Bisexual Erasure in Academic Research 1

Last week I got my copy of the Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, Volume 8, Issues 1-4, 2014. For those who don’t know how these things work, this is the peer-reviewed academic journal of ALGBTIC, which is the queer-focused professional division of the American Counseling Association which governs master’s level clinicians. It’s the equivalent of Division 44 of the American Psychological Association (which oversees doctoral level psychologists). I am a student member of ALGBTIC as well as of the ACA, and when I graduate (May 9th, G-d willing and the creek don’t rise) I will be a professional member.

Every peer-reviewed article is built on a foundation of other peer-reviewed articles. Everything has to be supported and justified by reference to previously published articles, and then the author(s) add their little bit to the body of research. There are good reasons for this, primarily because what we’re doing in these kinds of articles is science.

Now, ALGBTIC has some pretty cool stuff going on – including competency guidelines for counselors working with LGB clients that specifically includes why and how the B is different, and guidelines for working with Transgender clients. But when I started reading the Journal, I ended up having to stop myself from pitching it across the room.

These are the three paragraphs that stopped me in my tracks (I have edited out a bunch of references):

“Concepts and Language

Within the sexual minority community and literature, acts of naming and identification are significant and have subsequent consequences for the interpretation, application, and generalization of research. This project uses the terms gay and lesbian to describe same-sex sexual orientations (homosexuality). Although by no means universal across all cultures and histories (9 references), gay and lesbian have proven to be useful social categories within popular culture and academic work—documenting the psychological lives of people engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and same-sex relationships, the social meanings of same-sex sexuality, histories and political movements organized around sexuality, and the nature of subcultures and communities based in part upon same-sex sexuality (8 references). Salient to the purposes here, one outcome of this work has been documentation describing the locations and forms of representation, agency, oppression, privilege, and discrimination that occur around sexual orientation, including how various sexual orientations are positioned within education (7 references) and elsewhere (6 references).

For this project, the choice to use the terms gay and lesbian was made with the full realization that other terms and concepts are also available to describe similar or parallel experiences related to sexuality and orientations (e.g., same-sex loving, men who have sex with men, women who have sex with women, queer). However, realizing the potential that newer and less widely recognized terms or constructs might be unfamiliar to many of the survey respondents, using the terms gay and lesbian for this project seemed the more prudent choice.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities are often grouped together, creating a single population composed of sexuality-based (gay, lesbian, bisexual) and gender-based identities (transgender). Historically, this grouping has been useful to political activism, policy development, and research. However, there is also a risk that sexual orientation and gender identity will be confounded and mistakenly assumed to be synonymous, representing identical experiences and, for purposes here, the same curricular content (6 references). In the interest of clarity for respondents, survey brevity, and the clarity of findings, this project focused only upon sexual orientation and gay/lesbian related topics.”

Seeing red yet?

As much as half of the queer kids these school counselors will be seeing are bisexual, but as far as the research that informs their training? They don’t exist. We don’t exist. The word bisexual was used twice in the very paragraph that speaks about the importance of not conflating experiences, and yet all bisexual experience is conflated, folded into and subsumed into the gay and lesbian experience. Because obviously those are the only salient experiences. Obviously only gay and lesbian faculty can serve as suitable role models for queer students.

And so another article enters the noosphere, another article that erases bisexuals and bisexuality becomes a resource for people to point to in their lit reviews and say “See, there’s just nothing there in the research, so we shouldn’t add it in and confuse people.”

After taking the time to note that naming matters, our name is removed.

This study’s erasure of bisexuality also erases the erasure of bisexuality from counselor education programs, another serious issue that I have been grappling with over the course of my education to date. This kind of meta-erasure makes it almost impossible to get any good information about bisexuality into the hands of counseling students… which means that no matter how well-intended counselors are, the odds are that unless there is a bisexual activist in their classes shouting about it all the time they are not going to be prepared to meet the unique needs of their bisexual clients.

Jennings, T. (2014) Sexual orientation curriculum in U.S. school counselor education programs. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 8(1) 43-73

About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband, father, Licensed Professional Counselor.
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8 Responses to Bisexual Erasure in Academic Research 1

  1. kdaddy23 says:

    Maybe this academic erasure happens because lesbian and gay issues are really more prevalent than bisexual issues? Maybe it’s because thinking in terms of “lesbian/gay” is easier to dissect than including bisexuality which even I know is a lot more complex than just being lesbian or gay. But here’s a question for ya: If this bisexual erasure is present in this documentation, did anyone say anything to them about it, like, “Hey! What happened to the bisexuals?!”

    It seems to me that anything that focuses solely on homosexual issues but doesn’t include any of the other “minority” sexuality branches, the erasure is either deliberate or just plain old short-sighted. Yep, people are more “aware” of lesbian/gay issues but, really, if you’re gonna write about sexuality minorities, write about ALL of them and not just the easiest ones.

    Just my thoughts. I didn’t see red… but I did laugh a couple of times.

    • The numbers say that there are twice as many bisexuals as gays and lesbians. So no, lesbian and gay issues are not more prevalent.

      • kdaddy23 says:

        So why the disregard by academia?

      • M says:

        Laura, please recheck your sources. I’ve been paying attention. The number of B as well as G and L people varies in different surveys, but the overall summary is that there are generally about the same number of B people as G plus L people.

        Or maybe you meant comparing just by category, thus comparing male and female bisexuals together to either just gay men or just gay women?? While technically that could be accurate, I think it is misleading at best. Also change your AND to an OR.

    • fliponymous says:

      I no longer believe in innocent short-sightedness. It is CALLOUS DISREGARD and I won’t take it anymore.

  2. Ingo Kelmes says:

    It’s a sad fact that an academic degree is not a warranty that the author really deserves it by means of correctness and integrity… Correct would be indeed to distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity but not to take this as a poor argument for erasing the term bisexual, because this is clearly a sexual orientation and not a gender identity.
    Besides: what does this author think of his students ? What I read between the lines here is: “You students are so silly that you can’t handle more than two terms for minority sexual orientations.”
    I expect from a student of this complicated matter that he/she makes him/herself familiar with the whole spectrum of terms for sexual orientations, gender identities and their proper and also their more exotic mixed forms (e.g. tomboy, girlfag, guydyke, two spirit or bigender, transgender and so on). I wonder if there isn’t any impact to this journal by foreign country academic research on bisexuality ? I only know about one German research project by the article on page 29 in:

  3. Pingback: Gay, Lesbian, ________ and Transgender | Eponymous Fliponymous

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