Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrate bisexuality day

It’s 23rd September today, and more people than usual are wearing purple. They’re doing that, because it’s International Celebrate Bisexuality Day or, as it has been rebranded this year Bi Visibility Day. Whichever, it’s a sort of mini-pride, and it’s all ultra-good. There’s more here about events in the UK, events in the US here, and information about why it started here.
I’ll probably be at one of these events tonight, but not wearing purple, which always makes me look sickly.

It’s no doubt just a co-incidence, but the numbers of LGB (not T, don’t know about T) people in the UK seem to have gone down. Official figures from the Office of National Statistics released today indicate that the LGB population of the UK is only 1.5%. There’s info about it from the Guardian here. The ONS asked people how they defined their sexuality, and this is the answer. Simples.

But but but ... What does it mean? Apparently interviewees were given four categories, and asked which best described them: heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual or other. That’s surely too broad-brush. For instance, someone who is now monogamously married, but has had significant lesbian relationships in the past, might well consider that heterosexual/straight “best describes her” but it best describes her behaviour as it is now, not her feelings, her past, her desires, all the things that make up sexuality. She might be “behaviourally heterosexual” but that’s only part of the story.

According to the ONS (in the Guardian):
“ ... the [previous] higher estimate [of LGB people] was based on different sampling methods and responses to questions about sexual attraction and behaviour both in the past and present."

But isn’t that the right way to assess sexuality? Which category “best describes you”! To my mind, that over-simplifies something which is often complicated.

The stats are odd in other ways too. Sixty-six per cent of LGB people, according to this, are under 44. What does this mean? That older people have “turned straight”? That more young people are gay these days? That queer sexuality is something that happens to the young? I don’t know. Interestingly, quite a high proportion of this 1.5% says “bisexual” best describes them.

It does seem strange to me that, when Kinsey did his famous reports estimating the gay/lesbian population of the US as 10% (this may not be precisely what he said; do correct me if I’m wrong), homosexuality was both hidden and stigmatised. This figure was accepted for a long time.

Now, homosexuality is very much less hidden. There are far far more openly gay, especially gay (and lesbian, and bi) people than there were when I was young. Yet consistently, official numbers go down. In the 1950s, it was 10%; more recently, it has been accepted as being 5%.

Purple power
As someone once said: There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics. Who knows what any of these figures mean.

What concerns me most, is that queer people’s issues will be ever more marginalised if we are seen to be such a tiny minority of the population. I simply don’t believe that it is true.

As to why bi people have taken on purple: I guess it’s because pink = gay (and, because it is the colour stereotypically loved by little girls, nothing Real Men should have anything to do with). Also, pink (for girls) mixed with blue (for boys) = purple for any and everyone.

Whatever, tonight I will be having my cake and eating it. I hope you will too.


Yamilette27 said...

I absolutely LOVE the idea of purple representing bisexuals.
Bi-Lesbi Power!

Ian said...

Although the Office for National Statistics report references the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) etc, it doesn't seem to actually mention their findings in the text.

What it should have said, in big letters on the cover, is that what this survey actually confirms is that the majority of people who have LGB behaviour do not have an LGB identity.

What it will be used for is LGB-bashing from those who have an interest in saying that there aren't enough LGB people to care about.

As it's probably homo/biphobia that's the main reason for the difference, it will probably help ensure that it doesn't get smaller.

It's going to be interesting to see what the current NATSAL (I think it's still doing field work - if anyone reading this is invited to take part, do!) comes up with for behaviour.

Sue George said...

There's a lot of good comments (and some stupid ones of course) about this on the Guardian site:

Wilmaryad said...

Congrats on being voted one of the best LGBT blogs by Guide to Online Schools! :-)

Here's the link:

Sue George said...

Thanks. There's a lot of interesting blogs on that site too.