Getting It Right – for Bi Researchers

This originally appeared in BCN issue 111.

In the last two issues we updated you on what BiUK is up toand took you on a tour of our shiny new website. As we mentioned, one of the main aims of the website was to make available the list of research guidelines which we have created for people who are researching, or writing about, bisexuality. This issue we will give you a chance to see the guidelines yourself after saying a bit more about the thinking behind them. We’ll also say something about the way we hope the guidelines will be used in future.

This idea of developing these guidelines came from Jen Yockney (as so many of BiUK’s best ideas do!) (Are you trying to get a more prominent place in the mag for this piece? – Jen aka the Editor) Like many members of BiUK, Jen is a member of the excellent international bisexuality research list, academic bi (groups.yahoo.com/group/academic_bi). About a year ago she suggested that it would be useful to come up with a list of FAQs and answers for people who were just embarking on research about bisexual people or communities. She suggested this because so many of us are frustrated by regular requests for participants from people who don’t know much about bisexuality and make all kinds of problematic assumptions. We were also appalled by some of the more high profile research which has been conducted about bisexuality (such as the research questioning the existence of bisexual men which has recently been overturned) and the methodological and ethical problems in these studies. It seemed like it would be useful to have one place for us to point people at (when requested to help find participants or to comment on published research) instead of all of us continually rewriting the same kinds of advice.

Everyone on the academic bi list agreed with Jen’s proposal but, as usual with these things, nobody actually did anything. After a year Jen decided to get the ball rolling and came up with a few ideas for FAQs and answers, based on her experience of people contacting BCN with requests for research participants. You can find her original ideas on her blog (http://jenyockney.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-to-research-bisexuality-well.html).

At this point BiUK realised what a fantastic idea this was. We were also aware that Jacob Hale had already produces a list of suggested rules for writing about trans (available at http://sandystone.com/hale.rules.html) which seemed like a useful template for our own guidelines because they came in a handy list form and, of course, there are some similar issues around trans and bisexuality research. We had noticed many people referencing Hale’s guidelines in research publications so we hoped that our own guidelines might, eventually, reach the same level of a list of well-known guidelines which people couldn’t really avoid when writing up their research about bisexuality.

We wrote the guidelines for the website at the same time as writing a longer piece about the academic thinking behind them for the Journal of Bisexuality. We’ve received a very positive response from the journal to that article so we hope to be able to link that from our website very soon. However, we didn’t want to wait until the journal was published to make the guidelines available because we’d like for them to start being used as soon as possible. Therefore we negotiated with the JoB to get a copyright arrangement whereby we could publish a part of the paper (the guidelines) elsewhere beforehand.

We also got excellent copyright advice from a friend of BiUK so that we could word the copyright in a way which would enable other people to take our guidelines and adapt them for their purposes. We were aware that our guidelines mostly apply to social science research and writing (the most common work done on bisexuality in the UK) but that they might need to be adapted for other disciplines. Also, written by BiUK, the guidelines are quite specific to the UK context (where a lot of research takes the form of interview, focus group and questionnaire studies, and where the active bisexual community takes a certain form which may differ from other countries and cultures). So we have encouraged other people worldwide to both cite the guidelines and to adapt them into forms that are more useful to them. In the BiCon 2011 research workshop it was suggested that we could create specific versions of these guidelines for people involved in lab-based research, and for people who are in the humanities. We will be exploring those possibilities and hope to link to such versions in future.

Unlike Hale’s trans guidelines we did not explicitly say that our guidelines were for ‘non-bisexual’ people writing about bisexuality. We were aware of all the mistakes that we, ourselves, have made over the years (which have very much informed the guidelines). We didn’t want to suggest that it

was only people outside of the bisexual communities who could conduct research which was problematic in some way. We also tried to write the guidelines in a language which would be relevant to all common kinds of research and writing about bisexuality.