Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Divide and rule

A landmark report by Stonewall was in the Guardian newspaper, (including online) and quite possibly other serious UK papers yesterday. It’s a depressing report, concluding that most lesbians and gay men expect to experience homophobia in all/most aspects of their daily lives.

For the majority of my readers who don’t live in the UK, Stonewall is a “professional lobbying group” which “put the case for equality on the mainstream political agenda by winning support within all the main political parties”.

Now, what I have to say in the following post is in no way to lessen the fact that this report is important, or that lesbians and gay men have a tough time. They do. The idea, for instance, that gay teenagers (and those who aren’t gay at all but are “different”, or don’t fit in to gender stereotypes) suffer more homophobia (much more, it seems) than they used to, is frankly terrible. That we are all (yes, bi people too) meant to sit back and take random homophobic comments from all and sundry. It ought to be enough to make queer people want to act. Do something like, oh I don’t know, join Stonewall…

That notwithstanding, the attitude Stonewall seems to have drives me up the wall. As a campaigning organisation, it says it promotes equality and justice for Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals. Huh. If they have ever done anything for bi people, except when they couldn’t avoid it because of our same-sex behaviour, I’ll be mighty surprised.

The mystery of the vanishing bisexual

Everything this report says about lesbians and gay men is true for bisexuals too. And, as they apparently asked 1,658 lesbians, gay men AND BISEXUALS then surely some of their findings must apply to bi people too. Except that we don’t know. The word bisexual only appears three times in this report (ie “The last five years have seen a catalogue of legal changes benefiting lesbian, gay and bisexual people”; “In 2007 Stonewall commissioned YouGov to survey a sample of 1,658 lesbian, gay and bisexual people across Britain.” Plus once in the conclusion in a similar fashion.) Elsewhere, we are noticeably absent. For instance: one in five lesbian and gay people expect to be treated worse by police than a heterosexual…. Nine in ten would expect to face barriers to becoming foster parents because they are lesbian or gay. Etc.

Now, if they had separated out the bisexual responses, or put bi responses in with the lesbian and gay ones, fair enough. But they didn’t. “Bisexual” is simply a word here, put in as a sop to us, a token that means absolutely nothing. Really, they mean lesbian and gay, and people who are having same-sex at the moment who they count as really lesbian or gay.

Do they not realise that, if a doctor, MP, schoolchild, panel of foster-parent approvers, etc etc etc knows someone is bisexual they very probably think a) they are lying to us/or themselves and are really gay; b) they are oversexed and highly promiscuous, therefore dangerous to society and children in particular. Therefore, bisexuals are considered at least as bad as someone who is in a committed same-sex relationship and quite possibly very much worse.

For myself, I remember going to the doctor and being grilled about why I didn’t need any contraception, didn’t I want a boyfriend… etc. Pretty much the same as a lesbian would be grilled I suppose – but I wasn’t one. I imagine (probably correctly) that if I said I was bisexual they would have been even keener that I take a contraceptive pill!

Mind survey
I wonder if the people who wrote up this research have ever read the Mind survey that shows bi people having worse mental health than lesbians, gay men, or certainly heterosexuals? That they were extremely unlikely to tell health care providers they were bisexual, had little support from friends and family, were poorer and so on. I wrote about it on this post.

This survey took place in Britain about British attitudes, but I think much of it is likely to be true for you too, wherever in the world you live.


david santos said...

Hello, Sue!
Excllent posting. I loved this blog.
Thank you.

Sue George said...


Jen said...

Pretty please can I lift this one to use in BCN?

I was just about to have to write loosely the same piece, but the last time we did "Oh, Stonewall!!!" it was me and it'd be good to have a different voice :o)

Sue George said...

Be my guest!

Sue George said...

By the way Jen, hadn't someone or some group made up a jokey postcard that people could send to Stonewall? It was to complain about their non-coverage of bi issues...

Daomadan said...

Great post. Bi invisibility is one of my biggest issues with major queer they try to pander by simply slipping in the word "bisexuals" when in reality they are only talking about gay men and lesbians.

Jen said...

Indeed so, it says "tackling bisexual invisibility" but the bisexual is a dot-to-dot puzzle so at firstglance the word is invisible - though it could do with an update now Stonewall have trotted out Yet Another Bi-Marginalising Report!

It's the first resource at

seeress said...

Pretty much agree - it takes some persistent knocking on doors to get people to genuinely recognise bi (and trans for that matter).

On a happier note here's a good report

Sue George said...

I'll be blogging about that in the future, I do believe....

David said...

Ah Stonewall, my favourite punch bag. Equality and Justice for Lesbians, Gay Men and (not really) bisexuals.

You're right what have they ever done for us? There is concerted effort on behalf of Gay lobby groups like Stonewall to draw a divide between heterosexuals and homosexuals, because politically its more convenient. Bisexuals bridge the gap and muddy the waters, we're inconvenient, we make sexuality harder to understand.

Anonymous said...

Postcard: following their recent 'Some people are gay - get used to it' poster campaign, I'd like to see a 'Dear Stonewall, some people are bisexual - get with it' one.

Report: if your pollster is a member of the British Polling Council (most of the famous ones are), their rules say various interesting bits of data must be published on request as soon as you make any of the survey public.

Unfortunately getting the data out of them is proving harder than it should be, but they're claiming that "where there were significant differences based upon age, gender, region, for example, they were referred to in the report".

This is claiming that there were "significant" differences for every single geographical area in so many questions, but not - to take the public life section as one example - by age, by gender for all other results apart from 'expect to face barriers to your selection as a result of being an openly gay/ lesbian/ bisexual candidate' for the Labour Party, between bisexual men and gay men, between bisexual women and lesbians, or by occupational group.

I find this really difficult to believe. No difference between bisexuals and lesbians and gay men anywhere in the report?

Oh, you missed three uses of the 'b-word': the sponsor's ad has it, it gets used another time in relation to the survey sample, and once saying the Judicial Services Board should "promote its existence to the lesbian, gay and bisexual community" (which makes the lack of it in similar contexts elsewhere look even odder - has someone been watching bisexual serial killer films too much?);

"Gay: An umbrella term for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. It is best
to avoid using this word to cover all LGB people as it can render
lesbians and bisexual people invisible."

... Stonewall Cymru's 'Dictionary of equality language'.

Perhaps a copy needs to be sent to London.


Sue George said...

Thanks Ian - and for your feed via your Livejournal page.
Now all I have to do is write some more... Any hours in the day someone wants to sell me?

Anonymous said...

You get far more good stuff on paper, erm, screen than most people, including me.

There's always something else to do :)

Sue George said...