New guidelines for working with sexual & gender minorities

The British Psychological Society have just published guidelines for psychologists working with sexual and gender minority clients (also of relevance to therapists, counsellors and other practitioners). The guidelines are freely downloadable and available to all.

The document includes guideline statements covering:

  • The socio-political context and attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities
  • Key issues in sexual and gender minority work
  • Children and young people
  • Schools and families
  • Education and training
  • Professional development

Regarding bisexuality, the guidelines (which were produced before the recent Bisexuality Report) says the following:

“Bisexuality can often be completely overlooked as a potential sexual identity because Western culture is still prone to see gender and sexuality as ‘dichotomous’ (you are either a man or a woman, you are either attracted to a man or a woman, see also section on gender minorities below) (Barker, 2007).Therefore, many people feel pushed towards a gay/lesbian or straight identity rather than feeling that bisexuality is a legitimate sexual identity in itself.

Bisexuality is less established as a potential identity in wider society than lesbian and gay identities and often perceived as a transitory stage in a person’s sexual development (Barker & Langdridge, 2008). It is, of course, important to recognise that some gay men and lesbians do identify as bisexual as part of their coming out process. However, many people may maintain a bisexual identity, and some may identify as gay or lesbian on their way to embracing a bisexual identity.

There can be a tendency to refer to all sexual minority clients as ‘lesbian or gay’ and, therefore, subsume bisexuals, once again, within a lesbian or gay identity (Fox, 2006). For instance, if a client expresses same-sex preferences, it may be assumed that this means that they have a lesbian or gay identity without bisexuality being offered as a possibility alongside lesbian and gay identities.

Bisexuals often suffer ‘double discrimination’, being perceived as outsiders by both straight and gay/lesbian communities, sometimes to the extent of being banned from gay clubs and not accepted on Pride marches (Ochs, 1996). This may be particularly pertinent to bisexual people with different sex partners who may feel ostracised by lesbian/gay communities because they are seen as possessing a degree of privilege not available to them and as being able to ‘pass’ in straight society. Additionally there can be the common media representation of bisexual people as being greedy, sexual predators and amoral, hedonistic spreaders of disease and disrupters of families (Barker et al., 2008). It is possible that bi people will be on the receiving end of both homophobia and biphobia, and research suggests that this may be why bisexual people suffer from higher rates of mental health problems than lesbians and gay men; who in turn have higher rates than the general population (e.g. Jorm et al., 2002).  Gender issues may also be involved in identifying as bisexual. People understand their bisexuality in different ways. Some see it as being attracted to both men and women at the same time, some recognise that attraction on the basis of gender may shift and change over the life course whilst not diminishing the sense of being bisexual. Others regard bisexuality as being attracted to people regardless of gender (Petford, 2003). Gender identity and sexual identity can cut across each other for bisexual people in various ways. For example, bisexual women may be very aware of the ways in which they are eroticised in the media whilst bisexual men may feel the need to prove their bisexuality because of the popular notion that bisexual men do not exist (Barker, et al., 2008).

It may well be difficult for bisexual people to access a community, particularly those who live outside large urban areas. Whilst there are established gay, and to some extent lesbian, communities across the country, bisexuality has no commercial scene and therefore communities are more grass-roots in nature. There are, however, several useful internet resources, magazines such as Bisexual Community News, and events such as local BiFests and the annual UK BiCon.”

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