BiUK: Making a Space for Bi Research and Theory
Following the interviews with James from Bisexual Butterfly and Marcus from The Bisexual Index we caught up with Christina and Meg from the other new national bi organisation, BiUK, to find out about them.
For a start, where did the initiative for BiUK come from?
Christina: I have a few different hats when it comes to bisexuality, including activism and academic work, and I wanted to form an organisation that bridged the gap between these two and made research useful to people in bi communities.
Meg: And I had a similar sense that some bi research and theory was too far removed from bi people themselves. That was part of the motivation behind the BiReCon day which Christina and I put on at BiCon 2008: We wanted to present work that was clear and accessible, and get activists telling researchers and academics what they could do which would be useful, rather than reinventing the wheel or being so far out there that no-one could understand them.
Christina: And this year we decided to formalise it under BiUK as we prepare for BiReCon 2010 which will take place alongside the international BiCon.
Who is involved?
Christina: We’re still putting together a group of founder members, but basically they are all people who study or write about bisexuality, or are passionate about bisexual research; particularly those whose work is grounded in the bi communities in some way.
Meg: So people like Helen Bowes-Catton, who’s been involved in the BiCon survey for several years as well as doing the lego research at BiCon which she wrote about in BCN recently. Also Rebecca Jones who put together and discussed case studies about bi issues in health and social care in workshops at BiCon and BiReCon, which are now the basis of a chapter in her forthcoming book. And there’s Surya Monro who has recently been interviewing bi community members for her work on sexual and gender equality in local government. My own work has focused on how bi people are represented in things like undergraduate textbooks, comparing that to how they represent themselves, and Christina and I have been researching how bi and trans people understand gender and identity and the crossover between their communities too.
Christina: There’s a list of the founder members on the website and we’re putting up biographies for us all so people can see what we’re up to individually and as a group. We also have several postgraduate students involved who’ll hopefully be doing more research on bisexuality in the future.
Why BiUK? And why BiReCon?
Christina: BiUK because it seemed nice and snappy. We’re a national group, and we wanted it to be open to all, rather than just people who were officially academics or researchers. We have been running the ‘bi research group’ mailing list for a few years now, but even that might be a bit off-putting to some who wants to be involved but hasn’t done much research themselves.
Meg: Although you have to be a bit careful when you google for BiUK or you get websites about American cars.
Meg: BiReCon was the idea of the lovely Libby who was on the organising team for BiCon 2008. We were trying to think of an exciting name for the academic/research day and she came up with BiReCon because it’s a bisexual research conference, but also because it is a chance for outside organisations and groups to do some ‘recon’ (short for reconnaissance) about bisexuality. It was a place for them to find out about good practice, and who makes up the bi community, what their needs are, and so on.
You launched very close to two other UK bisexual organisations. Coincidence?
Meg: Yes believe it or not! Actually we started the BiUK website back in 2008 but its only this year that we’ve really begun to develop the group and what we’re doing.
Christina: And it seems like great timing given that Bisexual Butterfly and the Bisexual Index have also got groups of excited and engaged people moving their projects forward. It feels like there’s a whole load of motivation and momentum in the bi communities. I think it’s important that we keep the pressure on and move these things onwards. While the queer agenda seems to be shifting in positive ways, we don’t want bisexuality to get left behind as if ‘gay research’ and ‘gay activism’ is sufficient for bi people too.
Meg: I agree. In the academic world there is a tendency for people to do a bit of work on bisexuality and then move on, so it’s good that we have some people who are more committed to sticking with it. In terms of the other organisations, it is really good to see that people like Marcus (from the Bisexual Index) who’ve been working for bi communities for years are pushing forward projects at the same time that people like James (from Bisexual Butterfly) are bringing in newer people, who maybe haven’t engaged with bi activism before. I hope BiUK will do a bit of both, particularly because we have some old hands on board as well as some very young academics who have just started coming to bi events, etc. It’s great to have their passion and enthusiasm because it reminds us how important bi groups, events and communities are, as Helen’s project is highlighting, how they provide a real sense of ‘home’ for people.
There are a number of bi projects out there already. What do you feel is missing that BiUK can add?
Christina: The academic/research focus I think is important. I don’t think that anyone else is doing that in the UK. And worldwide there doesn’t seem to be that much engagement between academics & researchers and activists & bisexual people themselves. That’s a gap we’re really looking to fill.
Meg: Absolutely, so hopefully we’ll work closely with a lot of those other bi projects: Presenting and researching at BiCons and BiFests, writing about our research for BCN and bi websites, and remaining involved with bi activist groups. A lot of our members are in those other groups as well, so we’re not purely a separate thing.
What are your aims and objectives as an organisation? And practically what will that mean BiUK doing in the next year, two years, three years?
Christina: We want to facilitate the creation of real and virtual spaces where researchers, academics, activists and community members can come together. So that’s the BiReCon events and the BiUK website and Bi Research Group mailing list so far. Our overarching aim is to make sure that it is useful, so we’re also committed to doing, promoting, and disseminating research which comes from bi communities and involves them directly.
Meg: So the BiCon survey is a good example. We published the findings from that in the Journal of Bisexuality in 2008.
Christina: And some of us have recently written another piece for the Journal of Bisexuality together about bisexuality and queer, as well as a book chapter about Helen’s research and why it is useful to use creative methods to study bi experiences: Just like we tend to at BiCon workshops.
Meg: So in terms of the next few years our main focus is running International BiReCon in 2010 and we already have some great keynote speakers for that from the American Institute of Bisexuality and from Australia.
Christina: We’re hoping to do a BiReCon every other year and we’ve been thinking of focusing on mental health for the next one (in 2012): Getting some of the experts in this area together and having lots of practical workshops, because of the findings that bi people often have even higher levels of distress than lesbians and gay men.
Meg: And we’re developing the website to include a ‘big bi reference list’ of key research for people who are new to studying bisexuality, as well as any articles we can get copyright to link to. And we’ll keep running the bi research group email list alongside that.
What ways can people get involved?
Christina: The big one is coming along to BiReCon 2010 (which will be on August 26th, the day before international BiCon kicks off). Also taking part in research is great, to make sure researchers are representing all the bi people who are out there.
Meg: Anyone who is already doing research of their own can come on board, and it would be grand if they could send us research they’ve done to stick on the website, as well as offering presentations or workshops for BiReCon.
Christina: And people who haven’t researched before, but want to lend a hand, there are lots of things you can do without previous skills, like handing out questionnaires, or collecting bi materials or representations of bi people in the media. Just get in touch. We can add you to the mailing list
The BiUK website is on www.biuk.org and that includes a link for signing up to the bi research group mailing list.
You can contact Christina and Meg directly on [email protected]
Thanks Christina and Meg, and good luck.