Academics look at bi youth

This originally appeared in BCN issue 105.

What’s going on in the world of bi research and theory?  We look at the latest issue of the academic Journal of Bisexuality.

Journal of Bisexuality: Special Issue on Bisexuality and Youth
By Tracey Plowman from BiUK

A special issue focusing on bisexual youth seems the perfect place to begin summarising bisexuality research. The editorial[1] and introduction[2] to this issue highlight ‘youth’, or young/emerging adulthood as a time of experimentation and an attempt to establish a sexual identity. The importance of looking at self-identified bisexual or queer young people is pointed out with the argument that these sexual identities are not simply an addition to the sexual minority spectrum, but their existence challenges the status quo of gender and sexuality binaries. Tania Israel’s introduction[2] to the special issue lays the foundation for the perspectives presented here; they make a case for a blend of risk assessment based and a more positive approach to research on sexuality. Bisexuality in particular has been frequently examined only as one of a list of risk factors for young people, especially in relation to mental health, and that viewpoint was mitigated by an alternative approach demonstrated throughout this issue.

Michaela Meyer’s research[3] suggests that bisexual characters in television drama aimed at an 18-34 year old age group in the US are often used as a token representatives of several minority groups. These characters are usually non-white women, and where bisexual men are represented, their characters are generally used to strengthen or challenge an existing relationship and then are written out. Meyer argues that in the 90s these kinds of programmes showed lesbian and gay characters in similar ways and that bisexuality in the media is the “new terrain for normalization”. By creating this specific type of bisexual character, programme creators write bisexuality into the mainstream; perpetuating marginalisation and normalising bisexuality at the same time.

Research presented here looked at how bisexual, queer and questioning youth can be supported in their strengths and how they currently use and create support networks for themselves. Sue Crowley’s research[4] looked at the treatment of bisexuality in communities for women who are attracted to women on MySpace. Her findings suggest that bisexual women, as well as non-labelling, queer, and questioning members of the communities, were able to negotiate the community despite evident binegativity from some members and form a space to discuss various ways of identifying their sexualities.

Melanie Brewster and Bonnie Moradi[5] studied differences between bisexuals from three different age groups: emerging (ages 18-25), early (26-40), and middle (41-65) adulthood. Brewster and Moradi concluded that there were differences in how these people identified personally, in terms of relationships, and also how involved in sexual communities they were. From emerging to middle adult groups, there was an increase in those who stated they were in a relationship and those who were polyamorous, and there was also an increase in community involvement across the groups.

Kirstyn Yuk Sim Chun and Anneliese Singh [6] have developed an intersecting identities model aimed primarily at bisexual, queer and questioning youth of colour. They argue for a model to be used in helping individuals in therapy which takes into consideration the person’s own resilience, their immediate support networks and the broader socio-political context. They emphasise the importance of looking at how various minority identities can intersect, with both positive and negative impacts on the individual at the centre.

The two other central articles in this special issue concentrate on the school environment, as a place central to the lives of many bisexual, queer and questioning youth and as an educational institution with the potential to change attitudes beyond the school walls.  John Elia’s paper[7] calls for US schools to include bisexual, queer and questioning sexualities in their curricula and for Gay-Straight Alliances to change their names and use their influence to provide safe spaces for sexual minority students that do not fit the binary implied by ‘Gay-Straight’. Kelly Graydon Kennedy and Emily Fisher’s paper[8] puts forward a similar argument, with a more integrative focus. They argue that a broader sexual education should be integrated into every part of school life, curricular and extra-curricular, and also draw attention to ways in which intersecting identities can cause a ‘safe space’ to fail to support some students. For example, an LGBTQQI group which actively includes various genders and sexualities and lives up to its name, but which is dominated by white members and does nothing to combat this.

In this issue I was generally impressed by an awareness of how diverse and multiple one person’s identities can be and the intelligent discussion surrounding how best to support young people and to address prejudice surrounding bisexuality, queerness, non-labelled sexualities, and people who are questioning their sexualities. I would have liked to see a better awareness of different genders in some of the papers and a more nuanced view of what the label ‘bisexual’ means to different people.

References for Journal of Bisexuality: Volume 10 Issue 4 (2010)
[1] Jonathan Alexander Editorial Pages 357 – 358
[2] Tania Israel Bisexuality and Youth: Introduction to the Special Issue Pages 359 – 365
[3] Michaela D. E. Meyer Representing Bisexuality on Television: The Case for Intersectional Hybrids Pages 366 – 387
[4] M. Sue Crowley Experiences of Young Bisexual Women in Lesbian/Bisexual Groups on MySpace Pages 388 – 403
[5] Melanie E. Brewster; Bonnie Moradi Personal, Relational and Community Aspects of Bisexual Identity in Emerging, Early and Middle Adult Cohorts Pages 404 – 428
[6] Kirstyn Yuk Sim Chun; Anneliese A. Singh The Bisexual Youth of Color Intersecting Identities Development Model: A Contextual Approach to Understanding Multiple Marginalization Experiences Pages 429 – 451
[7] John P. Elia Bisexuality and School Culture: School as a Prime Site for Bi-Intervention Pages 452 – 471 Author: John P. Elia
[8] Kelly Graydon Kennedy; Emily S. Fisher Bisexual Students in Secondary Schools: Understanding Unique Experiences and Developing Responsive Practices Pages 472 – 485