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.

Interview on Gender & Sexual Diversity

I recently did an interview on gender and sexual diversity with the excellent folk at Sheffield Central Counselling.

This seems even more timely now that it’s been published because of the current debates that are going on about whether guidance against gay conversion therapy should be extended to encompass bisexual, trans, and asexual people. I find it very frightening that some people in the therapy profession are arguing against this extension, as if there are circumstances in which it might be appropriate for a therapist to try to change a bi, trans, or asexual person’s sexuality or gender. There is clear evidence both that conversion therapy is far more common in these contexts, and that it is incredibly damaging. I hope that they will see sense and extend the guidance to encompass everyone, not just gay people.

Here’s my interview and a link to where you can read more…

You are a writer, academic, psychotherapist and campaigner for rights in the area of sexual minorities and, especially, gender diversity. Many people have heard of transgender, but can you explain a bit more about gender diversity?

Sure. I guess I like the term ‘Gender and Sexual Diversity’ (GSD) because it gets at the fact that there are a whole range of genders and sexualities beyond the ‘sexual and gender minorities’ that we tend to hear about: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT).

That range includes all the people who are attracted to the same gender who don’t necessarily identify as bisexual or gay (around 50% of young people according to a recent YouGov poll). It also includes all those who are into kink or BDSM, and asexual people who don’t experience sexual attraction. And, as well as trans people (whose gender is different to the one they were assigned at birth), GSD gets at all the people who experience themselves as something other than 100% male or 100% female. That’s around a third of us according to one recent study.

GSD also reminds us that everybody has a gender and a sexuality – not just those of us who are somehow outside of the cultural ‘norm’. In the books that I write about these topics I always make a point of including heterosexuality and cisgender (people who aren’t trans) because those things can also have a big impact on people’s experiences of life. For example, some heterosexual and cisgender people struggle because they feel such a pressure to conform to social expectations of what it means to be a straight guy, or a straight woman, in our culture.

Sometimes people fail to distinguish between gender and sexuality. How can this be problematic? 

Read more…

 

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.

Sex and gender beyond the binary

This week Ladybeard magazine published a piece that a wrote for them on thinking in non-binary ways about sex, sexuality and gender.

This seems particularly relevant this week given that the papers have been full of the YouGov survey findings that nearly half of 18-24 years-olds consider themselves as something other than straight or gay.

Here’s the Ladybeard article

Why are trans and bi generally so invisible in mainstream media, and so problematic when they are represented? One major reason is that they trouble the binary ways in which we are encouraged to see the world: people are male or female, straight or gay. They are born that way, and they stay that way. So we are told.

Of course bi and trans experiences differ greatly. However, research in these areas has highlighted the common ways in which these groups suffer in light of a mainstream binary perspective. There is the consistent media erasure of each experience, and the suspicion (‘you must really be X’, ‘you can’t really be Y’), and double discrimination from either side of the binary toward such groups that can mean they have no real sense of community. Read more…

Why be normal? Podcast goes live

Earlier this year I spoke at a panel at the SICK! Festival about normal sex: why people want so much to be normal, and why the struggle to be normal often makes people suffer more, rather than less.

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I wrote an article for SICK! on this tpoic which you can read here (and which may soon be developed into a short book – you heard it here first!)

Also the festival have now published the podcast of our debate including some very interesting discussions about same-sex marriage and sexual ‘dysfunction’, amongst other topics.

Ladybeard panel discussion on sex

Back in April I chaired a panel discussion for Ladybeard magazine called ‘Sex: Mythmaking and Taboo’. It was an amazing night with some absolutely brilliant panelists and a super-engaged audience.

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You can now listen to the discussion here. Also look out for the new edition of the magazine on this topic.

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What can we learn from the history of sexology?

This morning I was very excited to be included on Radio 4’s Today Programme talking about the new Wellcome Collection exhibition: The Institute of Sexology. You can listen to the piece on their website (it aired around 12 minutes to 9).

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The radio piece also meant that I got the chance to have a sneak preview of the exhibition before it opens tomorrow. I would definitely encourage people to go. It is fascinating to view all of the sexological objects and texts that Henry Wellcome collected over the years, and to check out the contemporary artwork which they have displayed next to the various sections. However, for me, the most interesting thing was to get such a strong sense of how sexology has shaped the ways in which we understand sex today.

The exhibition gives us a clear sense that the way we currently view sex came from somewhere: that this history had a huge impact on the ways in which we now experience sex and sexuality.

Read more of this post

Sexual ethics

Since Rewriting the Rules was published I sometimes get asked to do email interviews with journalists on various topics. Some of these get published in an edited form and some never see the light of day, so I thought I’d post some of the original interviews here.

Here’s one on sexual ethics.

Are sexual ethics changing? Are forms of behaviour that were frowned on in the past considered acceptable today?

Definitely. Some people have called it the ‘sexualization‘ of culture: the fact that there are changes in what forms of sexual behaviour are seen as acceptable, with a general trend towards more forms of behaivour being acceptable – or even desirable – and a lot more visible sexuality in the media, advertising, the music industry, and the like.

So sexual ethics are changing in the sense that there is more openness to people being sexual and to a variety of sexual practices. However, there is also a shift towards a pressure, or demand, on people to be sexual in certain ways. Now there is quite an expectation that people should want to be sexually desirable, and a sense that being ‘up for it’ is fun, pleasurable and empowering. The negative side of this is that many people are excluded who don’t fit the rather narrow definitions of what is sexually desirable, and others find it hard to tune in to what they want because they are under so much pressure or have picked up on fairly narrow ideas of what is pleasurable.

Changes in sexual attitudes may be considered a value-neutral development, but if they take on forms that are hurtful it’s different matter. Is that happening today?

Read more of this post

Sex therapy: Stop trying to be ‘normal’

Yesterday The Observer published its special issue on sex. Based on their survey of British sexual attitudes and practices, the issue contains several interesting articles about current understandings and expectations around sex. They interviewed me and a couple of other sex therapists about what we thought was going on in this area, from our work with clients. You can real those interviews here, and I’ve included the full version of mine below. I addressed a few points in greater depth than they could cover in the article.

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Overall I was pleased with the interview they published, especially with the fact that they used my quote ‘stop trying to be “normal”‘ as the headline. However, in retrospect I think I might have added a caveat: ‘stop trying to be “normal”. But that is really really difficult to do in a culture that puts so much pressure on people to conform to a certain idea of “normality”, so go gently on yourself.’

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Bisexuality interview on Biscuit Magazine

I did an interview with Biscuit magazine this week about bisexuality:

“There is a vicious cycle of bi invisibility”: An interview with Meg Barker

Meg Barker is a writer, psychology lecturer and sex and relationships counsellor specialising in bisexuality. Biscuit asked her for a few crumbs of thought on bi portrayal in the media, the tricky task of labelling, and the state of bi activism worldwide…

What first drew you to focus on academic research into bisexuality?

A combination of things really. From a research point of view I was always interested in people whose identities were outside the mainstream in some way and what that experience was like. I was engaged with bisexual communities myself so that seemed an obvious place to study.

As I got more involved with bisexual activism I realised how invisible bisexuality was, and how research was needed to increase awareness of the issues faced by bisexual people. That was the thinking behind setting up BiUK (an organisation for bringing together bisexual research and activism), the BiReCon conference, and the Bisexuality Report.

Finally, as I’ve studied these areas, I’ve become particularly intrigued how wider culture often sees things in binary ways (e.g. women and men, gay and straight) so my research around sexuality, gender and relationships has focused more on how these things can challenge such binaries.

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How do you feel about current bi visibility/portrayal in media?

Read more…