Bisexuality meets Woman’s Hour’
I received a call a few weeks ago from a radio producer wanting someone to come on Woman’s Hour to talk about bisexuality. Being a closet media tart, I agreed. This is just a brief note about my experience and some pointers perhaps for anyone else who might like to have a go at engaging with the media.
The producer discussed the ‘hook’ with me – the attention grabbing news – in this case the USA based research about more women fancying other women than men fancying men. She flagged up various themes that she thought would interest listeners, such as the supposed trendyness of bi, the het
titilation factor, and relationship issues. She also said that as well as an academic working in the field, she wanted to include a bi woman, at which point I promptly came out. We talked about BiCon and the bi scene and I tried to contact various bi people I knew so she could talk to them too – and she had already contacted others. In practice I think I fufilled two functions – the token ‘real bisexual’ and the academic. As it panned out I was the one who ended up doing the show.
The producer and I talked quite a bit on the phone in the runup to the programme. She sent me recent newspaper cuttings and we discussed the likely questions. This was important to my confidence on the day, although the actual questions varied somewhat. I didn’t realise quite how prejudiced Lowri was until shortly before the programme, which in one sense laid me open to criticism – there wasn’t any way that being on the same programme as Lowri could make the slot a really progressive one – and in another sense was helpful – it was too late to escape and I just had to get on with the task at hand.
For me it was actually a really fab experience. The producer was great, really interested and keen. I felt that given the levels of bigotry and ignorance expressed on the programme I tackled it well. Being on air was great fun. General feedback afterwards was very positive, including feedback from the Beeb. The interview was aired again on Woman’s Hour ‘Pick of the week’. However, feedback on the Woman’s Hour messageboard was fairly slating – it seemed this was mostly about the general tone of the debate. So I need to say at this point that I think there is a huge difference between playing to a straight, ill-informed, and potentially prejudiced audiance (as I was doing on this programme) and playing to a well-informed bi and/or queer audience (academic or otherwise). I deliberately aimed for the lowest common denominator – this meant missing out a whole swathe of interesting and important issues. In particular, trans (the programme completely overlooked gender diversity and assumed a gender binary), celibacy and ethical sluttery,the fetish and swingers scenes, issues about community and isolaton, the extent and the effects of biphobia (also within the lesbian and gay communities) and issues about praxis – for example the
impact of queer theory. I will put in an unashamed plug for my book (Gender Politics: Citizenship, Activism and Sexual Diversity, Pluto 2005) because I do deal with a lot of these issues in the book.
I’d say to anyone who gets asked to engage with the public in this way – do it, but be really well prepared. Don’t be intimidated by people who think differently and/or are really bigoted. Be analytical and calm and stand your ground. Look at the unique perpective that you can offer. Be positive about engaging with people who are different to yourself – pushing the agenda along as much as possible in any given situation is what’s important. We have BiCon etc for the more radical stuff. If the programme makes a single trapped bi housewife or isolated bi teenager come out and feel happier about themselves then that’s a good step. If it raises the profile of bi issues and tackles prejudice even on a fairly basic level then that is useful too.