Thursday 23 October 2014

Homosexuals, lesbians and gays

Fun for pedants in Hansard this week as Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak Ste McCabe remarks:
In the era of same-sex marriage—which it is difficult for some people to acknowledge—we are not talking about a single model of marriage. We could be talking about cohabiting, heterosexual, homosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It varies in the world we now live in.

I'm not sure which lesbians and gay men aren't homosexuals. Perhaps he's going over the turf a few times to try and make sure.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Bis are not more evolved...

One of the bi stereotypes / cliches that gets rolled out is that bisexuals are more evolved than other people. Cos, y'know, we see personality not gender or genitals. And by 'see' they mean fancy, or indeed intimately enjoy.

Though that's a worrying definition of bisexual so far as I'm concerned, because I've 'seen' a lot of personalities, a lot of genders and (gasp!) even some genitals as well.  Sometimes the gender of the person has been important to me, sometimes it has been important to them; oftentimes not. 

It is I'm sure a well-meaning thing to say. It implies a certain "I wish I were, I just don't have it in me", and it's complete nonsense. We're as evolved and as prone to cockwomblery as anyone else.

Earlier I was reading someone (no links, doesn't deserve the traffic) bewailing that they had tried going to bi spaces, but it was just so terribly unwelcoming because they had to listen to women, too.

More evolved? Pffft. In this case: the 1950s called, they miss you and want you back.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Join the Bi Visibility Day tweet-storm!

Are you on twitter? And if so, have you joined in the 2014 Bi Visibility Day mass-tweet yet?
Sign up here to be one of LOADS of bis and allies tweeting to mark Bi Visibility Day on September 23rd

Monday 30 June 2014

Bi Volunteering Diary

This post may seem a bit self-indulgent or congratulatory, but every so often people badger me to get this or that done on queer activism and seem to find it hard to imagine why I don't deal with that particular thing. So an incomplete diary of last week's bi activist shenanigans: it wasn't an especially busy week, I just decided to make some notes as I went along. Done around having a low-paid day job that is nothing to do with lgBt, partners, important radio listening, slouching on a sofa and so forth. So, if I didn't do the thing you were hoping for, I was probably taking care of stuff like this instead...

Monday. From midnight to 2am, try to work out why a PDF isn't generating properly of the otherwise finished artwork for the new issue of BCN. Get to bed when it finally does what it should do. Over breakfast, upload the PDF to the print house's servers. And go off to the day-job for a rather taxing day.

Monday evening, book a last-minute stall at small local Pride festival a few miles away. I wasn't going to do this, but the stall we did recently at a Pride some 50 miles away reached a lot of people who were clearly really happy to find something specific for bis at last, so I'm on a bit of a high. I suspect this weekend's event won't have such a sunny day and such luxurious icecream, but I'm on a high from last time so let's give up another Saturday eh?

Jot down a few ideas for a piece for a book on bi life someone's writing. I usually get these at the wrong time, like when I'm in the bath or on a bus somewhere and my thoughts will have flown by the time I get anything onto paper.


Tuesday. After work, spin up the database to generate mailing labels and get the envelopes stickered up for a magazine mailing. Over the years I have developed very fine labelling skills for getting envelopes labelled up in the most efficient way possible! Talk with Katie who is our finance person about when we can arrange for me to get back a load of expenses owed. Some tweeting and facebooking about Pride London and about Tameside Pride. A researcher who we helped last year gets back in touch, so I thank them for being one of the rare breed of researchers who are conscientious about feeding back to the community after - a practice I try hard to encourage! Jot down first thoughts about what's going in the August edition of BCN. Line up a story on BiMedia about same-sex partnership recognition on the Isle of Man.


Wednesday. Early in the morning BCN arrives from the print house; this means it's time for a BCN stuffing party! Call in enough pairs of hands and ensure tea and cake to keep up the stuffing momentum. Lug the first two bags to the post office and get them out into the post.

Around all this, find out that the organisers of the bi entry for Pride London have realised the banner they were going to use has gone awol. Contact people nearby who I think are going to London this weekend to see if anyone can take our banners down - no joy. Run up some designs for banners, get feedback from some people in London, run up some further designs, get more feedback and do more artwork tweakery. Find a print company and order the pair of them to be made as a rush job and off it all goes. Not used this print house before, fingers tightly crossed that they will do a good job.

Post this week's edition of my "what I'm doing at the moment" bi activism blog, which is not on blogspot.


Thursday. Before work, line up some news items about today's announcements re Civil Partnership and Marriage reform in Wales & England. Bill in the post goes onto the BCN "stuff to sort out" pile for the next time we have a finance meeting. Notice a news release about the TUC's LGBT conference which has decided it is against homophobia, with nary a mention of transphobia & biphobia, which I could blog about...

Instead go for dinner with one of my partners. Generally, take an evening "off the grid". Someone else can grump at the TUC for us, I'm sure.


Friday. Run round a quick circular about Tameside Pride on email lists. Talk to people in the USA about some problems they've picked up on. Tweet a bit about Bi Visibility Day and try to engage some other organisations in thinking about what they are doing in three months' time, so we get information in before September rather than all in a rush in the final week.

Find a soundcloud podcast of a meeting recently hosted by the council - feel glad I didn't attend as the whole thing is achingly LGbT and I'd only have been disenchanted. The good thing about podcasts is you can do the housework while they play...


Saturday. Get up early, take three trains and a bus ride to run the bi stall at a small local Pride. Awesomely [thanks to the power of the internet on my phone] get to see photos of the new bi banners being unveiled at Pride London 200 miles away. Run stall for four or five hours, chatter with a wide range of stall visitors, give out different leaflets and resources according to their needs. It's a small event but there are a couple of stall visitors for whom I think us being there has been really important. Feel loved as a stallholder when the event organisers bring us fruit and cake.

Public transport wends me slowly home and there I find an email waiting. Someone wants to reference a particular item in an old issue of BCN but it is not yet on the website. Get it up on the web for them as a rush job and settle down for dinner before catching up with two of my partners and generally going floomp on a sofa.


Sunday. Fried breakfast, shopping, an afternoon of watching episodes of Doctor Who from the 1960s, and a game of Civ.  Eager volunteers need time away from activism too :)

Sunday 22 June 2014

September 23rd and hashtags

A debate has opened up amongst some bi activists and groups online about how best to hashtag September 23rd this year on the twitternets.

This may seem a bit navel-gazing a question, but how we hashtag it has an important impact on how the 'official' name branding is perceived. In turn, what happens on the date, and who engages with it and how will be affected. And a combined, shared hashtag will get more momentum and attention - it is "good for SEO" I'm told.

Some of the suggestions bouncing around are:


The last one - #internationalcelebratebisexualityday - is the historically accurate name. It sums up what we want to do well, for all that it was I believe originally meant to focus inwardly on celebrating the (organised) bi community and has changed over time to be more outward looking. 

Unfortunately, it's about a third of a tweet in itself - as well as being a bugger to type on a small phone and an unwieldy name for dropping into conversation. Go do a radio interview where you need to mention what the date is called ten times and you will soon learn to hate such a bold selection of multisyllabic words.

As a consequence, #celebratebisexualityday developed some traction as a name. The trouble is that online there is a strong tendency for things to slip into the idea that "America is the world", and just losing the "international" I worry sends a signal that it's OK to talk of a September 23 that goes just as far as the Canadian and Mexican borders and not a step further. 

This ties in to a conversation among some UK bi activists a few years ago about better, friendlier branding for the date.  I have to say I was in the "sticky" camp of continuing to try and get traction on our existing branding, but was persuaded otherwise.

There seem to be two main contenders for alternative directions to go in.

#BiPrideDay (and related, #BiPride) takes the existing common notion of gay / LGBT+ Pride, which is nice and clear. The downsides are first that for people who want to organise and bring bis together, it suggests quite a specific set of things to do - Pride being associated with a moderately narrow range of festival models these days. For me there is also an implication that we have abandoned LGBT Prides (the ones 'we' invented!) and so the LGBT prides that significantly fail on bisexual engagement or representation have a get-out clause. #BiPride feels good for bi visibility over general LGBT Pride season, but lacks a focus on September 23rd. It's a bit like tagging IDAHO(BIT) as #lgbtPride.

#BiVisibilityDay names one of our biggest challenges as people and as a community and its solution in the name. By not being 'Pride' it opens up more space around ways people - bi or ally - might mark the date and seek to advance bisexual visibility, of people or of community. Only bis can have bi pride, but allies of bis can help raise the bi profile. On the downside it lack the familiarity of a "Pride" branding - but then IDAHO(BIT) and TDOR have that same issue and have still achieved decent levels of momentum and 'brand recognition' over time.

The blurring between those two is #BiDay. That's a lot shorter than #BiVisibilityDay so you can fit more content into your tweets.

It's about bisexuals and it's on a specific day. In the spirit of Bisexual Index's work to define bisexuality in as few words as possible so that there aren't stray words in there excluding people, #BiDay probably does the job of summarising September 23rd best.

Friday 30 May 2014

Bisexual or bi-sexual?

One question that's cropped up many times in my 20-something years of bi activism and bi volunteering is this:

Should bisexual and bisexuality be spelled with hyphens, as bi-sexual and bi-sexuality?

I say, down with the hyphen! Two reasons:

1) We don't hyphenate homo-sexuality or hetero-sexuality.

2) Generally when words get hyphenated like that it's because they aren't real words or are just getting accepted into English as a single word (think of old films where to indicate the passage of time they have a flipping calendar with "TO-DAY IS" on it -- or how early on people tended to write email as e-mail). As bisexuality is real and definitely not something invented earlier this week, I think the hyphen sends out all the wrong signals on that front too.

I wrote this in a thread somewhere else but thought it was worth copying over here :)

Friday 23 May 2014

England swings Right

With almost all the council election results in (there seem to be far fewer seats up than in 2010 which I'm a bit puzzled by) we've got a fair idea of the outcome of this year's May council elections, over which to ruminate wildly while waiting for the European election count this Sunday.

Across England the shift in seats is rightwards: towards the fear of your neighbour and the promise of a "better yesterday"-ism from Tory to UKIP, and similarly toward a more authoritarian, monocultural society in shifting from Liberal to Green.

Labour have picked up seats but their vote seems to have stalled. Like some of the county council seat results last year, when looking ward by ward at different councils today I kept finding find someone had got in not because Labour support has risen but because the voters seeking to oust them have shuffled between other parties and the famed 'split opposition' aspect of First Past The Post has done its work.

Monday 19 May 2014

Chwarae Teg

Fair play to the BNP*, normally when I get a bit of paper through my letterbox with racism on it, it's from the Labour Party.

Hopefully despite going for the same values as Manchester Labour, Griffin will nonetheless be out on his arse come Sunday.

* not a phrase that comes easily

Saturday 17 May 2014

My speech for the Manchester IDAHOBIT vigil today


Why ram in the B, people ask. It is controversial, even with the international IDAHOBIT committee.

In Australia today there's a film festival to mark IDAHOBIT. In their publicity they have said it is an LGBT event, challenging homophobia and transphobia and a celebration of lesbian, gay and transgender life.

Colleagues from the equivalents of BiPhoria down under have challenged this, not surprisingly. Is the B in that LGBT just there to make up the numbers?

And they were told: biphobia is just a subset of homophobia, it doesn't need mentioning.

I understand how people come to say that - it has long been the accepted idea of bisexuality. Half gay, half the oppression. Growing up and coming out into queer culture 20 or so years ago it was the received wisdom that I received too.

We didn't know better because bi voices had not reached that critical mass. And that connects to the wider world issues that IDAHOBIT draws to our attention, because then we similarly just couldnt know what was happening for queers in other nations.

And just as we have started thanks to the internets to learn of how things may be good or bad abroad, we have come to understand a lot more of life here in the UK too, and to have research on bi life rather than just the odd bit of anecdote.

Because when we started to learn from one another, it all got a bit more frightening.

Across Europe, 50% of lesbians and gay men are out at work. Fifty percent. That's great! Except... when we think of the maths adding up to 100. That means 50% aren't, often because they don't feel it would be safe or wise.

But then: only 27% of bi women are out at work
And 14% of bi men.

86% of the men in my community keeping themselves in the closet because of prejudice in the workplace, even in countries like ours where the law offers some kind of protection.

Just yesterday I got an email to BiPhoria from someone who had sought support at their LGBT staff network, "employee at national law firm... Weird how lgbt groups, like mine at my work can make me feel less included than not having one at all." Because biphobia comes from inside the gay community too.

Three years ago a report on queer people's health found one in five bi women rated their health as fair or worse than that. For gay and straight women it was one in ten.

When it came to their mental health, four per cent of straight women reported a long term illness. 12% of lesbians. But 21% of bi women.

And the statistics on women who experience rape, physical violence and stalking: straight 35%, lesbian 44%, bi 61%.

Not that 35% is a number any of us can be happy with.

Double the violent abuse. Five times the levels of mental health struggles.

So biphobia, it's not just a milder version of homophobia. A Manchester Labour councillor told me a year or so ago, bisexuals aren't part of LGBT because they don't experience oppression. The facts just don't bear that belief out.

And yet, this isn't that the world is getting worse. It is, in places, as the voting in Eurovision last weekend showed sometimes it can feel like the world is becoming more polarised for or against us. We have to stop and remember 20, 30, 40 years ago it didn't seem as polarised because it was even more one-sided. Slowly the tide of history is flowing our way even if sometimes it ebbs and flows

So, thank you for inviting me, it's a slightly scary privilege to speak alongside some of the colleagues I am here with today, and thank you for standing with us in the ongoing fight with homophobia, biphobia and transphobia

Friday 16 May 2014

Why the Greens wouldn't get my second vote under AV

As a vaguely unaligned lefty voter back in the late 80s and early 90s I wandered between Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Liberals. If you're of the left and grow up in a Labour heartland you rapidly learn how little care for anyone or anything but their own self-interest Labour have, so they weren't ever a serious contender.

Back then the Green Party looked like a plausible alternative to vote for. Indeed I've argued that if we were starting our political system from scratch in the UK, with parties based on the key issues of the coming century rather than the vested financial self-interest politics of the old century, the two main parties would be the Liberals on the left and the Greens on the right (and no doubt UKIP as a third party to soak up the ever present blame-someone-else vote).

The trouble is as they've gained the proverbial oxygen of publicity the Greens look less and less appealing.

There was Iraq, obviously. Before the 2003 invasion the Greens stood alongside the Liberals and a motley assortment of others (Respect, the BNP... look, never blame an idea for those who share it!) as against the invasion. There was some debate within that broad coalition as to when or whether it might be OK to go in, but right up to the day America and her allies rolled in conditions like UN backing were never met.

When war was declared everyone against the invasion needed to reassess their stance given the "there must not be an invasion" boat had sailed. The Liberals said they hoped for as short a conflict as possible with the minimum of civilian casualties. The Greens immediately and loudly condemned that stance. The trouble is, with no option for "war never happening", the only place that being against a short and comparatively bloodless battle leaves you is calling for a long and bloody war and / or as many civilian dead as can be piled up.

It's not that surprising: after all, a long war which forced up the oil price is better for forcing the pace of change to alternative energy sources or reductions in energy use. A painful war in Iraq fits with a (the?) central plank of the Green Party's agenda.

Yet because they get so little attention most of the time they've been able to keep a swathe of anti-war votes from internationalist and humanitarian voters, despite their real and bloodthirsty position.

And their money-tree solutions to so many things... great for bandwagon jumping, terrible for actually having to put promises into action as the unravelling of their Brighton council administration reflects. Making the numbers at least broadly add up was something the Liberals learned from the 1992 election; the Greens still have to go through that uncomfortable stage.

Then earlier this week I had the dubious pleasure of hearing the Greens' national spokesperson on Human Rights (Peter Tatchell, who whatever you think of his tactics down the years has a broad and long history in LGbt campaigning) repeatedly use "straight" as the antonym of "trans" at an LGBT public meeting. We've had "cis" as a proper word for such purposes for a good long while now, we aren't stuck with the clumsy language of the 70s any more.

As Carter would say: I turn on the box, it's like punk never happened.

They'd like to get votes by promising a money tree to everyone, when we're more aware where that leads than ever. They like to get votes from seeming fluffy on Iraq, when they were bloodthirsty hawks. And they would like to get votes from the LGBT+ communities, but even their out candidates have no interest in listening, just preaching.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Manchester Council takes another step in recognising bisexuality

Until not so long ago Manchester City Council had the non-existence of bisexuals as a matter of policy. No, really: in service use monitoring, equal opportunities policies and suchlike, the official line was "at those times a bisexual is lesbian or gay they are covered by those policies and at those times they are heterosexual..."

Things are improving.

They've just published the annual Communities Of Interest report, which is a kind of "here is the evidence base" document on diversity concerns for the council and for voluntary and private sector organisations they work with. This has been published for many years now, and each time has a section on LG(B)(T).

This is the first time there's been a bi section. Previously we were a subset of lesbians, which, hmmm.

Full report here. Flick past the first 64 pages and you come to:
9.3 Bisexual community
Recent research carried out by BiPhoria in Manchester has suggested that being visible, being included and being acknowledged are some of the main issues for Manchester’s bisexual community. Bisexual people can often experience discrimination from both the gay and heterosexual communities, and at an LGBT Discussion Day event, hosted by the Council in 2011, BiPhoria found that people wanted bisexuality to be referenced explicitly in literature and wanted services to engage more with the bisexual community. This has been a key action for the group since 2011. Bisexual ‘invisibility’, along with bi-erasure and biphobia are recognised as the most common challenges for bisexual people.

Biphobia may be characterised as taking four key forms:
––Similar to homophobia
––Similar to heterophobia
––Structural or institutional biphobia
––Internalised biphobia absorbed from a culture of the first three.

Manchester has one of the highest profile bisexual communities in the UK and is home to BiPhoria, and the bisexual magazine Bi Community News. As with any other group that experiences oppression, bisexual people may also encounter additional prejudice due to intersectional marginalised identities, for example bi women, black bisexuals, or bisexual genderqueer people.

Stonewall’s 2009 report ‘Bisexual People In The Workplace’ reflected that the positive impact of LGBT Staff Networks on lesbian and gay employees does not extend to bisexual staff. Research published by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2013 showed that bisexual staff are significantly less likely to feel they can be ‘out’ in the workplace than lesbians or gay men:

The Bisexuality Report (Open University, 2012) reflected that these challenges for many bisexual people also extend into areas such as crime and policing, where homophobic hate crime monitoring may fail to address and recognise bisexuals’ experience of biphobia and homophobia.

It's fun to see my "four flavours of biphobia" model, albeit in very condensed form, in a council document.  It's also a bit scary to think that I wrote it about twenty years ago, citing certain Manchester City Council services as examples of institutional and structural biphobia.

Though it is frustrating that there are no specific actions for the council and its partner organisations to take up, I hope this sets a good marker down illustrating some of the key issues for bis and the evidence base underpinning those on which to build in future years.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Sheffield 2

This is the story of going to my third 'zine culture' event, the 2014 Sheffield Zine Fest.

This is the station. Here is the train. I'm so very late, I meant to get up early for this one but then I accidentally fired up Civilization V on my PC at about 8 o'clock last night and... well, you know how that goes. The train gently climbs up into the Pennines; we've had no snow this winter so the hilltops are clear where last year they were white. The person sat opposite me has fabulous hair, blonde and black somehow fading from one to the other in a way that evokes bumblebees in an adorable fashion. I decide this is a good omen for the day.

Despite being generally fairly good with geography, I'm rubbish at remembering which is which with different towns in Yorkshire and expect it to take as long to get to Leeds, so am surprised when all of a sudden here is Sheffield with its pretty primary-coloured trams.  Always nervous of food at events I stop off for a kids meal at burger king on the station, getting a pair of big pretend spectacles as my toy. I'm not sure what I make of them.

Across the road to the electricworks, a gorgeous shiny new building. The signage is good - if I didn't already know, it's clear from these that I'm in the right place. There's a helterskelter in the reception area that you need to go up to something like the fourth floor to use; I have shocking vertigo (really - I have to psyche myself up to stand on a chair to change a lightbulb) so last year this just scared me, this year I took more time to look at it, and maybe next year I'll take a ride down it. Though it'll be best if that's when no-one of a nervous disposition is nearby as I might take a few minutes after coming to a halt to stop crying or screaming.

Past the slide and into the two main rooms. We're in the same space as in 2013 but the layout is different this time; I think it works better.

There are probably more stalls, certainly there is more room for stalls, and still a fair amount of chillout space.  I think losing any more of the remaining chill space would be bad, but the extra stalls make it feel more lively taken in the round.

There seem to be more, and more varied, workshops than the year before. I'm not knocking last year's, don't get me wrong - I adored Cath's feminist zinestering session but I think it was the only session title that I felt motivated to go along to.

This time I want to go to at least three; the first is standing room only so I let it slide, the next is a "mail art" workshop which I do get along to. After that there are two more sessions and I decide to go to the one not run by the facilitator of the mail art session; not because they weren't nice or anything like that, just to try and mingle a bit more widely. Alas the previous workshop in room 2 has over-run by about half an hour and so I let my aim of attending this one go too. Still, the workshops do seem to be very popular and they work well for the likes of me in getting me talking to other people.

Speaking of the mailart session, this is where I finally learn how to turn two of the recipes in the origami book that I won at the BiCon 2013 Pass-The-Parcel workshop into successfully folded bits of paper!

Beware I may be sitting on trains for the next couple of months carefully folding sheets of A4 to use for some eyecatching flyer or other using the techniques learned.  I just need some kind of event or survey to want to promote...

The actual sessions are in two workshop rooms.  I don't see anyone use workshop room three but it's been set up around a neat idea, a little quiet corner of zinester heaven with typewriter, longarm stapler, guillotine and suchlike in it.

One of the things I notice is a fair sprinkling of things pitched at child involvement and several children bobbing about the place. I'm not sure if this is actually more than last time or if I'm just noticing it this time.

There's so much variety in an event that seems to be bringing together many subcultural strands in one place.  Fringe political voices; feminist zines; music zines, which I don't touch now but a billion years ago were one of my two introductions to small press culture before I found feminist and queer zines; things I somehow remember now as "normal zines", which are probably mostly perzine stuff often about growing up; art prints and terribly artsy things that I wouldn't go near but are clearly exactly what chimes for some others.  It's interesting to hear people during the day describe different ones of these subcultures within Sheffield as being especially male or female spaces.

I'm reminded of my learning from last year: at a fair like this the zines really really need some kind of explanatory label next to them that outline what they are about and who they would appeal to. A clever name and the writer's favourite kind of paper and ink isn't enough, unless you are a regular reader of that zinester's work. "This is about teenage crushes looked back at from the safety of my 20s" is grand and quickly tells you if this is your sort of a thing.

As last year there are some nice touches to take it beyond just being tables with zines and a workshop room. Someone is using the huge glass walls to draw a map of Sheffield and its surrounds with stories of the social-political history of the area. It's interesting as I know quite a bit of this kind of thing for Manchester but not for the other side of the Pennines; there is lots of overlap as the same laws and social battles were being fought for people across the North and most of the country, but the names and places are all a little different. And as with last year's 1913 history wall, it gives you something to do if you're a bit scaredy of talking to all the cool kids.

A stall has badgemaking for 50p a pop - this is always a winner at events - and a fun game of write / draw consequences that impresses me greatly with its simplicity and potential for turning into a display later in the day.

I find and buy Cath's new zine, and find Tracey's zines and take a promised photo of them "seen in the wild". Photos for this blog are a good icebreaker of tidy manners; can I snap this, I promise you won't be in the shot is enough like the photo protocol at bi events that I know how to say it, and gets you talking with the people whose stall you're visiting.

I pop a couple of BCNs on the freebies table, which is a blur of a few zines and quite a lot of flyers for things. BCNs don't look very "zine culture" though, and the two are still there when I head off home around five. They'll keep for another table the organisers host somewhere else, I'm sure.

The evening has some more ace sounding things lined up, but feels like a space where I'd want to have one or two friends there or to have a role like taking donations on the door, and besides I have my own other plans for the evening back home.

On the way back across the Pennines to Mancashire I think: if there is another of these next year I really must take a table and fill it with queer zinery. Not many people will want them due to the peculiar mishmash of social circles that come to ZineFest, but being there feels kind of important in outreachy ways. It will mean hauling myself into writing some of those "bubbling under" zines that I keep meaning to distil from bath rants to actual words on paper.

Probably 51 weekends left to get round to all that in...

Saturday 1 February 2014

More Zine Shenanigans in Sheffield

Oh hurrah!

Last spring I dipped my first toe into the 'proper' zinester scene / culture by going to Sheffield ZineFest 2013 for the day.  There was lots of shiny goodness about the day from the gorgeous venue to being immersed in a strand of DIY culture that I somehow both deeply inhabit (as someone who's been churning out oodles of papery goodness since the mid 1990s) and never go anywhere near (as I've been mostly doing it in queer spaces rather than 'zine' circles).

It's back in March. Consider me busy for the day...

Friday 3 January 2014

The joy of bi groups

One of the main ways we’ve created room for bi identities for the last thirtysome years in the UK is local bi groups; starting in September 1981 (I think?) with the London Bi Group holding its regular meetings in a gay bar, there is an unbroken thread of such things going on around Britain, whether in the corner of a pub, a function room at a bar, a meeting room at a community centre, or a cafĂ©.  LBG closed down a long time ago and so the longest-running group now is BiPhoria in Manchester, which I’ve been a part of since 1994.  As it’s in its twentieth year its very existence is by now one of the ripostes to bi being “just a phase”.

It’s something we have in common with lesbian and gay communities, but it also reflects our lower level of organisation, reach and support.  We can do that first helping hand out of the gay / straight closet, but there aren’t the football teams or open-all-week bars that the gay community has.  A shame as I think the Kinsey Rangers is a crackingly cheesy name for a bisexual football team (and in the absence of a real one, I’d still love to have a fictional cartoon strip about it each issue in BCN if anyone’s up for doing that).

Looking back at listings of bi meets from the 80s and 90s and comparing them with today one of the interesting trends is the falling away of gendered bi groups.  I think it’s good that it has happened, but if it’s more than sheer chance, I’m interested as to the pressures that led to that. I get the impression that in the USA for example things have remained a lot more gender divided, but that may just be the bits of US bi culture that I happen to notice.  My best guesses are that there are at least three factors at play.  One being some persistent trans and genderqueer volunteers who came along, stuck around helping make things happen, and so forced some cis bi activists to think about things sooner. Two is that where groups are a little borderline in their existence, a mixed gender space potentially pulls in more than twice as many people, albeit then swapping one set of issues as to how the space is run for another sometimes.  And three the way it can tie in with a sense of bi mission. Picturing the Manchester bi scene in 1993 there was a bi men’s group, a bi women’s group, and at some point the penny has to have dropped for the people organising each: we’re running social spaces for people where the common factor is that gender isn’t a boundary condition for them the way it is for other people, and we’re running them in carefully gendered spaces – are we missing a point perhaps?

Certainly in gender my experience of bi groups and spaces contrasts hugely with LG / LGB spaces.  Not all bi people, groups and spaces are or have always been trans-sorted and accepting of gender diversity, but more of them are and they seem to have got there quicker than the gay scene.  It seems to have been a conversation that went on in the UK bi community in the early 1990s, whereas in lesbian and gay communities and spaces it took another ten or fifteen years – at times painful to watch from the higher moral ground of spaces that had ‘got it’ a short while before.

There’s gender difference beyond trans too, as the male/female balance of bi spaces I’ve encountered has been so much better than that of LG/LGB spaces.  There is some research suggesting there are more gay men than lesbians and more bi women than bi men.  I don’t think the research is perfect and such questions are so loaded by the wider culture that it perhaps tells us things about what words people think they can own for themselves as much as it tells us a truth about human sexuality diversity.  But that might explain why spaces that are lesbian and gay and notionally bi have a male skew that bi spaces don’t so often have.

There are those who see no need for bi groups any more: even ten years ago I found myself in conversations about how there was ‘no point’ in things like BiPhoria meeting any more as ‘it’s all fine now, people don’t have any problems’.

I’m not persuaded of that, and not just because of the statistics on bisexual people’s life experiences nor the steady stream of new people through the door of my local bi group every month. 

That’s not to say that nothing has changed though.  Where once people came to a group like BiPhoria knowing little more than the words from a poster in a bookshop or a photocopied leaflet they picked up on an outreach stall, work like the Getting Bi In A Gay / Straight World  booklet and video means a lot of new members arrive now knowing a lot more, perhaps needing a slightly different kind of a space than we had in the 1990s.  That’s good, the world has changed in so many ways and the recipe for a good bi group will change with it.

BiPhoria might still be happening from sheer force of habit, but out there in the rest of the country the desire for bi space and bi meetups has its ebb and flow but is still strong.  Last year new groups launched in Edinburgh and London, the latter one focused on bisexuals over 50.    And this winter I know of two more about to spring into life in Nottingham and Southampton.  Though the latter two are run by people I know, neither will be quite the same shape as BiPhoria.  And good luck to ’em: while there are a few ways of running a bi group that I think are wrong, there are surely a lot of ways of doing it right. The more of us who are trying the better our chances of hitting on some really good formulae.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Our LGBT History and the People's History Museum

There are a lot of things I meant to blog about in 2013 but the raw doing things that need doing of tackling the most pressing problem got in the way. In the winter months I hope to write up a few of these, having made a start this week with the review of the year and writeup of the Charles Dickens talk at LGF. Today I'm going to look back to August 2013 and the Manchester People's History Museum LGBT Exhibition for Manchester Pride 2013.  This one will be decorated with photos as I was being a bit snap-happy with my camera at the time.

In March 2013, when planning the People's History Museum's summer events programme, it seems the suggestion came forward to run an LGBT history tour, to coincide with Manchester Pride at the August bank holiday weekend. The people's history of Manchester, after all, includes a whole series of stories of our place as a key city in the country's LGBT history.

But as a social history it is fleeting and ephemeral, with some of the tales of bars and battles captured by the rainbow plaques on our city streets and many more missing, let alone how they piece into the jigsaw of the battle for liberation and equality on a wider level. If you didn't live through it all back then, then in a 2013 where one of the six parliamentary divisions on same-sex marriage didn't even go to a vote because well it's obviously going to pass why bother, it's hard to imagine how things were for queers of all stripes twenty or forty years ago. It's something that didn't hit home to me until I had the good fortune to meet and spend time with Bernard Greaves, a magnificent gay (and later LGBT) rights activist who has been fighting the proverbial good fight longer than I've been alive.

As Catherine O'Donnell, one of the exhibition organisers, blogged at the time: "(As a straight woman) I knew that there had been a struggle, however I didn’t realise the lengths that campaigners had gone through to gain rights for something as simple and natural as kissing in public, let alone the repeal of Section 28 and equal marriage."
Most of the 'popup' LGBT history exhibition

Catherine got the plans for an exhibition included in one of LGF's regular circulars and that's where I picked up on it, as it landed the day after I'd had a conversation about archives and the many bi banners BiPhoria has made over the years.  Regular readers will know that I work a mixed week, and Wednesday is normally my day of beavering away at various bi volunteering projects at BCN Towers. By sheer chance the two LGBT history workshop afternoon PHM had planned were on Wednesdays, so I could take part without having to take leave from my paid working week.  If People's History Museum had picked Fridays for this project it would probably have passed me by.

When you only have two afternoons to bring a group of a dozen or so people together, get them to go through museum archives and their own materials from home, understand broadly how to select, label and present the most important things and turn it into a ready to roll exhibition that's a tough call.  While perhaps half of the volunteers contributing history and time to assembling the exhibition already knew one another from a group at LGF that the People's History Museum had done a targeted outreach evening with, the rest of us didn't know one another and there is quite a bit of needing to find a comfort level around strangers and learning to share stories and space. It worked well, though I was always worried I was hogging the floor with stories from twenty years of bi, trans and LGBT activism - or geekily correcting historical references. No, he was bisexual... of course at the time both of them were in the closet... the word dates back to the late 1800s... that's the wrong pronoun... I'll shush now.

Those exchanges of stories highlighted some of the limitations of the rapid recruit - prepare - present cycle. We had, from what I could tell, a skew toward cis lesbians and gay men among the volunteers. That's not to bemoan any of them being there, just that as so often, ideally there would have been more and different voices.  Thanks to my background and extensive if ill-filed bi archives I can hold up the B end well, but I think there was only me and one ally speaking up on trans issues and representation. There was at least some B and T in there though, which was one of the things that made me glad I'd taken part.  Especially seeing this little "bisexual corner" with two of my final three nominated items for the display, one of which reflecting the internal struggles within the LGBT umbrella:
"Dear Stonewall, you say you're LGB but you keep letting bisexuals down..."

It all came together and while it felt a little bit compact-and-bijou compared to a full museum exhibition areas, it was a grand feeling once the frenzy of Pride weekend was over to come in to the museum in September and see it in its polished final form. I got all self-referential and took photos of the projection wall where my own photos were among the rotating display running (many thanks to the kindly front desk people who noticed what I was up to and dimmed the main lights so I could get better snaps!). 
That's a photo of a projection of a photo I took of one of my teeshirts.
This blogpost may eat itself :)
I do hope PHM will run similar exhibits again, Pride week is an obvious date to hang things off, but so are LGBT History Month, IDAHOBBIT or Bi Visibility Day. Having started with a broad LGBT exhibition I naturally gravitate to thoughts of whether in years to come they could focus on areas within LGBT, such as the bi, or trans, or BME LGBT tales of the city.

Much kudos and congratulation to Harriet Richardson and Catherine O'Donnell from the museum's Play Your Part project, who steered the whole thing through to completion. It was great to see the finished exhibit there at the front of the museum to welcome all visitors, to be a part of make it happen. Further it filled me with thoughts of how to go about exhibiting bisexual community history in particular; but that's a story for another blogpost!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Charles Dickens and the "queer acceptability curve"

December saw the final talk in a series Manchester's local LGBT community centre LGF have organised looking at LGBT history. This fifth talk was presented by academics Dr Holly Furneaux and Dr Kim Edwards Keates, exploring the works of Charles Dickens and queer representation in them and in associated fan fiction from the era in which he was writing to the present day.  For tl;dr readers, it was most excellent and stimulating even for those of us with next to no handle on Dickens' work.

And excellent it was. Where Paul Fairweather's talk earlier in the series rewrote identities and erased both bisexuality and large sections of queer history to fit a narrow predetermined narrative, this talk was expansive and exploratory.  It left the layqueer with an appetite to read some of the subject matter, albeit if possible with some kind of Study Guide To Sly Queer Allusion In The Victorian Era at your side.

Now like any sensible person the only bit of Dickens I really have a handle on is his excellent The Muppets Christmas Carol, which he had to rewrite extensively when his publisher pointed out that the Muppets had not been invented yet and it could all lead to a complex time-travel intellectual property trial.  A Christmas Carol is at the level of cultural icon in the UK and USA and perhaps some other places, such that even if you have never read it nor watched a film adaptation you've probably absorbed enough about it to have a fair idea of the characters and plot.

Dickens wrote lots of other things too though, some of it to the point and some excessively florid, verbose loquacious and wordy in the manner of a person who is being paid by the word (which as a writer for literary magazines, he often was). Like a modern TV writer he'd've been writing some excellent episodes and some that were filler to move the plot along as little as possible when a story worth five episodes was supposed to fill eight episodes.

The two main foci of the talks were A Christmas Carol (as it was the middle of December) and his unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The latter seems to have had a high profile in fanfic writing and reading circles even immediately after its publication, which was warming to hear about as someone who encountered a small amount of that sort of thing before the internet exploded it into a wider consciousness. The joy of the unfinished text for letting readers fill in the 'what happened next...'

Something touched on that had passed me by was a recent American 'gay retelling' of Christmas Carol, the film Scrooge & Marley, which rearranges some of the genders in the tale to make for a gay and lesbian variation on the story, including altering a closing line from that Bob Cratchitt is thereafter treated by Scrooge such that it is like having "three fathers" rather than "a second father".

Exploring queer readings and subtexts involved a lot of talk of homosexuality and gender transgression (though I don't think the latter phrase was ever used but this was extensively about that rather than sex and relationships) without giving specific voice to the situational and transitional bisexuality involved or suggested.  I quite understand not wanting to apply modern senses and experiences of sexuality to different historical social situations, but I did think more could be made of using the B and T words to reflect and clarify what we were talking about.

An interesting aspect was that where his work included more obviously gender transgressive characters - a woman who didn't 'keep to her place' or a man who failed to be appropriately 'manly', it was apparently often followed by a more normative story without such bold characters.

It struck me - and I threw in one of those questions from the floor that is really an observation rather than a question - that this tied in with a "Queer Acceptability Curve" of how far from accepted (cishetero) gender normative behaviour a writer then or filmmaker today can go and still have enough of a broad market appeal.
Dickens could allude for the informed reader to things that might suggest a character had an interest in sex with other men or with other women, but could only push so far and then roll it back a little for the next story to make sure he wasn't getting a dangerous reputation, like a Hollywood actor who feels the need to alternate 'credible' films with ones that prove their box office acceptability.

From the description of Scrooge & Marley, which I freely admit I've not seen so am going on the outline given, that too only pushes things so far within a queer acceptability space. Same-sex monogamous couples replace mixed-sex couples, there is a simple rather than gendercomplex trans character: nothing too challenging and all keeping within the binaries that keep same-sex desire unthreatening and similar to the notional normatives of married cishetero life.

It's grand that the curve has moved as far as it has compared to Dickens' day. It still has some way to go.