LGBT history in the making: Stonewall bisexuality consultation

On Saturday 7th February several members of BiUK attended a historic event: the first consultation between Stonewall UK and bisexual communities. The day went very well and we were left very hopeful about possibilities for working together more closely in the future.

Marcus Morgan, from The Bisexual Index, has written a great summary of the day here.

Biphobia in the pansexual community

Sali Owen (twitter: @SaliWho) writes:

As awareness of non-binary gender identities has developed, some members of the queer community have chosen to identify as pansexual rather than bisexual. Pansexuality is sometimes defined as attraction to people of all genders, which is also the experience of many bisexual people. More often than not, however, people define their pansexuality in relation to bisexuality. In response to the question: “What does pansexual mean?” I’ve seen countless people reply: “I’m attracted to people of more than two genders. Not bisexual.” The implication is that bisexual means binary attraction: men and women only.

Since I came out in the late 90s, I haven’t seen one bi activist organisation define bisexuality as attraction solely to men and women. Bi and trans* issues began to grow in recognition at the same time. When I use ‘bi’ to refer to two types of attraction, I mean attraction to people of my gender and attraction to people of other genders.

I also frequently see cisgender pansexuals managing to be both transphobic and biphobic in their definitions. They say pansexuals are different to bisexuals because pansexuals are attracted to “men, women and transgender people,” as if binary trans people aren’t really men and women, and bisexuals couldn’t possibly be attracted to them anyway.

Despite the presence of bisexuals at every queer demonstration since Stonewall, we’ve always been told by the lesbian and gay community that we’re somehow not queer enough. This pushes many bi people who are active in the queer community to identify as lesbian, gay or just queer. Being forced to pick a closet by both the straight and gay communities results in bi people having significantly higher rates of mental health problems than straight and gay people. This is why it’s so upsetting to see internalised biphobia leading many pansexuals, most of whom until recently identified as bisexual, telling us we’re still not queer enough. Gay and straight people aren’t being pressurised into giving up the language they use to describe their attractions and neither should they be. As usual it’s only bisexuals being shamed into erasing our identities and our history.

The most frustrating thing to me about the current bi vs pan discourse is that it’s framed as a cisgender vs genderqueer debate. This has never been the case. In reality, many genderqueer people identify as bisexual. At least three of the most influential bi activists, researchers and academics are genderqueer. Meg John Barker, founder of BiUK; Jen Yockney, founder of ‘Bi Community News’; and Shiri Eisner, author of ‘Radical Bi: Notes For a Bisexual Revolution’, are all non-binary. They’ve spent years at the forefront of campaigns, lobbying for queer rights. To say bisexuality is binary erases the identities of these revolutionary bisexual genderqueer activists, and it erases the identity of every marginalised genderqueer bisexual they’re fighting for.

I have no problem embracing more labels to better describe our attractions and our gender politics. We all have every right to use the labels that fit us. Some people identify as both pan and bi depending on context, but I can’t consider doing this before the implicit and explicit biphobia within the pan community is rejected. If your definition of pansexuality relies on redefining my bisexuality and negating it, I can’t support that. If you need to prove your queer credentials by vehemently clarifying that you’re not bisexual, you’re doing to me exactly what the lesbian and gay community does to both of us.

New research on bisexual women’s mental health

Lisa Colledge writes:

On 14 January 2015, sexual health researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) published a new UK study in the Journal of Public Health showing worse mental health in UK bisexual women than lesbians, based on data from the Stonewall 2007 Women’s Health Survey. The link to the full paper (permanent open access) is here.

PubHealth

This paper was publicised in the following press release, which was sent to 40 media targets covering local, national and international general news (print, radio, television and online) plus general health, mental health and LGBT publications.

At the time of writing it had been picked up by 12 news websites (including Daily Mail Online), featured on the LSHTM news and Bi Community News websites, and sent via 20 Twitter accounts to more than 157,000 followers.

Bisexual women have worse mental health than lesbians in the UK

Largest UK survey of its kind finds bisexual women more likely to self-harm, have eating problems and feel depressed

Read more of this post

LGBT manifesto – out today

BiUK was proud to be involved in producing the LGBT manifesto along with other members of the LGBT consortium. We ensured that it linked nicely with the key recommendations of The Bisexuality Report. Please do share this on and use it if you find it helpful.

Manifesto

You can download the pdf here: LGBT Manifesto v1.0

There are also websites for the LGBT manifesto and the trans manifesto.

BiUK interviews

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.

Minister acknowledges work with bi communities in addressing mental health challenges

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.

The invisible stereotypes of bisexual men

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.

Bisexuality Talks at EuroPride 2014

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.

Bi and trans inclusion in Prides

A new post about bi and trans inclusion in Prides, over on Rewriting the Rules:

Will gay rights and feminist movements please return to your assumptions

New article on bisexual counselling competence

wlco20.v007.i01.cover

Brooks, L. M. & Inman, A. G. (2013). Bisexual Counseling Competence: Investigating the Role of Attitudes and Empathy. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 7 (1), 65-86.

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.

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