Speakers and Sessions
Helen Bowes-Catton – Keynote Talk: What next for bisexuality research in the UK?
Helen Bowes-Catton is a founding member of BiUK, the national organisation for bisexuality research, and a co-author of The Bisexuality Report (2012). She has spent the last decade researching people’s experiences of being bisexual at BiCon, and in everyday life. This research has been made possible by the enthusiastic support and participation of many members of the UK bi community, and Helen is delighted to have been invited to present the results of this research at BiReCon 2014.
UNISON Workshop – Inclusion and erasure of bisexual people in the workplace, politics and activism
Bisexual people have been isolated and invisible at work, in trade unions, within LGBT activism and in political campaigning. This is slowly beginning to change.
There is a growing body of research on the experiences of bisexual workers. A national study into the workplace experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, published January 2014, found that bisexual workers reported the highest levels of bullying, negative acts at work and poor health. It also revealed how heterosexuals interpret LGB issues, with ignorance and fear displayed regarding bisexuality. Anna Einarsdottir, from the research team, will present the main findings (lgbatwork.portals.mbs.ac.uk).
Research by NatCen Social Research for UNISON, published at the end of 2013, found that austerity cuts can lead to equality being seen as a luxury and a sense that biphobia, homophobia and transphobia are on the rise again. It includes views on responses and strategies to overcome this (http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/implications-of-austerity-on-lgbt-people-in-public-services/).
Bisexual members of UNISON, the public service trade union, have been organising within the UNISON’s LGBT group since 2005 and now have a well established presence, with reserved seats on the national committee, annual network meetings and a dedicated work programme of activism and campaigning that feeds bisexual equality into UNISON’s organising, negotiating and campaigning. UNISON members will describe how they have achieved this and the impact it has had.
We will then engage participants in a discussion activity on using the information and ideas in their situations and organisations.
Papers Session 1 – Diversity and Multiplicity
1. Christina Richards – It takes two (sometimes): Multiplicity in sexuality and gender
Both sexuality and gender have traditionally been seen as dualistic constructs – people are male or female (or occasionally both) and may be attracted to men or women (or occasionally both). Indeed for many people this framework is a valid and useful way of navigating the world. For example, someone may identify as a cisgender1 man who is attracted to women and identifies as heterosexual; or someone may identify as a cisgender woman who is attracted to women and men and identifies as bisexual. However, increasing numbers of people are troubling this as they are finding that their attractions are irrespective of gender; and/or finding that their gender does not fit neatly into the categories of male or female. There are also those people for whom the binaries of gender and sex of attraction are personally real and valid but who consider that these binaries are not a true reflection of a concrete objective reality – and who must then negotiate their attraction to ‘men’ and/or ‘women’ as well as their own gender identities with reference to this non-dualistic philosophical understanding.
This paper will report some qualitative research from several groups of trans people which examines these complex intersections of binary and non-binary genders and attractions. It will then suggest some tentative options for how these findings may inform clinical practice with trans and bisexual people who, perhaps sometimes necessarily, may take a more nuanced view of gender and sexuality binaries.
1A cisgender person is a person who is content to remain the gender they were assigned at birth.
Christina Richards is an accredited psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). She is Senior Specialist Psychology Associate at the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust Gender Clinic and Clinical Research Fellow at West London Mental Health NHS Trust (Charing Cross) Gender Clinic. She works in this capacity as an individual and group psychotherapist and psychologist conducting psychotherapy, assessment and follow-up clinics as part of a multidisciplinary team; as well as conducting research, supervision and service improvement plans. She lectures and publishes on trans, sexualities and critical mental health, both within academia and to third sector and statutory bodies, and is a co-founder of BiUK and co-author of the Bisexuality Report.
As well as other papers reports and book chapters she is the co-author of the BPS Guidelines and Literature Review for Counselling Sexual and Gender Minority Clients; A clinical guidebook on sexuality and gender published by Sage: Richards, C., & Barker. M. (2013).Sexuality and gender for mental health professionals: A practical guide. London: Sage; and is the co-editor of the Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender, which is due to be published in 2015.
2. Isabel Portero – We Are Intelligent Because We Are Sexual Beings, Or Rather, Because We Are Sexually Diverse Beings
In the 80’s Coleman and others explained that intelligence is a cluster of very different abilities (not just verbal and mathematical talents). This cluster has a narrative, which depends on many personal, familial and cultural factors. Similarly, human intelligence can be expressed on a continuum. Out of this view, labels that are often used to describe intelligence levels in a particular person are merely conventions. These conventions are created among us to understand ourselves, but they are not natural categories.
Mutatis mutandis human sexuality has the same aforementioned characteristics of diversity, multimodality and dynamism. In fact, the use of labels or static categories in order to label intelligence or sexual orientation simply reflects a human way of processing information. However, this does not reflect reality as such but rather the need human beings have to provide a concrete value to natural phenomena. I argue in this paper that the expression of nature is a continuous constant without poles or dichotomous blocks, even though there are tons of researches focused on the opposite view. I defend the position that is better to accept the labels and classifications that we use as operational and not ontological.
Finally, this paper exposes how we could add sexuality to Coleman’s list of intelligences if we consider it in a comprehensive, dynamic and diverse way. Freud was the first who argued that the multimodal human sexuality could be understood as Eros (ἔρως), which means life or creative force. Out of this perspective “sexual intelligence”, is not other thing that a major driver of human creativity.
Isabel Portero M.D Ph.D, born in Salamanca (Spain), holds an MD degree from University of Salamanca, a PhD degree from University of A Coruña and a specialization in Internal Medicine & Infectious Diseases in “Marques de Valdecilla” University Hospital (Santander, Spain). Isabel has worked as an active physician, held several positions at Biotechnology companies and has founded herself a scientific consultancy company for biotechnological products.
She has developed an integrated model for human sexual orientation, which has been explained at several LGTB gatherings, such as Bisexual National Meetings celebrated in Spain and at the two major Universities of Madrid. She has been interviewed in different media and Journals, concretely on the themes of Bisexuality and Sexual Orientation as well as Sexual Development. She has also participated as speaker in different conferences and symposia where bisexuality was the central topic of discussion.
Isabel is currently involved as bisexual political activist in COGAM, a Regional LGTB organization of Madrid, as well as at national and European frameworks through different projects and initiatives. She is also participating as an author in a book in Spanish about non-monosexualities and monosexism, of international scope.
3. Łukasz Paszkowski – The heterogeneity of everyday life experience: bisexual women in Poland
In my presentation I would like to present my own research about situation of bisexual women. On the one hand there are problems with orthodox Catholic Church and conservative parties and the other hand a very rapid social transformations after communist government fall in 1989. There are also problems with acceptation bisexual women in the non-heterosexual environment.
In 2013 I made over a dozen biographic interviews with bisexual women in Poland. It’s a pioneer exploration of this topic. The test persons are thirty years old women who come from all of the country- small and big towns. It’s a necessitated by very small bisexual population, who isn’t affiliated in one place.
The theoretical base of my presentation is queer theory in proposition of Steven Seidman. I use also theories of classical bisexuality studies authors like Amber Ault, Steven Angelides, Merl Storr, Erwin J., Haeberle, Eli Coleman and Marjore Garber. I lean likewise on a polish authors like Jacek Kochanowski, Majka Rostek and Joanna Mizielińska who form queer studies in Poland.
In a broad perspective I refer to sexual perspective of Michel Foucault and feminist structures of Judith Butler, Monique Wittig, Gyle Rubin, and Luce Irigaray.
Łukasz Paszkowski – sociologist, philosopher. PhD student in University of Warsaw (Poland).Member of Center of Social Sexuality Research . I interested by queer studies, gender and feminist studies, men studies and philosophy of M. Foucault, J. P. Sartre and S. de Beauvoir. In my work I’m moving problems of bisexuality in Europe.
4. Miguel Obradors – Rethinking and contextualising Monosexism in an LGBT political praxis
Monosexism, as the power structure that exerts exploitation, marginalisation, cultural imperialism, domination and violence against non-monosexual persons, has different ways of materialising itself and subjectivating persons. Questions to be addressed when analysing how monosexism operates are multiple in scope and nature. These questions are necessarily related to how privileges, norms and cultural constructions operate intersectionally.
Ontologically and epistemologically situated within the tradition of deconstruction or post-structuralism this paper draws on the theories of Michel Foucault to explore how monosexism works in different LGBT political frameworks. By proposing a definition of “functional monosexism” in contraposition to “intentional monosexism” the paper aims to provide new tools of analysis for a critical reflection on monosexism as a function of power.
After an analysis of monosexism, this paper aims to propose a number of strategies that could be coordinated against monosexism in the light of the Politics of Recognition as elaborated by Nancy Fraser.
Finally, this paper draws inspiration from the Latinamerican tradition on Postcolonial Studies to reflect, from a meta-narrative perspective, on how we conduct research and in which languages as well as the consequences derived from it in terms of epistemic violence and domination of Western centralized models.
Miguel Obradors, born in Madrid, holds a degree on Social Sciences from the University of Roskilde (Denmark) and a degree on European Studies from the University of Leuven, (Belgium). He has published articles within the field of Critical Bisexual Studies in Spanish, Danish and English in different media and Journals, concretely on the themes of Monosexism, Subjectivation Processes and Political Activism. He has also participated as speaker in different conferences and symposia where bisexuality was the central topic of discussion.
Miguel has been involved as bisexual political activist both in DIY grassroot movements and in more institutionalized regional, national and global frameworks through different projects and initiatives as participant and initiator.
Currently, he is co-editing a book in Spanish on non-monosexualities and monosexism in cooperation to other bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, polisexual and demisexual academics and activists from the Iberoamerican world.
Miguel identifies himself as male, cisgender, bisexual, pansexual, queer, poliamorous and latino. As recognition for his work and dedication, he received in 2013 the Rainbow Award to Bisexual Activism from COGAM, the regional LGBT organization of Madrid.
Papers Session 2 – Experience and Wellbeing
Content note: This session contains papers that deal with violence and abuse. Delegates are reminded that they are welcome to leave the room at any time
1. Lisa Colledge – Does the mental health status of bisexual women and lesbians in the UK differ? Evidence from the 2007 Stonewall Women’s Health Survey
United Kingdom (UK) bisexual- and lesbian-identified women (comprising 0.5% and 0.3% of the UK female population, respectively) have significantly worse mental health than UK heterosexual women. International and limited UK findings suggest that bisexual women may have poorer mental health than lesbians. This study aimed to assess evidence for such a difference, using previously collected UK survey data.
Responses from 937 bisexual-identified women and 4769 lesbian-identified women completing the 2007 Stonewall Women’s Health Survey (a community survey commissioned by Stonewall, a UK lesbian, gay and bisexual advocacy organisation) were analysed. Demographic, health and well-being characteristics were noted. The association between sexual identity and various mental health indicators was assessed by logistic regression, controlling for age, income, full-time work and student status.
Bisexuals were more likely than lesbians to report eating problems (ever) (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 1.64, p < 0.001), and self-harm (AOR = 1.37, p = 0.001), depressed feelings (AOR = 1.26, p = 0.022) and anxiety (AOR = 1.20, p = 0.037) in the last year. As a group, bisexuals were younger, poorer, more trans-identified, and more black or minority ethnic identified; they used more marijuana; and they were more likely to have had a sexually transmitted infection and less likely to have had a cervical smear or breast screening test, compared with lesbians. Fewer bisexual women attended lesbian or bisexual social events, were ‘out’, and had experienced any sexuality-related discrimination, compared with lesbians.
Among these UK sexual minority women, bisexuals reported significantly worse mental health and psychological distress than lesbians. Bisexual women may experience greater social stress due to the ‘double discrimination’ of homophobia (i.e. negative attitudes towards those with same-gender attractions and relationships) plus biphobia (i.e. negative attitudes specifically directed towards those attracted to more than one gender); this stress, experienced mainly as internalised and felt stigma (using Meyer’s minority stress model terminology), could result in poorer mental health than lesbians. Addressing both biphobia and homophobia within UK so ciety has important preventative mental health implications.
Lisa Colledge MSc (Public Health), BA(Hons), MBBS is a Public Health Intelligence Analyst for Public Health Croydon
2. Pam Alldred – Anti-normativity or LGBTQ rights approaches: dilemmas in training provision for professionals
Gap Work Project: Challenging gender-related violence: http://sites.Brunel.ac.uk/gap
AFFILIATION: Centre for Youth Work Studies, Division of Social Work, Brunel University, UK.
A funded project presents the opportunity to develop new training for practitioners who work with children and young people to challenge gender-related violence. The project explicitly seeks to draw together activist strands from LGBT anti-homophobia work and feminist anti domestic violence (interpersonal relationship abuse) work. A broad definition of gender related violence is adopted that encompasses gender normativity and encourages the gender binary itself to be problematized, alongside more conventional approaches of challenging the sexism and misogyny and heterosexism that can underlie homophobia and transphobia. The training developed in the UK prompts practitioners to examine violence and inequality in the lives of the young people with whom they work and also within the organisations they themselves work within.
A sister training developed within the project’s Irish, Italian or Spanish arm will be examined alongside the UK one to explore how effective these strategies have been. Initial evaluations of the training courses will be available at this point. The avoidance of re-inscribing identities in the training (particularly victimized ones) is theoretically defensible and a political commitment among the team, but could it be that anti-normativity training did not succeed in enabling professionals to integrate the critique into their work practice? Has bi-invisibility been left untouched by this intervention despite the original motivations for the project? What might be needed in terms of training and supportive interventions to achieve the project’s political intentions? Strategically, is visibility/awareness a compromise worth making for a broader norm criticality? Discussion welcome.
Pam Alldred is a senior lecturer and Director of the Centre for Youth Work Studies (CYWS)
3. Jo Grzelinska – Everyday Bisexual Labour: Speaking Back To The ‘Challenges’ of Bisexual Subjectivity
At the intersection of securing non-dominant but majority-world bisexual stories and the conceptual needs acknowledged with bisexual subjectivity, this paper wishes to skew the conversation from these subjective anxieties towards finding a common ground across the global bisexual imaginary. Research with bisexually active men in Bangladesh provides the opportunity to shift the gaze from the lure of seeking definitional coherence, to a more intimate examination of the relationship between experience and subjectivity. The multiple and diverse bisexual subjects in Bangladesh reveal much common ground located in the partial and transitory nature of bisexual experience, which offers significant opportunities for both agency and freedoms.
In response to accusations that bisexuality disappears without acknowledgment, I use subjective labour as an entry point into dialogue, and as a manoeuvre which offers a conceptual locus for those who feel fractured, partial, temporal or insecure. It is the everyday practices of living bisexuality which reveal the intimate negotiations and the intimate labours – the subjective, relational, gendered and sexual – which are critical to bisexual subjective survival in some contexts.
Bisexual labour is a term I employ to accentuate the various productive tensions associated with bisexual subjectivities, and in part to situate bisexuality more socially and sociably, acknowledging its contextualisation. Bisexual labour also situates bisexuality productively and dynamically, shifting in a dialectic with other subject positions and creating a set of conditions of possibility for inter-subjectivity.
Jo Grzelinska is a PhD candidate at the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University, Melbourne, exploring bisexual stories in majority-world settings, with intersecting interests in queer methodologies, silent subjects and South Asia. She also works as a researcher employing constructivist paradigms to evaluate programs for the primary prevention of violence against women. firstname.lastname@example.org
Papers Session 3 – Narratives and Discourses
1. Chloe Benson – Frames, Forms, and Norms: Paratexts and Bisexual Reception
Understanding how representations of bisexuality are made meaningful in the cinema requires us to consider the specificities of the film medium. However, with the rise of convergent media, how might we best conceptualise film as a medium? In addition to celluloid or digital material, films are contingent entities interconnected with sites of exhibition, promotion, hype, and synergy. In addressing how films construct representations and make meaning, our studies must begin to engage more closely with the influence of paratexts. Operating as an entryway, or framing device, as well as a space for discussion and debate post-film, paratexts have the potential to foster or quash queer readings. Despite the important role that paratexts may play in representational practices, they are often under examined. This paper highlights the ways paratextual analysis can contribute to our understanding of how representations of bisexuality are constructed and understood, with a particular emphasis on the issues of ‘paratextual domestication’ and visibility. The ways monosexism may pervade reviews, promotional material and online discussion and, subsequently, influence readings of a film will be demonstrated as well as the potential for paratexts to foster bisexual visibility and support. Contemporary films exhibited on the general release circuit like Cloud Atlas (Tykwer, Wachowski and Wachowski) will be drawn on throughout to elucidate these ideas. Films are not exhibited in a vacuum, it is essential, therefore, that we give due attention to the texts which frame and shape their meanings. Our analysis of bisexual representations cannot be comprehensive until we effectively address the impact and role of paratexts.
Chloe Benson is currently undertaking her PhD at Federation University Australia. Investigating the influence of form, paratexts and sites of exhibition on representational practices, she hopes to gain insight into the complex relationships that exist between perceived-audiences, marketing, medium-constraints, and representations of bisexuality. This research fits snuggly within her broader areas of interest, which include the study of: gender and sexuality, representational practices, neoformalism, and paratexts.
2. Joseph A. Ronan –Alan Hollinghurst’s Cock and Balls: Bisexuality as narrative mode in The Stranger’s Child
The Stranger’s Child (2011) marks a break with Hollinghurst’s previous novels by exploring sexualities more fluid than those of the explicitly gay men he is known for writing, as well as by including women as central, desiring characters for the first time. Also striking is the distinct lack of the explicit (gay) sex for which he has such a reputation. In this paper I argue that the emergence of (male and female) bisexuality and the simultaneous disappearance of sex in his work are fundamentally linked as a manifestation of a cultural illegibility of bisexuality as a fixed identity. While many characters in the book might be considered bisexual the word itself is absent from the text; bisexualities become written instead as gay or queer. Rather than being erased from the text however, I propose that bisexuality is dissolved into the language and structure of the narrative itself – that this is a novel which, at an essential level, is written through bisexuality. I analyse the overt but unnamed bisexuality that subtends the text alongside debates surrounding queer temporalities, failure, and the disruption of teleological narrative logics. I argue that The Stranger’s Child operates as a critique of bi erasure in gay and queer social and academic cultures rather than as another instance of this erasure and that Hollinghurst achieves this by engaging with bisexuality as a narrative mode and establishing a specifically bisexual camp aesthetic.
Joseph A. Ronan (Sussex) I am a 3rd year doctoral student in the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence in the School of English at the University of Sussex. My thesis is titled ‘Sometimes I Fear that the Whole World is Queer’: What bisexual theories, representations and identities can still offer queer studies. My research focuses on bi theory, narrative and temporality in contemporary British literature and pop culture.
3. Caroline Walters – Diverse Audiences: Experiences of taking bisexuality research beyond the academy
In this talk, I will draw on several occasions that I have spoken on behalf of BiUK to share research, explain biphobia and its impact on bisexual people. I outline some of the ways that I have become involved with doing public engagement work, and how it can be a form of activism. I use several case studies to explain different ways that this can work. They include sharing research in commercial settings for equality and diversity training, talks at university student unions, and on the radio. These examples help to demonstrate that the preparation, language and style of the presentation depend on the audience. By sharing my own experiences, I want to be able show the variety of ways that you can share research beyond the academy, and share some of the different tools and learning tips that I have gleaned.
Caroline Walters is a visiting lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Middlesex University. Her research interests include BDSM, fat studies, sexuality studies, bisexuality and qualitative methodologies. Broadly her research examines the intersection between literary, filmic, theoretical and scientific texts as they formulate discourses of sexuality, particularly in its ‘non-normative’ forms. She is involved in BiUK (producers of The Bisexuality Report), and is a passionate advocate for public engagement. @DrCJWalters https://mdx.academia.edu/CarolineWalters
4. Christian Klesse – Bisexual Rights? On Bisexuality, Rights Discourse and Sexual Politics
Claiming rights has been a salient strategy within sexual politics in recent decades, which is evidenced in the popularity of terms such as “Gay Rights”, “Gay and Lesbian Rights” or (more inclusively) “LGBT” rights. The availability of such alternative terminologies conveys the complex tension between universalism and particularism, which governs rights-based strategies in contemporary gender and sexual politics. This article explores the implications of conceptualising bisexual politics as a struggle for “bisexual rights”. This paper discusses the ideas of “bisexual rights” with regard to practices around “sexual citizenship”, the fight for human rights (namely the right for asylum on the grounds of persecution because of sexual orientation and gender identity), and the debates about “recognition politics”. The author argues that the possible gains of an advancement of “bisexual rights” (such as the recognition of identity in the face of widespread invisibility) need to be weighed against possible disadvantages (such as the reinforcement of normative and exclusive definitions of bisexuality and the foreclosing of broader alliances). While pragmatic appeals to the language of rights may be unavoidable in many instances, political strategies may prove to be more effective – and more subversive – if they aim to transform the dominant terms under which notions of both rights and rights-bearers are constructed at the same time.
Christian Klesse is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. He is currently doing research (together with Jon Binnie) on transnational LGBTQ activism in Central and Eastern Europe and Queer Film Festivals in Europe. He also writes on bisexuality, polyamory and sexual politics. His most recent publications include the articles ‘Poly economics – capitalism, class, and polyamory’, which has been published online in 2013 by the International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society (DOI 10.1007/s10767-013-9157-4, Online First) as part of a special issue on ‘Gender, sexuality and political economy’, (co-edited with Susie Jacobs) and ‘Polyamory – Intimate Practice, Identity or Sexual Orientation?’, Sexualities 17(1/2) (February 2014): 81-99.