Thursday, 26 May 2011

We agreed, no leaders!

When I first got talking to people about the bi scene beyond my home city, I kept coming up against a quote from the film Time Bandits:
We agreed: No leader!

For a long time I didn't realise this was a quote and - as you do when you find yourself around people who've been doing something longer than you have - assumed it was the distilled wisdom of bisexual activists who had gone before.  We shall have no leaders, no-one shall be a spokesperson or able to claim to be giving a bisexual voice.

Well, it turned out the full quote is

Randall: do you want to be leader of this gang?
Strutter: No, we agreed: No leader!
Randall: Right. So shut up and do as I say.
Which is more of an amusing analysis of how formal and informal power structures work.

Til I found that out, the turn of phrase troubled me as I thought it was a recipe for floundering and getting nowhere fast.  Leaders of any social strata community are by definition a bit mis-representatitive, but when one compares how far gay and lesbian liberation / equality / visibility / callitwhatyouwant has gone in the last twenty years with the leaders they've had, and compare it to bi progress in our ostentatiously leaderless (un)structures... well, leadership sometimes looks like it might have been a clever plan. There's lots we might find ourselves at odds with in how LG things have shaped up, and lots of things that I might argue the bi movement has done better thanks to the way our projects and groups have worked, but on balance, and at the risk of deviating from the party line our non-existent leaders don't issue: we had better parties but the other lot got further along toward an arbitrary set of goals.

Leaders are divisive, sure. Anyone having an opinion and holding it up in public is divisive, mind. So long as you have several voices, there's room for additional or replacement voices, and the people involved disagree reasonably on a reasonable amount of turf, leaders are probably a good tactic. Since Bisexual Index formed, for instance, you'll find Bisexual Index voices get quoted in bits of the press and even invited on TV and radio to put a bi viewpoint.  To a lesser degree, the same thing has happened with BiPhoria (the longest-running bi group we have now) and Bi Community News.

Having high profile figures connected to the community gives people outside the bisexual community whirl someone to connect to, a way "in" or a voice to draw into their own conversations.  A person to invite as a speaker.  A person to call for a quote.  A person to ask when you need signposting.

I think that's a good thing.  Not that I'll always agree with whoever that person is on whatever they're talking about - damn boring life would be if I did, even if I am mellowing into pragmatism in my middle age - but then one hell of a lot of gay people have disagreen with Angela Mason, Ben Summerskill and Peter Tatchell down the years.  The fact that a Ben or an Angela or a Peter was there was still mostly a good thing, even if I might have liked to swap someone else into that role.

Which takes me back to the original point of this posting this blog post, which has been a little bit meandery.  You know I was talking about this Health Summit the other day?  On the same weekend, also in Cardiff as part of an entwined conference series, there is one on LGBT Leadership.  A networkingy trainingy event to skill up, empower, develop and all those kind of shiny words, lesbian, gay, bi and trans leaders in activist circles, business circles, political circles, etc.

And on the weekend when the UK's most committed bi political and community activists - bi being probably in this country the least vocally represented of the four strands - are all tied up elsewhere.


Sigh.  Maybe it'll happen again next year.


  1. I might go, if it's on the weekend!

    Though I have no sense of history or networking and am probably the rubbishest bisexual for them to have. So rubbish I won't be at BiCon for the weekend like is right and proper ;)

  2. Ach, would still know a lot about what's going on out there, and I know you can ask awkward questions!