Interview _ Grant Denkinson

Grant Denkinson is an Open Access and Research Data Advisor at the University of Leicester's David Wilson Library. He is also a qualified psychotherapist and is one of the contributors to Purple Prose (Thorntree Press LLC, 2016), a new book about bisexuality in Britain.

In this interview, Denkinson talks about writing, sexuality and Purple Prose:

How would you describe Purple Prose?

Purple Prose presents different forms of writing about various aspects of being bisexual, such as being a bi person of faith and so on. Each chapter curates a number of personal experiences, collected thoughts and even tentative advice, together with quotes, cartoons and poems.

The chapter I co-curated with Juliet Kemp covers bisexuality and non-monogamy. The bi community I've been part of has been talking about how you can be bi and happily monogamous, non-monogamous in various ways, or not in relationships at all. Relationships of all kinds we could think of are spoken about in Purple Prose.

We make no argument for one shape of relationship being better than another, just that different ways to love and relate might work better for different people.

How did the book come about?

Kate Harrad decided a book about bisexuality in UK should exist and then made it happen and edited contributions from the UK bisexual community into Purple Prose.

While there has been an active bi movement in UK for many decades, there has not been a UK book by and about bisexuals since Sue George's Women and Bisexuality from 1993.

There have been some excellent academic works and some books from US. However, the UK is a significantly different context and we wanted something for everyone that speaks to personal experience rather than as part of the academic debates.

What are some of the other ways in which Purple Prose is significant?

I'd like this book to be part of making the whole world a better place since bi people are everywhere. We'll only be a small part, but we can play a part.

More specifically, there are a lot of people who, over their lives, have loved, fancied or had some form of sex with several people where those people were not all of the same gender. Many people in UK have had such thoughts or experiences. It seems important to me that there is at least one book out there that says people in this situation are not alone, which acts like a conversational prompt, which mentions aspects of the joys or stresses that they might have, and which comes from a place similar to home rather than from thousands of miles away.

I've met few bisexual people compared to how many there probably are.

Purple Prose is significant because a book can be a private experience. You don't need to be out to anyone to read a book. Books are portable and can be sent and read anywhere. Books last and are preserved in libraries and on bookshelves and can be quoted from and loaned to friends.

Also, many people know others who may be bi and who perhaps they want to understand better without needing to ask intrusive questions or treating one person's experiences as the same as many people's experiences. To gain this understanding, they can read autobiographical journals on-line and articles and news. They can listen to partners, friends and acquaintances. They can pick out films or listen to interviews on the radio or find a podcast. All these things are important but none of them offer the experience that comes from a good book on the subject.

How long did it take to the book together?

The process from conception to launch was a couple of years. Many of the writers met at events and we mainly collaborated online.

A number of UK publishers considered bisexuality too niche a subject despite recent surveys which show that around half of young people do not identify as gay or straight.

It was important to us to have the book properly produced to high quality while keeping the price aimed for the mass market. We therefore crowdfunded to cover the costs of producing the first print run of Purple Prose with Thorntree Press, a small publisher in U.S., who took the chance to expand from their speciality of books about non-monogamy.

Crowdfunding also showed us that there was a reasonably broad interest in the book.

It is wonderful to see the final version, a tangible thing that didn't exist before and can now be out there in the world to fare as it may.

I think we have a good book ... a book that is part of efforts to raise awareness around the complexity and diversity of human sexuality and which lets many voices shine and which does not reduce people to soundbites and simplistic characters.

Purple Prose 
(Thorntree Press LLC, 2016) was written for and by bisexuals in the UK.

Described as, "the first of its kind", Purple Prose: Bisexuality in Britain features interviews, essays, poems and commentary on topics that include definitions of bisexuality, intersections of bisexuality with other identities, stereotypes and biphobia, being bisexual at work, teenage bisexuality, bisexuality through the years, the media's approach to bisexual celebrities, and fictional bisexual characters. 

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

The bi community I know has been good at accepting and talking about various aspects of complicated, diverse and sometimes fluid human sexuality including how gender or disability intersect with lives, what options for relationship shapes we might consider, and the emotional and physical feelings related to various bodily practices related to BDSM.

We are also catching up on dealing with other parts of bi lives that include race, ethnicity and class.

Making sure we adequately gave voice to those we don't hear from enough because of racism and the like was a challenge. We never wanted to be tokenistic.

Word-of-mouth and the friend-to-friend networks we enjoy can lead us to mainly speak to people like we are personally, in similar positions in society. We wanted a broader approach.

Also, we're all pretty much volunteers on this. We have the whole rest of our lives to live and some of our community are constantly or often having to struggle more in life because of how they are disabled or because they are dealing with the consequences of prejudice.

What are some of the things from your personal experience that influence your writing?

I've been out as bisexual for about half my life and feel most at home as part of the UK and international bi communities. There I feel I can just be myself rather than feel the need to downplay any part of myself or need to keep explaining the basics of my attraction to some people who don't all share the same gender. I've tended to a high level of frustrated energy towards social progress and this has led to me community organising and volunteering often around sex, sexuality and relationships.

I was born in Nottingham in 1971 and have moved around England with work or study as well was living as a kid in Los Angeles because my parents wanted to try the place out.

I've lived in Leicester about a dozen years and love the mix of people and how much of a beacon we can be to show how positive multicultural living can be. I like how much is going on within 15 minutes bicycle ride from my house and that I will meet good people and friends at pretty much anything I go to.

I have never worked out what I want to do when I grow up. I'm into science and techie things and work these days for University of Leicester in the David Wilson Library promoting and supporting open scholarship. I'm also a qualified psychotherapist and support students at De Montfort University and in private practice.

What are your main concerns as a writer? And, how do you deal with these concerns?

In the back of my mind I'm aware of some of the violent backlash or relationship damage that can follow being out and out so publicly. However, I'm in a privileged position with good people around me and I hope any negative reaction I do get will be a sign of possible change and progress and will help others in the future.

I don't think of myself as a writer but cannot deny that I write. There are better crafters of words, better thinkers, people with more experience and knowledge and many other more marginalised voices trying to be heard.

I can amplify and signpost to other writers. I can encourage others to express themselves as they wish and try to lower barriers. I can keep expressing myself despite my inner critics so others may be emboldened to do the same.

If I write and others are inspired to write something better then I have helped offer a step and a goad. Perhaps some people will read and have happier lives or help others to do so. If the only response someone has is critical, that is OK, too ... It shows they are thinking around the the subject.

When did you start writing?

I mainly wrote for myself rather than for others until there were things I wanted to say to a geographically distributed community.

There used to be a magazine in the UK bi community called BiFrost which stopped publication in 1995, just when I was meeting the annual national get-together for bisexuals, friends and allies called BiCon.

Many people wanted a newsletter so Bi Community News was formed and I edited it for a while and still write there.

I've also contributed as a chapter writer or interviewee to a few books and pieces of research work. I wrote a chapter, "SM and Sexual Freedom: A Life History", as an activist, for Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives in Sadomasochism by Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2007.

I am currently sharing the findings of a project I conducted recently which collates experiences of bisexual people using emotional support or mental health services and which I hope will lead to better training and professional practice.

And although I am not committing to writing more for books right now, I note that there hasn't been a recent UK book on non-monogamies. I also write snippets and scene settings for fiction as my brain keeps coming up with such narratives and I wonder what would happen if I put them down together on some pages.

Do you write everyday?

I tend to write in bursts of enthusiasm.

I'd like to be better at getting into a writing mood quickly and getting some words down in pockets of dead time throughout the day and be more tolerant of interruptions.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Writing about sexuality I have much appreciated a number of writers of more ephemeral forms on-line and in zines over the years as well as books such as Pat Califia's Speaking Sex to Power, John Preston's My Life as a Pornographer and Carol Queen's Real Life Nude Girl. These take an unapologetic, brave and clear look at how things could and should be in a better world.

I've also loved bits of recent history including No Bath But Plenty of Bubbles by Lisa Power from the oral history of the Gay Liberation Front; veteran of the campaign for homosexual equality, the late Antony Grey's writings; and Pressing Matters by Christine Burns about the successful Press for Change work around transgender issues.

I can mention books around bisexuality but there are rather a lot of them and an annotated bibliography might be more appropriate!

I feel lucky to have met a number of contemporary bi writers as well as having read their words.

I tend to read speculative fiction, occasionally utopian writers like Iain M. Banks or Ursula K. LeGuin, and dystopian, urban / technical, universe building authors.

I value books above other media and so approach writing for one with care.

Much of my thinking comes from both my own life and the many bi lives I have intersected with. I take the anger, the fear and the hope and joy and try to approach them all as true parts of our stories.
I have felt very open and am operating from a reasonably integrated "me" and am closely connected and moved by some wonderful people when writing.

I am also aware of writing with some horrible experiences in mind because they should not have happened or because people can do better.

And I have spoken to enough people in comic shops and bars to remember that concepts that might have been polished or kicked around in niche communities probably make no sense to the rest of the world ... because of that, I try to be as clear as possible when I write or speak.


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