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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New Research: The Voices of African Descent Bisexual Women

Kristin M. Brown writes…

Title: The Voices of African Descent Bisexual Women: Experiences Related to Identity and Disclosure, in Social Support Networks and Health Care Settings, in the US and UK

Researcher: Kristin M. Brown, PhD, MSW, MPA; Email <WomenResearch7@gmail.com>

Summary: Inaugural LGBTQ Scholars of Color Conference Presentation (April 2015, New York)

In this summary, I detail findings on the well­being of cisgender bisexual­ identified women of the African diaspora (ABW). As a member of the population, I collaboratively implemented this study for our empowerment. I conducted individual face­to­face interviews with six women in the United States in 2013, and eight women in the United Kingdom in 2014. I gathered information on quality of social support and health care, related to disclosure of bisexual identity, using qualitative research principles of grounded analysis. This study focused only with cisgender ABW, as researchers with prior and concurrent studies were focusing with transgender and lesbian women.

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Pink Therapy: Beyond Gay and Straight

On March 12th 2016 the UK LGBTQ+ therapy organisation Pink Therapy ran a conference on working with bisexual people. You can read summaries of the conference here and here, and view all of the talks on the Pink Therapy YouTube channel for the conference.

Bisexual Health Videos

There’s a brilliant set of videos on bisexual health available now on the Rainbow Health Ontario website covering friendship, partners, family and service-providers. Here’s one of them to give you a flavour.

See more…

It’d be great to do something like this in the UK in future. Take note all LGBT organisations who’re looking to up your B profile! Meanwhile thanks so much to Rainbow Health Ontario for this 🙂

Call for Papers: EuroBiReCon Amsterdam July 2016

Bisexuality and (Inter)National Research Frontiers

First European Bisexual Research Conference (EuroBiReCon)EuroBiReCon is a conference for anyone with an interest in contributing to, or finding out about, current work on bisexuality. The conference aims to bring together academics, professionals, activists, and bisexual communities. It builds on BiReCons held in the UK every two years organised by BiUK (www.biuk.org) – see the BiUK website for information about past BiReCons. This year it will take place on Thursday 28 July 2016 at the University of Amsterdam, which will be followed by a three day community organised event (EuroBiCon).

We proudly announce that Prof. Surya Monro (University of Huddersfield) will be the keynote speaker at the EuroBiReCon. She has written multiple books on sexual diversity including Gender politics: Activism, citizenship and sexual diversity (2005) and Sexuality, Equality and Diversity (2012 with Diana Richardson). Her book Bisexuality: Identities, Politics, and Theories is due to be published in 2015.

We welcome papers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines including social sciences, health sciences, arts and humanities, therapeutic practitioners, activists and others. We encourage contributions from postgraduate students, early career academics and more senior academics from Europe and beyond.

We invite papers and workshop sessions that include but are not limited to the following:

  • Bisexuality, wellbeing and health (including mental health and sexual health).
  • The implications of bisexual identities and labels.
  • Bisexuality, space and communities.
  • Bisexual people’s access to, and experiences of,health and other services.
  • Inclusion and erasure of bisexual people in politics and activism.
  • Representations of bisexuality in media, culture, and literature.
  • Intersections with other aspects of experience such as physical disability, age, race/ethnicity, nationality, gender (both trans- and cis-gender), sexual practices, religion, education and social class.
  • Bisexuality and relationship styles (e.g. monogamies, polyamory, swinging, open couples and non-monogamies).
  • The role of technologies in bisexuality and forming bisexual spaces and communities
  • Methods for researching bisexuality
  • Public engagement in bisexuality research.

During the day there will be opportunities to:

  • Find out about issues affecting bisexual people
  • Hear from experts about cutting-edge research on bisexuality
  • Discuss ways in which organisations can better work with, and for, bisexual people, drawing on good practice
  • Take part in workshops on specific issues

If you would like to present at EuroBiReCon, please provide a 250 word abstract and a brief biography (max. 100 words), by 26th February 2016 to Emiel Maliepaard (e.maliepaard1@gmail.com) and Dr Caroline Walters (carolinejwalters@gmail.com).

If you are interested in facilitating a workshop, roundtable, or panel discussion at BiReCon, which can include data gathering for current projects or research, then please email Emiel Maliepaard (e.maliepaard1@gmail.com) and Dr Caroline Walters (carolinejwalters@gmail.com) with a brief description of your proposed session by 22 January 2016.

Language: For logistical reasons, the conference’s common language will be English, and abstracts must be submitted in English. If you wish, you can send us your abstract in another language, provided that you also submit it in English. It is highly recommended that presentations during the conference are in English. However, we are exploring possibilities to use translators to provide space to people who would like to present in their mother tongue.

Funding: EuroBiCon and EuroBiReCon are community organisations so unfortunately there are no funds for presenters or travel expenses. However, EuroBiReCon will provide an excellent opportunity to network with others working in the field, to share good practice, and there will be spaces available to conduct research which fits within the ethos of the event.

New report: Bi’s of Colour

Following the Complicated report on bisexual people’s experiences of services last month BiUK is pleased to be able to announce yet another important piece of grassroots research on bisexual experience: The Bi’s of Colour Survey Report conducted by Jacq Applebee, founder of the Bi’s of Colour group.

The experience of bisexual people of colour has been woefully under-researched and neglected to date, with no UK studies focusing on this area. This is despite the fact that we know that people who experience multiple marginalisations through both their sexuality and their race or ethnicity have the worst mental health outcomes due to their experiences of intersecting oppressions, and discrimination on more than one dimension. This is, of course, a particularly vital issue in relation to bisexuality given that bisexual people in general have higher rates of mental health problems than either heterosexual, or lesbian and gay, people.

You can download the full report here: Bi’s of Colour Survey Report.

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The report provides a thorough overview of the study, as well as a useful commentary, by Jacq Applebee, on the findings. It supports previous research on bisexuality, such as the double discrimination that bisexual people experience from both straight and lesbian/gay communities, and the difficulties that they face finding communities and support. It also demonstrates important and concerning facts about the experiences of bi people of colour particularly, for example:

  • The whiteness of offline and online bisexual and LGBT spaces and groups, such that bi’s of colour often feel unwelcome, overly visible, or experience explicit racism and microaggressions, if they do access such spaces.
  • Specific negative experiences such as being hypersexualised (on the basis of both sexuality and race), exoticised and fetishised, or used as the token person of colour to demonstrate the supposed diversity of a community or group.
  • Being presumed straight due to a lack of awareness of the LGBT history within communities of colour, and colonialist assumptions.
  • Feeling excluded from certain spaces due to financial constraints, or because events take places in venues which many people do not feel comfortable in (university settings, or clubs and bars, for example).

Some people also spoke positively about their sense of inclusion in certain communities and groups which have been set up (some bisexual spaces, and QTIPOC spaces, for example).

The Bi’s of Colour study points to the desperate need for more sustained research in this area and far better resources to address the intersections between sexuality and race and ethnicity in general, and the experiences of bi’s of colour in particular. BiUK hopes to support such moves as much as it can, and we also call upon funded LGBT and mental health organisations to make this a priority.

Bisexual Asylum Seekers

Please do adapt this letter and send it on to your local MPs.

16 May 2015

Dear Mrs May,

Bisexual asylum seekers

As Trustees and members of Bi UK, a charity that supports research and activism regarding bisexuality, we were extremely concerned to hear of the case of Orashia Edwards.  It seems that this individual has been informed by immigration officials that he ought to pretend to be gay, and that he cannot apply for asylum as a bisexual. Orashia is at risk of persecution as a man who has same-sex relations, and it appears that this risk is not being taken seriously.

Since we became aware of this case, other bisexual asylum seekers have confirmed that they have been advised by Home Office officials as well as LGBT group advisers, to conceal the fact that they are bisexual and to pretend to be gay or lesbian, in order to have a chance of gaining asylum. At BiCon (the annual bisexual conference) in 2014, concern and outrage was expressed by 300 delegates at the AGM about the ways in which bisexual people are being discriminated against in the asylum process. Bisexual people who are fleeing persecution are not at any less risk than gays and lesbians.

We request that you confirm the following:

a) That there is no policy to exclude bisexuals from asylum on grounds of sexuality

b) That the government recognises that bisexuals can be just as subject to homophobia and persecution as homosexuals are, regardless of whether they have (or have not) engaged in heterosexual relationships in the past

c) That Home Office officials and others dealing with asylum seekers will be advised that bisexual people should have their sexuality treated with due respect, not assumed to be ‘really’ heterosexual, homosexual or lying about their sexuality

d) That bisexual asylum seekers should have their claims for asylum considered as carefully as for other asylum seekers.

We would also like to know what training officials dealing with asylum claims have had on LGBT issues that may be relevant, and how many bisexuals have applied for asylum since 2010.

We look forward to hearing from you about how you will ensure that bisexuals are receiving appropriate protection under the UK’s asylum system.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Surya Monro

and Dr Meg John Barker, Christina Richardson, Dr Caroline Walters, Dr Roshan Nair, Ed Lord, Dr

Helen Bowes-Catton, Dr Rebecca Jones, Kaye McLelland

Biphobia in the pansexual community

Sali Owen (twitter: @SaliWho) writes:

As awareness of non-binary gender identities has developed, some members of the queer community have chosen to identify as pansexual rather than bisexual. Pansexuality is sometimes defined as attraction to people of all genders, which is also the experience of many bisexual people. More often than not, however, people define their pansexuality in relation to bisexuality. In response to the question: “What does pansexual mean?” I’ve seen countless people reply: “I’m attracted to people of more than two genders. Not bisexual.” The implication is that bisexual means binary attraction: men and women only.

Since I came out in the late 90s, I haven’t seen one bi activist organisation define bisexuality as attraction solely to men and women. Bi and trans* issues began to grow in recognition at the same time. When I use ‘bi’ to refer to two types of attraction, I mean attraction to people of my gender and attraction to people of other genders.

I also frequently see cisgender pansexuals managing to be both transphobic and biphobic in their definitions. They say pansexuals are different to bisexuals because pansexuals are attracted to “men, women and transgender people,” as if binary trans people aren’t really men and women, and bisexuals couldn’t possibly be attracted to them anyway.

Despite the presence of bisexuals at every queer demonstration since Stonewall, we’ve always been told by the lesbian and gay community that we’re somehow not queer enough. This pushes many bi people who are active in the queer community to identify as lesbian, gay or just queer. Being forced to pick a closet by both the straight and gay communities results in bi people having significantly higher rates of mental health problems than straight and gay people. This is why it’s so upsetting to see internalised biphobia leading many pansexuals, most of whom until recently identified as bisexual, telling us we’re still not queer enough. Gay and straight people aren’t being pressurised into giving up the language they use to describe their attractions and neither should they be. As usual it’s only bisexuals being shamed into erasing our identities and our history.

The most frustrating thing to me about the current bi vs pan discourse is that it’s framed as a cisgender vs genderqueer debate. This has never been the case. In reality, many genderqueer people identify as bisexual. At least three of the most influential bi activists, researchers and academics are genderqueer. Meg John Barker, founder of BiUK; Jen Yockney, founder of ‘Bi Community News’; and Shiri Eisner, author of ‘Radical Bi: Notes For a Bisexual Revolution’, are all non-binary. They’ve spent years at the forefront of campaigns, lobbying for queer rights. To say bisexuality is binary erases the identities of these revolutionary bisexual genderqueer activists, and it erases the identity of every marginalised genderqueer bisexual they’re fighting for.

I have no problem embracing more labels to better describe our attractions and our gender politics. We all have every right to use the labels that fit us. Some people identify as both pan and bi depending on context, but I can’t consider doing this before the implicit and explicit biphobia within the pan community is rejected. If your definition of pansexuality relies on redefining my bisexuality and negating it, I can’t support that. If you need to prove your queer credentials by vehemently clarifying that you’re not bisexual, you’re doing to me exactly what the lesbian and gay community does to both of us.

Where do we go from here? Addressing conflicts within LGBTQ etc. communities

Meg Barker reflects on recent debates about relations between bisexual and lesbian women in DIVA magazine, and considers wider issues of the ways in which we engage with such divisions within our communities.

The DIVA Article

Back in January Louise Carolin, one of the team at DIVA magazine, decided to write a piece about relationships between bisexual and lesbian women. She wanted to explore the fact that some lesbians are cautious about dating bisexual women, or even have exclusion criteria around bisexuality, and also about the sense of rejection and marginalisation experienced by bisexual women who come across such attitudes within lesbian communities, or from partners or potential partners.

Louise put a post up on the DIVA facebook page (January 18th 2012) entitled ‘why won’t some lesbians date bi women?’ and asked for comments from both groups. The post got 102 responses altogether which included a diversity of views. Of the original 80 comments, the majority were from lesbians and bisexual women who said they hadn’t experienced such exclusions or that they had good relationships; or questioning why it should make a difference whether someone is left for a man or for a woman and challenging myths around bisexuality. These positive comments received several hundred ‘like’ responses. There were also some accounts of painful experiences of infidelity or rejection, and some examples of biphobia (such as claims that there is no such thing as a bisexual person, or that all bisexual people are untrustworthy). There were fewer of these than the positive comments, and they were ‘liked’ less by other readers, but they certainly stand out for a bisexual person reading the comments.

Louise also interviewed me, as one of the authors of The Bisexuality Report to talk about these responses and to reflect, as a relationship therapist, on potential ways forward for bisexual and lesbian women who do come up against these issues in their relationships.

Following the publication of the article there have been several blogs and online discussions complaining about it (including two thoughtful posts on blogwasred and one on mercury_pheonix’s livejournal). Glasgow LGBT students’ association has demanded that DIVA reconsider their policies and practices around bisexual inclusion. Interestingly, they’ve suggested that DIVA editors read The Bisexuality Report – the very report that prompted them to contact me in the first place.

Most of the commentators don’t have too many problems with the article itself (although I’ll address some that they do have below). Rather, their problem is with the way in which it the article is framed. Whilst the title of the article is ‘why do you have to be a heartbreaker?’ (which could refer to either the bisexual or lesbian women involved in such situations), the front cover strapline is ‘bye biphobia – how to overcome your fears and date a bisexual’ which clearly suggests that intended readers are lesbians rather than bisexual women, despite DIVA being described as a monthly magazine ‘for lesbians and bi women in the UK’. Commentators pointed out that this is exactly the kind of bi invisibility which has been linked to feelings of alienation amongst bisexual people in countless studies. They were also concerned with the biphobic views expressed by some of the readers whose experiences were included alongside the article, and (in the case of the Glasgow LGBT student association) with an earlier piece of satire in the same issue of the magazine sending up the stereotype of bisexual people being ‘paralyzed by indecision’ (which could perhaps be read either as pointing out the ridiculousness of such stereotypes and/or as perpetuating them).

Addressing such conflicts

I am very interested in these debates, not just because of the content – which has such relevance for bisexual visibility and for relationship conflict – but also because of the process of how the debates are playing out. These processes are reflective of so many conflicts that we have seen in recent years, within LGBTQ communities and more broadly, when issues of marginalisation, privilege and oppression are being discussed.

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Interview with bi activist, Yemisi Ilesanmi

Very interesting interview with bisexual activist Yemisi Ilesanmi on the Sporah show: