BiMedia: October 2008

LGB people in the early stages of self-acceptance can be affected by internalised homo/bi phobia. I suffer from internalised journo-phobia whenever I see another journalist’s feature proposal on a subject that is dear to my heart.

Now that the tabloid-toast of the moment Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson have confirmed, to the immense surprise of nobody, that they are dating, the mainstream girly mag circuit is poised to rain down features on bisexuality. We are often made to assume that the category of gay or bi applies to people who have been out since puberty and have the word tattooed across their forehead (metaphorically or literally). What’s more, most LGB people in the public eye are predominantly famous to LGB people as LGB icons. The fact that an established celebrity might just happen to be gay or sexually-fluid hence prompts predictable soul searching among the media. You can picture them, in their morning features meetings at Girly Lifestyle Mag Towers with their Big Red notebooks and Perrier bottles akimbo:

“Hey – how about we do a cover with Lindsay Lohan and
Sam Ronson?”
“No, we can’t afford them this month. Not with the
Sugababes as well. Not unless we run an advert for dildos
along with the GhD spread.”
“Wait! Lindsay Lohan’s pretty, young, and fancies blokes
but likes women too, right? What if there were plenty of
other women like her?”
(Collective gasp).
“Yes! That’s it! Claire, get What’s-her-Name the work
experience girl to order me a latte and bring me the
phone numbers of 10 bisexuals. Women only, and no ugly
ones.”

Yes, it seems that women’s lifestyle magazines are moving beyond the token “Drunken-party snog with my best mate” story, to actually taking bisexuality seriously – and I’m not entirely dismissive of their efforts. Reaching out to the mainstream media is all part of the process of making sure that sexual fluidity is a given and that those involved are not ghettoised. Indeed, from the point of view of the average suburban teenager, it’s probably more helpful to know Lindsay Lohan, a major celebrity whom all their classmates can identify, is lesbian or bisexual than some singer featured in Diva whose records are bought by people ten years older. But, as the existence of this column in itself suggests, there are ways and ways of instigating coverage, and that begins with the approach you make to LGB organisations when researching an article.

On the off chance that a journalist actually reads this before reaching for the compose email button, here are some tips that will increase your chances of gaining participants for your piece on“the bisexual phenomenon.”

1.    Don’t refer to “the bisexual phenomenon”. Or “trend”, or “craze”, or “fad”. Do you talk about “trends” for race, or disability? Thought not.
2.    Base your feature’s angle upon your findings, rather than tailoring your findings to fit your editorial/advertorial agenda. Yes, it’s known as responsible journalism: a concept alien to many lifestyle mags, whose rule of thumb when commissioning features is to decide that everyone is having a certain kind of sex and all subsequent features for the next X months must reflect this.
3.    Linked to the above, realise that people’s sexualities do not exist to serve your needs. A person who doesn’t provide you with the information or criteria you’re looking for might know somebody who can, or someone who is a great help to you in a subsequent feature. But you’ll only find this out if you’re patient and polite to them, as opposed to slamming the phone down three sentences into a conversation, snapping: “No, that’s no good.”
4.    Provide a guideline as to what you are trying to say in your feature. Note, however, that a guideline does not mean “ten women who’ve left their boyfriend for another woman, of ABC1 origin in postcodes W5, W8 and W10.” Long lists of exhaustive criteria in ad agency speak get people’s backs up. Always make your initial enquiry brief and casual. You can build on it later, when you’ve actually established that those you’ve approached are willing to talk to you.
5.    Use the bloody BCC line in your email. It’s a given that you’ll have approached 20 other organisations, but there’s no need to make it quite that obvious.

Elsewhere, I’m already looking forward to my next column, by when I’ll have bagged a few copies of the new Crave magazine (www.cravemagazine.co.uk), billed as a women’s lifestyle magazine which has a gay slant but does not determinedly label women’s sexuality, The tagline “the new gay women’s lifestyle magazine” seems pretty determined to me, but the next issue does promise major articles on bisexuality. If the idea of relevant media coverage before the right corner of page 90-something isn’t enticing enough, there’s an interview with Emily Blunt, and invites for contributions. Perhaps my request list of bi magazine cover girls will see an audience beyond my blog after all…

Maxine Frances