Bisexual reading: 'Sexualities In Health and Social Care' by Tamsin Wilton (Thursday, September 11th, 2008)

Published by Ian in Other sexual health at 9:37 am. Skip down to comments or read the others.

Published in 2000 by OUP, "This lively and informative book offers a unique introduction to human sexuality in the context of health and social care practice" (back page blurb). Sounds great!

Page xv sets out the standard against which it wants to to be judged: "What this book is about: The primary aim is to support improvements in service delivery to lesbians, gay men and bisexuals by offering a foundation of sound information… it takes a more critical perspective on sexuality generally .. all sexualities are seen as being in need of explanation." [Emphasis in the book.]

However, it almost immediately opts out of doing so (page xvii) "Bisexuality is not often specifically mentioned in this book. This is not out of any desire to exclude bisexuals. However, the marginalisation of bisexuals within the dominant culture is determined by the 'homosexual' rather than the 'heterosexual' component of their sexualities. Moreover, the concept of bisexuality is often used by those who wish to reinforce the idea that there is something 'real' about dividing people up into homosexual or heterosexual. In this strategy, 'bisexual' becomes what is called a 'residual category', a kind of theoretical rag-bag into which you simply toss anything that does not neatly fit your schema. There are, therefore, compelling theoretical reasons for not falling back on the 'lesbian, gay and bisexual' formula, so I have referred to bisexuals only where the context demands it."

The rest of the paragraph, as well as the rest of the book, provides strong evidence that it is, in fact, out of an offensive desire to exclude bisexuals.

So, for example, it is not true to say that the marginalisation of homosexuality is determined solely or even mostly out of the 'homosexual' component – she is ignoring (and in fact reinforcing) the dominant monosexual binary divide and the presumed non-monogamy issue (the latter is why bisexuality is considered "inherently wrong" by the Church of England which is accepting of the leity's monogamous homosexual relationships).

The "concept" (and reality) of bisexuality is something that threatens those who wish to "reinforce the idea that there is something 'real' about dividing people up into homosexual or heterosexual"!

Try translating it into a racial context: "In this strategy, 'mixed race' becomes what is called a 'residual category', a kind of theoretical rag-bag into which you simply toss anything that does not neatly fit your black or white schema." Ouch.

To go onto cite "compelling theoretical reasons" for exclusion in a book that purports to be particularly inclusive, without any acknowledgement of the biphobia involved is, perhaps, the most offensive single extract.

The exercises are a perfect example of how the offensiveness permeates the entire book:

Page 10: Readers are asked to name as many well-known gay men and lesbians as they can think of, with the comment that they'll probably find the former easier. Bisexual people? "If you yourself are lesbian or gay, how did it make you feel…" Bisexual readers are left feeling non-existent!

Page 33: "Take note of any articles that deal with lesbian or gay issues…" Bisexual issues? She then asks about images of opposite sex / same sex couples without mentioning one of the central issues around bisexual visibility: how do you show 'bisexuality' without showing three (or more) people?

Page 34: "Now obtain a few copies of gay publications (.. Diva, Gay Times.. ) .. How easy was it for you to get hold of these publications?" Bisexual publications?

The next exercise mentions "gay, lesbian and bisexual" readers, so we can see that the "only where the context demands" omission of 'bisexual' elsewhere is probably deliberate.

As in page 47: "For heterosexual readers .. For lesbian or gay readers". Both ask the reader to consider "lesbian and gay readers". In both cases, what about bisexual readers?

Page 81: "Write down a list of slang terms of 'gay man' [and] 'lesbian'." Slang terms for bisexuals? It's not as though there aren't any.

Page 84: After asking to arrange sexual acts into those which may be done by two women, two men or a man and a woman, "What does this tell you about the sexual practices of lesbians, gay men and heterosexuals?" Bisexuals?

Page 150: "How many of the stories are written by a lesbian or gay man .. What overall image of lesbians and/or gay men is put across?" How many by a bisexual? What image of bisexuals?

The next exercise includes "lesbian, gay or bisexual service users", but only "the lesbian and gay community". The bisexual community?

Not that the reader is given any clue that the latter exists. The "substantial" list of resources on page 190 onwards includes sections on history, but fails to reference any on bisexual history; on autobiographies, but fails to reference any by bisexuals; on professional and practice issues but only two books include the b-word in their title (one is LG&B, one L&B women); on "exploring different avenues" (none bisexual); on "exploring lesbian and gay studies" (ditto); and "journals" (ditto).

Finally "sources of information" mentions the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (which at the time of writing the book excluded anyone with a bisexual identity from being a volunteer) and the London Lesbian Line (ditto) but not the Bisexual Helpline which had then been running for fourteen years. Even when the organisations which are listed explicitly include bisexuals in their title or subtitles, such as Parents' Friend, it is excluded from the listings.

It's also (again largely by omission) in the index – apart from the passages in the introduction, there's only one 'bisexuality' reference, to page 20, where after a (far too short) bit on Kinsey, mentioning Humphreys' The Tearoom Trade, the idea that sexual identity often does not indicate behaviour, and the fact that the boundaries are not fixed, she says "It is clear from these accounts that such experiences" – having sex with both men and women! – "do not fit into the category of bisexuality." It was at this point that I threw the book across the room.

"Indeed," she goes on, " 'bisexuality' is itself a complex question, about which there is much debate and disagreement" and then gives two inadequate references.

Compare that to about sixty references for both 'gay men' and 'lesbians', and again imagine translating this into a race context: what would you say about a book on race issues in health that acknowledges that there were differences, said it was going to cover all ethnic minorities but which had sixty references to Afro-Caribbean people issues and one on South Asian people?

(Example picked because while both are minorities, there are more people of South Asian origin in the UK than Afro-Caribbean origin, just as there are more behaviourly bisexual people than exclusively homosexual ones.)

The body text contains numerous more examples – such as the repeated division of men into "gay and non-gay": it's entirely unclear where bisexual men are in that binary divide – but I would hope this is enough to show why it wins an 'offensive biphobic crap' award even without its stated aim of treating all sexualities equally.

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