy. It went without any issues and I soon found myself in Dallas, where I expected to have two hours to grab refreshments before my long haul flight to the UK.
This where my plans started to unravel. After eagerly grabbing some lunch to take to eat near the gate, my eyes flicked for a last check at the gate allocation board and my heart sank. Another five hours had been added to my wait!
Okay, so, now the scene has been set let’s fast forward a bit
I sat among fellow fed up passengers waiting, while time was slowly being added to our already very delayed flight. Conversations started forming in a desperate bid for us all to keep ourselves entertained.
This is when I started speaking with another solo traveler about our experiences of being in the states for Christmas, compared with our home country, the UK.
We both were visiting people, she (I checked for her pronouns) had been visiting her best friend, and I explained that I had spent Christmas with my fiance.
Here is how the conversation developed from there:
Her: ‘Oh, so, how long have you been with him for?’
Me: ‘I have been with her for almost two years’.
Her: ‘Oh I’m sorry. So you’re in a lesbian relationship then?’
Me: ‘No, I am non binary and pansexual and my partner identifies as bisexual.’
Her: ‘But she’s a female, so you two are lesbians right now.’
Me: ‘No, because I am not female, and even if I was, neither of us are attracted to exclusively females.’
Her: ‘Yes, but two women in a relationship means a lesbian relationship. If you split up and start dating a man, then you would be in a straight relationship.’
Face palm moment!
The saddest thing is, it didn’t surprise me
Whenever my relationship status comes up in conversation, I never get asked who my partner is, it has always just been assumed that my partner must be a male because I look like a female.
This is not an unusual occurrence for people in same sex or queer relationships, but in this day and age why are we still here? Gay marriage was legalized in the UK in 2014, yet, here we are, still in a society that is surrounded by awareness resources, being in contact with people from the LGBTQIA+ community every day (whether you know it or not), but people still can’t get their heads around the fact that there is more than one way of having a relationship.
This in itself is so invalidating to same sex and queer relationships, but again, nothing I don’t expect. Every. Single. Time.
However, usually, when I correct somebody about misgendering my partner, I get an apology. They start using my partner’s correct pronouns (she/her) and we move on. I always hope that the other person will have taken this encounter as one of learning that we should never make assumptions, and that they grow from this experience.
But it seems to go a step further if you add bi / pan to the mix
For some reason that I just can’t fathom, it never seems to be as simple if I mention I am pansexual. This word just doesn’t seem to enter a person’s head. It’s like the general population (not everyone, but the majority I have had this conversation with), has a strange processing error in their brains that does something like this:
Pansexual/bisexual + same sex relationship = gay/lesbian relationship
Pansexual/bisexual + opposite gender relationship = heterosexual relationship
Pansexual/bisexual + one or more people in the relationship being trans/non binary or other gender non conforming identity = gay/lesbian or heterosexual relationship depending on the gender they ‘look like’
But does it really matter if they get your sexuality wrong?
In short, yes!
It’s one thing to make any assumption about a person. It’s human nature to make a judgement based on face value. But we have the capability to question our judgements and to collect more information, to expand our knowledge and growth. So, if you don’t know a person’s sexual orientation, you might make a guess, and that’s okay. But it doesn’t mean it’s the truth. That can only come from the individual, so if you need (yes, I mean need not want) to know, then just ask.
It might even be the case that you are making guesses but you have no specific reason why you need to know somebody’s sexuality. That’s okay too. Just recognise that your guesses are not confirmed truth so you can check you make no firm assumption, adjust your language accordingly, and continue to interact with them as respectful human beings. If they want you to know, they will let you know, as I chose to do in my airport meeting.
However, if a person chooses to tell you their sexuality, that is what it is. It doesn’t mean it’s up for your interpretation. It’s not an invitation to enter a debate into one’s beliefs about sexuality labels. Only we can decide who we are and how we choose to label (or not label) ourselves.
Bisexual and pansexual erasure is real and really needs to stop
This ‘correction’ the stranger kindly offered to me is all too common. Most people who identify as bisexual or pansexual have endured similar remarks, or have been subjected to such things on social media.
The biggest problem with this is that by saying that one can only be in either a gay/lesbian or straight relationship, it erases and invalidates bi and pan sexuality completely.
To clarify, let’s have a look at what bisexual and pansexual means shall we?
Stonewall defines bisexuality as:
…an umbrella term used to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender.
Bi people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including, but not limited to, bisexual, pan, queer, and some other non-monosexual and non-monoromantic identities.
And pansexual as:
Pan refers to a person whose romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others is not limited by sex or gender.
As you can see from these definitions, a person who identifies as bi/pan is attracted to more than one gender or not limited to sex or gender.
Therefore a person who identifies as bi/pan may have relationships with people from all genders, and they are still bi/pan no matter who they are dating. The gender of whom they are in a relationship with does not change their sexuality. By saying they are in a gay or straight relationship completely disregards their actual sexuality altogether.
People who are bisexual or pansexual don’t just identify as such until they are no longer single. Their sexuality is just as valid as anybody else’s, and to define their relationship as anything else is bi/pan erasure, disrespectful and completely ignoring a part of a person’s identify they have shared with you.
It’s still happening
Everyday. That’s why we should talk about our experiences. I don’t think the person I met had any ill intentions, I think they were just ill informed.
And this is why I share our story with you, to show how common this type of conversation is, and what it can mean to the bi/pan community.
Everyone’s identity is valid, and every human being deserves to be treated with respect. This can start with steps as simple as just learning more about LGBTQIA+ topics, being mindful of our own language and learning from other’s lived experiences.