Older Bi Lives: Conference Report

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This originally appeared in BCN issue 120

On 24th April 2013 in Nottingham a seminar on ‘Older Bisexual Lives’ kicked off a series of seminars on Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), one of a handful of organisations that pay for much academic research in UK. The event was free and open to anyone interested.
For the event I revisited the University of Nottingham where I used to work when I first came out as bi. I recognised many faces in the group: from the local and national bisexual community, from a “straight friendly” alternative music night called Magenta that used to run in Nottingham and people I knew when they were bi students.
It was so good to be at an event on bisexuality that we didn’t organise ourselves and to be taken seriously with a sexuality worthy of separate study. I enjoyed hearing about research grounded in real bi lives but heard and discussed by a wider circle of thinkers.
The first speaker was Sue George, twenty years after her book “Women and Bisexuality” was published, talking about her own experience of coming out and writing about bisexuality and how we can become invisible as bisexuals as we age.
Next was Dr Rebecca Jones who as a lecturer in Health and Social Care at the Open University is interested in sexuality throughout our lives rather than at any given moment. I liked hearing about the richness of sexuality and the patterns of how relationships change when you look back after a lifetime.
We had some questions and discussion. I wondered about how we find the bisexuals now who connected with icons of their time such as David Bowie or Brian Molko. With a few tens of people we had enough people to have a range of discussion while still having space to speak.
Buffet lunch was followed by a performance of specially chosen songs from singer songwriter Single Bass. I was wondering beforehand how this would go down at a more academic event and in fact I think it fitted well and evoked a number of emotional themes.
Our afternoon was filled with small group exercises, case studies and feedback on how research on older bi lives might progress and what issues around bisexuality might be important when working with older people.
I felt many of the answers were simply to be open to individuals’ personal circumstances rather than making assumptions. However, I think it was valuable to have thought through assumptions and been reminded how wide a range of lives we might meet and how complicated what we call “bi” can be.
I think examination of assumptions could have been particularly useful for people who haven’t much worked with openly bisexual people before. I think it must be rare to actually stop and think about bisexuality if you always use an LGBT umbrella and mainly deal with gay or straight people. Even for those of us who think about bisexuality a lot: do we concentrate more on ways of being bi that are close to our own experience and ignore the huge number of other ways of being bi?
I’ve been involved with Leicester LGBT Centre’s history project and found it incredibly difficult to find older (whatever that means!) bisexuals to take part. After the seminar I know that full-time researchers also find it difficult to find bisexual lives to research.
The next seminar will be on Intergenerational Issues at University of Oxford on 10th September. See http://www.crag.surrey.ac.uk/esrc-seminar-series-minding-the-knowledge-gaps/
When I look around me at the many older faces in my city or on the train I wonder more how many of them have had interesting lives with attractions to more than one gender. I wonder also who I will tell my story to when I am old and purple.
    Grant Denkinson