Review: Stonewall Bi Role Model Programme

Post 1: Practical things, how the day went, an overview of content.

At first I felt really apprehensive about attending the Stonewall Bi Role Model Day. We had been emailed over some booklets in advance to get us thinking about role models beforehand. Whilst they served this purpose well they also triggered a lot of negative feelings for me and I grew weary of what Stonewall were planning to do. This was down to the fact that the booklets only seemed to contain one token bi story each. (Several people featured didn’t label their sexuality.) So it left me wondering why they couldn’t have made any bi specific resources to send us? I was afraid that the day would involve non bi staff telling us how to be role models without listening to our experiences or addressing issues which are specific to our non-monosexual lives.

Thankfully I needn’t have worried. After a brief introduction by Edward Lord (who funded the event), the chief executive of Stonewall stepped forward to welcome us and begin the day. After a short speech Ruth explained she would be leaving so it could be a bi safe space. I was really grateful for this action and I thank her for it. She got up early and gave up her time on a Saturday morning to show the event had full support from the organisation, and then recognised that it needed to continue without her. I also liked the way she specifically said that trans people were welcome and had a place there.

The three facilitators were absolutely brilliant. The fact that they were bi staff put my anxieties at ease. The event was well run and well planned. All the sections flowed really well together and the content was clear and concise. The facilitators led the day with the right mix of professionalism, warmth and humour. They contributed experiences from their own lives where appropriate. They listened and took on board people’s ideas and suggestions as the event went on. They let attendees speak and contribute.

Practicalities first. The layout of the room didn’t quite work for me as we were all sat in one large | _ | shape and the chairs were very close together in order to fit everyone in. The seating arrangement sadly meant anyone on the sides couldn’t see the other people in their row and it was a struggle to hear what was being said at times. Also having seats without any tables meant you couldn’t lean on or support your weight for comfort so my limbs started aching quite early on in the day. Drinks were frequently knocked over as people had to put them by their feet on the floor so I often accidentally stood or put my stuff down in wet patches.

I feel like these are minor points to raise – but I know others struggled with this arrangement too. So much must depend on what room they are able to acquire, and I guess this layout was chosen to facilitate communication and moving around but I feel like a different format might work better in the future?

However on a positive note the location was right in the centre of London and (as an able bodied person) was very easy to get to by public transport. It was also close to many major train stations. Food and drink were plentiful throughout the day and the facilitators didn’t mind me constantly standing, sitting, standing, and going for walks in the corridor to ease discomfort. Dietary requirements were catered for too. People could write their own name labels. The event was free and transport costs were reimbursed.

People had travelled from all areas of the U.K. to be there, both urban and rural. There was a mix of trans and cis gendered people. BME people were also present. Those in attendance had a wide variety of life experiences. For example:

Some people had not come out to any/many people. Some were well known activists or people who’d been out for a long time.

Some people had known they were bisexual for decades. Others had recently realised.

Some were writers, or LGBT network members at work, or leaders of organisations. Some were none of these things (and that was ok).

As is often the case with these kinds of events, one of the main benefits is that everyone can look round the room in awe and think, look how many of us there are! In the same place at the same time! For a lot of people it was their first experience of being in a room with so many other bis. It’s a powerful, liberating, and validating feeling. Especially for those from smaller cities, towns and rural areas who don’t know any/many other bis and don’t have a support network.

Another plus for me was the chance to feel safe in public. It’s so rare. I feel unsafe and anxious nearly all of the time when I leave the house. So when I step into bi friendly environments like the one on Saturday I feel like a huge weight has been taken out of my heart and off my shoulders. I almost just wanted to lie on the floor and sigh in relief. Then take a nap.

I wish it were possible to write everything talked about during the day.
Below is my failure to summarise!

Content wise the day started with setting guidelines of how we could navigate through the event together whilst keeping it a safe and comfortable space for everyone.

We were then asked to think of role models in our own lives (which could be anyone)  and the idea was put forward that no one person encompasses everything. We look up and want to emulate different aspects of different people. After we explored the idea of what a role model is. Who can be one? What does it mean to be one? How can you be one?

Role models don’t have to be perfect or get it right all the time. Nor do they have to be super heroes doing super duper things. For me one theme of the day was thinking about the power of ‘small’ actions. A lot of people in attendance felt they were not role models. Or that they couldn’t be unless they did x, y or z. However something like coming out to one other person, or challenging someone on something they’ve said can all be radical and empowering acts. We shouldn’t discount how much of an impact ‘small’ actions can have on the world and on other bis.

Often just seeing someone being bi and comfortable in their own skin can be life changing. I know it was for me when I met Jen Yockney. And it still is so affirming when I meet others who comfortable/confident with their own bisexuality.

We also looked at bi specific things related to being a role model. I found it really interesting how the words people associate with role models such as honesty, trustworthiness, and being genuine can be a burden to us. As these are often things bi people feel they have to spend their lives trying to prove to monosexuals that they are! So we don’t need additional pressures being added to this when we are trying to empower ourselves and others. Instead we explored other ideas of what a role model can be. E.g. Curious? Learning? Fragile?

We were also encouraged to focus on the things we can do and the things we want to do. And not to feel guilty if can’t or don’t want to do something.

Self care isn’t selfish!

Finally one person mentioned the burden of when you are out and bi and are trying to do x. Others automatically expect you to know what you’re doing and expect you to do the heavy lifting.

 

Later on in the day we looked at what barriers prevent us from reaching our potential as role models either internally or externally. Then we looked at potential solutions.

In the afternoon we did an exercise in threes where one person spoke uninterrupted for 5 minutes about things they wanted to start, things they wanted to stop and things they wanted to continue. After there was an additional five minutes where the other two could ask questions and offer their thoughts or advice. I found this helpful as it meant no one could dominate the group. You often don’t realise things until you speak out loud and have a sounding board. People offered me some very useful pointers to take going forward.

The event was wrapped up by getting attendees to write our 3 key themes of the day in our own notebooks and then completing a statement provided. Anyone who wanted to share their statement to the group was welcome to in a circle at the end, and it was very moving and empowering to hear people’s answers.

Finally it was group photo time then home!

 

I do have one last thought to share with regards to content. One thing which I felt could have made clearer is the effects of bi erasure. It was only because someone pointed this out that it even got mentioned. Some in the room were aware of bi erasure but I know others weren’t. It needed to be said that our invisibility is not our fault. Being a visible role model and taking action no matter how big or small does help and as I mentioned before it can have huge impacts. But it will never solve the issue of on its own. We need others in society to recognise us, support us and stop erasing us. Just knowing about erasure is a really empowering thing in itself! It means we don’t blame ourselves for our invisibility and suffer the effects of believing that.

But that is a minor niggle from a wonderful event. Others may well have left feeling very different and I would love to read other people’s write ups to compare experiences. But as you can tell I found the day to be very useful, affirming and empowering. I learned so much which I will have to blog more about later.

I’m really glad Stonewall is offering programmes like this for bi people. It is vital that they continue to do so. I know they will run another one of these days in September.

One day doesn’t erase years of hurt for me. Though it has made me feel less weary and afraid about engaging with them in the years to come. I even signed up for more information about volunteering!

I look forward to seeing what else they do for bi people in the future. Lots more I hope.

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