CN: Discussions of misgendering and bi+ erasure
A few months ago I was visiting my family overseas. While I was away, a Sydney-based event I had been helping organise was featuring volunteers on their Instagram. I knew that a post announcing my involvement was due.
I didn’t have to scroll far to see my photo. Although the picture itself was fine, the text underneath made my stomach turn. The problem was, even though I supplied my own biography, the information posted with my photo was incorrect. The places where I had written ‘they’ or ‘them’ had been replaced with ‘she’ and ‘her’.
I felt sick. Maybe my jetlag is making me imagine it? I lied to myself. My chest felt tight and I could feel a lump in the back of my throat forming. Maybe it’s not a big deal? Another lie. Begrudgingly, I looked at the post again. I wasn’t imagining it and, yes, it was a big deal.
Although I was able to send a message to one of the organisers, who not only fixed the post in lightning speed but was also incredibly apologetic, the incident was significant. I’ve been misgendered many times before and the truth is, I know it will happen again. I understand that mistakes can happen but this one was particularly hurtful. Someone had quite literally re-written my truth and the result was being put into a box that makes me feel trapped by expectations.
People who learn I am in a relationship with a man and assume I am straight
Living outside of socially constructed binaries and constantly having to push back on assumptions isn’t exactly new to me. In addition to being non-binary, I am also bi+. Between my gender and my sexual orientation, many people don’t know how to make sense of me. Most commonly, people assume I am a woman. They use the wrong pronouns, they call me ‘ma’am’ or group me into ‘ladies’. People who learn I am in a relationship with a man and assume I am straight. They don’t understand why I am so passionate about the LGBTQIA+ community or argue that I have “straight passing privilege”.
I’ve heard the stereotypes. They’ve been said to me and about me. I’m working so hard to undo the ones that I’ve internalised. It’s a phase. Pick a side. Is that even real? You aren’t queer enough. You aren’t trans enough.
All of this has impact. We experience significant levels of mental distress, including self-harm, depression, and suicidal ideation. Statistics show that about 49 per cent of non-binary people assigned female at birth and about 30 per cent of non-binary people assigned male at birth (aged 18 and over) have been diagnosed with anxiety in their lifetime. Research also shows that bisexual people are more likely to have poor mental health outcomes compared to people who are straight, lesbian, or gay. This is only what has been reported. The reality could be much more grim and we have to recognise that there are members of our community who are even more at risk. We need people to pay attention and we need people to care.
I feel like I am being smothered by other people’s perceptions of who I am or who they think I should be
There are occasions where I feel gender euphoria and life feels just a little bit easier. When I am in bi+ specific spaces or when someone uses my correct pronouns, I feel like I can let out a little bit of the breath that I have been holding for years. Other times, I feel like I am being smothered by other people’s perceptions of who I am or who they think I should be. There are even still a lot of misconceptions that bisexuality reinforces binaries. My identity and that of so many others proves this isn’t the case. Bi+ people, advocates, and activists have been working tirelessly to bust that myth for years.
I know that my existence does not require other people to understand all my intricacies. But when presumptions and an unwillingness to listen and learn cause harm or erase my lived experience, that’s when it does matter. When I can’t get out of bed because my anxiety over how I will be perceived is too high, when I have to constantly correct people, or defend who I am, or when I feel a sense of absolute nothingness, it matters. It matters every single time society perpetuates the structures which reinforce binaries.
I’m tired and I know my community is too. We need people to do better. Our lives depend on it.
Amber Loomis is a freelance writer.