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 5 October 2016

Corbyn: not there on LGBT

Interestingly, Jeremy Corbyn has just launched his plan for LGBT+ rights.

Now that's a welcome thing, as I want for even people who are off to the right of me politically like Jeremy Corbyn and George Osborne to support LGBT equality.

But on reading it... well, it reminds me of the left-right coalition's "LGB&T Action Plan", only without the excuse of having to be written in a hurry by people having to crib their info off a Stonewall report whilst attempting to avoid alienating Peter Bone too much.

Because "Proud of our Diversity" is a classic of the bi-erasure genre. Throughout we are told about the LGBT+ community and the LGBT+ agenda, and a scattering of talk of homophobia and transphobia, of lesbian, gay, and trans, but there is not a single use of the words "bisexual" or "biphobia" anywhere in the document.

Jeremy's strategy is, sadly for the rest of the country, to relive the early 1980s, and while he's apparently got on board with trans inclusion, the LGB content here reminds us merely of what was so crap about gay politics back then.

Try harder, Jez.

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!"

Friday 23 September 2016

Mental health and bisexuality

It was a pleasure to be interviewed by Chicago Now about bisexuality and mental health issues as well as the wider Bi Visibility Day vibe this week. 

They asked some good questions about bisexual life, and I hope I gave some good answers!

Pop over here to find the piece.

Bi Visibility Day: Why We Can't Be Your Role Models

Role models. They're on my mind for one reason or another right now.  

For a long time I've been talking about biphobia.  Back in the mid 1990s, as I have surely written here before, someone asked me to define biphobia for them.  They wanted a snappy soundbite: treating bisexuals as lesser or something like that.

Instead I talked about four flavours of biphobia.

There's institutional biphobia. The way organisations work can marginalise bi people. You have an LGBT group, and it holds gendered meetings... the bi attendee wonders whether they can bring their other-gendered partner along to a social. When they let off steam about their relationship it gets less sympathy than if only they were dating someone of the same sex. Slowly they are squeezed out and leave. This can be more calculated too: the LGBT organisation that will give you support about relationship problems, provided you're in a same-sex relationship.  The big sign on the wall promising to challenge homophobia, that assumes biphobia to just be the lite version, a subset of the big bad.

Next there's internalised biphobia. This one's a big challenge for our communities and organising. Yougov reckoned last year that 23% of people were... well, somewhere between straight and gay. Just 2% owned the label "bisexual". So ten times as many people who could call themselves bi didn't, as did.  Whether an internal narrative of I'm not bi enough or I don't want to be one of 'those bisexuals', people shy away from the word that perhaps best describes their atttractions.

Then, that biphobia which is analagous to heterophobia; we get this chiefly in the gay community. "Just here as a tourist", they'll say.  Or warn you off dating bis as "they'll always leave you for a member of the opposite sex". This isn't the main thrust of this thought piece so I shall move on...

There's that which is analagous to homophobia. For women, that the sex they have with other women is less 'real' than sex with men.  For men, that having slept with another man makes you dirty, undesireable. There is probably still a bit of taint from the fear of bi men that was raised during the 1980s there.

The last two though have a curious overlap, in the way that homophobia-like and heterophobia-like patterns operate too often in our relationships.

I used to hear it from the couple next door. They've moved now, and most of the time their relationship seemed calm and happy, but when things kicked off... well, usually you can't make out the details through a thick pile of bricks, but every so often "At least I know which -----ing gender I'm attracted to" yelled from one of them to the other gave a remarkably good clue as to what they had been arguing about this time.

It's a common thread of bi experience too; running bi outreach stalls at events there's always someone who comes over looking interested and friendly but is then pulled away by a partner; sometimes with a breezy "he used to be bisexual before he met me".

On its own this is a problem, but in the workplace it has an added dimension.  Suppose your employee, Sam, has been dating a woman for months and breaks up with her, and after a few weeks is now dating a man. Work colleagues give Sam a ribbing about switching teams, being confused, greedy or what have you. It goes on a bit too long for "good-natured banter" and Sam complains.

"Aha!" the LGBT Staff Network eager-beaver in HR thinks. "A bisexual for us to recruit! We need bi role models!"

But the staffer you offer support to may not be able to be your out bisexual, even though they are on the recieving end of biphobia and even though they brought it to HR to deal with: quite possibly Sam's new partner knows nothing about their previous dalliances with women.  Or indeed, whenever that part of Sam's life gets mentioned, the crockery starts flying.

People who always date people of the same sexual orientation as themselves are rarely made to feel bad about their sexual orientation by their partner.  For bis, most of our "dating pool" are not bi: most of the people who might fancy us identify as straight or lesbian/gay. The closet door may be being pushed shut by the person who is most important to us in our lives. And some of us have at the back of our mind that even if that is not the case now, it might have been different in the past, and might be different in the future.

Which means that, when you seek out bi role models, it's that bit harder for us to stand up than for our lesbian and gay counterparts.


This is the second blog post around a "we can't..." theme. Don't get me wrong. We can. It is a slightly provocative title about why bi people are under-represented.

Bi Visibility Day: We Can't Be Your Trustees... Yet

Last month at a Superbia event for Manchester Pride there was a question from the floor to a panel I was on.  We were pressed for time toward the end of the event so I didn't get a chance to speak, but the questioner asked, and I paraphrase: I'm the trustee of an LGBT charity, when we put out calls for volunteers to take on this or that role what we get coming forward is a bunch of white, cis, gay, men. Why?

Well, it is an interesting question. Why don't all those people from other backgrounds come forward? Why - to pick the topical strand for today - aren't the bisexuals (and so on) stepping up?  Or the unspoken side question: why do the people who do step up not mention their bisexuality?

This is one of the big challenges for bisexual organising, too.  We know, and Bi Visibility Day events and materials work hard to remind us, how things are different for bis.  Not in the "double your chances of a date on a Friday night" kind of a way.  If only.  No, in the way that our mental health statistics are worse than those of gay and straight people.  Our experience of being victims of domestic violence and other abuse are worse too.  Economically, we earn less than gay, straight and lesbian people.  We might be in the closet at work with all the negative consequences that has; but we might be in the closet at home too.

Now these are terrible facts and figures: issues where a lot of work is needed to change the way our world works.  But I know what you are thinking - the vacancy on your board of trustees isn't going to wait for that to happen.

But those facts should be telling you things about the pool of people of whom most of your bisexual volunteers, bisexual organisers, bisexual group steering committees, are made up.

Those statistics aren't just there to frighten us. They ARE us.

So when you ask: can we have a bisexual person with free time, great qualifications and experience in these demanding roles from which they will have skills that our charity's board needs, and why aren't they coming forward?

Those people you would be looking to are the people who didn't get those promotions because of how biphobia limits their career.  That lower income means they're worried whether they can afford to come to all your meetings and fundraising shin-digs.

Those people you would be looking to are the people who don't get to be out and proud because it upsets their non-bi partner if they "keep going on" about being bisexual.

Those people you would be looking to are the people who don't "look the part" perhaps because the intersectional identities they have mean they don't have the right professional look-and-feel that you warm to, or whose bisexuality you are oblivious to because they tick some other box. 
Those people you would be looking to are the people who have those mental health challenges you have read the statistics about and who aren't sure your organisation would be tolerant when their health meant they needed to take some time out. Who use up their mental and social energy holding down that job and don't have the extra to spare that you need, because they are weaving their way through a gay-straight world.

This is not meant to be a counsel of despair, though it does read that way.  And I know some will be saying: there are plenty of burned-out or fighting-health-issues gay and straight people.  Yes there are, far too many.  But like for like, more of the bis are dealing with those problems.

We can change this.

Well, you and your organisation can change this.

I'd love to see more mentoring and support rolled out for bi people.  Don't ask for a new treasurer or chief exec; invite the groups who never get represented on your boards to shadow and be mentored by the person already doing it.  They may wind up volunteering for some other organisation instead: so be it.

We can't do it on our own. But we would benefit from it, and so would you.  Let's have a programme across business and the heavyweight end of the voluntary sector to give the bis who should be on your boards the skills and authority they need to take their seat at the table.  Who's up for it?

Friday 2 September 2016

Missing the Target

I was a only a smidge surprised when Manchester's Pride march was disrupted by protestors last weekend. In days of yore such things were right-wing monoculturalists who hate queers and don't like a large visible representation of the LGBT (or, back then, gay) community being allowed on the streets.

This time it was another bunch of right-wing monoculturalists, though with very much the same disdain for anyone who lives differently from themselves.

So the parade was blocked with what was on the surface a protest about treatment of transgender people in prisons, which is a good and worthy thing to complain about because there are many stages in the law and order side of life where trans experience is particularly harsh when compared to that of cis people.

Underneath though were two undercurrents. The first the "no prisons" message (a lovely hippy idea if you think that humans are somehow different from all other life forms on the planet, and dire if you think about behaviour in the real world) which reflects a huge degree of privilege on the part of those campaigning for it. To think: if we have no prisons, I'll be safe, life will be better, you have to have a strong degree of personal safety and security in many ways. The second, the general anti-Pride campaign that pops up under a fresh guise with the same faces regularly in its hatred of a queer event daring to raise money hand-over-fist for LGBT and HIV causes in the city and the region. There's a lot wrong with Manchester Pride, don't get me wrong, and if you do want to do something about that the solution is to either get stuck in and fix it or to build a better party.

But if for the time being we pretend that the demo really was about trans prisoners and how they are treated, this was a protest that missed its real target by a mile. What got disrupted was not something like GALIPS but the Greater Manchester Police. Attacking GMP coppers-on-the-beat for the work of the Prison Service is like blaming the guy who picks litter up at your local train station for the latest inflation-busting rise in fares.

Even within GMP though, if you're outraged by transphobia or LGBTphobia in policing, the people who choose to give up their Saturday to come along to a Pride march, get rained on and calloused on a long slow parade, are not the queerphobes in the service. They're the LGBT members and the most supportive of the cishetero allies. The cis, straight, partners of LGBT people. The people who see shared struggles and want to help others facing challenges. The people on the inside of the tent pissing in, who are most likely and most able to effect change within the force.

Whether you are angry at LGBTphobia from within the police or from your local Co-Op, sticking it to the people from those organisations who turn up at Pride just reduces the chance of change. It misses the target by a mile, and slows rather than accelerates change.

But I suppose, if you want to avoid change because you'd rather have a 'front' organisation and campaign to recruit people with, that is exactly the tactic you'd pick.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Biggins' biphobia

Anything I have to say about the Christopher Biggins / Celebrity Big Brother biphobia story I've pretty much said elsewhere, though I'm mostly impressed for him that anyone notices what he says. Last thing I can remember him saying was "Safari, so goody" and if you'd reminded me he existed I'd have imagined it would be his epitaph.

Still, today's advice is:

Wednesday 20 July 2016

The Eagle has landed

Angela Eagle's Labour leadership bid has come to an end after it took flight like one of those flying machines that launch off a quayside and measure their success by how many inches forward they make it before splashing into the water.  A few ill-starred launches and lots of online and real-world harassment by Corbynites and it soon became clear that her pitch for the top job lacked the required momentum.  No pun intended.  I'm no fan of her or her right-wing politics but it's hard to imagine anyone not feeling for her at a human level when every press conference seemed to be jinxed by the Tories.

Now it would be easy, and entirely correct, to highlight how the campaign of intimidation, violence and homophobia unleashed by one side of Labour onto the other in response to her leadership campaign is just a variation on the tradition of initimidation, violence and homophobia used by Labour against its opponents throughout recent years.  It would be easy, and entirely correct, to observe how that Labour-on-Labour homophobic bullying campaign is being reported both by people inside Labour and by non-card-carrying sympathisers as if it were an unthinkable new thing and not a longstanding part of the Labour/BNP shared electoral playbook. When they say it's a shocking new development, are the faux-left being barefaced liars or are they just people who have been conscientiously looking very hard in the other direction for a very long time?

But what no-one seems to be addressing is that the same bunch of spinners who have spent decades rewriting the homophobic campaign that Labour ran in the Bermondsey byelection in 1983 with an imaginary "Simon Hughes the Straight Choice" leaflet, have been entirely at ease about their heterosexual leader seeing off a lesbian challenger by appearing repeatedly at podia with this sign in front of him.

I mean really. Good Labour people, and there are dozens of them in the party even now: if you ever repeated the claims of homophobia by the Liberals in Bermondsey, how the hell have you all remained silent on that?

Thursday 14 July 2016

Well this is embarassing...

At some point I'm going to write properly about the Bermondsey byelection. The one with the homophobic campaign and where the Liberals won around which a lot of nonsense has built up.

Supposedly the slogan "(Liberal or Labour) It's A Straight Choice" was a virulently homophobic attack on Tatchell, despite also being used in the immediately previous byelection as well where the candidates were all, from what I can tell, heterosexual. These days Liberals tend to use the phrase "it's a two horse race" for the same effect.

But there's a peculiar silence in Labour ranks about a ghost of Bermondsey this week.  Angela Eagle has launched her bid to replace Corbyn as leader, which would make her the first out-lesbian leader of their party.

Yet in responding to her Jeremy keeps appearing at platforms with this slogan

Um... if deploying the word "straight" was inciteful homophobia in the less enlightened world of 1983, surely that makes it very knowing and inciteful homophobia in the much better educated and informed world of 2016?

I look forward to the people who have laid into Simon Hughes' election campaign over the years doing a similar demolition job on Jezza.  Especially if Angela does not become leader, in which case on the same basis as the myth of Bermondsey it was clearly the prejudice wot won it.

Friday 10 June 2016


I’ve been sitting on this for weeks now but at last it is public: today’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List names me among the many others recognised for their work.

So from today I’m Jen Yockney MBE, which is one of the weirdest things I could imagine.

The Honour is for my extensive volunteering work with the bisexual community and on wider LGBT issues over the past couple of decades, whether with BCN, BiPhoria, Bisexual History Project, the Bisexuality Report, Bi Life, Bisexual Action, LGBT+LD, lobbying of ministers and GEO, or other things that just now I’ve forgotten.

When I saw the full citation for my activities – and all unpaid – it did come as a bit of a frightener.  By doing at least something every month for such a long time it adds up and by now I have done quite a bit.

In the 80s I was a teenager, following the progress of Clause 28 in the broadsheets but still in the closet about gender and sexuality both to others and myself.

I started to come out and get engaged in community organising and LGBT politics in the 90s, with student groups and the like. I found that they were very LG in their LGBT, with bi people, voices and experiences silenced and sidelined. This meant seeking out bi and trans spaces: at that point my activism could have gone either way, but the bi spaces I found were perversely more inclusive of gender diversity than the trans spaces.  Don’t take that as meaning either that bi spaces were perfect – they definitely weren’t! – or that trans spaces were all dire: it’s just the balance of comfort between the two, then, for me.

Over time I came to be involved in different projects.  Publishing magazines and pamphlets and lobbying local and national government and LGBT organisations can be removed from ordinary lived experience so I’m glad to also have BiPhoria keeping me - I think and hope - grounded in the day-to-day challenges of bisexual life for ordinary bi people.

The high points have included the first full-colour issue of BCN, the huge scale of the two Manchester BiCons, and being the first representative from a bisexual community project to be invited to the annual 10 Downing Street LGBT reception.  And now, of course, today.

Thank you.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Brexit would drive us to drink

Wetherspoons - who aside from this story are some of the best pubs going and have helped raise standards across the pub sector - are notoriously throwing beermats around the place with a weird set of claims to try and encourage a "Leave" vote in the referendum on June 23rd.

I can't help but notice that an economic future where we are poorer and with more reason to drink to drown our sorrows is exactly in Wetherspoons' interests. Hmm!

Tuesday 24 May 2016

10 years on: Fritz Klein

Sexuality researcher Fritz Klein died ten years ago today. 

Fritz on the cover of BCN magazine
Of all the 'names' in sexuality theory his is probably the second best known to bisexual people and those with a wider interest in research around bisexuality.

Back in the late 70s, as I learned the story, he wanted to do some research and include sexual orientation as one of the variables measured. Yet when he went to look for suitable metrics, the only one on offer was that compiled by Alfred Kinsey back in the late 1940s: the "Kinsey Scale" that grades sexual orientation from 0 to 6 according to whether your attractions are more to members of your own gender or another.

Kinsey's line is pretty easy to understand - add up your partners and divide by the number you first thought of.  However this is painfully limiting: for example, by scoring the number of people with whom someone has had sex, you might get quite the wrong idea about someone who found their way into a particular kind of sex work, or who dare not act on their true attractions due to family or legal pressures.

Klein set about devising his own set of measurements, leading in 1978 to the "Klein Grid", a 21-dimensional measure looking at different aspects of life and the past, present and ideal states. It's less a number, more a couple of phone numbers complete with trunk dialling codes, but it does a far better job of accommodating issues such as sexual orientation changing over time, coming out in later life, or being better at pulling with one gender than another. It's still not perfect: like the Kinsey line it's binary in its model of gender and relies on the idea that gender is in some way a factor, and cannot account for things like preferences for a younger or older partner, fetishes, or whether attraction is romantically or sexually driven.  But like Kinsey, even where it fails it gives us a language to articulate around sexuality and attractions that we did not have before. For bisexual people especially this was a greatly empowering new lexicon.

My main personal memory of him is from BiCon 2002, arguing with me whether the bi movement should still strive for printed publications; he saying no, me saying yes. Broadly his position was that everyone had  private internet access so there is no need for the cost and grunt-work of print, while mine was that physical objects have permanence and tangibility. I think our different socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds meant we were coming at the question from two very different perspectives, but it was a happy and friendly argument.

Arguing their case and open to hearing the opposing view: it's a good way to remember someone.

28... years on

28 years ago today, Section 28 became law. It was not the first thing to make me pay attention to politics, but in the end it would be the biggest motivator in going from armchair to activism.

One of the joys of life today is that when you talk to young people, even politically informed queer young people, you have to explain what it was. Often this is followed by some incredulity that people thought such a thing was OK, let alone a popular vote-winner, just a few years ago. Yet David Cameron got elected into parliament through a campaign that included attacking the politically correct rascals on the other side with their wicked intentions to repeal the law.

Section 28 as it would be known, Section 2A as it more strictly became once law, and "the clause" in popular parlance at the time it was going through parliament, was an amendment to the 1986 Local Government Act, which said:
Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material.

(1)The following section shall be inserted after section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition of political publicity)—
2A“ Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material.

(1)A local authority shall not—

(a)intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;

(b)promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

(2)Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of treating or preventing the spread of disease.

(3)In any proceedings in connection with the application of this section a court shall draw such inferences as to the intention of the local authority as may reasonably be drawn from the evidence before it.

(4)In subsection (1)(b) above “maintained school” means,—

(a)in England and Wales, a county school, voluntary school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education Act 1944; and

(b)in Scotland, a public school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”

(2)This section shall come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
In practice and in intent, Section 28 made homosexuality a thought crime, an act which Russia is busy proving to us was not solely possible off the back of 1980s HIV hysteria, though back in the 80s that probably helped. Despite the "homo" wording it was a bi and trans issue too, as there was such a deep lack of grasp of LGBT in the public consciousness back then.

It was a vague law - I remember hearing one Tory MP defend it to an LGBT audience claiming that as it was so poorly worded it didn't mean anything and therefore couldn't be homophobic in effect and did no harm. Fair play, if you're going to lie, make it a big one.

Actually the looseness of the language meant that it could be argued to prevent anything homophobes in positions of power wanted to stop happening. I saw it used to block information for schoolkids who wanted to know their human rights, to bar newspapers appearing in libraries, and to silence those who wanted to support people struggling with their gender or sexuality.  Even where there was support for gay people, it was used as an excuse to defend biphobia (to paraphrase but not by much, "section 28 means we can't give help or recognition to bi people, as that would encourage straight people to become gay")

It was a populist backbench Conservative bill introduced with Labour support, leaving only the Lib Dems on the other side of the argument. The Lib Dems had slightly more MPs than they do now but were still helplessly outnumbered. Knowing it was unlikely to be stopped outright, Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes brought forward changes that would have watered the measure down, but they lacked support beyond his own party. Labour's grassroots members started pressing their party's MPs to change tack and oppose the measure, but that took some time: and even if they could be persuaded, Margaret Thatcher was sitting on a majority of 100.

And so on May 24th, 1988 it became law.  It was the post-1967 nadir of LGBT equalities in the UK, adding to a litany of inequalities: employment, age of consent, adoption, partnership recognition, pensions, housing and so on.

But it had a galvanising effect on the LGBT community, not least by giving lesbians and gay men a common cause to fight around. Like the baddy in any story, the politically active queer organisations and individuals it spawned would bring about its own downfall, and spur momentum toward the near-equality we have for LGBT people with straight cisgender people today. 

It should have been gone in 1997 when the Tories left power, as the new government had pledged to a tight spending programme but here was something positive for society that could be done at no cost. Alas Labour chose not to include repeal of Section 28 in their manifesto.  In the great tension of "what is right to do" versus "what will upset the Sun and the Daily Mail", they decided that keeping the tabloids on side was more important than childrens' lives. That meant repeal had to wait until the 2001-2005 parliament as the pro-prejudice majority in the Lords blocked repeal. As it wasn't in the manifesto, Labour felt they couldn't overrule the Lords on the subject.

It went in Scotland in 2000 though - one of the prices of coalition the Lib Dems extracted from Labour at Holyrood; in England and Wales it would stick around until 2003.

I was a teenager in 1988, and though I had newspaper cuttings about the clause on my bedroom wall I no longer remember the day the clause became law. I remember the day it went though; for a little while I thought: we have won, it is ended, I can stop fighting now. Then the next day dawned and there was still far too much wrong in the world to rest just yet.

Saturday 7 May 2016

Excellent news

Manchester has crawled back from being a one-party state, with one solitary splash of change in the scarlet council map.

As ever, it's a Gold Left / Red Right city, liberalism versus entitlement.  You picks your team...

Monday 2 May 2016

Nicola in the Stylist

My second favourite punnily-titled publication is the Stylist... or is it the StyList? Nowhere on my daily commute dishes it out alas but I often find it in the local takeaway, so I have just been enjoying this week's interview with bi boxing champ Nicola Adams.

Pick it up free somewhere that it's free, while you can!

Saturday 9 April 2016

Bi, Poly: Overlapping challenges?

I did some public speaking recently, at a Man Met Uni polyamory conference: here's what I said...

Hello. My name is Jen Yockney, I’m not an academic, I’m here because of my work with the bisexual project BiPhoria. My pronouns are she/her or ze/hir – I’m easy either way, and beware there’s going to be a lot of bad bisexual punning like that to come.

BiPhoria is 21 and a half years old – the oldest extant bisexual community project in the UK – the previous group to hold that title closed down when it was 21 so this might be a crunch year. I’m also involved with Bi Community News magazine and have organised a number of events like today’s but about bisexuality, called BiFests, and longer things lasting a few days to a week called BiCon.

And I want to start with BiCon because one of the things we do there is an annual survey of who attends, which about a third of attendees return. In 2004 the survey found 40% of attendees described their relationships as poly; in 2014, 42% - and that’s current status, so there are likely more people who might be poly minded but single at the time or what have you.

So you might get the impression that bisexuals are all poly.

And in the other direction that the bis you notice are in multiple relationships, or open to them.

I don’t think that equivalence is quite the case, but I think there are some overlaps between the challenges of bi and poly invisibility and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

Bisexual invisibility – the way that we are trained to assume people to be gay or straight – is a handy phrase growing in currency. It’s something all of us do – even after 20 odd years of bi activism and volunteering I do. You see two people holding hands in front of you in the street, you make a best guess as to their gender, and a bit of your brain puts them in a box as gay or straight accordingly.  No ill intent, just how we're programmed, most of us.  Two boxes.

Let’s think about that invisibility's effects. In 2012 the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency published research including looking at how many people felt they could be out at work. For gay men and lesbians 50% now say this is the case. I grew up back when you could be summarily dismissed from work because your employer didn’t like gays or didn’t like bisexuals, so this is a brilliant figure and sign of change. Except once you think that if 50% feel they can be out, another 50% don’t feel they can. For bi women in the work place that sinks to 27% feeling they can be out, and for bi men, 14%. Seven out of eight men in my community can’t be honest about who they are at work for fear of social and career repercussions. Ten years after the law supposedly prevented discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation at work, that’s a frightening figure.

And not just at work. Last year’s “Beyond Babies” research from LGBT Foundation noted that 4% of straight women experience mental health issues; 12% of lesbians, yet 21% of bi women. When I was growing up we talked about bisexuality as being kind of “gay lite”, that you experienced half the problems and discrimination, when you were queerbashed you were only beaten up down the left hand side of your body. Turns out, it’s not like that at all.

And the root of these problems is bisexual invisibility. If we aren’t telling one other, we don’t spot each other. Because we only see the tip of the iceberg of who is bi, and of who is poly, we don’t have secret signals like haircuts or dress codes. We have to speak to be seen and then fight being policed down in our identity.

We’re told as bisexuals we are sexually greedy. Which is bad, apparently. Perhaps there’s only so much sex to go around, and we are hogging it. Whenever this one starts people seem to go for the same line too – “Woody Allen says”, they declare as if it were new, “that being bisexual doubles your chance of a date on a Friday night”. I have a few problems with that. The first is the maths doesn’t work. For a date on Friday night as well as you being attracted to them, they have to be attracted to you. We don’t – and I am outraged at this – we don't get twice as many Friday nights as non bi people. And there have been times in my life where the chance of a date on a Friday night was zero, and double that is – well, I can tell you’re ahead of me on that bit of maths.

We’re told we are sexually voracious; a couple of years back there was scientific research, and it must have been true because I read it in the Daily Mail, showing the reason women are bisexual is they just have far too much sex hormone sloshing around in them and it makes them prepared to have sex with absolutely anything. Um. No.

We are – and unusually in modern use this is a bad thing – indiscriminate. At my old job, as the token bisexual I would be called on to adjudicate in discussions of how attractive members of pop bands were. The people who fancied men would agree this one was the cutest, those who fancied women would agree this one was the hottest, but I would be called on as the bisexual to rule which was the hottest of all. Because of course I have no personal biases, tastes or preference.

And we are suffering from two mental problems – indecision or confusion, and the delusion that you really can be bisexual at all

And these remind me a lot of what they tell me about being poly. I hope I’ve layered them on with a thick enough trowel for it to be clear already. Greedy. Sexually voracious. At some point this whole delusional state of many attractions, many loves, is going to resolve itself down to a decision and understanding of the real truth, which gender we actually fancied all along, which one we were really in love with.

How do we develop ways to challenge these and the issues of invisibility?

First language. Poly seems to do quite well on this – useful words like metamour or compersion. A positive, even if not universal, language. Bisexuals are doing much worse: we don’t have a good word without the “sexual” in it akin to gay or lesbian, and Yougov’s recent research showed that while anything up to 43% of the population are attracted to more than one gender, only two percent would own the B word as a label.

Then there’s symbols. We used, going back to BiCon which I spoke about earlier, it’s been going for some 30 years and for a long time there was a new logo, new symbol, new slogan every year. Even if you saw someone who was at a BiCon five years earlier in their BiCon teeshirt you might not recognise its symbol. Then in 1998 Michael Page helped us hugely by inventing a flag. I know flags have, let us call it a mixed record when it comes to colonialism, but thanks to the bi flag there is now on ebay a wide range of pink, purple and blue - bisexual flag coloured - tat that you can buy to subtly communicate that you’re bisexual to others in the know.

And third, connecting regardless through the web and finding one another that way. The web is wonderful but there are problems with self-policing ourselves on facebook and whether your profile can identify your sexuality and partners without causing issues for them: information spreading easily can be good and bad.

So in conclusion, bisexual and polyamory: we are not the same set of people as the visible section of the bi community might make you think, but I think we do have a significant set of shared challenges and stereotypes and a common need to challenge our invisibility in everyday life.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

To queer or not to queer?

News blog the Huffington Post has rebranded its "Gay Voices" sections as "Queer" rather than gay.

Just in the time I've been around the LGBT+ scene, Queer has an interesting history.

A lot of people - mostly older than me - hate it. Understandably so, it was one of the sticks people were hit with time and time again. All LGBT words have that for some people and some contexts; just look at the gap between being bisexual and owning the label, or the use of gay as a playground slur, perhaps best challenged in a deconstructy way by the "homophobia is gay" campaign.

About the time I first came out, queer was being touted in some quarters as the "avoid saying LGBT cos it's got no vowels" word.

Then it became a corporate branding word for a trendy pink pound end of the scene. Queer as a synonym for under 25, white, cis, able-bodied, homosexual and at the gym every morning to keep yourself a buffly honed gay thing.

Later it popped up again as seeing your sexuality and gender as part of another narrowly conforming monoculture, this time tied together with other attitudes like v*ganism and anticapitalism.  Again, and for all its rhetoric, it was a "you're young or you're invisible" scene.

And now somewhat back to where we started. Or rather, where I came in.

Queer is, in the round, more inclusive than Gay. So this is a good step forward.

The qualm I have about queer replacing the "alphabet soup" is one I set out here a few years ago: by combining all the labels into one generic term we lose some of the strength of voice for the different strands that are submerged. If an LGBT group is kind of spelling LGBT as GGGG or LGGG, does changing to queer make the multitudinous identities of today feel more included, or mean the hierarchy of inclusion and action is harder to challenge?