BiCon 2011 Research Workshop

Originally published in Bi Community News, Oct 2011, issue 109

At BiCon this year BiUK held a workshop to talk about the various projects we’ve been working on during the last year. It felt great to be able to completely fill a workshop with our activities, and a good sign that BiUK is going from strength to strength following its formation in 2007. Here’s a quick overview of what we covered in the workshop. Over subsequent issues of BCN we will fill you in with more details on all of the projects.

BiUK History
BiUK formed in 2007 at a stage when the number of active people researching bisexuality in the UK reached something of a critical mass. A group of us had just had a paper about the BiCon survey accepted by the international Journal of Bisexuality, and Libby had talked us into putting on a research event prior to BiCon 2008 (which she cunningly named BiReCon). We’d been running an email list for some years which had evolved from its original yahoo list format, BiBlio, into the official JISCmail Bi Research Group. At that time we put up a small website to collect together all these things and put together a list of official ‘founder members’.

Things really gained momentum in 2008 following the success of the first BiReCon event. This day brought together researchers, activists and bi community members with organisations who were keen to learn more about working with bi issues. In the morning we heard from organisations such as Stonewall, Mind, the Department of Health, the NUS, and the Met Police about how they worked with bi people. We ran workshops on various topics, and – in the afternoon – we focused on bi research and what our future priorities should be.

After that event we were confident enough that BiUK would continue that we did an interview in these pages about our mission, and began to plan an international BiReCon event in 2010 to run alongside the joint ICB/BiCon. BiReCon 2010 was a huge success, attracting over 100 attendees from many different countries including Canada, Switzerland, Puerto-Rico, Holland, Spain, Israel, and the US. We had top keynote speakers including Robyn Ochs and people from the American Institute of Bisexuality, and many parallel presentations and workshops on a wide variety of bi-related topics. We were even able to record some of the presentations and make parts of them available on YouTube, thanks to some financial support from the Open University.

In the year since BiReCon 2010 we have continued our usual activities (collecting the annual BiCon survey, conducting our own research studies on bi issues, and running the email list). At the same time we have developed our website into a more active and accessible format, and have taken on two big new projects: the researcher guidelines and the UK bisexuality report.

The BiCon Survey
The BiCon survey has been given out at BiCons since 2004 with the aim of collecting demographic data about the people who attend BiCon and exploring how this changes year on year. There’s very little known about bisexual people in the UK, so collecting data about people who attend BiCon helps to fill that gap in the knowledge base. Knowing about things like rates of mental health issues amongst BiCon attenders helps us to make the case for better and more bi-specific services. Information about the people who attend BiCon also helps people planning future BiCons to make them as accessible as possible to everyone who wants to attend.

The first survey was analysed and written up for the Journal of Bisexuality and BCN. Inputting the survey data, and analysing it, is a very time-consuming process which we are still in the process of doing for subsequent years, with a group of volunteers. However, we did manage to conduct an initial analyses on the data from 2008 (the 105 surveys that were returned that year). Tracey Plowman created a poster of these findings which we’ve included here and which was on display at BiCon 2011.

The BiUK Website
The BiUK website (www.biuk.org) has been fully developed over the last few weeks so that it now includes many more pages and links as well as an ongoing blog of what we are up to and matters relating to bisexuality research worldwide.

One thing we are particularly pleased with are the lists of references which we’ve put together on the website under various topics (e.g. health, biphobia and bi invisibility, bisexual experience). We’re hoping to keep adding to this to create a repository of references which will be a useful first port of call for any researchers or writers who are new to the area and want to find out what has been researched so far. We’ll be writing more about the website for the next edition of BCN.

Guidelines for Writers and Researchers
One of the main motivations for developing the BiUK website was that we wanted a place to display the new guidelines which we have produced for people researching and writing about bisexuality.

This project came from Jen Yockney’s suggestion, on the academic bi email list, that we should produce some guidance for all those researchers who contact us in the hope of accessing bisexual participants. We find ourselves saying the same things again and again and thought it’d be useful to have a list of guidelines to point them to. BiUK took Jen’s initial suggestions, along with some trans research guidelines by Jacob Hale, and produced a list of 15 guidelines which we thought all researchers should follow. These are available on the website and can be adapted and edited by anybody to suit their purpose.

In the BiCon 2011 workshop it was suggested that we could create specific versions of these guidelines for people involved in lab-based research, and for people who work in the humanities. We will be exploring those possibilities and hope to link to such versions in future. Meanwhile there will soon be a BCN article including the guidelines and explaining more about the thinking behind them.

The UK Bisexuality Report
The other of Jen Yockney’s excellent suggestions which we ran with was something that she mentioned at the first 2011 bi activist weekend. This was the idea of creating a report about the situation for bisexual people in the UK. Again, we find ourselves often saying the same things to policy makers, practitioners, and LGB and LGBT organisations, about the need to properly include the ‘B’, about the ways that bisexual experiences differ from lesbian and gay experiences, and about the differences between biphobia, homophobia and transphobia. We spotted that people in San Francisco had produced an excellent report about bisexual invisibility and thought that we might produce something similar for the UK context about bisexuality, equality and diversity.

The report is now almost finished. We are going to polish it and then get endorsements of it from various relevant bodies. We’re hoping to publish it by the end of the year through the Open University (who are one of the major supporters of BiUK). We will have a launch event as well as making it available through the website. We’ll write a full BCN article about the report at that point.

BiReCon
Finally at the workshop we discussed our plans for the next BiReCon event which will be taking place on 9th August 2012 (we’re planning to run a BiReCon associated with BiCon every other year). In 2012, BiUK members Rebecca Jones, Helen Bowes-Catton and Caroline Walters will be organising the event. As usual, it will aim to provide an interface between academics, practitioners and bi people and will be open to all. The focus will be on mental health because this is a key issue for bisexual communities: many research studies have found that levels of mental distress are worse in our communities than in lesbian, gay and heterosexual groups. We are planning to look at mental well-being and resilience as well as difficulties. We are hoping to have contributions from various mental health and LGBT organisations, as well as presentations and workshops from BiUK members and other UK researchers who work in these areas.

As with previous BiReCon events, organisations and researchers will pay to attend the day (with all the money going to that year’s BiCon), but it will be completely free to BiCon attendees. This is because a major part of the ethos of BiReCon is to make bisexuality research accessible and available to bi community members, bi organisations and bi activists, so that they can hear about the studies which they have taken part in, feedback into future research, and have access to information which may be useful in their work.

Where do we go from here?
We feel like we have quite a lot to be going on with: publishing the bisexuality report, getting the bisexual research guidelines out to an international audience, analysing the BiCon survey, and continuing to develop the website. Also many of us are continuing to conduct our own research. For example, Meg, Christina and Helen have published two chapters about their ‘creative methods’ research on bisexuality and related issues, which many readers will have taken part in over the years. 2012 should see the completion of two of the major projects from this research which will have very interesting things to say about the diversity of bisexual people’s experiences of home and belonging, and of gender and sexuality.

You can find out more information about all of the work mentioned her on the BiUK website (www.biuk.org), including links to several research publications.

If you have any ideas about future directions, or want to get involved, then please write to us at info@biuk.org, or drop a letter to BCN with your thoughts.

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