What’s Psychology Got To Do With It?

When our bi group got a letter from the British Psychological Society inviting us to come along to their annual conference I did wonder ‘what has psychology got to do with bisexuality and why should they be bothering to invite people like me to their big conference?’

But then I figured it was free, had a “lesbian and gay” thread, was on a Saturday when I was at a loose end, and if it got boring I could just sneak off into town while everyone had lunch and hit the shops. So, the old BT advert (“you’ve got an ‘ology’!”) ringing in my ears I set off.

After the first hour I’d woken up enough to realise most of the answer: there are two kinds of psychologist, the first are researchers who come up with theories about human sexuality, the second are the practitioners – therapists and so on. One lot try to explain why we are bi, accept it and study how we live, or deny that such a thing could possibly happen, while the other lot (hopefully) tell us that it’s ok to be bi, so we really ought to be paying a lot of attention to what they are up to.

All kinds of research was then presented to us. There was frustrating stuff about the effects of same-sex parenting on children which missed out a whole raft of poly and bi experience and I had to keep a hand on my mouth to stop myself from rudely interrupting all the way through. There were intriguing findings about the academic performance of young LGB people and the impact of social homophobia as well as homophobic bullying, by the end of which I was amazed I ever passed any GCSEs at all. And all too often, there were crude or misleading assumptions about how to identify LGBT people from the rest of the population, which some of the speakers recognised.

Which is where people like me came in to the equation. They’d invited people from a variety of LGBT community groups along to try and build up some kind of dialogue with us.

Which makes a lot of sense; they’re researching and working with the same section of society as we are, so we ought to be able to learn things from one another. Our experience, as the people who run coming-out groups and suchlike, of the raw end of how queer life is lived around the country can help them to improve their work. And on the theorising and researching side of things, by directing academic work into areas where we would benefit from having independent evidence the work of BPS members may help give credibility and lead to better funding to queer activism.

Each side of the activist – psychologist divide might just both be able to help the other get a lot more out of the things we do.