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.

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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.

New article on valuing different kinds of relationships equally

I recently did an interview for a great piece that appeared on The Establishment over the weekend about Relationship Anarchy. Relationship Anarchy is one of the terms that’s emerged in recent years for a relationship style that involves things like:

  • Valuing different kinds of relationships at a similar level (whether they are romantic, collegiate, platonic, family, sexual, etc.)
  • Negotiated mutually agreed-upon ways of doing things rather than conforming to a strict set of relationship rules.
  • Prioritising the freedom and independence of individuals and relationships rather than a sense of people belonging to each other, or relationships being constrained or limited due to their label or cultural assumptions (e.g. about what a friendship or romantic relationship should be like).

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If you want to think more about your own relationship styles you might want to check out this relationship user guide zine that Justin Hancock and I recently put together. Justin and I are also currently working on a joint website about sex and relationship advice: coming soon!

Here’s the start of the RA article with a link to where you can read the rest if you’re enjoying it…

Relationship Anarchy Takes The Judgment Out Of Love

by Clare Wiley

Mel Mariposa Cassidy has lots of partners in her life. There’s the boyfriend who lives nearby in her East Vancouver neighborhood, and the partner who’s a few hours away on Vancouver Island. Then there’s the man who lives in the U.S.—they don’t see each other very often, but he’s the one who feels most like a soulmate. And that’s not to mention Mel’s closest friend—a woman she describes as her “platonic-ish life partner.” Meanwhile, she lives with her best friend, an ex-lover who’s listed as her emergency contact.

But Mel isn’t polyamorous. She’s a relationship anarchist—meaning she doesn’t distinguish between the romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships in her life. Members of the community she belongs to have decided that traditional monogamy, and often polyamory, aren’t working for them. They want less structure, fewer hierarchies. And so they’ve committed to a model that’s at once simple and radical: They give all their relationships equal footing.

Mel has an ongoing conversation with each of her partners to continuously discuss and examine the partnership, establishing what everyone wants to get out of it. She also makes sure that everyone’s clear that no one person is privileged above any other.

“It allows me to be very true to where I’m at in any given moment,” Mel says. “So if I’m not feeling like I want to have a date with someone, then I can just say ‘hey you know what, I want to have more time alone right now.’ It’s about finding that common ground from moment to moment. There’s a lot less complacency in relationship anarchy.”

The term “relationship anarchy” was coined by the Swedish activist and creative Andie Nordgren. In 2012, she wrote the Relationship Anarchy manifesto, laying out guidelines for a radically different approach to relationships. These include “Love and respect instead of entitlement” and “Heterosexism is rampant out there, but don’t let fear lead you.” Other guidelines declare “Trust is better” and “Build for the lovely unexpected,” which encourages followers to be spontaneous.

“In RA, the idea is that all kinds of relationships are important,” says Dr. Meg-John Barker, a relationship anarchist as well as a senior psychology lecturer and sex and gender therapist. “You don’t privilege romantic or sexual relationships over other kinds, such as platonic relationships. RA also tends to strongly emphasize the freedom of those involved, and ongoing negotiation of the relationship, whereas some versions of polyamory are more rules or contract based.” Read more…

 

 

 

Mad studies and queer studies

My friend Helen Spandler and I recently wrote a piece for the Mad Studies Network about what Mad Studies and Queer Studies are, and what they might learn from each other. If you’re interested in mental health and/or sexuality and gender you might find it interesting. If it feels a bit too academic, my comic book on Queer with artist Julia Scheele is coming out in September!

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Mad and Queer studies: interconnections and tensions

With the recent emergence of Mad Studies we thought it timely to explore some connections with Queer studies – another critical field of enquiry. We wanted to examine their similarities and differences; any points of tension; and what each could learn from the other.

Helen has been part of the recent emergence of Mad Studies in the UK and has a long standing interest in critical approaches to gender and sexuality. Meg-John has recently written a book about queer theory as part of the ‘introducing…’ series of Icon press comic books, and has a long standing interest in critical approaches to mental health. This piece arose out of discussions between ourselves on this subject.

Summary of key points

  • Mad and Queer Studies have lot of common ground – especially in terms of challenging existing binaries (for example, gay/straight and mad/sane); subverting negative connotations of Queer/Mad; and critiquing prevailing normativities (ways of being ‘normal’).
  • However, we have to be careful to think critically about new normativities which develop when we move away from old ones, and who is included and excluded in any movement.
  • Therefore, both projects could do more to question the ‘alternative’ norms and binaries they introduce which may have unhelpful effects.
  • In addition, madness poses new and significant challenges to Queer activism/studies.
  • As a result, Mad / Queer scholars and activists would benefit from greater dialogue with each other – and with other critical fields of inquiry (like critical disability studies).
  • Finally, we recommend foregrounding practices of consent and kindness as part of our political strategy to achieve our desire for more liberated social relationships and societies.

We start by briefly outlining a history of the two disciplines.

What is the history of Queer theory and Queer studies?

Read more…

The Secrets of Enduring Love videos

Jacqui Gabb and  put together this series of videos with The Open University to answer some the main questions that we cover in our book The Secrets of Enduring Love.

Should you make grand romantic gestures?

Should you spend as much time as possible with your partner?

Should you be sure to say I love you?

Should you make sure you have plenty of sex?

New Zine! Staying with feelings

A topic I’ve written about on here quite a lot is the idea of ‘staying with’ feelings. After the Pixar movie Inside Out I wrote all about how important it is to get in touch with all our emotions. I’ve also written about the value of noticing how we feel with kindness and curiosity, and about how to stay with other people’s feelings.

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In this new zine I discuss both why we get so shut off from our feelings in a wider culture which values some emotions far more highly than others, and how we can go about shifting our patterns of avoiding and fighting some feelings, and craving and grasping for others. It covers both therapeutic and spiritual practices for staying with our emotions.

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You can download or read the zine here.

 

New zine – queer relationships

I just spent the whole weekend and two excellent events on relationships: Queer polyday in Leicester, and the Polyamory, Consensual Non-Monogamy and Relationship Anarchy day in Manchester.

For my bits of the days I put together a zine bringing together some of my thoughts on relationships from the last decade or so, and asking what I hope are a useful set of questions about our relationships – whether or not we see ourselves, or our relationships, as queer.

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The zine takes as a starting point the word queer, and the different possible meanings of that term. Then it applies these different meanings to relationships to ask the question ‘what does a queer relationship look like?’ Particular it explores the cultural acceptability of different kinds of relationships, different relationship labels, the idea of relationships being on multiple dimensions, and what it’s like to shift from the question of what relationships we have, to how we do them.

You can download the zine here. It prints out best in booklet form, but fine to read it as a pdf on an e-reader or computer also.

Happy valentine’s vid

Happy Valentine’s Day all. Here’s the first of the vids that Jacqui Gabb and I made with the Open University folks about some of the findings in our new book, The Secrets of Enduring Love. We hope you like it. More to come soon, plus a brand new zine 🙂

New book out today! The Secrets of Enduring Love

My new book – with Prof Jacqui Gabb – is out today! The Secrets of Enduring Love was published by Penguin RandomHouse and is available now in paperback and ebook formats.

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Jacqui and I are also producing some short YouTube vids with our wonderful colleagues the Open University pulling out some of the main themes from the book. I’ll be posting those up here as they become available, starting on Valentine’s Day of course.

Meanwhile here’s a Q&A with me about the book. Read more of this post

Explore More Summit

Tomorrow you can hear me being interviewed for the Explore More Summit about love, sex, and relationships. There’s a quick teaser of me talking pressures on relationships and reminiscing about old episodes of Sex and the City here!

Explore More is a free online summit which include talks by some amazing experts in their fields speaking on topics like navigating jealousy, opening your relationship, building intimacy, exploring kink, overcoming diet culture, radical self-care, cyber infidelity, trauma, how to talk dirty, somatic healing, tantra, processing feelings, loving your body exactly as it is now, and so much more.

There’s also a private Facebook group where you can have more conversations and ask questions of the people involved. You can check it out and sign-up here if you’re interested in finding out more:

http://www.exploremoresummit.com

 

Purpose and integrity

Existential psychotherapist and blogger Emma Wilkinson recently very kindly asked me to be part of her ‘people of integrity’ project. She’s interviewing people whose work she regards as having integrity and I was deeply flattered to be thought of that way!

I’ve included her first couple of questions – and my answers – below, and you can read the rest if you follow the ‘read more’ at the end to her blog. You might also be interested in the other interview she’s conducted so far with Prof. Emmy Van Deurzen, foremost existential psychotherapist in Europe.

Briefly tell me your story (who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?)

I’m Meg-John Barker (MJ for short). I grew up in Bradford in the 1970s and 80s. I studied psychology at university, did a PhD in that area, and stumbled into working as a lecturer. But my passion for exploring and writing about people’s relationships with themselves and others didn’t really develop until I was around 30. It’s been a gradual process of allowing myself – more and more – to study what really fascinates me, drawing on the ideas and approaches that make most sense to me, and writing in the ways that I feel I’m best at and find most fulfilling.

In the last few years I’ve been writing more about more self-help style books – and other materials – for general audiences rather than for academics. I see myself going increasingly in that direction, weaving together my therapeutic work with my writing, and producing the kind of creative and critical self-help that I think would be useful for people. I’m particularly excited about projects involving comics and animations, for example, or mashing up self-help with other genres such as ghost stories, or memoir.

What do you see as your true purpose in life?

I see my purpose as being somebody who brings together and synthesises a lot of information and ideas about the topics that I’m passionate about, and then finds ways of putting that across which will be accessible and engaging for folks. It’s all about connection for me: connecting with the people who I learn from through reading, conversations with colleagues, and my therapy work; and connecting with the people I’m talking to through my writing, workshops, mentoring and counselling.

Another important element for me is that my work locates individual experiences in wider culture, and encourages people to engage critically with the messages around them, rather than getting caught in a spiral of blaming themselves – as individuals – for their struggles.

How did you discover this purpose? Read more…