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.

Read more of this post

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.

 

Gender and superheroes

My Open University mate Helen Owton and I just got together to write a piece about gender and superheroes in the run up to the new Batman v. Superman movie (with huge thanks to Joseph de Lappe for his expert input)…

Why is Wonder Woman only playing a secondary role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?  This article looks at the role of gender in superhero films. 

The new Batman v Superman film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is coming out on 25th March 2016 so we thought this would be a good chance to reflect on superhero movies: particularly the place of gender in them.

 

We’re particularly interested in the role of binaries and hierarchies in these kinds of films. Batman v Superman pitches two well-known superheroes against each other in a binary way, and – of course – the superhero genre as a whole is based on the linked binaries of hero v villain, good v bad, and right v wrong, with the former winning out in the end. More recent versions of superhero movies trouble these simple distinctions somewhat. For example, The Dark Knight version of Batman is less clear cut, and the two groups of X-men can be seen as more about assimilationism v radical approaches to activism. However, audiences may well not pick up on such nuances.

An additional binary and hierarchical consideration in Superhero movies is needed. Characters are male or female, with predominantly male characters, and masculinity is privileged over femininity in various ways.

Currently, we are living through a golden age of comics, with a vibrant independent comic and graphic novel scene which includes strong representations of womenExternal link  and LGBT+External link  characters, much of which has been taken up by mainstream superhero comicsExternal link  too. Nonetheless, there is a serious disparity between this shift in comics, and the continued limited representation in the movies which are based on these comics.

Read more…

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.

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🙂