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How the ‘Blue or Gold’ Dress Meme Helps to Explain Bi-erasure in the Media

Written by guest contributor Angelica Guarino

Remember those two days last spring where everyone on the internet was freaking out over whether this dress was actually blue with black lace or white with gold lace? It seemed as if the entire world collectively hyperventilated as it ran to ask their friends, “WHAT COLOR IS THIS DRESS?”

That is until eventually “scientifically” determined that the dress was actually blue with black lace, it seemed that no one could settle for the idea that people simply saw the dress differently. It had to be determined as one or the other in order for the world to stop losing sleep at night.

I see a lot of parallels between how we viewed this dress and how we see people.

Western thinking is obsessed with binaries. People must be male or female, and their sexuality must be gay or straight. In a way, the reason why people refused to believe that the dress was both blue and white is the same reason for why people find the concept of fluidity in sexuality and gender unacceptable.

As humans, it is comforting to know that we can define things. It’s about control. We like clearly identifying what we see to be a duck, a book, a man, a lesbian, etc. When we can’t, it’s like we’ve lost control of our environment. We are afraid of what we don’t understand – and for some, that includes the concept of bisexuality. The term “bi-erasure” as defined by GLAAD is “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.”

Think of how you would feel if you saw the dress as white and gold and someone told you that it was blue and black – we live in such a scientifically advanced society that it’s become a little scary to think that we don’t know what is “undeniably” true. Which, in a way, is why some people who do fit the sexuality binary tell bisexual people that they should “pick a side” – in order for the bisexual, pansexual, demisexual, etc. person to then fit the binary and become definable.

The New York Times recently put out an article about the scientific quest to learn if bisexuality is real or not, and it cites the suggestion that we cannot, as a society, validate bisexuality until there is “hard science” to prove that it exists. For some reason, opening a dialogue with bisexual people is not enough proof.

Articles such as these completely ignore the fact that psychologists, such as Lisa M. Diamond, Albert Kinsey, and even Sigmund Freud, to name a few, have already determined that sexuality is fluid. Kinsey’s studies even led to him creating a test and scale to carefully determine a number on a spectrum between heterosexual  and homosexual where a person’s sexuality lies. This way, sexuality can still be defined and identified (if a person chooses to define their sexuality) without using the binary of being simply “gay” or “straight.”

More importantly than the existence of pseudo-scientific validation for bisexuality, why can’t we just believe in bisexuality because the bisexual community asserts it as real? Specifically in media representation, bisexuality is not only lacking representation, but is misrepresented, or even blatantly ignored.

Think of Orange is the New Black as an example. It’s obvious to most that since Piper has had relationships with men and women that she is bisexual. Yet she is constantly referred to as a “former lesbian” by Larry and other characters on the show. While understanding part of that wording is perhaps to illuminate the ignorance of Piper’s friends and family in the world outside of prison, the fact that we’re three seasons in and no one’s had the time to teach Piper what the word “bisexual” means is a little strange to me.

This is not to say that proper representation of bisexual characters on television is completely nonexistent. For instance, Ilana of Broad City and Oberyn Martell of Game of Thrones are two helpful and informative portrayals of bisexual people. However, while proper media representation of bisexuality is extremely helpful in fighting bierasure, these characters can only educate the people watching these shows. Both have a very wide audience, especially Game of Thrones, however it’s going to take more than some televised sex scenes (and one orgy, in Oberyn Martell’s case) to transform society’s understanding of bisexuality.

In conclusion, though “the dress” was eventually determined to be blue and black, it was not a unanimous decision. Dr. Paul Knox of the University of Liverpool determined, using the science of color and light, that people interpreted the dress to be different colors depending upon the light in which the photo was viewed. This means that the dress actually was both blue and black and white and gold, depending on who looking at it. No one was right and no one was wrong – the dress was something that simply could not be defined as one color.

Take that, binary reality.


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[image via x]


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