It's 23 years ago today that I first went along to BiPhoria, then a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new meetup for bisexual people and today the oldest bi group in the country.
It wasn't my first time in bi space, but it was the first time I'd been in a bi space I hadn't had to lobby for and organise myself. And unlike those bi spaces I'd contributed to small conferences and events, this wasn't a one-off, but a regularly repeated chance to hang out with other bis. Rather than just meet people and talk here was a space to get to know people over time and make friends. So exciting!
Back then we met at the Sidney Street Lesbian & Gay Centre, whose name gives an honest reflection of where bisexuals came in the pecking order: every so often meeting rooms would be overbooked and upon arrival at the centre we'd find ourselves meeting in the kitchen. We were given use of a filing cabinet to keep bi resources in, but no-one had a key to it so what we really had was a filing cabinet we could perch a couple of cups of coffee on top of whilst talking.
It was technically not before the internet, but for all practical purposes it was. Communication was through postal mailouts, and people got in touch to know more about the group by writing letters to us at our P.O. Box address. As the person most likely to turn up first I was entrusted with knowing where the post went, collecting it, and doling it out ("we have a letter from someone wanting to know if there is a bi group near them in Liverpool, who wants to write a reply?")
But I think getting information through the post was much better for people actually coming to the meetings: rather than a vague "oh, I'll post it on the facebook group when I remember" you'd have a half-dozen flyers for whatever upcoming event might be of interest to pass around and be taken home by anyone interested.
Decision making was painfully slow. A side project, Bisexual Action Manchester, engaged the local council in debate about their policy of the non-existence of bisexuality. We'd meet one month and hammer out a letter; a month later, with a typed copy, we'd sign it and put it in the mail. Another month on we would meet and read the reply, and agree a rough wording for what we should say in turn. With no quick way of rounding people up, dates for meetings were set on a "they'll probably have written back by then" basis, and at least once we got to the bar to talk and the person with the typewriter sighed that they hadn't.
A simple discussion like that would go on for six months then and today would be over in an afternoon's worth of angry tweeting.
What's interesting is what hasn't changed. With growing bi visibility in public life, people are much less likely to write in asking: is this real, am I not the only one after all? But the moment of personal crisis when coming out to family, friends or partners still wants a human face and connection for support and advice. People who have come along for the first time to the group in 2017 describe being in a special space where you don't have to defend the existence of bisexuality or that your bi-ness is valid when you have a broad preference for this gender over those ones or are trying not to be erased into monosexuality whilst in a monogamous relationship is still just as real, the same way we did back in the 1990s.
23 years on for me, 23 and a quarter years of regular meetings for the group. The change all around us has been remarkable but BiPhoria being there is still surprisingly important.