Friday, 28 October 2016

The Big Day Out

Back in June was the big announcement of the Queen's Birthday Honours List, but yesterday was the Big Day itself: and I was off to Buckingham Palace to meet a senior royal and have a medal planted on my chest for Services To The Bisexual Community. An MBE, or as I inevitably punned, an MBiE. The first such and the first Mx, a fabulous thing for me but also a tiny bit of trail blazing.

The Investiture

About three months on from the publication of the Honours List in June an invitation arrives in the post.  It's just about the best "boss, I want to take the day off work because..." you could hope for.  The Head of State, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, wants you to pop round to her place so you can be given a medal.  I'm sure there are employers who would say "no" to that one, but you really wouldn't want to work for them if you could avoid it.  I am finally sure from the paperwork that when you get the gong it's called an Investiture: I am very much a fish out of water here so the language is all a bit alien.

You get to take three guests with you. I make my choices and so we are attending as a quartet of people who have volunteered with some of the UK's most prolific and enduring bi projects.

9am on the big day and I and my three guests are pulling on posh frocks and the like.  It's not far from where we've stayed the night to Buckingham Palace but there's unanimity on "in these shoes, we're getting a taxi".

To the Palace and we arrive early so there is time for some queueing in the grounds, being photographed through the gates by tourists. This is followed by being guided around the building and after a short while separated, recipients from their guests.  The guests - being mostly in threes - can chat amongst their groups or with one another, while we recipients are led to a room where we mill about together for about an hour - so lots of respectful conversation with people you'd probably not otherwise meet who you know are bloody good at whatever it is they do.  A couple of them I know faintly from their equalities work or from the occassional 10 Downing Street LGBT receptions.

There are about 83 of us in attendance, and about two dozen people guiding us around the building, checking who is there and so on. One with exquisite politeness takes me to one side: the medals are in female and male versions, and we wanted to make sure which you would prefer, very sorry to disturb you and ask.  An answer is given and from that point on there is never so much as a flicker of an eyebrow.

The honours come in descending order of rank so I get a while of waiting while the Knights and what have you are taken first.  A CCTV feed lets you watch the ceremony in progress - and there are my guests in the front row!  Hell, they look so fine.  And then my name is called and I am off to the final queue.

Presentation of each honour is made in female first then male, and within each alphabetical order, so being a Yockney I conveniently came either at the end of the women or between the two big gender blocs depending how you choose to see it.  It's not often having a name at the end of the list works out to my advantage!

Whatever you think of the monarchy as a thing, it is amazing what a fine job of her role here the Princess Royal makes. Each one of us, whether the highest ranking or the last in the line, get a very similar amount of time in conversation, and I gather afterwards that the ones higher up the queue who have ever received another honour from here are greeted with how good it is to see them again.  I know she must be very well briefed but it is flawless and consistent.

Everyone wants to know the conversation you get: the Princess Royal asks about where I live and reflects that on matters of gender and sexuality diversity it must be difficult to know quite when and where to be out. I think herein is kind of an acknowledgement of the struggle I had back in the spring, working out what to put when it asked about things like gender and title, as well as the wider world. I answer that the thing is that while it can be hard to be out, everyone who is makes the closet door that little bit wider open for the person behind them. And my time is up and my medal is on my chest and I have shaken a Princess' hand.

In the structure of the presentation you bow or curtsey, go forward to receive your honour and brief talk, walk backward, curtsey or bow again and move on.  To blend things as best as I can, I curtsey at the start and bow at the end.  Again: no flicker of judgement or what have you, just the same warm congratulation from the team keeping the wheels turning as they give every other recipient.  The monarchy is ancient, the honour I'm receiving some hundred years old, but the people making the wheels turn are thoroughly modern.

An orchestra plays as the presentations take place - as I took my seat after the presentation I realised we were being treated to an arrangement of a David Bowie song. Deliciously appropriate. (As I was receiving the award I'm told it was Nobody Does It Better. I have no idea, I was far too lost in worrying about falling over as I curtseyed or what have you).

And it was over and outside for photos and off for a huge slap-up meal and strawberry cider and, at last, taking your posh shoes off and being able to walk more easily!

The Honour Thing

It's a big deal, and one I find a bit weird: I have to tell myself now and then during introductions to add "MBE" to who I am. I didn't start volunteering for glory (hell if I had I'd've picked a different field!) but because I'd come out as bi and trans and tried to find support and social spaces, but the services and spaces I found were so lacking that I felt the only way they would happen would be if I learned the skills and got stuck in.

But I have been volunteering, for various bi causes, for over 20 years - I started in about 1992 depending on quite where you draw the line. Since 1995 there's been at least something every month and from 1996 or so something every week, barring hospital levels of health problems like having to lie down for a month after four charmers queerbashed me.  Some of the projects have been fleeting, others carry on for years: frontline support for people coming out as bi at BiPhoria, for example. 

People ask me about the monarchy and the empire aspects. There are those who turn down their gongs and the press is busy this week with a story of how John Lennon sent his back. I'm not wild about either the monarchy as a system or the empire as, well, my heritage is not very empire. But the bottom line for me is: this is the current Head of State of the country I choose to live in, and this is the system that same country uses for recognising the work in the community of its citizens.  It is both an Honour and actually an honour, and a world away from the world I grew up in that such a symbol of the establishment is recognising someone genderqueer championing bi people's liberty and equality.

So: it was an amazing day out, and I shall probably spend the next fortnight gazing into the middle distance and going "wow" as I zone out for a moment. A double first, so to speak, that I hope to see followed up with seconds and thirds quite soon.

Oh: and here are some photos!


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Prime Ministerial mindslip

News in from the PinkNews Awards and it seems both PinkNews and our new Prime Minister have forgotten who piloted the Same-Sex Marriage Bill through Parliament. It was not Theresa's predecessor, for all that she and he might like to pretend it was a Tory idea now that it's widely received as a good idea after all.

I suppose it was the last chance PinkNews had to buff up Cameron's ego, and there was bugger all else in his LGBT record to praise. There's been money for tackling biphobic, transphobic and homophobic bullying, but that was Jo Swinson's work, and the Transgender Action Plan, but that was Lynne Featherstone... after that you get down to George Osborne's cuts in funding for health research and the like, which is not often the kind of thing that awards are made of.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

82% means it's all OK, right?

This report says that 82% of football-game-going people "would not have a problem" if a gay player was on their team. 8% would abandon their club.

That maths suggests as much as 10% would turn up and think homophobic abuse toward their own team was the right thing to do. Manchester United's ground has a 75,000 capacity apparently: if half of them are supporting the home team and one in ten of those are good with yelling (whatever), that's nearly 4,000 voices from your own fan group telling you to **** off for being gay.  What a welcoming environment.

And we don't get the more meaningful questions - if the other team had a gay player would you incorporate that into the degrading shit you yell at the other team?  And if someone next to you was shouting homophobic abuse, would you tell them to STFU or try to report them for a hate incident, or let it go because it's banter against the opposition?

My understanding of football crowds is coloured by the ones I've encountered in the street as someone who doesn't look like "one of us". It also comes from the one game I attended: Manchester United v Red Star Belgrade in 1991, where the UK fans were yelling abuse around the slide into war that was happening all around the Serbian team back home.  Your homeland is imploding and you're about to endure years of bloodshed and terror: but you're on the other team so we think that's fair game.  What lulz.  I didn't go back.

It's 25 years on. I am not convinced the attitude and behaviour on the terraces has evolved since then, though I'd be glad if it has.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Aberfan, 1966

50 years ago today, the Aberfan disaster, and the BBC's on-the-scene report.

Imagine if all disaster reporting were still this human (as opposed to colour-by-numbers "human interest" reporting).

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Bolton Pride: a few words

With a slight air of "oh lumme, I thought I had another five minutes before I was speaking", this is what I said at the closing event of Bolton's second LGBT Pride, on the steps of Bolton Town Hall. 

I figured that on a cold windy evening they wanted something short and sweet, so I reflected on how different from many other Prides the weekend had been.  B throughout, T throughout, and with more of a mix of ages and skin hues than just about any other Pride I've been to.

"Hello and thank you for inviting me along.

"This weekend has been Bolton Pride but it opened with Bi Visibility Day on Friday. The eighteenth year we have celebrated that date.

"Bi Visibility Day started as a celebration of bisexual space. In the years it has grown hugely and was marked in about twenty countries with getting on for a hundred events this year.

"But it started because too many of us had found that we were pushed out, excluded, from LGBT space. We were only welcome if somehow we only brought a part of who we were.

"But here, at Bolton Pride, and in the run up to Pride here what I have seen in Bolton's LGBT+ group and the organising team, is the opposite of that story. 

"So I want to say thank you: thank you to the team who put this weekend together and to all the people who have come along to the event, for giving us a postive inclusive pride that welcomed and reached out to us regardless, that was open to all of us and lived all of its LGBT letters and more."

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Mancester Vountary Service talks to me...

Also around Bi Visibility Day (there was rather a lot this year) the local Centre for Voluntary Services were doing a feature called Spirit Story, about Manchester's volunteering spirit. Bi stuff is quite strong on the volunteering spirit, on account of almost all of the time there's been no darn money in it, as distinct from L&G stuff in the city.

So cue one short interview-driven piece about what I, BiPhoria and assorted related folk were doing last Thursday: Bi Visibility Eve...

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Interview for the LGBT Foundation

The LGBT Foundation have been sharing some bi stories, and one of them was mine; this what what it said...

When did you first realise you might be bisexual?
My sister came to visit and left a copy of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit on our kitchen table. I was 15; within a week it was read and something I'd known since I was about 12 started to develop a word to go with the feeling.

How did you come out?  What were people's reactions?
I came out to the whole of my sixth form shortly after - it was a new school and had the "I can't lose any friends" aspect, though I look back at it now and it feels like a lot more of a risky idea.  From there there's been the whole gamut from "me too" to a couple of old friends who didn't want to know me any more.  That made me achingly sad at the time but is their loss, in the end.

What's the best thing about being bisexual?
I tend to think it's that whoever you fall for is never a surprise - as compared to say someone who has always thought of themselves as a lesbian and then falls for a man.  Actually it can still be quite a surprise, just in other ways.

Have you experienced biphobia?  Were you able to do anything about it?
Many times. Sometimes, being trans, it gets hard to spot which bit of prejudice is which. But for example a while ago I said something about being bi at an LGBT meeting and the person next to me said; "if you say you're bisexual to me that means you're not happy in your current relationship". Well, I've been saying it since I was sixteen and that's included, ahem, a fair few relationships over the years. If I've managed to be unhappy in all of them I must be a lousy picker! The situation there though just felt a bit too unsafe, so I found a way to extract myself from the conversation and be elsewhere.

Why do you think Bi Visibility Day is important?

For a long time now I've been saying: the principal challenge for bisexuals is invisibility and all that flows from it, and the solution is visibility and all that comes with it.  I've been involved in marking Bi Visibility Day every year since that first time back in 1999, both raising the bi profile and celebrating the mutual support we get from bi community spaces.  As visibility has risen some of the challenges - that our needs were assumed to be whatever gay and lesbian needs were only lesser, for example - have started to be acknowledged more widely.
We've still got a long way to go, mind.

Do you have any bisexual role-models?

Not really. I have a few queer heroes, people like Bernard Greaves who has been consistently championing LGBT rights since before I was born, but I'm more motivated by my antiheroes, the biphobic and transphobic people whose actions made me get off the sofa and get stuck in!

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of coming out as bi?

First, and this is the same for coming out as trans or gay as well, work out a safe plan. If coming out going badly may for instanct mean you lose your home, you need to have a plan for what to do, where to go.
Take it at a speed that works for you: you may have had a really important realisation about yourself, but if today isn't the right day for it you can still come out tomorrow.
Second, and especially for bi people because we tend to be a bit "invisible", find other bi people for peer support.  It's good to have other people to reassure you you're "bi enough" or to share some of the more peculiar responses you get with and let off steam.  BiPhoria's a good place to start.
And last, be ready for surprises.  Because, again, we can be a bit invisible, some of the people you tell will reply "me too".  Which can be wonderful, even if you do think "damn, if you'd told me sooner I wouldn't have been so worried about telling you myself!"