Our Survey Said: Report from BiBlio on BiCon Manchester

At Manchester BiCon 2004 a survey was distributed to all those who attended, devised by BiBlio (the Bi Research Group).  The first proper analysis of the survey is now available on BCN’s web site and would fill an entire issue of the magazine easily, so here Ange gives an overview.

The survey form was distributed with programmes and other information when people arrived and registered at Bicon.  Forms were also available at the main desk, and were filled in anonymously and returned both at the conference, and afterwards using a Freepost address negotiated by that year’s organising team.  Out of 273 attendees at BiCon 2004, we received 92 responses, a response rate of 34%, which was quite high considering the scale of this survey.

Based on the responses we got, there were a few particularly important findings.  BiCon attendees are a broad spread of ages, ranging from 17 to 61 in our respondents, with nearly two thirds of them over thirty.  We come from all over the country, and some even travel from other EU countries to reach the event.  In other ways, we are less diverse.  Over 99% of the respondents were white (although there were some problems with the way we asked this question), most were living in cities, and nearly 80% were qualified to degree level or above.

36% of people had some form of physical or mental health impairment that affected their day-to-day life, reflecting BiCon’s commitment to providing equal and open access to all.  25% of people had had a diagnosis of mental health issues from a professional.  It’s difficult to compare directly, but we know from other research that bi people suffer from higher rates of mental health problems that lesbians and gay men; who in turn have higher rates than the general population. Certainly, this underlines that providing emotional and counselling support for people at BiCon is absolutely vital.

We were also interested in how many times people had been to a BiCon before.  60% of people had been before, and of those, most people had been to between 1 and 3 bicons previously.  People seem to move through the event in roughly three year cycles, with groups meeting, going to BiCon for a few years, and then beginning to drift away.  Although this finding could be seen in a negative light, on the other hand it could mean that BiCon is providing a space for people to learn about their sexuality, meet and build their own bi communities which may continue for many years after.  This high turnover also means that over the years it has been running, Bicon has potentially helped many, many more people than the two hundred or so that we see actually in attendance each year, underlining how very important the space it provides actually is.

The first timers who answered had mostly found out about BiCon through personal connections, including local bi groups and the Internet.  Few mentioned physical publicity and no-one had heard through an LGBT group.  Only 7% did not know anybody else who would be at BiCon this year. This suggests that most people become involved in BiCon through personal connections, and perhaps that there is not enough outreach beyond white, middle class, IT literate communities.

Finally we asked some questions about people’s identities, relationships and sexual practices, including the classic ‘Klein Grid’ assessment of sexuality.

Many of you found some or all of these questions difficult or impossible to answer for several reasons, but particularly because of the way they took the adoption of identity and gender ‘labels’ to be fixed and simple categories.  We’re going to take your comments into account and look at alternative ways of researching this area, while also refining what we’ve done so far.

Despite these problems, there were some interesting findings, some of which we’re still working on and will produce another report on at a later date.  Some of the questions asked people to tell us about the categories they would use to describe themselves, which is perhaps less problematic.  For example, with gender 47% of the respondents described themselves as mostly/only female; 36% as mostly/only male; and 19% as trans or genderqueer.  We also asked people what kinds of identity labels they used to describe their sexuality. 85% of people ticked ‘bisexual’; 22% ‘homosexual’/’lesbian’/’gay’; 10% ‘straight’/’heterosexual’; and 51% ‘queer’.  This was a complex finding, and it’s worth bearing in mind that people often chose several of these categories at once (e.g. ‘bisexual’ and ‘gay’).  However, the findings probably reflect two things.  Firstly, the openness of BiCon to the non-bi friends, partners and allies of bi people is confirmed in this.  Secondly, a small but important minority of people wrote that they didn’t like using specific labels to describe their complex and fluid sexuality.  These people often ticked boxes like ‘queer’ and ‘don’t use a term’, or added new terms in.  In particular, the strong adoption of ‘queer’ by so many people suggests that the word may have changed its meaning for some, indicating something more flexible than the traditional ‘LGB’ identity labels. However, we need to look at this in more depth to understand better what is happening here.

There is still yet more analysis to be done on some of the findings and we hope to produce a second report in the future.  However, at present we’re concentrating on improving and simplifying the survey for use at Bicon 2005, as it’s important that we continue with the work we’ve started here.

For the longer version of this report see www.bicommunitynews.co.uk