Ace-Rep #3: LGBTQ Gatekeeping – Bisexual and Asexual Erasure

When I found out about asexuality and got more and more involved with LGBTQIA+ topics, I also first realised that exclusionism was a thing. I realised that lot of a-spec folks experienced this when they came into contact with fellow LGBTQ people and that before them, bisexuals where and still are oftentimes affected by this. On top of feeling out of place because you are not straight, exclusion from safe spaces can add up to the feeling of being detached and alone or even dysfunctional.

For that reason, I am going to talk about gatekeeping in the LGBTQIA+ community and about a topic that is frequently connected to this: bi and ace erasure. Oftentimes, asexuals and bisexuals are depicted as invalid and their identities are nullified and ‘erased’. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who still think that policing others’ identities is appropriate, so in today’s post, I’m hoping to illustrate why that is not the case. Since I am talking about two identities, I am going to split this up into two parts. Today, I am going to discuss the basics and illustrate the similarities of bisexuality and asexuality and in the next post, I am going to talk about examples of erasure of both identities in fictional work.

Before we get into this, I would like to emphasise this: you are valid and you should not let others define you. Also, there should not be a contest on who suffers from the most homophobia or anything like that. Putting these kinds of things in a relation sucks and in this post, I am going to show you why.

Trigger Warning: sexual abuse

Disclaimer: Pansexual individuals also face erasure but I wanted to keep this somewhat concise and readable. I think that pansexuality and pansexual experiences would be a topic of its own.

What is Gatekeeping?

Before talking about this topic, we have to establish a common understanding of the concept, so what is gatekeeping? There are various definitions and examples of gatekeeping. The following ones are just a few that get my point across. I took them from queer undefined.

  • keeping certain individuals away from spaces, communities, or resources
  • “medical gatekeeping”: e.g. cisgender doctors denying transgender individuals from accessing gender-affirming resources such as HRT by using pretenses
  • “True Trans” and transmedicalist transphobes trying to block non-dysphoric, non-binary, and/or gender non-conforming trans people from trans spaces
  • “gatekeeping” occurs when some members of a group or community consider some others “invalid” as members of that community, for example bisexuals, asexuals, bi lesbians (queer undefined)

Gatekeeping is essentially exclusionism and when I’m talking about gatekeeping in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, I mean exclusionism in what is supposed to be a safe space. This sucks for reasons that should be obvious but in today’s post, I’m going to talk about that in more detail.

Apart from that, gatekeeping CAN be necessary IF it is supposed to prevent harm, for example in the following contexts: ‘Keeping registered child sex offenders away from places where children gather is a form of gatekeeping. Firing someone who punched their coworker in the face unprompted is a form of gatekeeping’ (McAlpine). However, TERFs like to use necessary gatekeeping as a pretense to discriminate against trans women in particular, so considering the context and the agenda behind gatekeeping is always important.

Oftentimes, gatekeeping overlaps with bi and ace-phobia, as well as erasure of the respective identities as you will see in the following chapter, in which I am going to summarise and comment on an article by Devon Price about the connection of asexuality and bisexuality.

Bisexuality and Asexuality – Polar Opposites or Two Sides of the Same Coin?

In their article, ‘The Asexual-Bisexual Mirror’, Devon Price shares their experiences as someone who used to identify as asexual and later on started to identify as bisexual. They explain the struggles that come with both identities and particularly the discrimination that both face from hetero and non-heterosexual people.

They summarise the connection of asexuality and bisexuality the following way:

‘Asexual people and bisexual people are both binary-breakers. Their identities flout heteronormative expectations, and they often approach their relationships in ways that break existing social scripts. Understanding and respecting asexual and bisexual people requires that you be thoughtful, and that you question your existing assumptions about how desire and relationships are supposed to work’ (Price).

The Asexual Pride Flag. Picture taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Asexual_Pride_Flag.svg

I think that they perfectly capture the connection of both sexualities in this excerpt. Although they may seem like polar opposites, asexuality and bisexuality are quite similar in some respects. As an asexual, you do not experience sexual attraction to any gender or the attraction you experience may vary, while bisexuals may experience sexual attraction to more than one gender. In that respect, they may be considered to sides of the same coin or rather of the sexual spectrum. Both call static, binary distinctions of attraction and such into question, as they go beyond just one or two genders. Sexual attraction is not always clean cut but exists on a spectrum and can cover various genders. Both identities illustrate this nicely. While bisexuality challenges monosexism, the idea that one can only be attracted to one gender (Clements), asexuality challenges the heteronormative assumption that everyone feels sexual attraction in the same way. Especially, when it comes to romantic attraction, asexual and aromantic orientations in particular showcase the insufficiency of heteronormativity and amatonormativity to describe the reality.

note: Amatonormativity values monogamous relationships in which you have children over others and places romantic relationships over friendships and other non-romantic relationships (LGBTQ Wiki).

Sexuality as a Spectrum

To name an example of how bisexuality challenges outdated, static notions of sexuality, there are bi-lesbians who could potentially feel sexual attraction towards more than one gender but almost exclusively feel attracted to women and thus identify as lesbians. There are nuances to attraction that go beyond just binary divisions into straight, not straight and so on and people may identify in ways that suit them best. However, bi-lesbians are constantly discriminated against by exclusionists who think that this takes away from their own identity’s validity.

However, there can be variations to asexuality. The spectrum between sexual and asexual covers gray asexual identities. Therefore, grey asexuality has become a label for identities that are not that clean cut. If someone does not experience sexual attraction most of the time but sometimes does, they may use the grey label if they feel like it suits their identity best. This is not a phase that those people grow out of but a valid identity. Like the previous example, this goes beyond binary divisions and helps to illustrate the nuances of identities that go beyond these divisions.

These examples show that people and their sexualities are nuanced. Thus, they raise questions about appropriate labels for cases that potentially cannot be described with already existing labels and they challenge more static concepts of (sexual) attraction or lack thereof.

Just because someone can generally experience sexual attraction to two or more genders or does not experience any attraction to them, that does not mean that they constantly feel (un)attracted to them. Likewise, if they are in a hetero or homo-romantic relationship, that does not mean that an asexual or a bisexual is heterosexual or homosexual. This relationship or more precisely the gender of their partner does not take away from their identity. If I were to have a relationship, which I have not had at this point, that would not mean that I am no longer asexual or aromantic.

Similarly, the fact that someone identifies in a way outside of one’s own internalised concepts of sexuality does not take away from their or one’s own validity. For instance, to some extent, I understand that lesbians have mixed feelings about bi-lesbians but I think that it they should not feel invalidated by them. You could see the concept of bi-lesbians as an expansion of lesbian identity. At the end of the day, this is just a helpful label for people to help them identify as what suits them best, so who are you to tell them that they’re not valid? Additionally, in order to address the specific problems that lesbians face, you can still distinguish between lesbians and bi-lesbians and refer to their specific problems. That does not take away from the value of what it means to be a lesbian but it adds more nuance and helps people to describe their identity in a more fitting way, so why not just embrace it?

The Asexual and Bisexual Experience

Price showcases several examples of similarities between both sexualities. They even categorise several forms of erasure and hostile behaviour that both, bisexuals and asexuals can face. Price experienced similar forms of erasure as an asexual and as a bisexual, as their identity was constantly nullified and people just treated them as a heterosexual (Price).

Apart from that, people were frequently demanding proof of their identity (Price). Essentially, people would ask them invasive questions about their experiences and be nullifying their validity because of their disbelief and lack of understanding for Price’s answers (Price). As Price summarises: ‘People refused to trust my own mind and body. They believed they knew me better than I knew myself, and they wanted to show me that I was wrong’ (Price).

However, in addition to having their identity constantly nullified as both, an asexual and later on as a bisexual, Price was also forced to sexual activities that they were not comfortable with. When they identified as ace, people told them that they were not fully matured and similar things or they even treated them like they needed fixing and tried to force sex on them. ‘I spent every single night warding off his [their boyfriend’s] advances, coercion, and pressure. I felt completely unsafe in my own home. I couldn’t spend any time alone with him without being touched, cajoled, harassed, whispered at, and begged for sex. Often I would give in to his demands, just to make the pressure stop’ (Price, explanation added).

As a bisexual, people expected them to have threesomes or did other things to them without their consent, such as constantly pushing them towards women or taking pictures of them and putting them on dating sites without permission (Price).

In addition to the erasure and coercion that they can face, asexuals and bisexuals are frequently distrusted, for example in relationships. If one does not reveal their ace identity instantly, they might be considered deceitful for not revealing this, while bisexuals are often faced with prejudice, such as stereotypical depictions of polyamory (Price). Both are often considered to be attention-craving and ‘invading into queer spaces’ in which ‘they do not belong’ and are frequently rejected by straight and queer people alike (Price).

Based on the parallels between their experiences, Price concludes: ‘Asexual and bisexual people are natural allies to one another. Their feelings and experiences run parallel much of the time. My hope is that more bisexual-identified people get to realizing this, and speaking about it, because bisexuality has started to be repaired in the public’s eyes. It’s time that both groups receive full-throated acceptance as legitimate, oppressed queer identities’ (Price).

Price’s article provides a great insight into the similarities between asexuality and bisexuality as well as the exclusion and discrimination that people with these identities can face. In the following chapters, I am going to illustrate why exclusionism, ace-phobia and biphobia can be really harmful.

Why We need to Stop Exclusionism

The Consequences of Exclusionism

It should be obvious why exclusionism in a space for marginalised people sucks but here are a few examples and numbers.

Oftentimes, people claim that the ‘a’ in LGBTQIA+ is for ‘ally’, which is dismissive of our identity and nullifies it. A-spec folks are often excluded from queer safe spaces because they are not considered to be ‘queer enough’ or ‘just straight’ and online, you can find lots of people sharing these experiences. You could say that just like bisexuals, we are considered straight or confused by exclusionists who do not acknowledge our identities. Apart from that, we can also experience homophobia based on people’s unawareness and assumptions and queer people’s ace-phobia on top of that. When people gave me homophobic BS and I had not figured out my identity yet, that definitely did not help so being invalidated and considered as straight is a bit annoying.

The same goes for bisexuals who can experience homophobia and biphobia from straight people and from fellow queer people on top of that. Because of your identity, you might already feel alone and like a freak but if other marginalised people nullify your existence, you might feel even more alone.

In ‘Attacked from Within: Gatekeeping in the Queer Community’, Mary Kate McAlpine addresses gatekeeping inside the LGBTQ community specifically and sheds some light at the similarities between the exclusion of bisexuals and asexuals from queer spaces. For instance, people who identify as bi, are often considered ‘chameleons’ or ‘only half-gay’, implying that they’re either gay people in the closet or straight people going through an experimental phase they’ll grow out of’ (McAlpine). This is eerily similar to ace-phobic exclusionism as described above. By now, that should ring a bell.

However, there is one thing about this that is particularly annoying: the perpetuation of heteronormativity by non-heterosexual gatekeepers: If you identify as heteroromantic asexual, for instance, you are more likely to be considered ‘just straight’ by exclusionists than if you are homoromantic and asexual. This is erasure. Oftentimes, you are just considered straight as an asexual when you do not really live the straight experience. Now, how is this heteronormative? If you equate someone who does not experience sexual attraction with a straight person because ‘you are either straight or not’, that is the exact logic behind heteronormativity. That is the same logic that fails to realise that sexual orientations lie on a spectrum and the same logic that reduces people to just two sexes and straight or ‘other’. If you are gatekeeping in queer spaces based on this logic, you are essentially reinforcing heteronormative values and that does not make any sense whatsoever. You essentially become a walking oxymoron.

Unfortunately, the damage resulting from this can go far beyond annoyance by gatekeepers due to their logical fallacies and spiteful behaviour. Their behaviour can be harmful and cause long-term damage.

Bisexuality and Mental Health

According to myGwork, an organisation for LGBT employees, studies suggest that much more bisexuals suffer from depression than heterosexuals.

‘studies have found that 37.3 percent of bisexual adults have reported experiencing depression, compared to 17.2 percent of heterosexual adults. While according to the Pew Research Center, Only 28% of bi or pan people ever feel safe enough to come out to their friends and family’ (myGwork).

Additionally, GLAAD finds that ‘bisexuals have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders compared to gays, lesbians and heterosexuals’ and while bisexual women are more likely to fall victim to domestic abuse than straight women, bi men are more likely to contract HIV and similar diseases due to fear of stigmatisation in health care (GLAAD cited by myGwork).

The ‘Who Am I’ survey, conducted in Australia last year, offers similar findings. 58 % reported high levels of psychological distress and frequently anxiety, eating disorders as well as depression (Ley). ‘More than one in four (28%) had attempted suicide in their lives and 78% had thought about it’ (Ley). Accordingly, bisexuals seem to struggle a lot and obviously, gatekeeping is not going to help them but most likely going to worsen things, which the following quotes suggest: ‘Interestingly, results did not find that having LGBTQ peers and friends was related to lower levels of biphobia or unhappiness’ (Ley).

According to Ley, internalised biphobia may be a great factor that contributes to the issues mentioned in his study (Ley). This, too suggests that gatekeeping could be at least partially responsible for the struggles of bisexuals because as illustrated above, the LGBT-spectrum may also be involved in the internalisation of biphobia through perpetuation of biases. It is not only straight people but also fellow queer people who seam to perpetuate this.

Especially on social media, you can experience a bunch of hate and you get an insight into lots of people’s concerns with exclusionism, as they share their experiences frequently. Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

Asexuality and Mental Health

Unfortunately, when it comes to asexuality, there is barely any research but a study from 2013 suggests that asexuals are more likely to have mood disorders than heterosexuals. However, note that Yule et al.’s work does not include non-binary people:

‘Twenty-four percent of asexual men, compared to 10% of non-heterosexual men and 15% of heterosexual men […] noted that they did have a mood disorder. Follow-up tests indicated that asexual men were significantly more likely to report having a mood disorder than heterosexual men. There was no significant difference between asexual and non-heterosexual men. Thirty percent of asexual women, 34% of non-heterosexual women and 16% of heterosexual women reported a current mood disorder […]. Again, follow-up tests indicated that asexual women were more likely to report having a mood disorder than heterosexual participants’ (Yule et al.)

The same goes for the likelihood of asexuals to report anxiety disorders. ‘Twenty-three percent of asexual men, 20% of non-heterosexual men and 8% of heterosexual men responded positively to the enquiry about anxiety disorders’ (Yule et al.) Likewise, asexual women (23%) were more likely to report anxiety disorders than non-heterosexual women (20%) and heterosexual women (15%).

Regarding suicidal tendencies, the same research concludes that a ‘tendency toward suicidality may be elevated in asexual individuals, warranting further research into this important topic. Clinical implications are considerable, and asexual individuals should be adequately assessed for mental health difficulties and provided with appropriate interventions that are sensitive to their asexual identity’ (Yule et al.).

Similarly, Borgogna et al. propose that ‘quantitative examinations that simultaneously account for differences across participants from the various sexual identities, with effect size comparisons to heterosexual participants is warranted’ (Bogogna et al.). As both sources suggest, there is not enough research on asexuality and particularly quantitative research could be helpful to determine how likely this identity affects people negatively.

Conclusion:

Sexual orientations are not stagnant but a spectrum with nuances. Since they are a spectrum, it does not make sense to police others’ identities for them. Gatekeeping and exclusionism should no longer be a thing and exclusionists should consider something other than dragging others down to fix their bad self-esteem. If someone identifies as a bi-lesbian, bi or ace or if someone is not cis and adopts their true identity, how does it even affect you? It does not take away from your identity as a lesbian, gay person or anything like that and sorry to break the news to you but if you are unable to accept others’ identities, you are essentially a bigot.

Exclusionism has real consequences, as it enhances the feeling of being alone and as research suggests, bisexuals and asexuals are already more likely than heterosexuals to suffer from depression and similar problems.

That being said, don’t be exclusionists. Please try to be empathetic and to understand what others are going through. Especially if you are part of a marginalised group, e.g. the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, you should know what it is like to be invalidated and you should know better than doing this to others.

That marks the end of this post. Thank you for reading and feel free to point out things or ask questions in the comments. This year’s asexual awareness week is from 25th October to 31st of October, so if you are interested in this topic, stay tuned for the second part of this post, in which I am going to break down some fictional examples of erasure concerning both, bisexuality and asexuality.

As always thanks for reading

-sovlpvnk

Sources:

Borgogna, N. C., McDermott, R. C., Aita, S. L., & Kridel, M. M. (2018, September 17). Anxiety and Depression Across Gender and Sexual Minorities: Implications for Transgender, Gender Nonconforming, Pansexual, Demisexual, Asexual, Queer, and Questioning Individuals. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. Advance online publication.URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000306, Accessed on October 17, 2020.

Ley, David J. ‘Why Are Mental Health Issues Greater Among Bisexual People? New research offers new insight into troubling findings with bisexuality.’ In: Psychology Today, 25 April 2019, URL: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-who-stray/201904/why-are-mental-health-issues-greater-among-bisexual-people, Accessed on October 17, 2020.

LGBTA Wiki. ‘Amatonormativity.’ In: lgbt.wikia.org, URL: https://lgbta.wikia.org/wiki/Amatonormativity, Accessed on October 17, 2020.

McAlpine, Mary Kate. ‘Attacked from Within. Gatekeeping in the Queer Community.’ In: medium.com, 13 November 2017, URL: https://medium.com/@marykatemcalpine/attacked-from-within-gatekeeping-in-the-queer-community-700d412d2db9, Accessed on October 17, 2020.

MyGwork. ‘How bi-erasure is damaging the bisexual community.’ In: mygwork.com, URL: https://www.mygwork.com/en/my-g-news/how-bi-erasure-is-damaging-the-bisexual-community, Accessed on October 17, 2020.

Price, Devon. ‘The Asexual-Bisexual Mirror. Ace and Bi people are marginalized in many of the same ways.’ In: devonprice.medium.com, 11 June 2019, URL: https://devonprice.medium.com/the-asexual-bisexual-mirror-f70b42b38ca7, Acessed on October 17, 2020.

Queer Undefined. ‘Gatekeeping.’ In: queerundefined.com, URL: https://www.queerundefined.com/search/gatekeeping, Accessed on October 17, 2020.

Yule et al. ‘Mental health and interpersonal functioning in self-identified asexual men and women’ In: Psychology & Sexuality, 2013, Vol. 4, No. 2, 136–151, URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2013.774162, Accessed on October 17, 2020.

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Published by sovlpvnk

On this blog, I talk about the alternative music scene and its ethics as well as LGBTQIAP+ -related topics. I mostly write about asexuality, political issues and their representation in media. Expect content in English and German every two weeks.

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