I had this experience recently.
I’m at a pub after a long week, (third) pint in hand, and a friend asks me to explain bi erasure to her. Right then and there. What is it? What does it mean? How is it a thing?
I ask her if we can’t please talk about this another time, but she insists- after all, I run a nationwide bi+ network and blog about this stuff all the time, don’t I? I ask her again if we can talk about this later, because I’m tired after my week and just want to kick back with a few beers and relax. She keeps insisting. Eventually I make my excuses, saying that I’ll pop to the bar for a second. By the time I get back she’s deep in another conversation. Phew.
A week or so before that: An acquaintance and me were at a party. Out of nowhere, they start asking me what felt like overly personal questions- why am I single? What about my orientation? What percent was I attracted to men and what to women? What percent was it physical and how much emotional?
I answered that this was none of his business, that besides, it wasn’t like that, and that I wasn’t going to answer and could he please stop. Of course, he went on. Where else is he supposed to find out about this stuff? It’s not like there’s any other bi people in the room.
I repeated that this was making me feel incredibly awkward and self conscious and could he please stop? His answer was that I write about this stuff on the internet, so I should be fine with talking about it at any time. Luckily at that moment a friend of mine (who is bi) was on her way through the kitchen and told him to knock it off. It worked. I excused myself for another room.
These things happen all the time. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
As a society, we have an idea about people who are partially visible to the public eye. We figure that if you’ve chosen to share something publicly, you’re fair game. If people can read or listen to or see you in one context, it feels, they should be able to demand access anytime, anywhere. In my case it’s at a very minor level- in a way I’m extremely lucky that my platform is a relatively modest one and I’m well aware that there are far worse things in life than being badgered by acquaintances and friends at parties. However, the interminable harassment experienced by people (particularly women, particularly POC, particularly queer) more widely known than I is a constant, nagging worry in the back of my mind. I can’t help but connect the two and think about how, if this weighs on my mind, I would handle something more severe.
I’ll bet that some of you reading this are thinking something along the lines of “if she can’t stand the heat, why the hell won’t she get out of the kitchen?”. But that doesn’t take away the fact that being open about my queer orientation is not a licence to demand information about my personal life. And blogging- or other kinds of sharing online- is not an abdication of a person’s right to privacy and to choose what conversations they do and do not have. Sharing things in one context does not imply blanket consent to share other things, or even the same things, in different spaces, with whoever asks. There are things that I’ll share with anyone who asks. There are things that I’ll share online and would be happy to have conversations about. There are things that I’ll talk about in one context but not another. This is true of all of us.
And another point for those of you who would ask that: There are people in this world who have a thick enough skin to stand constant harassment. And there are people in this world with interesting things to say. There is an overlap, of course, but the Venn diagram of these two groups is nothing like a circle. By demanding that those of us who speak publicly give up our privacy and our right to be treated decently, you create a space where it is the loudest and most brash, not the most insightful and interesting, who get to speak.
If someone speaks or writes in public, of course they should be subject to response and criticism. If someone writes or speaks about a topic, of course there are spaces to ask them more. But whatever we share, don’t we have the right to be spoken to and about with some basic respect? And shouldn’t we get to shut down our laptops, sign out of our accounts and pour ourselves a mug of whateveryourehaving at the end of the week?
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