Thursday, 28 January 2016

Gender outrage

The Brighton Argus (and as a result the Metro and I think we can assume the Daily Mail) is up in arms at the news that some survey or other has been given to schoolkids in Brighton which asks about things like their gender. The Argus can't remember the difference between gender and sexuality and ties itseful up in knots while the Metro squeals:

For gender there are 24 options listed. Well, 23 and prefer not to say. OK, 22, plus prefer not to say and a write-in Other box. So either 22 or 23 or an infinite number, so let's put 24 in the headline because it's definitely not the right answer.

"Oh waily waily, the sky is going to fall in" cry the Chicken Lickens of the 1970s who are somehow still grinding articles out for newspapers.

How on Earth will a child - a mere child, with no more knowledge about their sense of gender than actually being that person day in, day out, and spending their whole life being the person who actually inhabits their own damn gender - how will a child be able to tick the right box? When wilfully and conscientiously backward journalists, with no way of finding things out because their feeble minds live in the world of DI Gene Hunt not the world of I'll Just Google It, are not quite sure what demi-girl might mean.

What's that? "It's quite work-out-able and basic a word that if you're not sure what it means you could just say it out loud, think about the two elements, and it's bleedin' obvious?" Not in 1973 it isn't. And that's where we all are, right?  Especially kids born this century.

So yes. 24 options. Basically: good, almost all the pupils will simply tick "female" or "male" and this is not difficult, scary or challenging. For a few they will be able to tick others and by gods what a good thing for them it is to have their existence acknowledged rather than being told they are bad and wrong once again. The lazy hack journalists who have sniped at this need tossing back into the decade where they belong, and leaving there.

If you are, say, happily female, you don't need to know what all the other options might mean when you can just say: that box there, that's me, tick. There are a fistful of names I have trouble pronouncing, yet when it comes to identifying my own name on an attendance list, them appearing on the list too wouldn't stop me finding my name and going "ah yes, that's me".

But to be honest, on seeing the headline what I first think is: 24 options? I do hope they're coded with one letter each from the alphabet, excluding F and M.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Privilege: less Street Fighter, more D&D

The 'privilege' model of understanding the different life experiences that people tend to have according to where in the world or the UK they live, their gender identity, sexual orientation, skin colour and the like has been bouncing about for quite some time. It has some merit.
One of the problems it runs into is the argument that "but not all [grouping] feel the benefit of this leg-up!"

A neat way of exploring that is the notion of it being like playing a game and having different difficulty settings - you can still win, but it's like fighting harder opponents. You need more skill, luck or judgement, if you don't get straight-white-cis-man* as your difficulty setting at the start of the game.

I like that 'game setting' analogy, though I find it works better I you think of it less as a "easy moderate or hard" option at the start of a videogame, more like a boardgame where you roll dice and some players get an extra die or two. So you could still roll all ones and someone else gets fewer dice but is good at rolling sixes.

Now I just have to work out whether coming out of the closet as e.g. bisexual gets you an extra die for not playing with one hand tied behind your metaphorical back, or loses you one for gaining the encounters with prejudice you were previously avoiding.

Possibly it gets you a die with different numbers on it - say a four sided die with sides marked 0,0,4,8 instead of 1,2,3,4. The only bit of the theory I'm certain of it gets you one that's purple instead of grey.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Stonewall 100 and Bisexuals At Work

Today Stonewall presents its annual list of the UK's top employers for LGBT staff.

The "Workplace Equality Index" is one of the organisations key programmes these days, after 25 years of campaigning for, and sometimes against, legal changes to establish either lesbian and gay or LGBT equality.

Bisexual exclusion in LGB or LGBT spaces is nothing new, though there is an encouraging trend to address it in workplace staff networks. At BiPhoria, the UK's longest-running bisexual organisation, we've been working with employers and voluntary organisations on bisexual inclusion since the late 1990s, when the more switched-on groups started to address this.

Research over the past decade on workplace experience for bi people tells us two key things. First, that simply having an LGBT network in place made a big difference to how comfortable gay and lesbian people were about being out at work; but no difference to bisexual staff. Second, that while around 50% of gay staff feel they can safely be out at work, bi women are half as likely to feel they can be out at work as are lesbians or gay men - and bi men only half as likely again. When seven out of eight bisexual men feel they need to mask their sexual orientation to get by at work, we've still got a lot to do.

To me, that reflects the wider 'gay scene' where in the 80s and 90s there was widespread prejudice towards and exclusion of bi people. Back then Unison's lesbian & gay network expelled bi members, the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard would not let bi volunteers work on its phonelines, and bars on Manchester's Canal Street had "no bisexuals" door policies.

There has been a tendency when moving from "LG" to "LGB" or "LGBT" organising to welcome the "gay side" of bisexual people - which of course we don't have, any more than an English person is just a Welsh side and a Scottish side put together. We're entirely bisexual.

But if your LGBT group is having a women's night out and your lesbian colleagues can bring their girlfriends, do you feel you can bring your husband, or do you feel a bit less welcome?

If your posters and policies in the workplace talk about homophobia and transphobia, are you challenging biphobia - including biphobia from gay and lesbian staff?

What can employee networks do?

- Understand that you don't start with a clean slate: for example Unison's LGBT group spent several years getting from the initial change from LG to LGBT to having a thriving bi network, because they had to undo the effects of past bi exclusion.
- Collaborate with local bi organisations around the country like BiPhoria. There's a list of them on the Bi Community News website.
- Put Bi Visibility Day (September 23rd) squarely on your activity plan for the year alongside events like Trans Day Of Remembrance.
- Be conscious about language; it's easy to slip from "LGBT" into "gay", yet it sends a message about which parts of the LGBT communities are welcome and the centre of your attention.
- Assume some of your staff are bisexual. Including some of the people who you've read as being gay or straight.
- Outreach work such as advertising in bi press like Bi Community News, sponsoring or otherwise supporting events like BiCon and BiReCon.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015


I came across this old film poster, from a film with a bi theme. You can almost hear the trailer-voice explaining how a woman ends up sharing university accomodation with two men - with hil-ar-ious consequences. I can hear it so well that I'm not going to look up the real trailer on youtube for fear I'm right.

But allow me to focus in on that tagline. One girl. Two guys. Three possibilities.

Will he date (or shag, or whatever you want to call it) her? Or will she date him? Or (gasp!) will he date him?

And I know it was a fair bit daring at the time, as the film came out in 1994 and I remember the state of queer cinema back then, but I'm so disappointed at the maths. The film itself breaks it down a little, pointing out that thanks to the extra dimension of time all these possibilities can come to pass, and end in delight or disaster. But as a tagline itself...

They could all not date each other. Four.

She could date him and him (but the guys not date one another). Five.

He could date him and her. Six.

He could date her and him. Seven.

They could all date each other. Eight, and possibly a trip to buy a bigger, sturdier bed.

And then, as I say, time allows for any permutations of the above you choose.

In short: Hollywood needs better maths teachers.

Monday, 21 December 2015

That Force'd Duality Of Star Wars

As it's (kinda) topical again, let's have this old graphic that I ran up a few years ago...

No spoilers here. Film v good though.

(For new readers, the New York Times a few years ago headlined some duff research with "Gay, Straight, or Lying". After some time there was an embarassed "yeah, that story was complete cobblers" follow-up.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Clubbing Improved

There's uproar in some quarters that the government plans to ban 'poppers' from the end of the year.

Good thing too. All my encounters with them were in clubs where they served a similar role to cannabis smoking - they smelled bad, made me ill, and they were non-consensually forced on people through proximity.

Good riddance. The freedom-to/freedom-from principle about the right to wave a fist and it connecting with another person applies.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Bi Visibility Day and politics

It's fab to see that once again bi activists were invited to a roundtable debate at the White House this Bi Visibility Day.

But what about here?

I took to twitter to see the engagement from political groupings

Lib Dems: Now a long time ago - in the 90s I think - the Lib Dems LGBT+ group got me and some other folk in to help with bi inclusion and representation. It's well reflected with about ten tweets on the day including photo and video content.
Tory: Their LGBT wing had nothing of its own but retweeted a couple of other bi tweets.
Plaid: One tweet, but well crafted.
Labour: Not a peep
Greens: Not a peep
UKIP: Not a peep
SNP: Can't find anything there either

Elsewhere the Government Equalities Office had a couple of tweets and the junior minister for Women and LGBT equalities tweeted a message too.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Dead Hand of the One Party State

I was kindly invited to write a guest post for another blog. Here it is...
“You’re from Manchester?” I was asked at an equalities event down south. “Your city’s always been miles ahead on gay rights, you must have done all this ages ago there”.

It was a well-meant question at a reception following the raising of the bisexual flag over Brighton Town Hall, which I’m reminded of today because it is again Bi Visibility Day, September 23rd. 
At moments like that you get an odd mix of wanting to rush to civic pride and feeling exasperated at what your city is really like.

“No,” I said. “We were quite good in the 80s, but it sort of… stalled.”

I wondered whether to explain how the non-existence of bisexuals used to be a matter of council policy and how embarrassingly long it took for that peculiar notion to be unpicked.

As a city we were a leading light in gay and lesbian equalities, but we got lost along the way, and I think that the one-party-state problem is an important factor in why.  For more than forty years Manchester has been run by one party with an absolute grip on power.  In Brighton, meanwhile, majority and minority rule has ebbed and flowed, and different coalitions have taken their turns.  As different issues of bi and trans inclusion became clear the council was able to respond to them.

Nothing at Manchester town hall had gone backwards: just the changeover in council spokespeople and in who was engaged with the council that changes in political power bring never happened.

Which meant we got stuck listening to the same set of voices. If you were content with the simple binary of “we’re all either straight or gay and both are okay” you were fine.  If you didn’t you were probably not going to fit in with binary thinking of Manchester’s ruling elite, and so they were never going to wind up listening to you.

So Manchester ossified as an example of what had been best 80s practice on gay rights, while elsewhere councils caught up and then overtook it.  For all that in the days of Section 28 coming into law Manchester was one of the places that were “good on gay issues”, by the 90s it was a bit of a laughing stock and by the 00s became literally a textbook example of failing in the era where “gay rights” had matured into LGBT+.

Which for a proud Manc is terribly frustrating when you have to admit to people in another city that they’re doing equalities better than your place.

There’s a similar effect nationally, by the by.  As a grassroots campaigner for bisexual and transgender liberation and equality since the 1990s, the five years of a formal Tory / Lib Dem coalition at Westminster was the one time in my life where the central government made public its plans for LGBT issues.

The LGB&T Action Plan that Lynne Featherstone published in Manchester in 2011 let every small group know month-by-month what was going on for the rest of the parliament: who to lobby and when about what area of LGBT equalities.  Before and since that kind of information has been the preserve of the wealthy, Westminster bubble groups like Stonewall, but for a few brief years the pyramid of power was brought low and whether well-funded or not, London, Manchester or the sticks, we could all have our voices heard.

So here’s to coalitions, oppositions, and (political) uncertainty. They make for a council that listens and keeps up with the times.

And happy Bi Visibility Day.