2012 Programme and Abstracts
Depression and/or oppression: Bisexuality and mental health
Meg Barker, The Open University
12.00-13.00Parallel sessions 1 and 2
Bisexuality and mental health practice 1 (Room 98)
Bisexuality and wellbeing (Lecture Theatre)
The bisexual condition? A critique of Borderline Personality Disorder and bisexual stereotypesCaroline Walters, Tracey Plowman, James Whitehouse‘There’s no such thing as bisexual, it’s just greediness’: Eating disorders in bisexual men: making a case for better understanding.
Bisexuality: moving from Cinderella to Queen under a new integrated and systemic vision of human sexuality Isabel Portero‘It was so brilliant’: Bisexual people’s wellbeing and the importance of the organised bisexual community
Intersectionality: complicating debates around sexuality and ethnicity
Roshan das Nair, University of Nottingham/Nottingham University NHS Trust
14.45-15.45Parallel sessions 3 and 4
Bisexuality and mental health practice 2 (Room 98)
Bisexuality, culture, and relationship practices (Lecture Theatre)
Medical Monomania: Bisexuals’ experiences of UK mental health services
Holly Matthies and Em J Riley
Into The Woods: Shakespeare, Spenser, Sex and SanityKaye McLellandPracticing Non-Monogamy or Polyamory – Notes on Stigma, Non-intelligibility and Therapy
15.45- 16.30Plenary 3
Mental Healthcare and Bisexuality within the UK: Pragmatics and Aspirations
Christina Richards (West London Mental Health NHS Trust)
Concluding remarks and discussion
Dr Roshan das Nair (University of Nottingham / Nottingham University NHS Trust)
Intersectionality: Complicating debates around sexuality and ethnicity
We know that people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) communities report having high rates of mental ill-health. However, we do not have much research examining the mental health of BME-LGBT people. Interestingly, even when examining LGBT mental health literature, bisexual mental health is hardly ever looked at independently. Furthermore, BME research tends to ignore sexuality and sexuality research in the West is mostly based on White perspectives.
Therefore, through a series of processes, Asian bisexuals become both invisible and hyper-visible in different situations. While this invisibility can be seen as a means for negotiating sexuality in homo/biphobic spaces, it also invalidates individuality and personhood, to the extent that people begin to question the authenticity of their lives. Experiencing ‘minority stress’ and feeling inauthentic can be distressing.
Intersectionality represents a mode of thinking and seeing multiple interconnected and mutually constitutive identities that can and do co-exist in an individual, sometimes in a state of flux. This framework is useful in helping people carve out their own unique matrix of identities and feel comfortable with the fluidity and temporality of these identities, without feeling inauthentic about any one of them.
Roshan das Nair works as a Consultant Clinical Psychologist in HIV and Sexual Health with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, and as a Research Tutor on the Trent Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Nottingham. Roshan das served as the Editor of the Psychology of Sexualities Review, and has recently co-edited a book, Intersectionality, Sexuality and Psychological Therapies: Working with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Diversity, published by Wiley.
Dr Meg Barker (The Open University)
Depression and/or oppression: Bisexuality and mental health
The international research that we reviewed for The Bisexuality Report, and the recent special issue of The Journal of Bisexuality on mental health, both make one thing very clear: Across various countries and contexts, bisexual people are more at risk of many kinds of mental health problems than heterosexual, or lesbian and gay, people. As with other findings connecting marginalisation to distress, it seems most likely that this link is due to the social situation of oppression, alienation, stigmatisation, and powerlessness that groups find themselves in.
At the same time, our wider cultural understanding of mental health is largely internal. We tend to see mental health problems as either an illness (something physically caused, which isn’t our fault, but requires medical/expert treatment), or as a personal deficiency (something caused by our own habits, which we are responsible for putting in place and for sorting out by ‘pulling our socks up’). This pathology/weakness binary keeps many people trapped because accepting the one means denying – and continuing to be haunted by – the other. It also, vitally, exacerbates suffering, particularly in cases where a massive social component to such problems is erased by a purely internal focus in terms of explanations and treatment.
Despite the critical approaches towards sexuality which are present in bisexual, and other LGBTQ, communities (e.g. seeing it as fluid rather than fixed, drawing on queer perspectives, recognising the role of heteronormativity), such approaches seem less likely to be taken towards mental health. This risks excluding some experiences of distress, as well as failing to engage fully with the shared social component of our suffering. This paper will propose a biopsychosocial approach to mental health which might encompass more diverse experiences, and explores the potentials that attending more to the social aspects of suffering, in our communities, might open up.
Meg Barker is a senior lecturer in psychology at The Open University and was lead author of The Bisexuality Report which came out earlier this year. Meg is currently finishing two books for therapists and psychologists: one on gender and sexuality (with Christina Richards) and one on social mindfulness approaches. Meg’s book on relationships Rewriting the Rules is available now.
Christina Richards (West London Mental Health NHS Trust)
‘Mental Healthcare and Bisexuality within the UK: Pragmatics and Aspirations’
The coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act has fundamentally reorganised the National Health Service; and consequently the commissioning and provision of care for people who seek services for mental distress within the NHS. This has had a knock-on effect to third-sector organisations and survivor and user groups, who are increasingly able to access the bidding process for the provision of services, but who may be less able to do so than statutory services due to pragmatic and skills constrains. In addition to this, the global recession and changing UK resource structures mean that less funds are available in certain health and social care sectors and reduced funds are likely in others.
All this has implications for the future provision of health and social care services within the UK. As the Bisexuality Report showed, bisexual people may be particularly at risk from mental distress and consequently the changing provision of services within the UK is of particular pertinence to bi people. The current flux in the provision of services offers both opportunities and risks for bi people in the type of services which may be available.
This keynote considers both traditional providers and models beyond those of the traditional statutory and third sector. It also questions the need for such broad definitions of ‘services’ and ‘service users’ – and instead considers what means may also be available to address mental distress outside of the ‘user’ model.
Christina Richards is Senior Specialist Psychology Associate at the West London Mental Health NHS Trust (Charing Cross) Gender Identity Clinic. She lectures and publishes on trans, sexualities and critical mental health, both within academia and to statutory bodies such as police forces and the NHS. She is a co-author of The Bisexuality Report; co-founder of BiUK; and has an upcoming co-authored book on sexuality and gender which will be published by Sage in early 2013: Richards, C., & Barker. M. Sexuality and gender for counsellors, psychologists and health professionals: A practical guide. London: Sage.
Other Abstracts and Speaker Biographies:
‘There’s no such thing as bisexual, it’s just greediness’: Eating disorders in bisexual men: making a case for better understanding.
Russell Delderfield, University of Bradford
This paper aims to offer insight into the current research findings pertaining to bisexual men who are diagnosed as having an eating disorder. Questions are raised about the prevalence of this mental health diagnosis and a succinct discussion is offered about the current ‘landscape’ of research understanding, particularly examining whether or not there is reliable evidence to suggest that men who identify as bisexual are more likely to present with eating and body image issues than their heterosexual counterparts.
The presentation draws on a textual analysis of bisexuality and EDs that has taken place as part of my broader research project of understanding the experiences of eating disorders in males. The research picture shared will explore the studies that have been conducted in a range of disciplines that take into account bisexual men, their relationship with food and their own body image, seeking to establish gaps in our current knowledge. It also offers preliminary conclusions and foundational thinking about whether or not treatments and services are able to offer effective interventions to a full range of men if the potential needs of a specific user group are so little understood.
I am a doctoral research student at the University of Bradford and am undertaking a qualitative study which focuses explicitly on men and disordered eating. My research interests include: theories of masculinity and sexuality; the socio-cultural environment that gives rise to eating disorders; counselling and psychotherapeutic approaches to disordered eating in men; hermeneutics as research philosophy and methodology; and research-as-bricolage. I am also a trustee of the national charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and have had a destructive relationship with food since I was an adolescent. I identify as a gay man and whilst I strongly feel that eating disorders in men has been neglected as a whole, this is certainly even more so when it comes to services and health care supporting men who identify as bisexual.
Email – email@example.com
Research website – http://www.brad.ac.uk/eating-disorders-and-men/
Practicing Non-Monogamy or Polyamory – Notes on Stigma, Non-intelligibility and Therapy
Christian Klesse, Manchester Metropolitan University
People who live non-monogamous or polyamorous lives often create alternative relationships or families. They are often not recognised as such, because monogamy tends to be construed as necessary prerequisite for building healthy and successful relationships. Commitment to a single long-term partner and the willingness and ability to constrain one’s sexual activities to the couple-dyad are important elements in dominant representations of maturity. Monogamy is a cornerstone in theories of authenticity, intimacy and romantic love. As a powerful symbol it is implicated in the definition of what counts as a proper or valid relationship. Non-monogamous or polyamorous bonds are quickly dismissed as confused aberrations or fleeting moments of narcissistic pleasure. In dominant frameworks, they may not be intelligible as ‘relationships’ or ‘families’ of significance. This paper draws on English language social science research into non-monogamy and polyamory and my own research in the UK to address therapy-relevant issues which emerge from the stigmatisation of non-monogamous people and the denigration or non-intelligibility of non-monogamous intimacies and relationships. These issues may be of relevance for work with bisexual clients because bisexual people are often stereotyped as non-monogamous, confused and non-committed. This also happens in therapeutic settings. Moreover, many bisexual people do in fact maintain non-monogamous relations and may bring up problems related to this aspect of their lives in therapy. The main focus of the talk will be on therapy-relevant issues around non-monogamy, rather than ‘bisexuality’ as such.
Dr. Christian Klesse is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University (UK). Christian has published widely on sexuality, intimacy, the body, sexual politics and research methodology. He is author of The Spectre of Promiscuity. Gay Male and Bisexual Non-monogamies and Polyamories (Ashgate, 2007). His articles appeared in many academic journals, including The Sociological Review, Sexualities, Body & Society, The Journal of Bisexuality, The Gay & Lesbian Psychology Review, Social Semiotics, Inter Alia, the Zeitschrift für Familienforschung [Journal of Family Research] and the Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung [Journal of Sexuality Research]. He is currently doing research together with Jon Binnie into transnational activism in sexual politics. Address: Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Geoffrey Manton Building, Rosamond Street West, Manchester M15 6LL, UK
Tel: +44 161 247 6424
Medical Monomania: Bisexuals’ Experiences of UK Mental Health Services
Holly Matthies and Em J Riley
Biphobic stereotypes – like indecisiveness, confusion, hypersexuality, and delusion – can extend to damaging perceptions of a person’s mental health.
Many people are hesitant to come out to health care professionals, and this can make it more difficult for them to access specific services or support they may benefit from, as well as causing the added stress and anxiety of having to keep secrets. It also impedes the ability to usefully or helpfully monitor people’s sexuality for purposes like research, spotting trends, and taking bisexuality seriously.
While we volunteers are not able to provide the professional training or resources the NHS could really benefit from, we found in talking to a mental health trust that one of the most effective parts of our presentation was the personal anecdotes of negative experiences that really happened to people we know — either in accessing NHS services or illustrating ways in which being bisexual contributed to stress, anxiety and other mental health problems — and we know there are a lot more people out there with stories like that which it may be helpful for them to tell, or the NHS to hear.
So we did a workshop at BiCon last year to let people share their experiences in a safe space and, if they wished, give us stories of their experience and suggestions of how things could be improved, with the idea of feeding this back to interested people in the NHS. We’re doing it at this year’s BiReCon again following up on that and asking for new people to share their stories.
Especially with the high profile that The Bisexuality Report has given to the mental health problems disproportionately affecting bisexuals, we think more attention needs to be paid to bisexuals’ experience of health care services.
Em J is a mental health service user, and Holly has both worked in and used mental health services.
Into The Woods: Shakespeare, Spenser, Sex and Sanity
Kaye McLelland, University College London
Bisexuality is an anachronistic term in the Early Modern Period, where both same-sex sexual activity and gender variance were seen as things that were possible for everyone. However, the festive plays of Shakespeare and the created worlds of Edmund Spenser’s poetry provide useful insights into the ways in which Renaissance writers presented gender fluidity and sexual object choice, and how that functions when readers’ and audiences’ erotic gaze falls on multiple gender presentations, implying what we might now term a bisexual response. The temporary festive spaces of Shakespeare, where non-standard sexual rules apply, often occur in the woods; in plays as famous as As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ‘Wood’ was also a Renaissance slang term for ‘mad’ and these temporary sojourns outside everyday rules are often referred to in terms of madness. In The Faerie Queene, Spenser employs the widespread theme of amazement in romance fiction, as a temporary and liminal mental state. He often combines this with gender liminality and multi-gendered sexual or pseudo-sexual activity. This paper looks at excerpts from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and The Two Noble Kinsmen, as well as Books III and IV of Spenser’sThe Faerie Queene; texts which cover the themes of sex, gender, madness and amazement. It explores the culturally implied Renaissance connections between mental state and disruptive or transgressive sexuality and gender. It discusses positive or negative Early Modern images of mental health in this context, as expressed in the word ‘madness’.
Kaye McLelland is a bi activist and mental health service user, as well as an Early Modernist and queer academic. Kaye did her BA in English Literature with the Open University and her Shakespeare MA at University College London. She has stayed at UCL to commence her PhD and is currently researching depictions of erotic combat and sadistic captivity by renaissance writers, Including Spenser, Riche and Shakespeare. Kaye gave a paper on Queering Shakespeare at BiReCon 2010, which led to her article on the social importance of specifically bisexual readings of Shakespeare (published by the Journal of Bisexuality). She also gave a paper at the 2011 PEGS conference Demystifying Public Engagement, entitled ‘Strap-On Shakespeare’ and has run Shakespeare workshops at BiCons 2010 and 2011. Kaye was also on the organising team for BiCon 2011. Somehow she also manages to fit in parenting and occasionally sleep.
‘It was so brilliant’: Bisexual people’s wellbeing and the importance of the organised bisexual community
Surya Munro, Centre for Research in the Social Sciences, University of Hudderfield.
Bisexual peoples’ experiences of mental health problems appear to be closely related to factors such as the public erasure of bisexuality and a lack of public spaces that are specifically ‘bisexual’. Common experiences include feelings of not belonging anywhere, of rejection and stigmatisation by gays, lesbians and straight people, and in some cases of disbelief in bisexuality as a viable identity. In the face of biphobia, organised bisexual spaces such as BiCon are extremely important for the positive identity formation, and mental wellbeing, of some bisexual people, especially for bisexual people who have been previously isolated. This can be theorised using social interactionism, which suggests that interaction with other people is key to the development of our identities. However, in the UK, organised bisexual spaces tend to have very distinct subcultures and ways of doing things, which are connected with patterns of institutional racism, classism and ageism, as well as a valorisation of certain alternative cultures. Also, many bisexual people are not involved in organised bisexual spaces, for a number of reasons. The challenge remains to create a more inclusive bisexual ‘scene’.
This paper reports on initial findings from the UK part of a research project about bisexual identities which has involved (to date) interviews with 26 bisexual people with a range of ethnicities, backgrounds and ages. The project is being conducted primarily to support the production of a book (Bisexual Identities, Palgrave MacMillan forthcoming 2014).
Dr Surya Monro is based at the Centre for Research in the Social Sciences, University of Hudderfield, UK. Surya has published widely in the fields of gender and sexuality, notably on the topic of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equalities. She is the author of Gender Politics: Citizenship, Activism, and Sexual Diversity (Pluto Press 2005) and co-author (with Diane Richardson) of Sexuality, Equality and Diversity (Palgrave MacMillan 2012).
Bisexuality: moving from Cinderella to Queen under a new integrated and systemic vision of human sexuality
Isabel Portero, School of Biotechnology and Health Sciences, Madrid.
An acceptance of one’s sexual orientation and identity is essential for good mental health. Such an acceptance can, however, be difficult for LGBT people to achieve, because non-heterosexual sexualities are still considered by many people to be unnatural, and/or indicative of mental health issues. Of all the LGBT identities, bisexuality is probably the most questioned and least understood, and in many cases this lack of understanding prevents health care professionals from effectively supporting bisexual people. Ironically, although bisexuality is often seen as indicative of underlying mental health issues, the specific mental health issues of bisexual people are often overlooked. Consequently, bisexuals may suffer from depression, anxiety, and many other disorders, which are themselves seen as further evidence of inherent mental instability.
In this paper, I argue that this lack of understanding of bisexuality is rooted in a medical and psychological view of sexuality as a special case, characterized by its difference from, rather than its similarity to, other human characteristics such as metabolism and intelligence. For example, while it is now widely accepted that intelligence is naturally diverse, multimodal, and fluid, sexual orientation is still seen as naturally univocal, unimodal and static. An integrated, systemic model of human sexuality is needed, and in this paper, I develop the work of Kinsey and Klein and present such a model. From this perspective, bisexuality, so long the Cinderella of the LGBT world, is key to the understanding of human sexuality, due to its inclusivity and its usefulness in explaining the natural development of human sexual diversity.
Isabel Portero M.D Ph.D. Is Professor of Biotechnology and Medicine and Advanced Therapies research group leader at a School of Biotechnology and Health Sciences in Madrid, Spain. Isabel has worked as an active physician at several hospitals in Santander and Madrid (Spain). She has been the Medical Director in two biotechnology companies and also served as Medical Director in a NGO devoted to Retinal Dystrophies. She has created three research teams in different areas of Medicine: Advanced Therapies, Retinal Dystrophies and Emergency Medicine. She is bisexual and a member of the COGAM bisexual group (an LGTB association in Madrid, Spain).
The Bisexual Condition? A Critique of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bisexual Stereotypes
Caroline Walters, Sheffield Hallam University, Tracey Plowman, Independent Scholar and James Whitehouse, South Essex Partnership Trust
In this paper we will outline the relationship between the language used in the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and bisexual stereotypes. The American Psychiatric Association’s manual the DSM-IV-TR (2000) has nine categories, which include a pattern of unstable and intense personal relationships, impulsivity in potentially self-damaging areas such as sex, and identity disturbance. These overlap with popular stereotypes of bisexuality, which include sexual and emotional irresponsibility (Rust 2000), promiscuity (Klesse 2005) and identity confusion (Bowes-Catton 2007). This paper will explore the ways that bisexual stereotypes and the diagnostic criteria for BPD overlap in ways that can prove unhelpful and pathologising for bisexual patients. There is also evidence that unhelpful attitudes to bisexuality among mid-career mental health professionals may be passed on to junior staff through the training and supervision process (Roffman 2005). In the case of BPD all aspects of the patient’s life are liable to be viewed as symptoms rather than life choices. This is especially true of bisexuals who are female and/or non-monogamous and/or kinky as they are the subject to an overlap of problematic discourses regarding their sexual identity (Klesse 2005).
Dr Caroline Walters is an Associate Lecturer in Media and Communication Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. She has organised several conferences (Forgotten Bodies in Exeter 2010, Demystifying Public Engagement: Gender and Sexuality Beyond the Academy, Newcastle 2011; BiReCon 2012). She is currently working on her first monograph, which is adapted from her PhD entitled Discourses of Heterosexual Female Masochism and Submission from the 1880s to the Present Day.
Tracey Plowman is an independent scholar who writes primarily on the subject of sexualities. A founding member of BiUK, she recently co-authored The Bisexuality Report (Barker et al, 2012) and writes overviews of the Journal of Bisexuality for grassroots magazine Bi Community News. She studied both Psychology BSc and Social Psychology MSc at the University of Surrey, and organised the university’s first LGBT History Month in 2008.
James Whitehouse is a mental health worker with over ten years experience who has worked in a specialist service for people with BPD. He has also been an active member of the bisexual community for eight years. During this time he has been a member of the BiCon listening team, which he currently co-ordinates, and has had experience of working with bisexuals suffering mental distress.