BiReCon 2012: Meg’s talk

Thursday 9th August 2012 saw the third biennial BiReCon event (#birecon2012 on twitter). Following the main findings of The Bisexuality Report, published earlier this year, the conference focused on bisexuality and mental health. Huge thanks to Rebecca Jones, Caroline Walters and Helen Bowes-Catton for organising such a wonderful event.

The full programme of the event is available here and we will be encouraging speakers to write up their presentations for BiUK and/or BCN over the coming weeks and months.

Keynote talks considered the individual and community implications of bisexual mental health, explored intersectionality and debates around ethnicity and sexuality, and outlined changes in the UK mental health system, drawing out possibilities for future bisexual mental health. In parallel sessions we heard fascinating explorations of the overlaps between stereotypes of bisexuality and the diagnostic category of borderline personality disorder, as well as an important consideration of eating disorders in bisexual men. One workshop covered bisexual people’s experiences of mental health services, which will be fed back to key National Health Service providers. Talks also dealt with understandings of sexuality more broadly, non-monogamous relationships, Shakespeare, and the importance of the bisexual community in relation to mental health.

For Meg Barker’s presentation on Depression and/or oppression? Bisexuality and Mental Health you can view the prezi presentation here, and listen to it (and Rebecca’s introduction to BiReCon) on these youtube clips.





Risk and resilience study

New Canadian bisexuality survey launched, dealing with biphobia and mental health. Great video here!


Sex, Politics, and Stereotypes: BiUK’s response to Julie Bindel, June 2012

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Julie Bindel asks ‘What makes some of us uncomfortable with bisexual women’? She goes on to answer her own question by rehearsing a series of negative stereotypes about bisexual women, suggesting that they are apolitical, hedonistic, trendily transgressive sexual tourists, testing out their fantasies on unsuspecting lesbians and straight men. Interested only in the pursuit of pleasure, they are not to be trusted personally or politically, and indeed may not exist at all. If bisexual women had ‘an ounce of sexual politics’, she asserts, they would stop having sex with men and make a positive choice to identify as lesbians. Instead of this, they hedonistically pursue their sexual desires at the cost of their political integrity.

We would like to make two points in response to this article. First, a growing body of academic research and bisexual activist literature, both online and in print, and including work by Paula Rodríguez-Rust, cited by Bindel in her article, consistently demonstrates that for many people, identifying as bisexual is as much a matter of politics as it is of desire. As one bi activist told us:

Personally, I have definitely made a positive choice to identify as bisexual. I could easily identify as either lesbian or straight, but it’s politically important to me to identify as bi. My identity as a bi woman is grounded in my feminism, my conviction that gender and sexuality are socially constructed, and my commitment to LGBT equality. It’s deeply political- it’s just a different political position from Julie Bindel’s!

(Claire, bisexual activist)

Clearly, while many women who experience attraction towards people of more than one gender choose to identify as bisexual, many others choose to identify as lesbian or straight. All of these are valid choices, which may be made on the basis of deeply-felt political convictions. Bindel’s polemic, however, dismisses all viewpoints other than her own as apolitical, and swiftly resorts to name-calling. Bindel would most likely object, and rightly so, to a critique of radical feminism that relied for its credence on tired old clichés about cropped hair, boiler suits and man-hating, and dismissed lesbian separatism as an apolitical choice based on a failure to engage with the complexities of twenty-first century gender relations. It’s disappointing, then, that she dismisses political bisexuality in such terms.

Our second point is concerned with the impact on bisexual people of the publication of articles such as Bindel’s, which clearly promote biphobia. As we outlined in our recent publication The Bisexuality Report, research has repeatedly shown that bisexual people are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidality than lesbian, gay or heterosexual people, and that this may be linked to the negative stereotypes about bisexuality which circulate in popular culture. These statistics are of great concern to UK bisexual communities and their allies, as well as to mental health practitioners, and for these reasons, bisexuality and mental health is the theme of BiReCon, our biennial conference, in August this year.

By recycling harmful stereotypes about bisexuality in the defence of political lesbianism, Julie Bindel contributes to the biphobic cultural conditions that contribute to high rates of mental distress among bisexuals. By dismissing bisexuals as universally apolitical, she betrays her own ignorance of approaches to contemporary sexual politics other than her own.

Helen Bowes-Catton for BiUK

Read more:

New Statesman response

Lack of bisexual community leading to adverse mental health?

From The British Psychological Society:

Lack of bisexual community leading to adverse mental health?

The lack of a bisexual community could be negatively impacting the health of men attracted to both males and females. This is the suggestion of new research published in the Journal of Bisexuality, which showed guys believe a lack of such a group – that would enable them to be more involved with likeminded adults – significantly affects their wellbeing.

Brian Dodge, Associate Professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, found the stigma bisexual people experience at the hands of both heterosexual and homosexual individuals plays a big part in making them feel isolated.

The investigation revealed this biphobia also contributed to the social stress felt by bisexual males in their everyday lives.

Mr Dodge stated: “Being bisexual, not having a community to be involved with, not having people they could disclose to, homosexual or heterosexual, was tied to their experiences of adverse mental health.

Meg comments: When we put together The Bisexuality Report early this year, we reviewed the evidence from a number of countries and found that bisexual people consistently experienced more mental health problems and distress than heterosexual, and lesbian and gay people. This concurs with Brian Dodge’s recent findings.

Read more of this post

The H-word: Happiness and bisexuality

Meg writes:

I’m presenting at the PACE/DIVA event on happiness on Tuesday 22nd May. Hope to see people there. You can read about my presentation over on Rewriting-the-Rules which deals with bisexuality and mental health, among other things. I’ll be presenting on similar matters at BiReCon later this summer.

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.

The Bisexuality Report out now!

February 15th 2012 saw the launch of The Bisexuality Report in London and the document going live online (see the Open University website link, or the page for the report on this website). This will be followed by a Manchester event and discussion of the report at BiReCon 2012, later in the year. Here we want to say a bit about how we came to write the report, what it is all about, and where we go to with it from here.


The report happened for three main reasons:

The first was the publication, in 2010, of the Bisexual Invisibility report by the San Francisco human rights commission. That document brought together the research on bisexual invisibility and biphobia, and their impacts, and drew out recommendations from this for policy and practice in the area. As the first of its kind, the report had an impact far beyond the area it was intended for, as it was circulated in online fora and many of us in other countries began to use it as a key source of evidence.

Then there was a UK bi activist meeting in the summer of 2011 which many of the BiUK research group attended. As we were throwing around ideas about where the most valuable place to put our energies would be, Jen Yockney suggested a report similar to the San Francisco one, but with a specifically UK focus (two other main ideas to come out of the meeting and be acted upon since were addressing race in the UK bi community, and coming up with guidelines for researchers working on bisexuality). We realised that many of us were frequently responding to policy ideas, or media representations, or practices, by pointing out the implications for bisexual people. It would be much easier if we all had a document to point to which summarised why these things were important and what could be done about it.

The final reason the report happened was that there is now a big enough group, with just about enough time and expertise between us, to put something like this together. We had the members of BiUK, together with Marcus from The Bisexual Index, and Jen from Bi Community News, so between us we had knowledge about the academic literature on different aspects of bisexuality, and the specifics of UK bi activism, community and experience. I knocked up a first draft, based on the topics we’d come up with at the weekend, and we passed that around the group, all adding the areas we knew about. On some of the areas we knew less about we got help from other experts (like Ian Watters and Surya Monro), or spent some time reading up the literature.

The Report

The report itself is similar to the San Francisco report in focusing on the key areas of biphobia, bisexual invisibility, and the impact on health. However, we’ve managed to include specifically UK examples in all of these areas as well as international research. For example, we’ve included an updated version of our analysis of UK media depictions and how these often erase bisexuality by suggesting that people can only be gay or straight.

We also spend some time in the report fleshing out the different groups who can fall under the ‘bisexual umbrella’. Diversity is a big theme in the report as we consider how issues may be different for different groups who may define (or be defined as) bisexual, and we also have a section specifically on intersections between bisexuality and other aspects of identity, background and practice (including race, gender, age, geographical location and several other aspects). A major argument of the report is that ‘B’ should not be always be lumped in with ‘LGBT’ because there are aspects of experience that are specific to bisexuality. But we are also saying that the ‘B’ itself doesn’t present one unified experience.

Another couple of things that are unique about the report are that it gives a sense of the bisexual communities in the UK – which are likely both similar and different to the communities in other contexts – and we also emphasise (at the end of the document) the positive aspects of bisexual experience. Despite the many challenges of being bisexual in a culture which generally doesn’t recognise bisexuality and which discriminates, being bisexual obviously brings rewards as well as difficulties. We were very lucky that a research study had recently been carried out on exactly this topic, including participants from the UK who we quote in the report.

Once the report was written we ensured that there were plenty of brief accounts of bisexual experiences throughout, to bring the issues being covered to life for the reader. We also pulled out a set of recommendations for different areas (such as media, education, healthcare, and the workplace). And we wrote a summary at the start of the report to cover the main points.

We were very fortunate that the Open University, once they heard about the project from the three members of BiUK who work there, offered to publish the report and to help us to publicise it. Once we had a final version we were happy with, Amandine Scherrer from the CCIG group at the OU, sorted out the beautiful design that we now have, and getting nice printed hard copies, as well as a pdf to make freely available online. Sarah Batt helped us to book accommodation and food for the launch, and several different groups within the OU provided financial support for all of this.

Whilst this was happening, the authors approached various organisations we were in touch with to see whether anybody would be interested in endorsing the report. The results were amazing, and we are stoked that all of the following groups came on board as endorsers: Stonewall, the Psychology of Sexualities section of the British Psychological Society, The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, Pink Therapy, the Metro Centre, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, and Hertfordshire Foundation NHS Trust.

The final stage is the launch on February 15th, which the OU, Stonewall and the Metro Centre are kindly sponsoring. After that we will hopefully continue to promote to report online, and at various events, throughout the year.

Where next?

The Government Equalities Office will be attending the launch, and BCN, The Bisexual Index, and BiUK have already been speaking with them about how we can work together towards better bisexual inclusion in UK policy and practice. Hopefully we’ll be meeting twice a year from now on to develop some key practical goals which we can work towards in relation to this.

It would also be great to provide more training once the report is out around these issues. Hopefully the report will be a good basis for bi community members to use for training in their local areas.

It would also be great if other countries developed similar reports, drawing on what we’ve done with our report, and the San Francisco one. We’ve already been talking with some of the international bisexual community about a possible report for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuality, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) to develop a report on bisexuality that was written for them, but not published, some years back.

Obviously The Bisexuality Report will not be perfect. It was an attempt to produce something useful from the knowledge and expertise of the people who had the time and energy in summer 2011 to work together on this. There will inevitably be some areas which could be usefully developed or where we weren’t aware of all the evidence that is out there. Also, as politics and situations change over time, there’ll be a need to update the report to reflect the shifts in bisexual community and experience.

As an online document it will be possible to update the bisexuality report every few years (as long as we have some funds for the design). So it would be great if people with expertise would volunteer to edit the relevant sections when we get to that point. Meanwhile, if there are sections of the report that people would like to elaborate on, it will be possible to put extra documents up on the BiUK website which go into more detail on various points. We would welcome any evidence-based input along those lines, and any responses to the report which we can put up on the website.