White House Bisexuality Briefing

On 26th September 2016 I attended a historic bisexuality briefing at the White House. Bisexual community leaders had met with the White House on previous occasions, but never before had the meeting been live-streamed, recorded, and made public during and after the event. There were well over a hundred bisexual activists in attendance, and the two hour event mixed together talks and panels on vital topics as well as some powerful music, poetry and other creative input about bisexual experiences.

 

There’s also a great summary of the event in pictures and words here.

It was extremely valuable to me to have the opportunity to learn about how bisexual matters are being discussed and engaged with in the US. Speakers emphasised many of the same issues that affect bisexual people globally: invisibility, discrimination from both straight and gay communities, and high rates of mental health struggles due to biphobia. However, it was also striking how much careful attention was paid to intersectionality. That is the idea that sexuality intersects with many other aspects of experience and identity (race, gender, class, ethnicity, age, disability geographical location, etc.) to produce unique experiences of being bisexual in different groups and individuals. So we heard people speaking about bisexuality from diverse positions, and emphasising the importance of listening to diverse voices, and targeting support to the places where it is most needed.

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British Bisexuality: Purple Prose out now!

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.

Same Sex Marriage: Opening Up and Closing Down

This year I was invited to 10 Downing Street for a reception celebrating the same-sex marriage act which passed into UK law recently. I felt truly ambivalent about attending the event because I see both highly positive and very negative aspects to this change in the law. So here I want to offer some reflections about possibilities that this shift has the potential to open up, as well as what it risks closing down.

MegJenNo10

Me and Jen Yockney (of BCN) at No.10

Opening up

Clearly the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act does something extremely important in legally accepting that relationships between two people of the same gender are as legitimate as those between two people of different genders. Whilst civil partnerships brought us some way towards this, marriage is the way in which our society currently recognises relationship commitment, so the cultural impact of this on people who love people of the same gender cannot be underestimated.

As David Cameron rightly remarked in his Downing Street address, the potential impact of this on people’s everyday lives is immense. Whilst many lesbian, gay and bisexual people currently experience painful responses from family members when they come out, and even total exclusion from families, the message that same gender romantic relationships are as real and valuable as different gender ones may well help matters a great deal. Parents at such times often express concerns that they have lost the opportunity to see children reach the important social milestones in life such as getting married and having children, and clearly now this is not the case.

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Media reporting of sexuality: The importance of framing the debate

This weekend I was contacted by a programme-maker with the following request regarding a series on sexuality. They said that they were putting together their bisexual episode and wanted me to contribute to the discussion of whether ‘there really is such as thing as being bisexual’.

I won’t name names here to save their blushes and also because I’m hopeful that they may change their mind on receiving my reply. But I wanted to share my response here to underline the importance of how debates, and presentations of research, are positioned in the media. Despite researching and writing about bisexuality I have always refused to take part in ‘does it exist?’ type debates. Framing such things as debates gives legitimacy to a view that shouldn’t be getting air-time.

I think that, when asked to contribute to media pieces like this, it is worth first asking whether they are asking reasonable questions and, if not, to challenge them rather than going along with a problematic framing of the issues. I hope that I’ve explained this here in a way that will be possible for the programme-makers to hear.

Good to hear from you and xxx sounds like a great show. However, I find your suggested discussion topic deeply problematic.

I’m tempted to say that I would consider taking part in such a discussion the week after you do the show on whether there really is such as thing as being a gay man and a week before you do the show on whether there really is such as thing as being lesbian. Does that help you to understand why framing a show on bisexuality in this way is so wrong?

I attach here The Bisexuality Report – which colleagues and I published last year and which brings together the main research on bisexuality which has been conducted to date (if you don’t have time to read the whole thing then the first few pages give a clear summary).

You will notice that bisexual people have higher rates of mental health problems than lesbian, gay or heterosexual people, and that this has been linked to ‘bisexual invisibility’. ‘Bisexual invisibility’ refers to the way in which doubt is cast on the existence of bisexuality in a way that it isn’t for lesbian, gay or heterosexual people, despite clear evidence that large numbers of people identify as bisexual, and that an even greater proportion of people are attracted to people of more than one gender.

I would kindly request that you consider changing your debate to something like ‘how can we address biphobia and bisexual invisibility in the heterosexual and gay communities’ rather than using your show to perpetuate bisexual invisibility by suggesting that the existence of bisexual people is – in any way – a reasonable topic for debate. A discussion like the one you propose – with somebody presumably arguing that there isn’t such a thing as being bisexual – is in real danger of contributing to the suffering of bisexual people.

If you do decide to change your plans please let me know.

All the best.

 

 

DIVA magazine feature on Rewriting the Rules

There’s a feature by me in the August issue of DIVA magazine about rewriting the rules of relationships.

In this article I explore the particular issues for women in romantic relationships with other women. Are lesbian, bisexual and queer women free of some of the rules that there are for straight people? And are there additional rules for women in relationships with women which can put pressure on them?