When we first set up The Lady Garden and we were adding “you should probably read this” links, I couldn’t find a good piece on erasure. So just a few short months later, I’m doing what anyone would do in that position, and fucking writing one.
It should be noted that yes, this is a 101 piece. I think sometimes we all benefit from going back and examining something from first principles. Nonetheless, this doesn’t make any other post on TLG by any other author any more or less 101, okay?
The thing about erasure is that by its very nature it’s incredibly hard to spot. You’re looking for something that’s not there. Consider John Ansell’s entire career of madness: it’s more or less defined by actually saying mad shit out loud. But what if ACT never mentioned Maori? Like, not ever. How long would it take for people to notice that?
Here’s a wee test. Watch this: it’s a lovely clip discussing the cross-over between mental health and sexual orientation issues. Now, what’s wrong with it?
Three times, this phrase is used: “gay, lesbian and trans people”. WTF?
Now, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. My assumption is that this is accidental, that they do care about these issues in regard to bisexual people as well, they just forgot to say so.
It’s slightly trickier because of the history of gay and lesbian groups being erasive of bisexuals, of revisionist histories claiming any man who had a wife and kids and a male lover as “gay”. Sometimes it’s not accidental, or lazy, sometimes it’s a particularly passive-aggressive form of malice.
But most of the time it isn’t, which makes pointing out erasure very difficult. If you jump down someone’s throat every time they use a phrase like “gay or straight”, or “men and women” or “gay marriage” (rather than same-sex marriage, which is inclusive of bisexuals) we risk alienating and hurting allies.
And yes, erasure ties in with privilege. In a very non-controversial example, you know those green plastic security screens on money machines, on the card slot and the keypad? They’re designed to make the machine perfectly easy to use – as long as you’re right-handed. If you are right-handed, you’ve probably never noticed just how fucking inconvenient they are for left-handed people. And somehow, those got all the way through design and implementation without anyone pointing this out.
But at least I can still use the money machine. See the braille bumps on the keys? Now, how do blind people use the on-screen buttons?
So the further you are from the mainstream, the more likely your interests, difficulties, or mere existence are to be erased, because the more people simple cannot see them. My focus has always been on bisexual and kink erasure*, but I’m learning to see it in terms of disability, gender, polyamory and asexuality. If there’s going to be a sexuality question on the census (and I think there should be) it must have a write-in option. Like the gender question should, because those two stark tick-boxes? Are erasive.
It’s very easy to see when someone is being a bigoted twatcock a la John Ansell. It’s much harder to spot when someone is being erasive, but erasure is still profoundly hurtful. And it’s not helpful when people say things like, “Oh, but they didn’t say [group] doesn’t exist,” or “Man, y’know, not everything is about you!”
We try not to be erasive. We’re not always going to succeed. Everyone cocks it up sometimes. Our very language is heavily coded to be sneakily discriminatory. Taking that into account, I think we need to learn to point things out, rather than call people out. We need all the friends we can get.
*”Bisexual erasure? I used to have one of those. One end was gray and rubbed out pen…”