There have been different times throughout history when marginalized groups have received greater recognition, more rights, and greater power in their communities and nations. However, a major problem that occurs at the same time is that only a part of these marginalized groups seems to progress forward, causing other members of the group, who could be divided into subcategories, to feel resentment, to feel left behind, to feel invisible and ignored, and to still struggle for their own recognition as human beings that actually exist. I thought about what to call these groups of people who feel as if they have no identity of their own even in their own marginalized community. I decided to call them the marginalized within the marginalized. It is the feeling of invisibility that I want to focus on, and the subgroup that interests me is the group of people who identify as bisexual.
When considering the topic of bisexuality, a common hurdle is how to reconcile one’s faith, a component of identity, with one’s sexual orientation, another component of identity. This can be a process during which bisexual individuals can experience extreme confusion, hurt, frustration, anger, and depression. I have thought about how hard, even mentally and emotionally agonizing, this must be and how bisexual people who endure this process desire to talk to friends and family members, mentors and colleagues, who will walk beside them and help to carry the burden when it seems like it is too much. One of the most important things that we can do as allies of bisexual individuals is simply to acknowledge the fact that they exist, that their feelings are real, and that they are not “gay, straight, or lying”[i].
I think it is important to explore the concept of bi-erasure, a word that many people might not even know exists. Bi-erasure means “when bisexuals are assumed to be gay, lesbian, or straight, or have their sexual identity otherwise invalidated or erased by saying they are in denial or dishonest” [ii] or “the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright” [iii]. This is a harmful attitude that others can have towards individuals who do identify as bisexual. But what can we do? Speaking for myself, I know that I strive to be the best person I can be, the most Christ-like person I can be. Something so simple, yet so powerful, is to validate bisexual individuals. I let them know that I know that what they are feeling is real, that who they are is real. I let them know I believe them, and I listen to them as they share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with me.
Someone I know extremely well experienced feelings of being erased. He had the following experience. He wanted to come out to his sister, one of his best friends. He was not sure how she would feel about learning that he was bisexual. To “test the waters”, he asked her, “What would you say if I told you that I was bisexual?” Her response was, “I would think you were gay and were waiting to actually fully come out” (or something to this effect). He felt crushed. He felt like someone so close to him would think he was lying about his identity. He knew that she did not intentionally hurt him or seek to erase this part of who he was, but that was the outcome.
Another person close to me once explained to me how she felt that her bisexuality was condemned by those she loved as she was growing up. She never felt like she could be honest about her identity. She was confused and tried to convince herself that she did not experience thoughts and dreams about women. She felt hurt, because she believed that she was a good person but that these feelings she was experiencing caused her to somehow be morally corrupt. She confided in me that she tried to convince herself that she was not having such thoughts about women, and in a sense was erasing her own bisexual identity. It is hard enough when others do it, but to do it to yourself must be exceedingly detrimental.
As I learn more about Jesus Christ and how He suffered for everyone who would ever experience life on Earth, I realize that He suffered the same things that this man suffered. He understood this man perfectly. He understood this woman perfectly and what she must have encountered mentally and emotionally during this time of her life. One of the greatest qualities the Savior ever manifested was His never-ending ability to show compassion to every single individual with whom He interacted. Even the accounts of His rebukes towards others are evidence of His compassion to all, because He desired that all would accept the gift He was extending. As we seek to emulate Jesus Christ or exercise personal ethics and morals, one of the most effective qualities we can personally develop is compassion.
Thomas S. Monson said, “We have no way of knowing when our privilege to extend a helping hand will unfold before us” [iv]. Our helping hand could be compassion and we never know when we may have the opportunity to show compassion to someone when it really matters. Compassion could be validating someone’s identity. Even if one does not fully understand how someone feels, how someone identifies themselves in many facets of their lives, or agree with how they lead their lives, one can always extend his or her hand as Christ would extend His to every single individual. This is where our studies of the humanities can help us understand others in a manner we never thought possible and provide us the tools to interact with them with dignity. The humanities make it possible to delve deep into the soul, to explore the most basic meaning of what it means to be a human and all of the parts that make up one’s identity as a human being. The humanities have the ability to represent all people, the possibility to create works of art in all forms of all people, and to demonstrate the humanity of groups of people or individuals we do not otherwise have the capacity to understand. As we pursue our lifelong studies as students of the humanities, our ability to connect with others as human beings will flourish.
This post was written by Jacob Wright, Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellow.
[i] Carey, B. (2005, July 05). Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/health/straight-gay-or-lying-bisexuality-revisited.html
[ii] Bradley, C. (2020, October 16). Why Is “Bisexual” Such A Charged Word? Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.dictionary.com/e/bisexual-2019/?itm_source=parsely-api
[iii] GLAAD. (2017, May 17). Bisexual erasure. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.glaad.org/accordionview/bisexual-erasure
[iv] Monson, T. S. (2001). Compassion. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2001/04/compassion?lang=eng