In this post I reflect on my frequent experience of being contacted by programme-makers and journalists to engage in ‘debates’ about gender and sexuality. I discuss the framing of these kinds of discussions more in my book The Psychology of Sex.
This weekend I was contacted by a programme-maker with the following request regarding a series on sexuality. They said that they were putting together their bisexual episode and wanted me to contribute to the discussion of whether ‘there really is such as thing as being bisexual’.
I won’t name names here to save their blushes and also because I’m hopeful that they may change their mind on receiving my reply. But I wanted to share my response here to underline the importance of how debates, and presentations of research, are positioned in the media. Despite researching and writing about bisexuality I have always refused to take part in ‘does it exist?’ type debates. Framing such things as debates gives legitimacy to a view that shouldn’t be getting air-time.
I think that, when asked to contribute to media pieces like this, it is worth first asking whether they are asking reasonable questions and, if not, to challenge them rather than going along with a problematic framing of the issues. I hope that I’ve explained this here in a way that will be possible for the programme-makers to hear.
Good to hear from you and xxx sounds like a great show. However, I find your suggested discussion topic deeply problematic.
I’m tempted to say that I would consider taking part in such a discussion the week after you do the show on whether there really is such as thing as being a gay man and a week before you do the show on whether there really is such as thing as being lesbian. Does that help you to understand why framing a show on bisexuality in this way is so wrong?
I attach here The Bisexuality Report – which colleagues and I published last year and which brings together the main research on bisexuality which has been conducted to date (if you don’t have time to read the whole thing then the first few pages give a clear summary).
You will notice that bisexual people have higher rates of mental health problems than lesbian, gay or heterosexual people, and that this has been linked to ‘bisexual invisibility’. ‘Bisexual invisibility’ refers to the way in which doubt is cast on the existence of bisexuality in a way that it isn’t for lesbian, gay or heterosexual people, despite clear evidence that large numbers of people identify as bisexual, and that an even greater proportion of people are attracted to people of more than one gender.
I would kindly request that you consider changing your debate to something like ‘how can we address biphobia and bisexual invisibility in the heterosexual and gay communities’ rather than using your show to perpetuate bisexual invisibility by suggesting that the existence of bisexual people is – in any way – a reasonable topic for debate. A discussion like the one you propose – with somebody presumably arguing that there isn’t such a thing as being bisexual – is in real danger of contributing to the suffering of bisexual people.
If you do decide to change your plans please let me know.
All the best.