THE BLOG

Adding Insult to Injury: The Media Coverage of the Bisexual Asylum Seeker Case

02/11/2014 03:11 pm 15:11:44 | Updated 13 April 2014

Last month, immigration law blog Free Movement published a set of questions which had been asked of a bisexual asylum seeker during an interview by the UKBA. The questions are degrading, intrusive and deeply queerphobic. Yet the reporting of this incident in some mainstream media outlets is similarly concerning. On Saturday, the Guardian ran a story based on the Free Movement post, titled "Gay asylum seekers face 'humiliation'". The article talks repeatedly of "gay" or "gay and lesbian" asylum seekers; among quotes from immigration lawyers and LGB rights charities, the word "bisexual" appears only once in the entire piece, when describing the individual asylum seeker at the heart of the report.

This kind of bi erasure is almost routine for bisexual people - and we find it comes from our lesbian and gay friends just as often as from straight people. It is hurtful, but particularly in areas such as asylum and immigration, bi erasure, biphobia and stereotyping are downright dangerous. As bisexual immigrants go, I am extremely privileged: the country which issues my passport has not declared my existence illegal; I am white; I am an EU citizen (though that wasn't always the case), and therefore my right to stay in this country and my very life do not depend on my ability to navigate this maze, the love child of Orwell and Kafka, and give whatever the UKBA deems to be the "right" answers to questions such as "In [country] how many relationships have you had with women?" Others are not so lucky.

The popular myths of the non-existent bisexual, the "too scared to come out as gay" bisexual, the "doing it for the attention bisexual" all stack the odds heavily against us when it comes to "proving" our sexuality. The UKBA questions illustrate this clearly. Asking about the number of partners of different genders someone has had implies there is a "right" answer here - some optimal number of men, women and genderqueer people one is to have to slept with before one can be truly recognised as bisexual. (And beware of aiming too high with those numbers, lest you are declared the greedy, possibly disease-ridden kind of bisexual who should not be allowed into the country according to some MPs.)

One wonders, too, what the "right" answer is to questions like "When x was penetrating you did you have an erection?" The trouble with this is that there are as many answers to this question as there are occasions upon which the particular sex act being asked about has been performed in human history. But regardless of your experience, only one of those will get you the magic ticket that allows you to stay in a country that might not execute you for who you are.

Questions like "How do you show your sexuality when you are in the UK?" and "How does that display you are bisexual?" almost naturally lead to "Why have you got to behave as a bisexual in [country]?" and "That was with x only and he initiated the contact you claim. Why can't you return and live a full life there?" The box one needs to fit in to "deserve" support and asylum is so tiny as to be almost non-existent for bisexual people.

This is why media coverage of this case and the way it persistently talks of "gay and lesbian" asylum seekers when the individual at the centre of it is actually bisexual, and the lines of questioning are very specifically and deliberately biphobic, is dangerous. It is another stitch in the giant invisibility cloak society has thrown over bisexual people. It makes it easier to perpetuate myths and stereotypes, to question whether bisexuals really exist; and that in turn makes it possible to set impossible standards for "proving" bisexuality and to deny people persecuted for who they are shelter when their story doesn't quite match those expectations.

It is vital for bisexual people's stories to be heard; for biphobia and bi erasure to be called out for what they are. Bisexuality doesn't fit neatly in a gay/straight narrative. That doesn't make biphobia any less hurtful or harmful - sometimes, as in this case, in a "life and death" sort of way.