Friday, 10 June 2016


I’ve been sitting on this for weeks now but at last it is public: today’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List names me among the many others recognised for their work.

So from today I’m Jen Yockney MBE, which is one of the weirdest things I could imagine.

The Honour is for my extensive volunteering work with the bisexual community and on wider LGBT issues over the past couple of decades, whether with BCN, BiPhoria, Bisexual History Project, the Bisexuality Report, Bi Life, Bisexual Action, LGBT+LD, lobbying of ministers and GEO, or other things that just now I’ve forgotten.

When I saw the full citation for my activities – and all unpaid – it did come as a bit of a frightener.  By doing at least something every month for such a long time it adds up and by now I have done quite a bit.

In the 80s I was a teenager, following the progress of Clause 28 in the broadsheets but still in the closet about gender and sexuality both to others and myself.

I started to come out and get engaged in community organising and LGBT politics in the 90s, with student groups and the like. I found that they were very LG in their LGBT, with bi people, voices and experiences silenced and sidelined. This meant seeking out bi and trans spaces: at that point my activism could have gone either way, but the bi spaces I found were perversely more inclusive of gender diversity than the trans spaces.  Don’t take that as meaning either that bi spaces were perfect – they definitely weren’t! – or that trans spaces were all dire: it’s just the balance of comfort between the two, then, for me.

Over time I came to be involved in different projects.  Publishing magazines and pamphlets and lobbying local and national government and LGBT organisations can be removed from ordinary lived experience so I’m glad to also have BiPhoria keeping me - I think and hope - grounded in the day-to-day challenges of bisexual life for ordinary bi people.

The high points have included the first full-colour issue of BCN, the huge scale of the two Manchester BiCons, and being the first representative from a bisexual community project to be invited to the annual 10 Downing Street LGBT reception.  And now, of course, today.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Brexit would drive us to drink

Wetherspoons - who aside from this story are some of the best pubs going and have helped raise standards across the pub sector - are notoriously throwing beermats around the place with a weird set of claims to try and encourage a "Leave" vote in the referendum on June 23rd.

I can't help but notice that an economic future where we are poorer and with more reason to drink to drown our sorrows is exactly in Wetherspoons' interests. Hmm!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

10 years on: Fritz Klein

Sexuality researcher Fritz Klein died ten years ago today. 

Fritz on the cover of BCN magazine
Of all the 'names' in sexuality theory his is probably the second best known to bisexual people and those with a wider interest in research around bisexuality.

Back in the late 70s, as I learned the story, he wanted to do some research and include sexual orientation as one of the variables measured. Yet when he went to look for suitable metrics, the only one on offer was that compiled by Alfred Kinsey back in the late 1940s: the "Kinsey Scale" that grades sexual orientation from 0 to 6 according to whether your attractions are more to members of your own gender or another.

Kinsey's line is pretty easy to understand - add up your partners and divide by the number you first thought of.  However this is painfully limiting: for example, by scoring the number of people with whom someone has had sex, you might get quite the wrong idea about someone who found their way into a particular kind of sex work, or who dare not act on their true attractions due to family or legal pressures.

Klein set about devising his own set of measurements, leading in 1978 to the "Klein Grid", a 21-dimensional measure looking at different aspects of life and the past, present and ideal states. It's less a number, more a couple of phone numbers complete with trunk dialling codes, but it does a far better job of accommodating issues such as sexual orientation changing over time, coming out in later life, or being better at pulling with one gender than another. It's still not perfect: like the Kinsey line it's binary in its model of gender and relies on the idea that gender is in some way a factor, and cannot account for things like preferences for a younger or older partner, fetishes, or whether attraction is romantically or sexually driven.  But like Kinsey, even where it fails it gives us a language to articulate around sexuality and attractions that we did not have before. For bisexual people especially this was a greatly empowering new lexicon.

My main personal memory of him is from BiCon 2002, arguing with me whether the bi movement should still strive for printed publications; he saying no, me saying yes. Broadly his position was that everyone had  private internet access so there is no need for the cost and grunt-work of print, while mine was that physical objects have permanence and tangibility. I think our different socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds meant we were coming at the question from two very different perspectives, but it was a happy and friendly argument.

Arguing their case and open to hearing the opposing view: it's a good way to remember someone.

28... years on

28 years ago today, Section 28 became law. It was not the first thing to make me pay attention to politics, but in the end it would be the biggest motivator in going from armchair to activism.

One of the joys of life today is that when you talk to young people, even politically informed queer young people, you have to explain what it was. Often this is followed by some incredulity that people thought such a thing was OK, let alone a popular vote-winner, just a few years ago. Yet David Cameron got elected into parliament through a campaign that included attacking the politically correct rascals on the other side with their wicked intentions to repeal the law.

Section 28 as it would be known, Section 2A as it more strictly became once law, and "the clause" in popular parlance at the time it was going through parliament, was an amendment to the 1986 Local Government Act, which said:
Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material.

(1)The following section shall be inserted after section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition of political publicity)—
2A“ Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material.

(1)A local authority shall not—

(a)intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;

(b)promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

(2)Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of treating or preventing the spread of disease.

(3)In any proceedings in connection with the application of this section a court shall draw such inferences as to the intention of the local authority as may reasonably be drawn from the evidence before it.

(4)In subsection (1)(b) above “maintained school” means,—

(a)in England and Wales, a county school, voluntary school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education Act 1944; and

(b)in Scotland, a public school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”

(2)This section shall come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
In practice and in intent, Section 28 made homosexuality a thought crime, an act which Russia is busy proving to us was not solely possible off the back of 1980s HIV hysteria, though back in the 80s that probably helped. Despite the "homo" wording it was a bi and trans issue too, as there was such a deep lack of grasp of LGBT in the public consciousness back then.

It was a vague law - I remember hearing one Tory MP defend it to an LGBT audience claiming that as it was so poorly worded it didn't mean anything and therefore couldn't be homophobic in effect and did no harm. Fair play, if you're going to lie, make it a big one.

Actually the looseness of the language meant that it could be argued to prevent anything homophobes in positions of power wanted to stop happening. I saw it used to block information for schoolkids who wanted to know their human rights, to bar newspapers appearing in libraries, and to silence those who wanted to support people struggling with their gender or sexuality.  Even where there was support for gay people, it was used as an excuse to defend biphobia (to paraphrase but not by much, "section 28 means we can't give help or recognition to bi people, as that would encourage straight people to become gay")

It was a populist backbench Conservative bill introduced with Labour support, leaving only the Lib Dems on the other side of the argument. The Lib Dems had slightly more MPs than they do now but were still helplessly outnumbered. Knowing it was unlikely to be stopped outright, Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes brought forward changes that would have watered the measure down, but they lacked support beyond his own party. Labour's grassroots members started pressing their party's MPs to change tack and oppose the measure, but that took some time: and even if they could be persuaded, Margaret Thatcher was sitting on a majority of 100.

And so on May 24th, 1988 it became law.  It was the post-1967 nadir of LGBT equalities in the UK, adding to a litany of inequalities: employment, age of consent, adoption, partnership recognition, pensions, housing and so on.

But it had a galvanising effect on the LGBT community, not least by giving lesbians and gay men a common cause to fight around. Like the baddy in any story, the politically active queer organisations and individuals it spawned would bring about its own downfall, and spur momentum toward the near-equality we have for LGBT people with straight cisgender people today. 

It should have been gone in 1997 when the Tories left power, as the new government had pledged to a tight spending programme but here was something positive for society that could be done at no cost. Alas Labour chose not to include repeal of Section 28 in their manifesto.  In the great tension of "what is right to do" versus "what will upset the Sun and the Daily Mail", they decided that keeping the tabloids on side was more important than childrens' lives. That meant repeal had to wait until the 2001-2005 parliament as the pro-prejudice majority in the Lords blocked repeal. As it wasn't in the manifesto, Labour felt they couldn't overrule the Lords on the subject.

It went in Scotland in 2000 though - one of the prices of coalition the Lib Dems extracted from Labour at Holyrood; in England and Wales it would stick around until 2003.

I was a teenager in 1988, and though I had newspaper cuttings about the clause on my bedroom wall I no longer remember the day the clause became law. I remember the day it went though; for a little while I thought: we have won, it is ended, I can stop fighting now. Then the next day dawned and there was still far too much wrong in the world to rest just yet.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Excellent news

Manchester has crawled back from being a one-party state, with one solitary splash of change in the scarlet council map.

As ever, it's a Gold Left / Red Right city, liberalism versus entitlement.  You picks your team...

Monday, 2 May 2016

Nicola in the Stylist

My second favourite punnily-titled publication is the Stylist... or is it the StyList? Nowhere on my daily commute dishes it out alas but I often find it in the local takeaway, so I have just been enjoying this week's interview with bi boxing champ Nicola Adams.

Pick it up free somewhere that it's free, while you can!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Bi, Poly: Overlapping challenges?

I did some public speaking recently, at a Man Met Uni polyamory conference: here's what I said...

Hello. My name is Jen Yockney, I’m not an academic, I’m here because of my work with the bisexual project BiPhoria. My pronouns are she/her or ze/hir – I’m easy either way, and beware there’s going to be a lot of bad bisexual punning like that to come.

BiPhoria is 21 and a half years old – the oldest extant bisexual community project in the UK – the previous group to hold that title closed down when it was 21 so this might be a crunch year. I’m also involved with Bi Community News magazine and have organised a number of events like today’s but about bisexuality, called BiFests, and longer things lasting a few days to a week called BiCon.

And I want to start with BiCon because one of the things we do there is an annual survey of who attends, which about a third of attendees return. In 2004 the survey found 40% of attendees described their relationships as poly; in 2014, 42% - and that’s current status, so there are likely more people who might be poly minded but single at the time or what have you.

So you might get the impression that bisexuals are all poly.

And in the other direction that the bis you notice are in multiple relationships, or open to them.

I don’t think that equivalence is quite the case, but I think there are some overlaps between the challenges of bi and poly invisibility and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

Bisexual invisibility – the way that we are trained to assume people to be gay or straight – is a handy phrase growing in currency. It’s something all of us do – even after 20 odd years of bi activism and volunteering I do. You see two people holding hands in front of you in the street, you make a best guess as to their gender, and a bit of your brain puts them in a box as gay or straight accordingly.  No ill intent, just how we're programmed, most of us.  Two boxes.

Let’s think about that invisibility's effects. In 2012 the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency published research including looking at how many people felt they could be out at work. For gay men and lesbians 50% now say this is the case. I grew up back when you could be summarily dismissed from work because your employer didn’t like gays or didn’t like bisexuals, so this is a brilliant figure and sign of change. Except once you think that if 50% feel they can be out, another 50% don’t feel they can. For bi women in the work place that sinks to 27% feeling they can be out, and for bi men, 14%. Seven out of eight men in my community can’t be honest about who they are at work for fear of social and career repercussions. Ten years after the law supposedly prevented discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation at work, that’s a frightening figure.

And not just at work. Last year’s “Beyond Babies” research from LGBT Foundation noted that 4% of straight women experience mental health issues; 12% of lesbians, yet 21% of bi women. When I was growing up we talked about bisexuality as being kind of “gay lite”, that you experienced half the problems and discrimination, when you were queerbashed you were only beaten up down the left hand side of your body. Turns out, it’s not like that at all.

And the root of these problems is bisexual invisibility. If we aren’t telling one other, we don’t spot each other. Because we only see the tip of the iceberg of who is bi, and of who is poly, we don’t have secret signals like haircuts or dress codes. We have to speak to be seen and then fight being policed down in our identity.

We’re told as bisexuals we are sexually greedy. Which is bad, apparently. Perhaps there’s only so much sex to go around, and we are hogging it. Whenever this one starts people seem to go for the same line too – “Woody Allen says”, they declare as if it were new, “that being bisexual doubles your chance of a date on a Friday night”. I have a few problems with that. The first is the maths doesn’t work. For a date on Friday night as well as you being attracted to them, they have to be attracted to you. We don’t – and I am outraged at this – we don't get twice as many Friday nights as non bi people. And there have been times in my life where the chance of a date on a Friday night was zero, and double that is – well, I can tell you’re ahead of me on that bit of maths.

We’re told we are sexually voracious; a couple of years back there was scientific research, and it must have been true because I read it in the Daily Mail, showing the reason women are bisexual is they just have far too much sex hormone sloshing around in them and it makes them prepared to have sex with absolutely anything. Um. No.

We are – and unusually in modern use this is a bad thing – indiscriminate. At my old job, as the token bisexual I would be called on to adjudicate in discussions of how attractive members of pop bands were. The people who fancied men would agree this one was the cutest, those who fancied women would agree this one was the hottest, but I would be called on as the bisexual to rule which was the hottest of all. Because of course I have no personal biases, tastes or preference.

And we are suffering from two mental problems – indecision or confusion, and the delusion that you really can be bisexual at all

And these remind me a lot of what they tell me about being poly. I hope I’ve layered them on with a thick enough trowel for it to be clear already. Greedy. Sexually voracious. At some point this whole delusional state of many attractions, many loves, is going to resolve itself down to a decision and understanding of the real truth, which gender we actually fancied all along, which one we were really in love with.

How do we develop ways to challenge these and the issues of invisibility?

First language. Poly seems to do quite well on this – useful words like metamour or compersion. A positive, even if not universal, language. Bisexuals are doing much worse: we don’t have a good word without the “sexual” in it akin to gay or lesbian, and Yougov’s recent research showed that while anything up to 43% of the population are attracted to more than one gender, only two percent would own the B word as a label.

Then there’s symbols. We used, going back to BiCon which I spoke about earlier, it’s been going for some 30 years and for a long time there was a new logo, new symbol, new slogan every year. Even if you saw someone who was at a BiCon five years earlier in their BiCon teeshirt you might not recognise its symbol. Then in 1998 Michael Page helped us hugely by inventing a flag. I know flags have, let us call it a mixed record when it comes to colonialism, but thanks to the bi flag there is now on ebay a wide range of pink, purple and blue - bisexual flag coloured - tat that you can buy to subtly communicate that you’re bisexual to others in the know.

And third, connecting regardless through the web and finding one another that way. The web is wonderful but there are problems with self-policing ourselves on facebook and whether your profile can identify your sexuality and partners without causing issues for them: information spreading easily can be good and bad.

So in conclusion, bisexual and polyamory: we are not the same set of people as the visible section of the bi community might make you think, but I think we do have a significant set of shared challenges and stereotypes and a common need to challenge our invisibility in everyday life.