Research Guidelines (Arts & Humanities)
Guidelines for Researching and Writing on Bisexuality in the Arts and Humanities
Caroline Walters and Kaye McLelland
Adapted from the guidelines devised by Meg Barker, Jen Yockney, Christina Richards, Rebecca Jones, Helen Bowes-Catton and Tracey Plowman (of BiUk and Bi Community News). With gratitude to Jacob Hale for the suggested rules for writing about trans from which some of these points were adapted.
- Separate out bisexuals: If you are researching or writing about a wider group which includes bisexuals, do not subsume bisexuals under another category (e.g. including them with ‘gay’ or ‘heterosexual’ people, or assuming that issues for LBG, or LGBT, people will be identical across all those groups).
- Avoid bisexual erasure: Don’t engage in bisexual erasure or reinforce bisexual invisibility by conducting research or writing with the implicit or explicit goal of questioning the existence of bisexuality, or forms of bisexuality.
- Remember that bisexual behaviour or desire is rarely evident in an isolated instance (a single poem, scene, passage, or life event etc.): Avoid extrapolating from single incidents and using words like ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’, where ‘bisexual’ may be a more appropriate word over a longer time-scale. Do not dismiss evidence of other-sex attraction or relationships as being merely conforming to historical cultural expectations. The existence of same-sex desire does not invalidate or disprove other-sex desire in the same individual.
- Be cautious of explanations: Don’t assume that questions of the ‘causation’ or ‘explanation’ of bisexuality are any more pertinent, interesting or useful than questions of the ‘causation’ or ‘explanation’ of heterosexuality, lesbian and gay sexuality or any other form of sexuality. Avoid unsubstantiated causal links between the creator of the text (e.g. novel, play, film, art, media) and its subject.
- Avoid ‘othering’: Avoid the common representation of bisexuals as an interesting and/or exotic ‘other’, outside the ‘norm’, to be fascinated with. Don’t write as if all your audience are not bisexuals – many of them will be.
- Avoid unfair criticism: Not all bisexual people, creators, texts or characters aim to be radical or queer, and there are many different understandings of what bisexuality means (for example, some speak of being attracted to ‘both’ men and women, some speak of being attracted to people ‘regardless of gender’, and some deliberately challenge the idea that the people they are attracted to are either men or women).
- Assume multiplicity: Be mindful of the multiplicity of experience amongst bisexuals and bisexual communities. Do not assume that what is true for one individual, group or community will be true for all. Do not write about bisexuality or ‘the bisexual’ as if there were only one way of being bisexual or one bisexual experience. Particularly be aware of intersections of gender, race, culture, religion, class, age, generation, ability, geographic location, body form, and other socio-cultural and historical aspects that will impact on the ways in which attraction to more than one gender is experienced and understood. If you are not bisexual yourself, avoid the trap of assuming that all bisexuals will be like those you have spoken with. If you are bisexual yourself, avoid the trap of assuming that all other bisexual people will be like you – or using their experiences to bolster your own.
- Familiarise yourself: Make sure that you familiarise yourself with specifically bisexual research in your field (where it exists), in addition to or in preference to other relevant research in gender and sexuality studies (e.g. LGBT and queer studies). These wider studies can provide a place to begin critique and examine gaps in the research, where specifically bisexual research has not taken place.
- Be respectful: In the event that you are using living participants (e.g. readers, audiences, community theatre participants etc.) maintain standards of ethics and informed consent for inclusion of other people’s ideas in your works. Treat their ideas, interpretations and lived experience of bisexuality with respect. Be aware of potential power imbalances caused by your status as an academic and researcher.
- Be aware of context: In the event that you are using living participants (e.g. readers, audiences, community theatre participants etc.) the context in which people speak has a marked effect on what is said and how it is said. For example, people may speak differently about bisexuality at a community event, when discussing characters in the third person, or with a familiar/unfamiliar researcher. Do not take personal statements or quotations from texts out of context.
- Bisexual identity or behaviour does not imply other identities or behaviours (e.g. BDSM, non-monogamy, political views etc.)
- Respect language use: Use the labels that the people or texts you are writing about or researching use(d) themselves. When using identity labels (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual etc.) for texts which pre-date such labels, be explicit that this is what you are doing.
- Be sympathetic to the needs of current audiences: especially those from gender, sexuality, or other minority groups including bisexual people. These groups may need to see cultural icons in texts, which some research may problematize. Consider including presentist readings and interpretations where appropriate.
- Don’t make assumptions about researchers: Don’t assume that others engaged in bisexuality research either are or are not bisexual themselves. Don’t assume that researchers who are bisexual themselves are either less valid, or more valid, than anybody else.
Copyright Caroline Walters and Kaye McLelland. Some rights reserved. This work is copyright, but is available under a Creative Commons by 3.0 licence: you are free to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the work, including commercially, provided that you attribute the work to the authors as listed here, but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0.