British Bisexuality: Purple Prose out now!

Meg-John Barker reflects on the awesome new book on British Bisexuality…

Last week saw the launch of a book project that I’m very excited to be part of: Purple Prose.

pp

This collection, edited by Kate Harrad, brings together experiences from a diverse spectrum of bisexual folk in Britain today. It works as a how-to guide to British bi communities and identities, as well as providing a fascinating insight into the wide range of experiences under the bisexual umbrella.

A particular strength of the book is its focus on intersectionality. Most writing on bisexuality, including The Bisexuality Report which I was part of, focus on bisexual people as a fairly unified group: how they are represented, the challenges they face, bi-specific discrimination, etc. The problem with this approach is that bisexual experiences – like all experiences – are very different depending on other intersecting aspects of identity and experience such as gender, class, race, disability, geographical location, generation. Also, as Shiri Eisner points out, there are vital links between bisexual activism and feminist, trans and queer activism, anti-racism, and other anti-oppression movements, which are vital to attend to because a single-issue kind of activism can’t get us very far.

For these reasons it’s great to see a book in which at least half of the chapters are devoted to specific intersections (e.g. ‘Bisexual and disabled’, ‘Bisexual Black and Minority Ethic People‘, ‘Bisexuals and Faith’).

Even within these chapters there is a clear sense of the range of experiences that exist amongst any specific group, such as older bisexual people or non-monogamous bis, for example. In the chapter that I co-edited with Fred Langdridge, ‘The Gender Agenda’, we decided to foreground the experiences of non-binary bisexual people, given that there are already books about bisexual women and bisexual men, but none on this topic. While we included the voices of bisexual people of many genders, we gave specific attention to those who are non-binary in terms of both their sexuality and their gender. Even within that group we discovered many differences in relation to how they related to the term ‘bisexual’, how they experienced their gender and sexuality, whether these things changed over time or not, and how they were navigated in their close relationships and communities.

We still have a long way to go on bisexuality in Britain given that the biggest group under the LGBT umbrella still has the highest rate of mental health problems, and gets the least attention in policy and practice, both outside and within the LGBT sector. Purple Prose is definitely a step in the right direction.

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The invisible stereotypes of bisexual men

Alon Zivony & Thalma Lobel update us on their recent research

Bisexuals face two broad social problems: public invisibility and discrimination. Invisibility refers to the lack of representation of bisexuals and knowledge about bisexuals in society. In either the media, the sciences, and even in the LGT community – people are nearly unaware of the existence of bisexuals and the issues that affect their lives. Discrimination refers to prejudice and stereotypical attitudes towards bisexuals. For example, the notion that bisexuals are closeted gay\lesbian, untrustworthy, confused, and hypersexual.

At first glance, these two phenomena (invisibility and discrimination) seem paradoxical. How can invisibility and discrimination coincide? In other words, how can someone discriminate against a group they are not familiar with? The answer may be surprisingly simple.

In our study we evaluated social stereotypes of bisexual men in light of bisexual invisibility. Participants were presented with two characters on a first date and asked them to evaluate one of the characters (based on answers to various questions). Whenever the evaluated character was described as bisexual, he was evaluated as being confused, untrustworthy, and unable to stay in a relationship. In other words, he was evaluated based on negative stereotypes associated with bisexuals.

In another experiment we asked participants to indicate what are the stereotypes associated with bisexual men. In light of bisexual invisibility, it is not surprising that participants had little knowledge of these stereotypes. For example, only 20% of participants knew that bisexual men are often considered as closeted gay. Only 7% of participants knew that bisexual men are often considered as confused.

But we found something surprising as well. The results showed that prejudiced individuals knew even less about these stereotypes that non-prejudiced individuals. In other words, prejudice not only coincided with lack of knowledge, but was correlated with it. The meaning of this finding was spelled out for us by one participant. He wrote: “I’m not familiar with any specific stereotypes of bisexual males. I do sometimes feel that they are actually homosexuals, but are afraid to identify as such due to social stigma.”

In other words, this participant holds stereotypical beliefs about bisexual men, but did not know these beliefs were considered stereotypical. But, if stereotypes don’t come from knowledge about bisexuals, where do they come from? We think that these stereotypes are the result of misconceptions regarding sexuality and gender in general. For example, as men and women are considered as completely separate and “opposite” genders, people automatically imagine bisexuality as two dual attractions that work in opposite directions. The implication of that image is a constant conflict and turmoil. This is how bisexual stereotypes can be both common and unknown.

This situation actually makes things worse for bisexuals: people don’t try to suppress their prejudicial beliefs and behaviors unless they know they are prejudicial. Also, you can’t fight stereotypes unless people know they are stereotypes. This leads us to the conclusion that education is the solution for both bisexual invisibility as well as discrimination against bisexuals.

Intersections of bisexuality and race

Nice article in Ebony (despite the title!) about black bisexual men’s experiences.

http://www.ebony.com/love-sex/talk-like-sex-is-male-bisexuality-really-real-304

Bisexual people exist (again): News release for Cornell sexual orientation study

Cornell University issued the following news release:

Pupil dilation reveals sexual orientation in new Cornell study

There is a popular belief that sexual orientation can be revealed by pupil dilation to attractive people, yet until now there was no scientific evidence.

For the first time, researchers at Cornell University used a specialized infrared lens to measure pupillary changes to participants watching erotic videos.

Pupils were highly telling: they widened most to videos of people who participants found attractive, thereby revealing where they were on the sexual spectrum from heterosexual to homosexual.

The findings were published August 3 in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Previous research explored these mechanisms either by simply asking people about their sexuality, or by using physiological measures such as assessing their genital arousal.

These methods, however, come with substantial problems.

“We wanted to find an alternative measure that would be an automatic indication of sexual orientation, but without being as invasive as previous measures. Pupillary responses are exactly that,” says Gerulf Rieger, lead author and research fellow at Cornell.

“With this new technology we are able to explore sexual orientation of people who would never participate in a study on genital arousal, such as people from traditional cultures. This will give us a much better understanding how sexuality is expressed across the planet.”

The new Cornell study adds considerably more to the field of sexuality research than merely a novel measure.

As expected, heterosexual men showed strong pupillary responses to sexual videos of women, and little to men; heterosexual women, however, showed pupillary responses to both sexes.

This result confirms previous research suggesting that women have a very different type of sexuality than men.

Moreover, the new study feeds into a long-lasting debate on male bisexuality.

Previous notions were that most bisexual men do not base their sexual identity on their physiological sexual arousal but on romantic and identity issues.

Contrary to this claim, bisexual men in the new study showed substantial pupil dilations to sexual videos of both men and women.

“We can now finally argue that a flexible sexual desire is not simply restricted to women – some men have it, too, and it is reflected in their pupils,” says Ritch C. Savin-Williams, co-author and professor in Human Development at Cornell.

“In fact, not even a division into ‘straight,’ ‘bi,’ and ‘gay’ tells the full story. Men who identity as ‘mostly straight’ really exist both in their identity and their pupil response; they are more aroused to males than straight men, but much less so than both bisexual and gay men,” Savin-Williams notes.

The researchers are confident that their new measure will aid in understanding these groups better and point to a range of sexualities that has been ignored in previous research.

Frank Ocean

Bimagazine.org piece: Ocean’s of Love Letter: Is one black man loving another man the revolutionary act of the 21st Century?

Bi men’s health

And, on the topic of bisexual men, from Either / And:

“Stonewall have a chunky new bi & gay men’s health report newly out, which seems to be the counterpart to the pale-blue bi & lesbian women’s report you may remember from about 4 years ago.

Mostly it combines bi and gay data together, however two snippets:

“In the last year, 27 per cent of gay men thought about taking their own life even if they would not do it. This increases to 38 per cent for bisexual men” (p9)

“One in five (21 per cent) gay and bisexual men aged 16 to 19 have deliberately harmed themselves in the last year. One in six (15 per cent) gay and bisexual men aged 16 to 24 have deliberately harmed themselves in the last year. Seven per cent of men in general aged 16 to 24 have ever deliberately harmed themselves.

“Rates of self-harm are also higher among bisexual men; eleven per cent of bisexual men have self-harmed in the last year.” (p11)”

Original post.

Bi brains

This youtube clip presents scientists talking about recent empirical research on bisexuality and the brain. At BiUK we still have issues with some of the methods used in these kinds of studies, but this is an interesting summary.