Each year, the Society’s Research Groups recognise outstanding work from undergraduate and postgraduate students at higher education institutions both in the UK and overseas.
The Space, Sexualities and Queer Research Group award an annual prize to the best undergraduate dissertation on a theme related to sexualities and/or queer research in human geography. Katy Simms, from Durham University, was the recipient of the 2020 prize with her dissertation No-one wants to meet the love of their life on Tinder, which looks at the effects of mobile dating apps on love, intimacy and identity negotiations for bisexual individuals. As part of LGBT+ History Month, we spoke to Katy to ask her about her prize-winning dissertation.
Where did you get the inspiration for your dissertation topic?
In my second year I studied a module on social and cultural geography, and particularly enjoyed one aspect that looked at the geographies of sexualities. My lecturer and dissertation supervisor, Ben Anderson, delved into the idea of mediated intimacies and how there is a changing idea of love and intimacy, and one area he touched on was mobile dating apps. I found this topic fascinating, as someone who has been on dating apps before, and in a generation where they are so popular. As a bisexual woman myself, I thought it would be interesting to see if there are any commonalities between people who are bisexual, and whether they have had similar experiences to me.
Could you tell us a little about how you collected research for this topic, and any particular challenges you faced?
I was lucky with research collection, as I managed to get all my interviews done before lockdown. I think that helped me a lot, as building a rapport with people is much easier in person. I tried to have a queer-feminist methodology in mind, to level the playing field, and I tried to recognise my own positionality; obviously I can’t comment on dating apps as though I haven’t used them before, and I really took that into consideration. Discussing sexuality is quite a sensitive topic, so I framed the interviews more as conversations, bringing in my own experiences to make people feel relaxed. Durham has quite a small queer community, so it was important to keep pseudonyms throughout, and also keep it professional.
I really enjoyed data collection – I think it was my favourite part – it was lovely to see so many bisexual people come forward. I had sent out a blanket post on my university page asking if there were any bisexual people who used dating apps, and who would of thought there were so many! I was really surprised, and it just shows that it is an important area to talk about, with so many people willing to share their experiences. It was nice having a conversation about bisexuality, and it definitely helped me to develop new ideas.
What was the most interesting finding from your research? Did anything come up that you would like to investigate further?
My dissertation was split into two areas – firstly looking at whether ideas and geographies of love and intimacy have changed from previous ideals, and secondly looking at how that affects bisexuals identifying and negotiating their identity. I think on both accounts there was just a massive sense of contradiction – everyone hated dating apps but continued to use them. There is a lot to be unpicked there, and in how there are creative tendencies despite algorithms and the architecture of the apps being very obviously gendered and heteronormative. It would be interesting to look at the topic from a digital geography perspective and explore how bisexual people – myself included – can develop cultural and digital cues to forge an area for ourselves.
A lot of research on sexuality talks about ‘LGBT+’ or ‘queer’ lives in general. Why is it important for researchers to think about bisexuality specifically?
It is just a very under-researched subject area; I know that when I was doing my own research I found a few people writing on the topic, but I also had to borrow a lot from gay and lesbian areas. Undoubtedly not talking about something creates problems for people, it just silences their voices, and just from speaking to the 20 people that I did, I could see there is a lot to be said on the topic. There is no all-encompassing definition of bisexuality, if you ask each individual person it will be completely different. So why not use something so messy and diverse to look at how we can destabilise categorised thinking? We can really use this area that is so inherently conflicting to try and stop reifying binary thinking. And also, just the purely selfish reason, that I am bisexual and want to read more about it!
Did you find any useful resources that you would recommend to an undergraduate student interested in the topic?
Definitely! Journal of Bisexuality and Homosexuality have some interesting things relating to geography, and not just geography but sociology and psychology too. I think with gender and sexuality studies it is important to go broader, as there is a history of sexuality being medicalised and related to biology. In terms of key texts, I’d say Judith Butler Gender Trouble is always a great place to start. I also used a lot of Foucault History of Sexuality, Technologies of the Self, and Gillian Rose in relation to digital geographies. So, my advice would be to start out with the big journals but look into geography specific areas too.
This month is LGBT+ History Month. Can you tell us about any geographers whose work engages with LGBT+ issues that have inspired you?
Throughout my experiences related to bisexuality and my research, I have used a lot of work by Dr Emiel Maliepaard. He specifies in bisexuality in geography, and even touches a bit on dating apps. He shows that there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from the subject area, and I really enjoyed his work. And then in terms of sexuality more generally, I think Natalie Oswin is great at bringing intersectionality into the conversation. I think that’s one area of my research that I didn’t explore as much as I could have, due to the demographic of Durham being predominantly white, and the scope of the dissertation. If I could do it again, I’d definitely engage more with intersectionality, and I think what Natalie Oswin has done in this area is really interesting.
What are your plans for the future?
That is the question! I’d love to do a Masters and a PhD. The plan was to go travelling and then do a Masters, but I think due to COVID-19 that is going to be rearranged. I want to study a Masters specifically in sexuality and gender, and then I’d like to bring that into a geographical PhD.
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