Advice from Workshops: Coming Out

Last month I presented a workshop on coming out at London BiFest 2017. You can read more about it here.

As part of the workshop I asked participants to share their tips & advice on coming out and said that I would post it online afterwards so people can use it as a resource.

Every time I present this workshop I will add to the list- but please feel free to comment below if you would like to contribute anything.


  • Learning facts about bisexuality (e.g. studies have shown there are more bisexuals than the number of lesbians and gays put together) can help you respond to people’s negative comments (‘But bis don’t exist!’) and give you resilience. You know you’re not alone.
  • Sassy comebacks:
    • “No I’m bi, you’re confused!”
    • Answering “I’m 100% bisexual.” if anyone asks what percentage you’re attracted to different genders.
  • Asses how much time/energy you have left to give? If anyone has questions or wants a discussion you can refuse to answer, delay answering until another day, or talk away. It’s up to you. You don’t have to be anyone’s educator or ignorance buster. Nor do you have to explain yourself or justify your sexuality.
  • But if you want to, you can prep answers to questions in advance because sometimes it’s hard to speak in the moment.
  • Choose a place where you can leave easily and/or choose a place where leaving is the normal thing to do. E.g. the kitchen. Makes things safer and less awkward.
  • ‘Lead bi example’ – if you come out like being bisexual is absolutely fine and normal (which it is) then other people are more likely to respond in the same way. (Much better than starting with something like ‘I HAVE SOME DIFFICULT NEWS PLEASE DON’T BE UPSET!’
  • Say what you want the other person to do. E.g. I’m telling you, but don’t tell anyone else.

Workshop Outline: Coming Out

In April I presented a workshop at London BiFest. I wanted to share my notes on here so that anyone who is thinking about running a session at an event can use this as a resource or a place to get ideas.

The first thing I did was write an outline for the session guide which had to be submitted in advance. You can see the guide from London BiFest 2017 here, but for convenience I’ve copied mine below.

 

“14:30 – 15:30 Session 2A: Coming Out

Facilitator: Hannah Bee.

A facilitated group discussion on everything to do with coming out.

Do you let other people know about your sexuality? Why, why not? Should you? Is it safe to? What are the pros and cons of each option? In addition to the above we will also look at the bi specific issues surrounding coming out (or being unable to), swap tips, and share our own experiences.”

 

For a discussion based workshop there isn’t really a lot preparation involved which makes this the ideal format for the time strapped individual. The day before BiFest I wrote out some notes and mentally planned how I would arrange the room. (Chairs in a circle or horseshoe shape.)

On the day I packed some whiteboard markers, blue tak, and spare paper as you never know when these items might run out or go missing!

 

My outline looked like this:

  1. Introduction
  2. Explain how the workshop will run: I’ll lead a guided discussion
  3. Explain the ground rules. E.g. no interrupting, respect everyone’s opinions and experiences, give everyone a chance to speak. Ask the room if they want to add anything?
  4. Explain that I would like people to use three ‘discussion gestures’. A raised hand means someone would like to say something. Holding both hands in front of you in a fist with the index fingers raised and wiggling means you have something to add, but it relates to what has just been said so you need to speak next. Turning hands back and forth (a bit like Beyonce’s putting a ring on it) is sign language for applause and allows people to express agreement and/or solidarity without interrupting.
  5. Do a show of hands asking who’s mostly/completely out, somewhat out, or barely/not at all out. (This allows me to tailor the workshop to who has come that day.)
  6. Work through questions on flipchart (see below).
  7. End on sharing coming out tips/positive stories.
  8. Wrap up. Thank everyone for coming. Let people know that if the workshop has had an emotional impact, I am available outside if anyone wants to talk more. Encourage people to get a drink and a snack. Give out contact details. Promote any events I’m doing in future (in this case The Big Bi Fun Day).

Before the workshop started I wrote a list of questions on the flipchart. I find this works very well for discussion based workshops as it helps people settle in and reduces feelings of anxiety or awkwardness. This is because it shows people what to expect and gives them time to think of things to say. It also gives them something to do whilst they wait, plus people can break the ice by talking about it if they want to.

It’s also a lifeline for me, as it saves me from painful silence when I throw a question to the room and no one replies!

 

What I wrote on the flipchart:

Things to think about whilst waiting:

  • Are you out?
  • Why/Why not?
  • If you’ve come out to someone, what kin of reactions have they had?
  • How do you deal with coming out (or correcting) over and over again?
  • How do you deal with negative reactions?
    (Both emotionally and in dealing with the other person.)
  • What advice would you give others?

 

I had expected about 10-15 people to attend so was rather surprised to find 24 faces sitting and looking at me. This made me worry that some wouldn’t get a chance to speak and that the layout wouldn’t work as instead of 1 circle we had a 2 row horseshoe to fit everyone in. Thankfully the gestures made the workshop flow perfectly. And when someone gave visual applause out of eyesight of the person speaking I just mentioned it to them which got around the layout problem.

After the workshop I said I would post the coming out advice people gave on this blog. You can find this in a separate post here. Sorry it’s so late!

Finally Written by Jenny did a lovely write up of my workshop in their blog post about London Bifest 2017 so I would like to thank them for their kind words.

 

Pre-Kiss Checklist

Earlier in the year I met a really cool woman whilst out and about in London. We got chatting and went for drinks and to my delight got on so well we agreed to meet up again later in the week . However as far as I was concerned this was only for friendship – and I hadn’t said or done anything to indicate otherwise. So Friday arrived and I was looking forward to another night of hanging out with my new companion. She knew I was bi and I knew she wasn’t straight so I was also happy to get a chance to relax, be out of the closet, and be myself.

After getting some food we went to a bar in Soho. We had drinks. We talked more. We laughed at how these kinds of places always seem to be the size of your living room.We grimaced at the leaky ceiling and shook our heads in bemusement when a member of staff tried to staple napkins to it to stop more bits of plywood from dropping to the floor. Later we got up and went for a dance. I can’t remember what the questions she asked me next were exactly but it went something like this:

“So have you been in relationships with women, or just men?”

I answered.

“And were those, like, proper long term relationships or just short term things?”

I answered.

A minute or so later she slammed her lips against mine. I was very surprised! Maybe I should have said earlier that I just had friendship in mind (but then she didn’t say she was thinking of more either). And maybe I could have picked up on her intentions at some point in the evening and subtly clarified. But I’m not very good at this socialising with other people thing and low self esteem means I struggle to comprehend how anyone can want me romantically. I honestly had no idea she might have assumed otherwise. Oh well. At least I know now for next time.

But all that is beside the point really.

I hate how my sexuality comes with so many assumptions and negative connotations. I hate how she only wanted to kiss me after she had assessed that I was ‘gay enough’ and had ‘dated women enough’ to be a suitable recipient for her affections. If my answers had been different, would I have been judged unworthy? As someone ‘too straight’, too unreliable, and too untrustworthy to be intimate with?  It was a really unpleasant experience.

I am bisexual. And I am ‘bi enough’ thank you very much.

 

 

Traveling To Meet Family I Never Knew I Had

I remember what it was like to come out to my family. I know what it is like to still not be able to tell all of them. And in the past I’ve written about what it’s like when a  bereavement takes away the chance of ever being able to say.

I remember all the time spent as a teenager and as an adult, not knowing whether the people in my family would accept or reject me or fall somewhere in between. Agonising year after year after year about whether it’s safe to come out and if so, when and how to go about it. For me it’s painful and stressful and a slow form of torture you have to carry with you every single day when all you want is to be wanted and loved unconditionally for who you are.

For many of us deaths, divorces, and new relationships change the shape of our families and people can find themselves having to go through all off the above for a SECOND TIME. This was the case for me when a step-family came into my life. (Although I wouldn’t wish for things to be any different because I’m happy that my dad and step-mum have been able to find love and happiness together.)

Now, from a very young age I’ve known that my dad was adopted. I never thought much of it because I was told never to mention it and I loved the grandparents I knew. It was a shock at the time, but as far as I was concerned my adoptive grandparents were my family and the mysterious biological relatives out there somewhere was something I never really had a concept of anyway.

When I was in my early 20s my dad decided to look for his family and some time later contact was made. I’m delighted to say it was a positive reunion for all involved. However it was still a huge thing for me to try and get my head round as after my birth grandma was forced to give my dad up for adoption she was sent to America and went on to have four more children. This means I have many aunties, uncles, and cousins (plus their babies) in another continent.

Part of the reason I put off flying out to America to meet them for so long was because for me that means having to go through the above for a third time. A THIRD TIME!! And this time having A LOT of people to get to know and work out whether it’s safe to come out to them or not. And if it all ends badly I will be alone and nowhere near home.

I am sat a plane to America as I type and I feel a lot of things; happiness, excitement, sadness. Grief for the time we never got to spend together. Grief for the grandparents I never knew. (My birth grandma passed away a decade ago. Birth grandad remains unknown.) However most of all I’m afraid that my recently discovered biological family will be biphobic. I feel very vulnerable and emotional right now and unable to face any negative reactions or rejection that might arise. I wish I could just dance out of Arrivals singing “I’m beautiful and bi!” whilst doing jazz hands or something and they’d go, “Awesome!” and we’d hug but sadly life is never that simple. Or stylish.

But one thing I’ve realised is that if I fear or expect any biphobia then I am being just as prejudiced as I fear they might be. I would be judging them before I know them and thinking less of them. That’s not it’s not a nice thing for me to do and it’s not very nice or fair for them. So despite being utterly terrified and emotionally exhausted I am doing my best to have an open heart and an open mind as I fly over the Atlantic.

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.

Can bi volunteer work help you get a job?

This year has seen a lot of changes as I’ve moved house, moved cities and found a new job – no wonder I haven’t had the time or energy to write anything here since January!

I was very fortunate as I had enough money in the bank to last through a short period of unemployment and pay for the cost of moving. I also had enough to give me 1-2 months to find work/start temping so I had the privilege of being able to be out on my CV and take a higher rate of rejection. If it took longer to get work I would be able to cope for a while.

There were a few reasons why I chose to do this. One is that I can no longer bear to hide my sexuality, even if I know the results of coming out will be damaging. I want people to see ME and not something I’m pretending to be. Another is that BiTopia and bi activism took up so much of my life there was little time for anything else. (Clearly wasn’t following my own advice on avoiding burnout!)

In the UK there is an expectation that your CV must show examples of employment, volunteer work, AND some kind of skill building, teamwork based hobby. (Way to discriminate against all the bi people who are just struggling to get by, and can’t do some/all of the above.) So if I didn’t talk about my bi group on my CV, it wouldn’t fit the unspoken criteria for being short listed without lying anyway. Besides, it was all relevant experience to the jobs I wanted to apply for so it made sense to put it on.

Another reason was that as I was moving to a much bigger city, there would be a better chance of finding an LGBTQ+ friendly employer. The people who saw queer stuff on the CV and immediately rejected me because of it would be the people who never got in touch – hurrah!

Finally, I wanted to share what I’d achieved because I felt proud.

It felt very scary talking about it out loud in the job interview in response to questions like, ‘Do you have experience using social media?’ or ‘Can you work with a wide range of people?’ I felt very vulnerable and afraid. I kept reminding myself they could be LGBTQ+ too,  but mostly I was waiting for them to shoot me looks of disgust or call the interview off early. (Not that they did of course.) My voice did wobble at times despite my best efforts to keep it steady and talk naturally.

In the end I got the job, and I also had another interview lined up that I cancelled once I heard the news.

I’m not going to end this with some sappy “You can do it too!” sentiment. Everyone’s situation is different. You might not be in a financial position that allows you to leave a job, take longer to find one, or pick and choose amongst them. It might be damaging or dangerous to come out in your field of employment. But bi activism and organising groups and events can equip you many relevant skills and experiences. And these can aid you in applications and interviews. If being out on your CV is something you are thinking of doing then I wish you good luck!