by E. Dunn
As of last week, Internet searchers typing “bisexual” into the search bar will now have their searches autocompleted in Google. Bisexual p” now leads to “Bisexual parenting” and “Bisexual r” prompts Google to suggest “Bisexual rights.” At first glance this may seem like something only geeks should get excited about. Autocomplete just isn’t that sexy. But this cuts deeper than that.
In 2009, Google made the decision to ban the word “bisexual” from its Google Instant, which autocompletes or suggests common search phrases to you. Their logic? Searches with the word “bisexual” were overwhelmed by the number of bisexy porn results on the interwebs. So Google made a decision that all of the legitimate bisexual queries out there were less relevant, or less important, than the desire to protect the internet from porn. As a result of this decision, the word bisexual became devalued in the search ranking experience, and authoritative bi resources were suddenly hiding in plain sight.
Not only is this biphobia pretty nonsenical, it’s also harmful to those who identify as bi and to others. Those who are questioning, parents of a newly-come-out bi youth, straight or gay-identified partners of bi folks looking for info on how to be sensitive to their bi partners needs, etc.
When you don’t see information about your community or your needs reflected in a supposedly-neutral search engine like Google, you get the message that you don’t really exist. You’re there, living and breathing, but you’re not really there. You don’t really matter. As the San Francisco Human Rights Commission noted in a 2011 report,
“Despite years of activism and the largest population within the LGBT community, the needs of bisexuals still go unaddressed and their very existence is still called into question. This erasure has serious consequences on bisexuals’ health, economic well-being, and funding for bi organizations and programs.”
To put the ban in context, hacker site 2600 compiled a partially complete lit of the banned words, which range from terms having to do with sexuality and anatomy (think “clitoris,” “g-spot,” and “masturbate”) to sex acts (“missionary position” or “phone sex”) and sex-positive writers (Violet Blue, Tristan Taormino, Shar Rednour, Betty Dodson). Some terms since moved off the banned list, while others linger. I’m sorry, Google. But why are sex positive writers on the banned list when abstinence is not and sex education is not and kinky (by itself) is not?
As a result of the block, legitimate resources like bisexual support groups, bisexual organizations, or resources for coming out as bisexual get pushed down in search rankings. All because the search engine company decided that those porn viewers who wanted some variant of bisexual porn were more important than anyone who had a real and vested interest in reading anything about bisexuality and, by extension, queer lives. Yes, it’s 2012 and we’re now celebrating the removal of the ban, and we can all safely autocomplete the word bi without succumbing to biphobia and sex panic, thanks to the work of bi activists whose protests were finally heard.
Groups like BiNet have been calling Google on their biphobia for some time now. This type of censorship effectively pushed bi concerns and bi identities lower on the totem pole than gay or straight concerns. As Cheltenham wrote in another post,
“If one of the biggest companies in the world decides to erase your identity, will anyone notice? “
Google is listening now, finally. But a lot of others still aren’t. Bisexual day is Sunday, September 23. Let’s make some noise to help end invisibility for our bi allies.