Being Bisexual: Experiences of Bisexual Women

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

Being bisexual can be problematic in many ways, namely the stereotypes and stigmas attached to bisexuality. Bisexuality as a sexual identity has, in recent years, been given more thought in academia and perhaps more generally throughout society but how often do we actually hear real life experiences of bisexuals and their thoughts on the issues they deal with daily? We are all far too aware off the issues that surround bisexuality, from being stigmatised within a community that we are supposedly a part of, to the difficulties of finding love in a society that does not acknowledge your existence, as well as a lack of social space and definition in relation to current relationship. These are all issues raised when talking to women about their thoughts on being bisexual, as was the case on interviewing 5 self-identifying bisexual women on their personal experiences surrounding their sexuality.

Many women related to the notion that their sexual identity was established years before they themselves acknowledged it. It seems that many women find, that on reflection, their feelings towards both men and women are apparent from quite a young age, anywhere between five or six to teenage years but these feelings obviously have no outlet at this stage in one’s life and therefore it is mainly during adolescence, and the period of self discovery that comes with this, that women begin to identify themselves as bisexual. The following quotes mirror the experiences of many bisexual women;

Jane:  “Well, I kind…I realized when I was maybe about maybe…twelve or thirteen that I felt things for woman that my friends that were girls didn’t feel. So I think at that point I realized that I was maybe a wee bit different. But I was always, out of my group of friends, the one that was more sexually liberated in the sense that I may be understood a bit more about bisexuality even at that stage before I understood it all myself than what they did.”

Scarlet: “I had, y’know I’d picked that up even from an early child, um, like I think my kinda youngest erotic sort of memory is from maybe six or seven which was towards a woman and then later I had a similar sort of thing towards a guy. So from like a very young age, I had feelings and when I became a teenager I learned what the name for that was.”

No-one chooses their sexual orientation; sexuality is something that we all discover at different times in our lives via different experiences. However, it seems that at least for these bisexual women feelings towards both men and women were apparent from an early age. Although you can be too young to understand what that feeling was, upon reflection these women drew upon their personal experiences to realise that certain feelings towards particular people of both genders were early manifestations of their sexual identity, an identity now that these women embrace wholeheartedly. This was a reoccurring theme throughout the interview process with 4 in 5 women sharing this experience;

Ramona: “I had known that I’ve had feelings for women, um… probably since I was like, an infant but obviously there’s no outlet for it. So, about…, I kind of just accepted it within myself but didn’t, didn’t, y’know no one knows what it means really at that age but, um…yeah when it got to 15 I came out to my mum.”

Amy: “I think have suspected it for most of my life but um… I think I sort of actually came out to myself, late bloomer, possibly around the age of 21 or so.”

Although these women had acknowledged themselves as being bisexual, all faced problems when sharing this identity with others. The stigmas attached to bisexuality are unfortunately exceptionally well known to us all; greedy, indecisive, promiscuous, unable to commit, in denial, to name but a few. It is these stigmas and misconceptions that are more often than not  seen when coming out as bisexual to friends and family as was the case with many of the women interviewed;

Jane: “And my mum actually, we were having an argument about something and it came up and she said y’know it just basically means that you are going to cheat because you are attracted to both genders that must mean that if you have a boyfriend, you’ll sleep with a girl and if you have a girlfriend you’ll sleep with a boy. It’s just there’s just a y’know not a…a lack of understanding and I can understand it is difficult for people to get there head around…”

Amy: “I don’t actually speak to my parents all that much now. Um, obviously being in a different country from them has an impact on that but um, yeah… we have major difficulties even y’know, even though it’s been 10 years um, y’know it still, um, their sort of points of contention are really bigoted, they’ve said some really horrible things to me um, over the years. Y’know, they’ve said all the sorts of things they could say about my sexuality and y’know queer sexuality in general from it’s a phase to y’know it’s a sin and y’know , you’re going to hell and all of that lovely stuff.”

Both of these women can be seen to have come across stigmas that face bisexuals when coming out especially to parents, however, of the women interviewed most conceded that despite the initial reaction, coming out to friends and family was relatively straight forward when compared with coming out in the workplace. This proved a major issue with all participants involved in the interview process, with all either having refused to share their sexuality among work colleagues or experiencing significant negativity when their sexual identity was known.

Scarlet: “I have never come out at work ever, and I have no intention of doing so”

Louise: “Work was probably where I thought it was going to impact on how I was perceived the most; I was working as a support worker at the time, dealing with people who had substance abuse issues, were probably quite vulnerable. Em, there was a number of gay people “out” at work, a lot of people who identified as gay at work, I didn’t have massively strong relationships with them at the time and there was quite a lot of intense relationships at work. Non sexual but intense because of the nature of the work and it was a small team, there was a fair amount of gossip, things like that. I think I was very, very keen to keep my sort of um, professional life quite, separate. I didn’t want questions asked of me personally at work”

Bi-invisibility is a rejection of bisexuality as a valid sexual identity, often by categorising bisexuals as naive homosexuals who cannot yet completely accept their “true” sexuality. This rejection is often put down to bisexuality being seen as disrupting the social norms and values that have been instilled in a heteronormative society. The notion of bi-invisibility can clearly be seen in these women’s experiences in the work place with each of them feeling very uncomfortable with the idea of coming out at work due to the negative attitudes that would face them. Jane, a LGBT youth worker, shared this experience despite her work place being within the LGBT sphere;

“I’m a youth worker with LGBT Youth and there was y’know we were talking about our coming out stories and there was another young woman and I said something about like the first person that I fell in love with was a woman and, and they couldn’t…like one of the girls was like “so you’re gay?” and I said “no, I’m not gay, I’m bisexual”, “but you fell in love with a woman?”, “yeah”, “but that must mean that you’re gay”. And so there were…just, y’know it’s just a lack of understanding it’s just a y’know you must fit into one of those categories.”

Jane’s experience confirms that bi-invisibility is apparent from within the LGBT community despite bisexuality being signified in the acronym. Jane links her experiences in the work place to a lack of understanding, which is clearly visible in the experiences of the other women interviewed; this lack of understanding could be accounted for in the construction of a heteronormative society as well as the strained relationship between gay/lesbian history and bisexual history.

From the above accounts it is clear that bisexuality remains heavily stigmatised if not ignored completely. Bisexuals remain misunderstood despite the recent marginal increase in academic literature concerning bisexuality as a valid sexual identity as well as the recent change in societal attitudes towards homosexuality creating a marginal change in societal attitudes towards bisexuality. However, from talking to these individuals about their life experiences in relation to claiming bisexuality as their sexual identity, it is abundantly clear that it is these women and their fortitude who should be role models for us all.

E. L. Smith

June 10, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Posted in: BCN 123: February 2014

 Cancer in the bisexual communities

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

Nickie reports on working with the Macmillan Cancer Care and Lesbian and Gay Foundation Joint Task Force

I joined this task force last year as the sole bi representative in a group of around 12 LGB people, all of whom had experience either of having cancer themselves or of having it in their families.  The aim of the group is to explore whether and how being LGB or T affects our experience of cancer and how we are treated, with a view to improving patient experience.

I myself am a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed and treated almost five years ago with no recurrences, thank goodness.  I can take my own experiences to the group, but they are just my own experiences, and I really do appreciate it every time someone shares something with me that I can pass on (anonymously!) to the task force.  One of the tasks we are engaging in with Macmillan at the moment is compiling an “Emerging Picture” document to be used with hospital staff and patients, documenting the issues that arise for LGBT people affected by cancer. The more feedback we have the richer that emerging picture can become.

We have met twice now and meet again in February.  At our last meeting we discussed creation of an LGBT group in the Macmillan Online Communities.  We have already discovered some issues unique to LGB people – issues which might not be understood in general groups, so if this initiative interests you, please keep a lookout for the new group when it emerges.
We also discussed our roles and remits – and bringing involvement from others in our communities is, for me, an important part of this.

There was some talk of possibly recruiting further members – so if you would like to get involved in that way it may not be too late.

For further information about the Task Force, please contact Selina Mehra: SMehra@macmillan.org.uk

If you have personal stories/issues you would like to share without passing them via me, please send them to Robin Maginn: RMaginn@macmillan.org.uk

Alternatively, please do get in touch with me, nickie@meeble.net, and/or join the Yahoo Group I set up to help us at health.groups.yahoo.com/group/BiCanUK/

Thank you to all who have already been involved in this work. I know from personal experience that I don’t like having to think about it when I don’t have to, so I am really grateful when anyone does feel able to pass things on that will help others in the future.

Nickie

June 10, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Posted in: BCN 123: February 2014, Nickie

 Yes to same-sex marriage: whither civil partnership?

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

The Scottish Parliament has passed the Same-Sex Marriage (Scotland) Bill by a huge 108 to 15 vote margin at the start of February.  The vote to pass the bill at third and final reading was not unexpected as the previous stages had also passed by significant margins.

The Scottish bill is different in a few respects including lacking the ‘spousal veto’ on application for Gender Recognition Certificates for trans people.  It provides for belief organisations such as the Humanist Society to conduct marriages and civil partnerships. In England & Wales, there are no humanist marriages, but there will be a review of the possibility of allowing this, scheduled to report at the end of 2014.

Westminster voted through its same-sex marriage bill last summer which comes into effect at the end of March, with the first weddings on Saturday 29th, so it is expected a similar length of delay in implementation would mean the first same-sex weddings in Scotland this autumn.

The debate in England & Wales now turns to the question of civil partnerships: to abolish, keep, or extend them to mixed-sex couples?  The consultation phase on this runs until 17 April 2014, and you can read more and respond to it here: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-future-of-civil-partnership-in-england-and-wales

June 10, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Tags:  · Posted in: BCN 123: February 2014

 Last BiCon… 2013’s accounts

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

BiCon 2013 has published its accounts, which are summarised below.  With 311 people taking part there was a turnover on the annual bisexual conference of over £33,000.

It should be noted these figures do not include donations to the Equality Fund. Administration of the Equality Fund was handled separately by BiCon Continuity Ltd. “Donations” in the table refers to a couple of small independent donations to the event.

A range of stalls from organisations like Stonewall Scotland, the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance brought in over £1000 as well as building BiCon’s engagement beyond the bisexual community.

Sam from the BiCon 2013 team told us, “I hope that the budget inspires future organisers to look at different ways that events can be used to raise money or cut costs.

“If we had not charged for stalls; provided sponsorship opportunities and got in kind sponsorship we would have ended up making a loss. But all these things added up to a small profit.”

Meanwhile we have news from the annual BiCon attendees survey.  With 79 responses in for the 2013 survey, the data entry is complete and the number crunching has begun.

There are already some pretty graphs reflecting how the demographics of BiCon have changed since the first such survey in 2004 – or in some aspects stayed very much the same!  The word is that the report will probably be out in time for the next issue of BCN.  In the meanwhile you can still read the 2004 report on our website; intervening years have mostly not yet been processed and published.

BiCon 2013 also had a survey on experiences of biphobia.  Watch this space for more news from that (in other words, probably next BCN, otherwise the one after!)

In and Out: BiCon 2013’s Summary of Finances      

Income

Contribution from Bi Con Continuity Ltd
5,000.00
Accommodation and registration payments and donations          32,569.55
Stalls payments x 7                1,150.00
Scottish Transgender Alliance Sponsorship of Film Room               450.00
39,169.55

Expenditure

Refunds                        467.00

Venue and accommodation costs        30,833.73

Equipment (including dance floor, PA and lighting)                       1,615.20

Postage, Printing and Stationery (including craft materials)                     428.50

Committee and meeting costs (including travel)                    229.68
33,574.11

Amount to hand forward            5,595.44
Surplus after contribution from BiCon Continuity Ltd is returned                               595.44

June 10, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Posted in: BCN 123: February 2014

 The strange case of the missing bi award

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

Last year ShoutOut, local LGBT radio programme for Bristol and areas nearby, ran its first ShoutOut Listeners’ Awards. Unlike most LGBT awards there was a bi category, which local group BiVisible won, with their spinoff club night Greedy the runner-up.  In December 2013 they opened up nominations for this year’s awards, but when it came to announce the shortlists in January there was a bit of a shock for bi listeners as they announced the bi category would no longer be going ahead.  Only BiVisible had been nominated by listeners!

BCN got in touch with presenter Andy Thomas to find out what had happened:

“(Last year we) started with an initial set of categories based on what the team and others said they’d like to be able to nominate and vote on. Last year worked very well and was extremely well received. Our listeners seemed to love voting for people/groups/organisations they felt deserved the awards, and likewise those receiving them were extremely flattered to be recognised.

“After the awards had closed, we did review how it went and what the feedback said from people who contact us. It did lead to some changes for the awards this year – we tried to broaden the categories a bit more, realising that our community perhaps isn’t quite as big as we thought. By doing so it meant more nominees fell into the categories, making the award more meaningful.

“We will admit that we didn’t do this with the “Best Events” categories (best mens/womens/bi/trans). Last year we didn’t have any issues with filling these categories so we didn’t think we would this year. Running them has always seemed very natural as an LGBT show and we thought our listeners would nominate enough in each category for it not to be an issue.

“We did however set rules stating that it should be (ideally) the top 5 that go though. In a few categories we took the decision that 4 was ok, but sadly with only BiVisible Bristol nominated in the best bi event category it meant that we couldn’t run a vote as there was no one else to put forward too. I’m not sure we can answer the question as to why other events weren’t voted for but it is something we will be looking into. However, it was also very pleasing to see BiVisible Bristol receive all the nominations. The situation with the women’s events was similar, only two events were nominated and both were run by the same people.

“What we will do though is, when the awards have been closed and awarded for 2014, we will look at what worked and what didn’t and the feedback we’ve had about them so that we can make next year’s even better. We want our listeners and the nominees to enjoy the awards experience and, as is the remit for our entire show, we want them to be inclusive of all the LGBT community. If when we look at this year we find that it would be beneficial to add or remove some categories, or even rename the existing ones, we will do so. We are though, very interested in hearing views from the Bi community about how best to be inclusive.”

So there we have it: BiVisible is just too successful for its own good.  Let BCN have your thoughts by emailing editor@bicommunitynews.co.uk and we’ll pass them on to Andy!

June 10, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Posted in: BCN 123: February 2014, Jen Yockney

 Manchester bis lead parade

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

The UK’s longest-running bisexual community group led a 1,200-strong protest march in Manchester in solidarity with LGBT people in Russia as the Winter Olympics opened in Sochi.  There were a number of similar events elsewhere but we believe the Manchester event was the largest such in the UK.

BiPhoria shared honours in leading the parade, taking half the parade route as lead group under their “B Is Not For Invisi-bi-lity” banner.

A ‘human chain’ was then formed creating a circle of locked hands all around the city’s queer quarter, centred on Canal Street.

The Winter Olympics in Sochi were the focus of controversy due to the Russian government’s growing biphobia, homophobia and transphobia, both legislatively and in ignoring attacks on LGBT people and venues.

June 10, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Posted in: BCN 123: February 2014

 Activists Assemble!

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

In January volunteers from a variety of bi projects, individual activists and those simply interested in what we’re doing to challenge bi invisibility and biphobia got together in London.

The topics under discussion during the day included
–    BiCon Continuity Ltd – the company that holds BiCon’s assets from one year to another.
–    Annual bisexual conference BiCon & the every-two-years research conference BiReCon
–    Families
–    Sport
–    Intersectionality – in particular bi & class
–    Local & specific groups, including local bi social and/or support groups and bi groups targeted at particular groups such as the new London over-50s bi group.
–    Pride and bi presences
–    The BDSM Bisexuals weekend in Birmingham
–    Bisexuality and Mental Health

There was a London focus with several of London’s bi groups represented and an awareness that last year there was no organised bi presence at London Pride.

The full minutes of the gathering are on the UK-bi-activism yahoo group, which is an email list.  You can find that here:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/uk-bi-activism/

These gatherings are held from time to time and it had been a year since the last one so this one came together rather quickly.  This time it was too quickly for BCN to be able to give readers notice in our last edition, alas!

June 10, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Posted in: BCN 123: February 2014, Jen Yockney

 Eloping from Gretna?

For a while it looked like Scotland would introduce same-sex marriage before England and Wales.  We’d see queer couples flocking across the border to Gretna Green to marry.  As things worked out Westminster voted back in the summer, while the first vote in the Holyrood Parliament didn’t come until November 20th.

This isn’t where it all started though.  In June, the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee invited written evidence, and received around 1300 submissions from individuals and groups. BCN was amongst those putting our opinions forward, based in part on the readers poll we ran a while ago, and we were the only bi-specific organisation to put in evidence.

In September and October, the Committee invited a selection of LGBT organisations, religious groups, lawyers and others to give evidence in person.

Only after that process did we get to the first reading bill in November.

Around a quarter of all MSPs spoke during a well-mannered debate lasting about three hours. At BCN we live-tweeted through the debate giving some flavour of the discussions for those not able to watch the whole thing, though the Scottish Parliament’s streaming video servers kept falling over in response to perhaps the greatest level of demand they’d yet faced.

There was support from all five parties in the Parliament.  Third to speak was Ruth Davidson, Conservative leader, who gave a powerful account of why marriage mattered to her as a lesbian.  Green leader Patrick Harvie also made it personal:
“my personal circumstances place me in what I regard as impeccably neutral territory on the issue: I am single, I am bisexual, I have no idea whether I will have a long-term relationship with a man or a woman in future and I have no idea whether I would want to get married.”

We got a sly bi cultural reference when Labour MSP Elaine Murray quoted Tom Robinson’s “Glad To Be Gay”:
“I remind people who say that civil partnerships should be enough of the 1976 hit by the Tom Robinson Band “(Sing if You’re) Glad to be Gay”, which, despite its cheerful title, spoke of police harassment, beatings, and insults, and ended with—I will not say the word—the b’s
“are legal now; what more are they after?”
Well, like most people, they want equality.”

The debate concluded at a civilised 8pm or so, and after a short gap it went to a vote: 98 votes in favour to 15 against, with five active abstentions and a handful of MSPs unable to attend.

At the time of writing the Bill is about to go into its committee stage, which it will probably complete in January, followed by a final vote in February.  Royal Assent might then be given in March 2014.

The Scottish Government then has to draft regulations to enable the provisions of the Act to be fully implemented. For instance, setting out the procedure for changing a civil partnership to a marriage. There may be a public consultation on the regulations, and then they must be approved by the Parliament. Typically the process of drafting, consulting, and approving regulations takes about 12 months: perhaps some of Westminster’s parallel work might be copyable?

Quite when the law then comes into effect remains to be seen – Westminster has passed same-sex marriage into law and announced the first weddings will be allowed at the end of March.  It might just be possible for Scotland to bring their marriage law into effect on the same date, but it’ll be a tight squeeze.

Still to fix? Mixed-sex civil partnership, left out of the marriage reforms north and south of the border. The Scottish Equal Marriage campaign has always been for the opening of both marriage and civil partnership to couples regardless of gender, as were BCN readers when we asked you. Both Westminster and the Scottish Government are to review this in the near future so further legislation may follow.

Still to fix? Pension equality – this issue is reserved to Westminster, so cannot be dealt with by the Scottish bill. The UK Government have promised to review the remaining discrimination against same-sex couples in private sector pension benefits. The review is due to finish by July 2014, so there might be legislation to end the discrimination in the second half of 2014.

Where does this leave Northern Ireland?  The Stormont Assembly has used its powers to block same-sex marriage there, but will recognise GB same-sex marriages as if they were civil partnerships.  Northern Ireland took 15 years to catch up with England and Wales after sex between men was decriminalised in 1967; at the moment the political balance in Stormont looks determined to repeat its record.

June 4, 2014 · news · Comments Closed
Tags:  · Posted in: BCN 122: December 2013