Talking Bi Psy

I was pleased to learn that the British Psychological Society (BPS) Psychology of Sexualities Annual Conference was in London at a time when I already had a trip planned.

Since I work as a counsellor / psychotherapist and have personal and professional interests in gender, sexuality and relationship diversity I thought I’d go to the first day. I had been to a previous one of their events with a focus on BDSM bodily practices so I knew it was likely to be high quality but I hadn’t spotted just how much there would be on bisexuality this year.

I checked in, picked up my purple cloth conference bag and name and pronouns badge I was happy to see that I knew no more than a couple of the other attendees. I checked out a few of the posters and then went in to the see the keynote speaker: Elizabeth Peel from Loughborough University has been studying and experiencing polarised viewpoints when considering how the law works with gender and how it might in the future.

The format for the rest of the day had many short talks and they presented research from very personal and in depth to large population studies:

Under “Thriving and flourishing”:
• Steve Du Bois and others from the Illinois Institute of Technology are looking at official U.S. survey data to see how having a partner affects the health of trans and gender non-conforming people: his lively presentation gave many figures and in summary so far: having a partner usually helps health behaviour.
• Alon Zivony from Birkbeck, University of London, matched his smart purple looks to his presentation on how people’s prejudices against bisexuals are affected by common assumptions about us and gender. He used cartoon interactions to see what prejudices are common: nothing BCN readers would be surprised by, and then went on to show that when bisexuals are more visible, stereotypes are more out in the open and people then consider that they might be offensive and challenge them. Knowledge of bisexuals and stereotypes about us is helpful.
• Kate E. McLeod from Victoria University of Wellington told us about the positive aspects of being part of the “rainbow community” in Aotearoa Zealand following a survey asking “what is amazing about being queer, trans and/or intersex?” Perhaps readers could write in to BCN and we could say what is amazing about being bi.

On “Identities”:
• L. K. Canvin from University of Hertfordshire told us about the gender identities and experiences of young people presenting to the gender identity development service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.
• Andrew Williams from Keele University gave my favourite talk which was about exploring sexual fluidity. The research used poetic enquiry where a four people were interviewed about experiences of sexual fluidity and then the researcher and participants went back to the interviews and created poems. This gave a welcome way to talk about sexuality which didn’t get into life stories but instead gave new ways to think and communicate about experiences with fewer labels or fixed categories.
• Stina Boro from the University of Notre Dame, Australia was on the programme to tell us about the importance of language and using it in the lived experience and construction of non-binary gender identity.
• Brian Pickering from University of Southampton brought a computing aspect in: how online interaction and virtual spaces helped people to develop trans identities.

On “Labels”:
• I was particularly glad to hear Tara Pond from AUT University, Aotearoa New Zealand, who came over to tell us about the lives and experiences of bisexual and other plurisexual-identified women and her PhD research will continue to explore this.
• Hannah Maddon from Liverpool John Moores University in interested in quantitative data (that is: numbers) for use in public health, and is trying to work out how to understand LGBTQ+ people this way. Asking us to put ourselves in boxes or researchers categorising us misses out much nuance but without categories, how can large scale data health data be collected?
• Liam Wignall from Bournemouth University was funded by the American Institute of Bisexuality to look at the categories near the edges of the Kinsey Scale for women: “mostly straight” or “mostly lesbian” and showed such “mostly” categories were useful.

The final set of speakers were on “global attitudes”:
• Gideon P. Bendicion from Ateneo de Manilla University, Philippines analysed copious discussion in the press after LGBT people were called “worse than animals” by “national icon and then senatorial candidate” Manny Pacquiao.
• Aysegul Dilbirligi from Loughborough University told us about improving attitudes to lesbian and gay parenting in Turkey in a difficult political and social environment.

Ending with “adolescence”:
• Georgina Gnan from Kings College London was testing a model for how LGBT+ students think about and behave under general stress and when considering LGBT+ related negative beliefs.
• S. Bower-Brown and others from the Centre for Family research had studied trans, non-binary and gender-unsure / questioning adolescents and concluded research should avoid homogenising them and schools should have policies that include non-cis identities.
• Rebekah Amos from University of Liverpool gave us statistics from the Millennium Cohort Study on how sexual minority adolescents compared to others both in psychological and social wellbeing measures and also related to bullying and stealing and physical health.
• András Költ from the National University of Ireland, Galway looked at how 15-year-olds from eight European countries are involved in bullying, being bullied or both and how this varies depending on how they reported being in love with someone of the “same” sex, “different” sex, both or neither. Controlling for gender, country and family affluence did not substantially change the pattern of the results: being in love with someone of the “same” sex or both-sex love meant the child had significantly higher risk to be involved with bullying.

I enjoyed the full but fast day and then caught up with a friend and then had a quiet evening with a book and pizza.

Grant Denkinson


BCN issue 156 cover

This first appeared in BCN magazine issue 156, July/August 2019.