BiUK members have taken part in a couple of interviews during the last week that you might find interesting.
Meg Barker was interviewed by biscuit magazine here.
Caroline Walters was interview by BiCast here.
The UK national organisation for bisexual research and activism
Helen Grant (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) was recently asked what discussions the UK Government Equalities Office has had with LGBT mental health service providers in the last year. Here is her response (reposted from www.theyworkforyou.com):
Ministers and officials from the Government Equalities Office regularly meet a broad range of LGB&T stakeholders, including mental health providers and other organisations with an interest in this area, to discuss key issues and priorities for the sector. Topics raised include the mental health needs of LGB&T individuals, areas of discrimination and issues with service provision.
In the last year, officials have met with organisations with an interest in this area including: the Albert Kennedy Trust, Bi Community News, Bisexual Index, BiUK, Broken Rainbow, GALOP, GIRES, METRO Centre, PACE, Press for Change, Stonewall, Stonewall Housing, The Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF), The LGBT Consortium, and The National LGB&T Partnership. The LGBT Consortium, the National LGB&T Partnership and BiUK are umbrella organisations who raise issues on behalf of their wider membership. Officials also sit on the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity where mental health issues are regularly raised. Officials have also had meetings with NHS England andPublic Health England at which they have discussed mental health issues.
In the last year, the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Equalities met representatives from the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, LGB&T Consortium, PACE Health, Stonewall, Broken Rainbow, the METRO Centre, and BiUK on 10 October 2013; and representatives from GIRES, Gendered Intelligence and the Gender Identity Clinic in Hammersmith on 15 October 2013.
On 12 June 2014 the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport visited Birmingham LGBT Centre which hosts mental health services. The Secretary of State also met leading LGB&T representatives on 30 June 2014 including Stonewall, Lesbian and Gay Foundation, LGB&T Consortium, GIRES, and Gendered Intelligence. Health issues were discussed at all events.
Alon Zivony & Thalma Lobel update us on their recent research…
Bisexuals face two broad social problems: public invisibility and discrimination. Invisibility refers to the lack of representation of bisexuals and knowledge about bisexuals in society. In either the media, the sciences, and even in the LGT community – people are nearly unaware of the existence of bisexuals and the issues that affect their lives. Discrimination refers to prejudice and stereotypical attitudes towards bisexuals. For example, the notion that bisexuals are closeted gay\lesbian, untrustworthy, confused, and hypersexual.
At first glance, these two phenomena (invisibility and discrimination) seem paradoxical. How can invisibility and discrimination coincide? In other words, how can someone discriminate against a group they are not familiar with? The answer may be surprisingly simple.
In our study we evaluated social stereotypes of bisexual men in light of bisexual invisibility. Participants were presented with two characters on a first date and asked them to evaluate one of the characters (based on answers to various questions). Whenever the evaluated character was described as bisexual, he was evaluated as being confused, untrustworthy, and unable to stay in a relationship. In other words, he was evaluated based on negative stereotypes associated with bisexuals.
In another experiment we asked participants to indicate what are the stereotypes associated with bisexual men. In light of bisexual invisibility, it is not surprising that participants had little knowledge of these stereotypes. For example, only 20% of participants knew that bisexual men are often considered as closeted gay. Only 7% of participants knew that bisexual men are often considered as confused.
But we found something surprising as well. The results showed that prejudiced individuals knew even less about these stereotypes that non-prejudiced individuals. In other words, prejudice not only coincided with lack of knowledge, but was correlated with it. The meaning of this finding was spelled out for us by one participant. He wrote: “I’m not familiar with any specific stereotypes of bisexual males. I do sometimes feel that they are actually homosexuals, but are afraid to identify as such due to social stigma.”
In other words, this participant holds stereotypical beliefs about bisexual men, but did not know these beliefs were considered stereotypical. But, if stereotypes don’t come from knowledge about bisexuals, where do they come from? We think that these stereotypes are the result of misconceptions regarding sexuality and gender in general. For example, as men and women are considered as completely separate and “opposite” genders, people automatically imagine bisexuality as two dual attractions that work in opposite directions. The implication of that image is a constant conflict and turmoil. This is how bisexual stereotypes can be both common and unknown.
This situation actually makes things worse for bisexuals: people don’t try to suppress their prejudicial beliefs and behaviors unless they know they are prejudicial. Also, you can’t fight stereotypes unless people know they are stereotypes. This leads us to the conclusion that education is the solution for both bisexual invisibility as well as discrimination against bisexuals.
Last weekend (20th to 22nd June) was the beginning of EuroPride 2014 that was being held in Oslo, Norway. Alongside the usual parties, parades and merriment, they organised a series of talks that they were holding at Pride House to discuss a range of issues relating to LGBT communities. A few months ago BiUK received an email inviting a member of the group to participate in two of the discussions they were organising on bisexuality. I went, as did Marcus Morgan of the Bisexual Index. We participated in two sessions called ‘Bisexuality: Make Up Your Mind’ parts one and two (though on the website they hadn’t included the word ‘bisexuality’ in the title). I was disappointed they had chosen this title since it draws on so many negative stereotypes of bisexuality that lead to it being questioned as whether or not exists. I later discovered that the name was being used ironically, though I think that people aren’t ready for that yet since general under standing on the topic is so poor.
Saturday arrived. The place seemed full of people getting busy to attend talks, chat with people and hopefully gain some new information. Our two sessions were up on the third floor in a big room that had a wall of books behind the speakers. The sessions were divided so the first was talks from four speakers (me on behalf of BiUK focusing on research, a local Norwegian academic, Marcus on bisexual activisms and a representative from a Swedish LGBT health organisation), while the second session was a panel discussion of six that included some extra speakers that are therapists and work for LGBT charities. Before the session began, I was rather chuffed as there were 55 people in the audience, which seemed promising as there were four other discussions on at the same time.
My talk focused on presenting the Bisexuality Report (Barker, Richards et al. 2012) as I thought that much of this information might be new to those in a Norwegian context. I explained the aims of the report, as outlining the experiences of bisexual people and supporting this with academic research. This enabled me to explore some of the complexities of defining bisexuality, particularly as more people might be behaviourally bisexual or feel that way without claiming the identity itself. I focused on outlining biphobia, probably introducing the word to the majority of the audience, and trying to explain the variety of ways that it can manifest including in the title of the talks. I alerted them to research indicating that bisexual people often suffer worse mental health than either lesbian or gay individuals. Then rounded off with some recommendations of ways that they could implement more inclusive practices and policies on bisexuality. I felt this was a good introduction. However I shortly discovered my comments were uncomfortable for some of the other panellists.
I fell into despair shortly after the second speaker began her talk: ‘The Invisible Bisexuals’. I will say that she was not speaking in her native Norwegian but rather stilted English, so perhaps I should temper some of my reactions, as I’ve heard her opinions are more nuanced in Norwegian. She opened stating that she identifies as a lesbian, which has shaped her research and therapeutic practice. I wondered why she was asked to speak on the panel, though I knew that it can be a matter of limited numbers and who is available. My frustrations rose when she claimed that in her thirty years of being a practising therapist in Norway she had never met a bisexual person, or at least none of her clients had ever come out to her. This supported her argument that socially bisexuals are invisible, which can be true unless you look to the existence of bisexual communities that seemed lacking in Norway. In addition she was unsure how to discuss bisexual people because they are an excessively invisible population. She rounded off her talk with a statement addressing my talk that the term ‘biphobia’ was not helpful as instead we should think about broader social and structural issues through the term ‘heteronormativity’. I was given a chance to respond and explain that they are both useful but rather different and both much needed concepts.
When Marcus took the stage he did a point by point deconstruction of some of the hair-prickling talk we had just heard, in a speech that was infused with anger and humour. I can’t do justice to the way that he delivers his talks, and so will mention some of his key points. Bisexuals are not invisible, as he rightly indicated he is not invisible, but rather they are erased by others and society. Using the word ‘gay’ to refer to all LGBT people erases bisexuals and trans (see Meg John Barker’s blog post). This persistent and prevalent erasure of bisexual people and of biphobia probably encourages people not to identify as bisexual. Indeed bisexual people belong to both the LGBT community and to the SB (straight-bisexual) community, making it harder to neatly categorise them. Marcus’s talk managed to combine complex points yet made the audience laugh.
The final speaker was from a Swedish LGBT organisation RFSL and outlined that his his talk would focus on bisexuality, stigma and its challenges. He opened claiming that the problem with debate on bisexuality is that it often stops at questions of invisibility, which he thought arose from a binary view on sexuality and particularly gender. It seemed promising that we would learn some useful information on bisexuality in a Swedish context. However the rest of the talk was given to outlining the aims of his organisation, ways that they taught in schools and the need to deconstruct gender norms. I do agree that this is important work that needs to be pushed further, particularly at a school level, but it didn’t focus on the topic at hand which was frustrating.
On the whole this session seemed to be a mix of productive and frustrating as it was off topic, and at times biphobic. It was a shame that there was not more time for questions since there were so many people attending, though we did have the panel discussion in part two, which fortunately the other female academic did not attend. After this panel, people came up to Marcus and I thanking us for our contribution and helping them to realise there were more bisexual people.
The second panel went much better on the whole, in part as there were six discussants that limited the amount of time anyone could speak. Our chair for this session worked for the organisation LLH, who had put on the event and stated that she was so excited for this event as an out bisexual person, who had heard limited discussions on the topic within the community. Out of the six panellists only three were bisexuals, while the other three were gay men from various LGBT health organisations, and all of us were white and I was the only woman.
The discussion was varied and somewhat stilted partly as only three of us focused on bisexual issues and I promoted work done by BiUK drawing their attention to the report and research guidelines. Marcus spoke as an activist. The third from a Norwegian organisation discussed the complexity of identifying as bisexual due to the prevalence of biphobia and instead many people preferred the term queer. The three gay men spoke on behalf of the various LGBT organisations. One discussed the need to deconstruct gender norms rather than issues on bisexuality. A therapist spoke on how he had also met few bisexual people in his years of practice, and was unsure how he could address their specific needs. The third spoke from an organisation based in Norway that focused on LGBT youth and their health needs. He offered a refreshing contribution as stated that his organisation didn’t do enough or think enough about bisexual people often making jokes at bisexual identity in training when they wouldn’t about L, G or T. He found the session useful hearing about research happening elsewhere and thinking about strategies that they could implement within their organisation.
On the whole my impressions from the day were mixed. I was frustrated at having lesbians and gay men speak on behalf of bisexuals without having spoken to bisexual people (see Marcus’s write up). I had hoped to hear more about work being done on bisexuality in a Scandinavian context, though we did learn about a Norwegian LGBT report (2013) that outlined that bisexual people have worse mental health though people on the panel did not know what to do with these findings. It was frustrating to have to explain many of the basics on bisexuality and biphobia, but I’m glad that people – including the panellists – listened and asked questions. I was left cautiously optimistic.
Maybe next year we won’t be invited, as they will find more bisexual people from Norway to talk at their event enabling them to run one in Norwegian. Maybe next year there will be a more complex and nuanced discussion on bisexuality rather than a ‘yes bisexual people do exist’. Maybe next year they can find therapists who are willing to find bisexual clients and offer them support. After the panel, several people spoke to me about wanting to improve their research in Scandinavia on the bisexuality, and hopefully having something like BiReCon there. Yes it was far from perfect, but I’m glad that we went since Marcus and I highlighted that bisexual people exist, outlined biphobia and demonstrated that research is being done. I see us being invited in the first place as a sign that they want to have the conversation on bisexuality. Now for them to find their own way.
A new post about bi and trans inclusion in Prides, over on Rewriting the Rules:
Researchers have identified factors that contribute to counseling competence and multicultural competence, yet there continues to remain a gap in bisexual counseling competence. Negative attitudes faced by bisexual individuals have significant implications for their psychological well-being and identity development. It is important for clinicians to explore their ability to empathize with this population and their attitudes toward bisexual clients. This study sought to determine whether clinician empathy and attitudes toward bisexuality were significant predictors of perceived and actual competence with bisexual clients. The study surveyed 101 clinicians. Multivariate multiple regression analyses revealed that only attitudes toward bisexuality were significant predictors of perceived and actual bisexual counseling competency. Implications and limitations of the study are discussed.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that people do want to include bisexual people when they are talking about ‘LGB people’ or ‘LGB&T people’. I’m going to assume that when they fail to do so, it’s a slip-of-the-tongue, a habit that they want to change. So here are some suggestions for rewordings for common slips-of-the-tongue and the pen.
Although I’m focussing specifically on bi inclusion here, I’ve tried to be trans*-inclusive within this focus, but would especially welcome corrections or additions to this. I’m not trying to cover ‘quick wins for trans* inclusion’ here, but I am trying to ensure that what I am suggesting about bi inclusion is not trans*-exclusive. And of course other suggestions and comments on anything here are very welcome. What have I missed? Do you agree? What other quick wins might there be?
… because many bisexual people have same-sex partners and don’t describe themselves as ‘gay’. Use the words people use to describe themselves.
This applies to public figures too – Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, Tom Daley and whoever the latest male politician or sportsman is to have hit the media for having a male lover. Obviously, if they do now describe themselves as gay, then so should you. But if they don’t, then don’t. You could describe them as bisexual or as being attracted to more than one gender or just talk about what has happened without using sexual identity labels. But, best of all, use whatever words they use to describe themselves.
… because that excludes people in bisexual relationships. Depending on what you actually mean, try ‘all types of relationships’ or ‘LGB and heterosexual’ or, to some audiences, ‘queer and straight’. You might try ‘same-sex and different-sex relationships’, if that’s the distinction you’re really interested in, but that isn’t very trans*-inclusive, because it implies that two people are either the same or different sexes, and sex can be more complicated than that.
Bisexual people in different-sex relationships are not ‘in a heterosexual relationship’ because they are not heterosexual. A heterosexual relationship is something that heterosexual people have. Well, subject to the point above about using people’s own terminology – if bisexual people in a different-sex relationship do want to describe their relationship as heterosexual, then of course they can, but don’t impose that label on them.
… because most bisexual people don’t think of themselves as gay – if you say ‘gay’ they feel excluded. ‘Gay’ as a shorthand to include trans* people really doesn’t work well. And some lesbians really don’t like it either. In more formal writing, such as policy reports and research findings, it’s easy enough to avoid using ‘gay’ in this way – just use LGB or LGB&T or LGBTIQQA or any other such acronym that is appropriate to your context. In speech and some types of media it can be harder to find replacements for ‘gay’ as a shorthand. ‘Queer’ works in some contexts. ‘Non-heterosexual’ works in others.
… because while bisexual people may experience homophobia, they also experience biphobia too. Try ‘homophobia and biphobia’ or ‘homophobia, biphobia and transphobia’. Or, depending on the context, ‘hate crimes against LGBT people’.
There’s more discussion of biphobia and how it differs from homophobia here.
… because that suggests that LGB&T people really means lesbians and gay men. Say ‘lesbians and gay men’ if that is who you talked to.
If you had hoped to talk to B and T people as well, but not managed to do so in the end, you could say that. But the fact that you know that there is more to LGB&T than L and G doesn’t make it legitimate to generalise from L and G to LGB&T.
… because that erases bisexuality by making it sound as if gender is always the most the important difference between LG and B people. Try looking at the bisexual women and bisexual men together as one category. Or see whether some other subdivision, such as race/ethnicity, age or social class is more important.
Activists and researchers in the US have dubbed this month ‘Bisexual Health Awareness Month’ to highlight the health disparities faced by bisexual people.
Ellyn Ruthstrom draws on the extensive evidence that now exists in this area to report that:
They also created this useful summary image:
You can read the full post about the Bisexual Resource Centre initiative here.
A useful article in The Advocate on bisexuality and fluidity:
Exploring the Umbrella: Bisexuality and Fluidity
A growing body of research indicates that for some people, sexual attractions change over time. But that’s not an endorsement of ‘reparative therapy,’ nor is it a bad thing for our movement.
For years, much of the case for LGBT rights has been based on the argument that sexual orientation is fixed and immutable — baby, we were born this way, and it’s wrong to discriminate against us for something we didn’t choose.
But an increasing body of social science research posits that a sizable number of people experience some degree of fluidity in their sexual and romantic attractions: being drawn to the same gender at one point in their life, the opposite gender at another. Researchers emphasize that this is not something that can be imposed from without, as “ex-gay” therapy would attempt to do, but something that occurs from within. Although our supporters already recognize that why we love who we love is irrelevant, embracing fluid orientations may call for a new approach in advocating for our rights.
The research to date indicates that fluidity is more common among women than among men, but scientists note that this could change as studies continue. Reliable data has only emerged in recent years, but there are now several studies that have found that 10 to 14 percent of American women describe themselves as mostly, but not completely heterosexual, and 6 to 9 percent of American men who self-identify the same way, says Lisa Diamond, a professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah. Studies in other countries have found the same general range, she says.
“It’s far more common to be someone who is a little bit attracted to the same sex than someone who is exclusively attracted to the same sex,” says Diamond, author of the 2008 book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Read more…
From the New York Times, 5th January 2014.
Tom Daley Comes Out as Bisexual, Igniting L.G.B.T. Debate
by Michael Shulman
Those six little words, tossed off like a request to please hold the mustard, were among the most deconstructed in Tom Daley’s YouTube video last month, in which the 19-year-old British Olympic diver announced that he was dating a man.
Leaning against Union Jack pillows, he continued, “But, I mean, right now I’m dating a guy, and I couldn’t be happier.” Mr. Daley’s message was sweet and simple, and gay rights advocates seemed thrilled to welcome an out-and-proud athlete into their ranks. (The cattier comments came later, when the “guy” was reported by numerous tabloids and blogs to be the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who is two decades his senior.)
But the cheers were premature, or at least qualified. Despite the trending Twitter hashtag #TomGayley, Mr. Daley never used the word “gay,” and there was the matter of his still fancying girls. While many commenters embraced the ambiguity (“I don’t care if Tom Daley’s gay or bi or whatever … He’s still fit,” one tweeted), others raised eyebrows.
Was it a disclaimer? A cop-out? A ploy to hold on to fans? Was he being greedy, as some joked? Or was he, as the video’s blushing tone suggested, simply caught up in the heady disorientation of first love, a place too intoxicating for labels? Read more…