(UK only) Could you take part in some research?

Taking part in a research study is a simple and easy piece of activism to do. This one involves answering questions on your thoughts and experiences of the workplace. It takes around 45 minutes and it’s completely anonymous.

You can also share the link to this page to help the researchers reach even more bi people. Their Call for Participants can be found below.

TL;DR – email dora.jandric@ed.ac.uk to sign up or find out more!


Call for Participants in Research on Bisexuality in the Workplace

The picture shows the logo of University of Edinburgh Business School on the left, the logo for British Academy of Management in the middle, and the bi flag on the right hand side. These are the logos present on the ‘Call for Participants’ PDF being circulated by the researchers.

Michelle O’Toole and Tom Calvard of the University of Edinburgh Business School, along with research assistant Dora Jandric from the School of Social and Political Science, are conducting research on the experiences of bisexual employees in the workplace. This research project is funded by the British Academy of Management (BAM) and the University of Edinburgh Business School (UEBS) and is being conducted between September 2019 and September 2020.

The overall purpose of this research is to investigate the identity work of bisexual employees in the workplace. Bisexuality is typically marginalised and stigmatised in employment and national cultures (Monro, 2015). Conceptually, this work seeks to build theory around the distinctively relational, performative and invisible aspects of bisexual identities in a range of work settings, theorizing the sensemaking and identity work challenges such identities pose in relation to fostering inclusive organisational cultures and practices. We believe that awareness of this issue is vital to promote a more diverse, supportive, and inclusive working
environment.

We are looking for people who are UK resident, have worked in the UK for a minimum of 2 years and identify themselves as bisexual.

Interviews and focus groups will be carried out by Dora Jandric, the research assistant on the project. The interviews will be via Skype or by telephone and will last around 30-40 minutes.

The focus groups will be via Skype and will last around 60-90 minutes.

If you are interested in taking part, please email Dora Jandric at: dora.jandric@ed.ac.uk.

Anonymity is guaranteed.

We’d be most grateful if you could circulate this information to your members.

Many thanks,

Michelle O’Toole, Tom Calvard and Dora Jandric

(In)Accessibility & Covid-19

TL;DR – we must make sure our society is as accessible as possible, and the bi+ community must keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown.


For many different reasons, the wider world was out of reach to a lot of people before the lockdown. Most buildings and public transport are not accessible. A disability or chronic health condition might keep someone at home. Someone might have caring responsibilities. Or things simply cost too much. Over 20% of the UK’s population lives in poverty.

All of the above issues affect bi+ people disproportionately.

Everyone’s experience of lockdown has been different, but for many the world has been brought within reach as services and entertainment move online. Flexible hours and home working become normalised as workplaces are closed.

But for those who don’t use the Internet or can’t afford it, what then as more and more things move online, often permanently, during the pandemic?

It makes me angry when people praise how innovative we have been and how well we have adapted to the current situation. Nearly all of these things could have easily been done before – if the awareness and the willingness to do it had been there!! So many people have been denied access to work or been forced to leave because companies refuse to offer flex or home working. So many couldn’t study because universities offered no alternatives to face-to-face learning, and penalised those who couldn’t attend every single lecture. And so many couldn’t socialise because friends and family never thought to hang out online before.

I’m angry with myself too. I set up and ran a group for bi+ people in Nottingham several years ago. I tried to be as inclusive as possible, for example I visited every single venue in the city centre in order to find an accessible one to host the socials. Yet I never even realised I could have held meet ups online for those who couldn’t attend in person. It seems so obvious now. I’m sorry to those I let down.

I’m angry at my governent. Their failings mean that a lot of people have died needlessly and continue to do so. They are doing a piss poor job of making the right things accessible to the people that need them. For example, food to those shielding, or having a sign language interpreter at daily press briefings. I celebrate and value the innovative ways individuals and charities pick up the pieces. I just worry because I doubt the government will take responsibility and put that infrastructure in place going forwards. They will force others to keep providing so they can keep the money in their hands. (When compared to similar countries, the UK has one of the biggest gaps between the richest and the poorest.)

As the lockdown is lifted over the coming months, I’m worried about the impact our socially distanced world will have if we don’t plan properly. Do pub chains really have to fix chairs to the floors in order to re-open? Can’t they just trust people instead, so that anyone who needs to move the chair (i.e because they’re on wheels) can? If the hard of hearing can’t understand what someone is saying behind a mask and a plastic screen, are alternatives being put in place to help people communicate?

In finding our ‘new normal’ we must not forget what we gained from this horrific pandemic. Employers must continue to offer home working where possible. And people must push back if companies try to take it away again!! Services and entertainment must keep some kind of home based alternative in mind for those who can’t attend in person. And we must remember this and we must push back if they start to forget in the future!!

What about the bi+ community? I think in the past it has left out those who couldn’t attend events in person and those based in rurual areas – but we have a chance to remedy this. It is our duty to keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown, and figure out ways to include anyone this format will not reach.

Being out as bisexual at work

Yesterday my boss was preparing to go on annual leave. Next week we will have our company-wide staff meeting so she gave my two co-workers and I a sheet of notes of things she would like us to discuss. There was a paragraph for each of us on the page, and we knew which one was ours as they had been colour coded according to our favourite colours. As it happens our favourites are pink, blue, and purple. My purple paragraph had been placed in the middle.

“Awwwww,” I said upon opening the document. “You’ve accidentally made the bisexual flag with your paragraph colours!”

My boss didn’t know there was a specific flag for bisexuality so looked it up, and we all talked about a few other things relating to flags, labels, and sexuality before returning back to work.

I thought about how lucky I was that I could use my bi activism to help me get a job (on two separate occasions now). As well as talk about this blog and the Big Bi Fun Day at work, and about bisexuality in general. I’ve been out in nearly every school/office/dead end job I’ve ever worked in, but this is the first time I’ve never been questioned, mocked, or made to feel unsafe because of it. In fact, I can safely discuss bisexual issues quite a lot.

If people are able to try coming out as bi at work they risk being treated differently and being viewed as an untrustworthy, indecisive, and unreliable colleague. They risk being passed over for job opportunities and promotions, being fired, or for people to make their working lives so miserable they have no choice but to leave. Bullying is rife in many offices.  I have either experienced all of these things firsthand or seen them happen to other people. As a bystander you can defend someone through actions such as shutting down gossip, supporting them in team meetings etc. but so much happens beyond the space you occupy. And when it’s management or a large group of people you often have very little power to stop it.

For most people it is still not safe to come out at work and it never will be. Often it means working alongside people who you know are biphobic, perhaps even having to put up with anti LGBTQ+ comments and behaviour every time you go in to work. Sadly it’s not limited to your colleagues – if there is no system in place for dealing with it then you may well have to endure the same from clients, service users, and/or volunteers too.

Depending on which study you cite, only 6-12% of bisexuals are out to their co-workers. A figure that is a lot lower than the numbers for gay and lesbian people which is around 40% – which of course is still a very low figure. (Stats from Invisible Majority, lgbtmap.org – thank you to @KivaBay for sharing this link on their Twitter timeline.)

I still stutter and stammer sometimes when my co-workers ask me about the events I run. Even though I know it’s ok to talk about it, it is hard to let go of the fear that automatically floods your veins and makes you freeze when someone mentions anything LGBTQ+ related in the workplace.

It is so amazing to have the support of my work colleagues and yesterday, after the ‘bi-coloured-meeting-notes incident’, I took a moment to appreciate how rare this is and how lucky I am to fall within that small percentage of the bi population.

 

Other resources

Bi Activism: For Those Who Like Reading


If you haven’t already seen it, please check out my
Intro to Bi Activism


Activism to do with books and stuff

  1. Google books by bi authors.
  2. Google books with bi characters in.
  3. Buy some!
  4. Or you can also ask your local library to order these books in for you
  5. Whilst there, look to see if they have an LGBTQ+ section. If not ask them to make one. If yes, is it labelled wisely or just called ‘Gay Books’?! Could they make a better label?
  6. Suggest bisexual related books they could order in for their (new) LGBTQ+ section. How about Purple Prose?
  7. Repeat steps 4, 5, 6 with your local book shops.
  8. If you think the library or book shop might say no, spend an hour looking up how many LGBT people are in your area, include that figure when you contact them. Explain we want to consume the books but can’t if they won’t stock them! Explain how much it will benefit us (wellbeing) and them (profits/increased readership) if they diversify their inventory.
  9. Did you enjoy any of the books you read after you Googled them? Share recs with friends and on social media.
  10. Contact the author to let them know!
  11. Contact the publisher to say it was ace – and you want more books like ’em.
  12. Follow all the cool, amazing writers you discover on social media. Sign up to their newsletters. Share their tweets. Attend their events and book signings. Make fanart. Write fanfic. Get a t-shirt with their book title/character on it.
  13. Did you come across any problematic content in a book? Were parts of it racist? Biphobic? Did it have one trans character in, who only existed as a victim of violence? Etc. Etc.  :/  If you have time and spoons contact the author and explain the problem and ask them to write differently in the future.
  14. Do you have an LGBT Centre in your area? Do they have a bookshelf of fiction and non-fiction that people can borrow? Repeat steps 4, 5 & 6!
  15. Is the LGBT Centre claiming to have no money for bisexual things? Tell them bi people outnumber gay and lesbian people they are letting down a majority of service users by not doing anything for bi people. Tell them bi people have worse physical and mental health than gay and lesbian people, which is in part caused by a lack of services and resources for them.
  16. Could your university/library/workplace/LGBT centre etc take out a subscription to Bi Community News (BCN)?
  17. Could you?
  18. If you write to BCN and ask for flyers they will send you some. You can distribute them around your area.
  19. Seeing as you’re now in contact with BCN, you could also write a book review for them of something you’ve enjoyed recently.
  20. Speaking of book reviews, maybe you could start a blog on bi books/bi authors?
  21. Google publishers.
  22. Is their catalogue lacking in diversity? Email them and ask for more books with LGBT characters, more books by bi writers, BAME writers, trans writers, disabled writers….heck even writers who are women! A lot of publishers aren’t doing a good job on that front either.
  23. Google LGBT publishers.
  24. Do they have any bi or trans stuff or is it just ‘Gay’ and ‘Lesbian’? If it’s a GL heavy zone return to step 22.
  25. Do you like zines? Are there any zine fairs in your area? Do they have a diverse array of stall holders or is it a straight blizzard in there? If yes, contact the organisers and ask ’em to sort it out. (Credit to @applewriter for this one.)
  26. Attend your local zine fair. Chat to zine makers. Talk about their stuff with them. BUY their zines. Repeat step 12!
  27. Are there any LGBT Book Awards out there? If so, nominate the books and authors you like. Vote for them if they are shortlisted.
  28. I personally haven’t been able to face DIVA again after reading all the biphobic content they used to print in the past. But they exist. Maybe they’re better now? Maybe you’ll like them?
  29. Damn I was so close to 30. Is there anything else I should add to this list?
  30. Thank you for reading and send me your bi book recs. Thanx.

bi books

Sketch of pile of books, purple background!

Intro to Bi Activism

Often we want to do more to increase our quality of life and promote inclusion but we don’t know what to do. Hopefully the posts listed below will give you some ideas to get you started.

If your activism isn’t inclusive of BAME bis, disabled bis, trans bis, older bis, younger bis, bis who practice a religion, fat bis…etc etc. then please STOP until you are willing to fight for everyone – not just people who look and act like you.

If you’re scared of saying and doing the wrong thing, don’t be. Don’t let your fears imprison you into inaction. Just keep reading about bisexuality and bi issues as much as you can. Learn about intersectionality. Listen to people who approach you with feedback and constructive criticism. Learn from it. Apologise for any mistakes. Say thank you that they’ve taken the time and energy to tell you.

It’s normal to get upset and angry in the face of erasure and biphobia but remember to channel these feelings in a constructive way. Don’t ever resort to trolling, abuse, harassment, or bullying.

You can do as little or as much as you want.
You can do as little or as much as you are able.

You are not better than anyone else for doing more.
You are not worse for doing less.

And you don’t need a lot of time or money to make a difference.

Mentor and be a friend to those who reach out for help with following in your footsteps. Don’t forget to thank any people who mentor you!


So far I have written:

Handing Over Your Bi Group

After setting up and/or running a bi group the day will inevitably come when it is time to leave it. This could be temporary or permanent. It could be because you want more free time, you want less responsibility, you’re leaving the area, or you’re burnt out. Maybe it’s just not interesting or fun anymore.

These are all valid reasons to hand over the group to someone else. Please don’t feel bad or guilty about it.

When is the best time to go?

  • Before life changes mean you’re too busy to run it properly
  • Before you get too bored/fed up/pissed off/burnt out to care

Clearly this is a lot easier said that done. You might be fine one week then suddenly have to care for a relative the next. Who knows what life is going to throw at us? But at least there are some things you can plan for, such as accepting a new job which you know will eat up the time and energy you use to run the group.

Sometimes if you’re used to ploughing through things you might not realise how you’ve been feeling until you’re already wrung out and disillusioned. It can take a long time to untangle yourself from a bi group. Few people could predict they want to walk away from something in 3 or 6 months time.


What’s the best way to hand it over?

A good friend of mine would say the following; as soon as you set up your bi group start training your successor! Whilst you might want to give yourself time to settle in first, it is sound advice. Especially if you can get 2-3 people on your team who know how you run the group, can monitor email and social media, and know the group members. Then you can be ill, take a holiday, go to a work conference, or treat yourself to something nice without have to worry about the next meet up. Being able to take a break every once in a while will also help reduce burn out.

If people are helping you, you might want to think about drawing up some volunteer guidelines. For example, keep personal information you learn about members confidential. Don’t post any hate content on the group social media etc. etc. I’m sure any potential helpers will be lovely people, but even if you only say it once or hand them over on a piece of paper – it’s been said. You’ve expressed how you want the group to run and you’re on the same page. And if you do have any problems later it’s a lot easier to revisit things you’ve already discussed rather than have that first conversation after an incident has taken place.

In addition to training up helpers you can also prepare some kind of handover file or document from the start. It’s a lot easier to write these things as you go rather than hastily bash it all out later as you’re handing everything over! It could contain anything someone might need to know, such as logins, passwords, who you liaise with at the venue you use, a copy of group guidelines, resources you’ve found helpful, past booking forms, invoices. Anything! (But be careful you’re not sharing any of your own data like your bank details.)

In our perfect dream world volunteers would fall over themselves in their eagerness to sign up and help you. What will probably happen is that 3 people will say they want to but can’t. Then no one else will step forward, except for Gertrude who has only been to one meet up 7 months ago and can’t be relied upon to help with anything! It’s up to you whether you want to hand over to Gertrude or not. Is someone like Gertrude better than no one, which means the group will go on hiatus?

It’s also vital to make sure that the person who takes over is of good character. It’s impossible to list everything here but to provide some examples; if they’re racist, transphobic, Islamaphobic, a known sexual harasser, someone who will behave inappropriately at meet ups… Don’t brush it away and think it will be fine. People who do these things shouldn’t have any positions of power or leadership in our communities. Especially in spaces where people can be vulnerable. (E.g. bisexuals suffer higher rates of poverty, mental illness, domestic abuse.)

 

Here’s some potential outcomes and solutions:

 

You have a few helpful people who don’t quite have enough time or energy to run the group by themselves.

Could you divide duties ? Perhaps one person does the social media and a few others facilitate the meetings between them so they only need to commit to a few meet ups a year each?

Can you reduce the workload? You could meet every quarter or every two months instead of every month. If you ran workshops and pub socials before perhaps just do the pub socials for a while going forwards.

 

No one can/wants to help.

A sad but true fact of life is that everyone wants the thing, but very few will run it themselves. So you could keep running it until you find someone. New people do turn up every month. Perhaps one of them will love your group so much they’re happy to jump in! I’m not a fan of this option. Unless you are very lucky and find someone, people will take you for granted and let you keep running it – thus delaying your exit indefinitely.

You could put a hard deadline out there. Seeing that they are going to lose it might spur people into action. Here’s an example script; “At the end of July I will step down from running the Storybrooke Bisexual Group. If no one is able to volunteer the group will have to go on hold until a new leader is found. Thank you to everyone who has come to the group or volunteered at an event and made it so wonderful these past few years.

Once announced, stick to it! After the deadline you can check emails/social media every once in a while to see if someone wants to take the reins. Hopefully in your absence people will exclaim, “By Jove, we haven’t had a bi meet up in Storybrooke for 6 months! The socials were so good. Let’s start it up again!”

Some former group leaders do come back after a time when no one has done anything in their absence. That’s fine if you’re happy to do so – but think carefully before doing anything again. Can you do things differently than the last time to make it less hard work/more enjoyable for YOU?

 

Yay, you’ve found someone! 

Unless they’ve asked you to mentor them for a while, hand over and leave them to it.

If you’re still attending the group it can be very tempting to point out how you would do things differently, or how much better it was when you ran it. Even if this may be true being smug, gossiping, or behaving in a way that undermines them isn’t going to help you, them, or the group.

If you really feel they’re doing something wrong why not suggest a change directly to them instead of bitching or complaining about it? E.g. “The Storybrooke Pub used to be a great place to meet, but now the Hungry Hippo Boardgame Club use the space too, it’s too noisy to hear anyone speak. How about looking at a new venue?”
or
“I’ve noticed no one is advertising the group online any more. It’s absolutely vital to do that. Are you able to start doing it again or ask someone to help you?”

Hopefully though they’ll do a great job!


Handing it over can be emotional.

Take it easy for a while after you’ve left. This was probably something you invested a lot of time and effort in. If you set up the group from scratch and ran it for a year or two, you’re saying good-bi (pun intended) to a huge part of your life.

If you didn’t want to leave but were forced to because of illness or a change in your circumstances then you’ll need time to grieve.

Even if you needed to get away it’s still a change to get used to. If you were burnt out then your mind and body can take longer than you think to recover. Who knew you could feel more exhausted once you’ve stopped doing something than when you did it!?

Try not to feel too angry or disheartened if no one volunteers to take over. People have their reasons. Those reasons might not be immediately obvious to you. Take comfort from the lovely folk who wanted to help but couldn’t. And you never know what might happen a month or a year down the line. Perhaps you inspired someone and changed their life so much – they will become a bi activist or run their own group one day!

If the group goes on hiatus try not to feel too upset about it. You may feel all your hard work was for nothing – but it wasn’t! Just think of all the people you helped through running the group. You would have had such a vital impact. (If you are not sure about this you could even set up an anonymous online survey and ask! The answers will be more meaningful than you imagined – and can help demonstrate to LGBT centers the importance of funding bi spaces.)

Your bi group meetings may not happen any more but that won’t ever change or take away from the great things that you did. Say well done to yourself and celebrate everything you’ve achieved!


Draw your boundaries – and stick to them

People might bug you to start the group going again. Or something might not be run how you think it should be. Don’t get sucked back into things if you don’t want to! The group may not continue exactly how you want it to but just let it be. It’s not your responsibility any more.

Some might see you at a BiCon and complain about the new person who took over. Others might tell you that the new person is better than you – ouch!

But you don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. Change the topic of conversation to something else. You don’t have to justify your decisions or answer anyone else’s questions.

 

So what now? 

Live. Laugh. Rest. Do all the things you wanted but never got round to. Make time for you. Put your needs first for a change. Put the experience of running a bi group on your CV if you’re able to.


Remember,
no matter how much they love your group, no matter how much it’s changed their life for the better, very few people will think to say well done and thank you. So say well done to yourself and celebrate everything you’ve achieved! 

Hannah Bee’s Bisexual Blogs Ranked on Top 50 Bisexual Website List

In the middle of a long and busy work day today I checked my personal emails during lunch and found a message which made me smile. It was from a website called Feedspot, who’d contacted me because they’d made a list of the top 50 blogs & websites for the bisexual community and this site was on it. (Number 39, although is it me or does the list only go up to 40?!) The list was drawn up from a mixture of Google rankings, social media hits, and humans taking the content into account.

bisexual_1000px

The picture shows a drawing of a gold medal from Feedspot.  On it, the words “Awarded Top 50 Bisexual Blog”.

For people looking for more bi news, content, voices, activist spaces, and the chance to meet other people like them then this list could be a good resource. It will also be a solid starting point for those who aren’t familiar with many/any bisexual sites.

However I must confess their claim to have found ‘the best bisexual blogs on the planet’ seemed like a rather audacious one to make. Especially as the list focused on white writers, white media, and American and UK based websites in the English language only. (Couldn’t see if it was supposed to be a USA or UK hits based list?) What about all the work being done by BAME Bis? What about all the work being done in other countries? When making lists like these people need to look beyond the most visible and be more inclusive.

Some websites I personally wouldn’t put on any bisexual resource list. PinkNews for example still seem to be describing themselves as “Europe’s largest gay news service”. Their content is full of lazy writing, such as a never ending stream of stories about famous people who said something horrible about us. Great for being triggered, less useful for staying informed. I’ll stick to sites like BCN thanks!

And there are people out there who write much better than me, posting about issues I fail to fully comprehend let alone articulate in a blog post.

But if I were to sum up what the experience of writing an activism based blog is like it would be this: ‘Sitting alone. Writing about issues I know are important but that most people don’t. Hoping I can make some small difference. Feeling like I am shouting and pleading but nobody is listening. Wondering why I still bother.’

So to find out I was on some kind of list somewhere, anywhere, was a really nice moment that made me smile – even though I haven’t had the spoons to update this since May! It means that sometimes – some of my words are getting through.

Thank you Feedspot.

And a huge thank you to those who visit the site and read what I have to say!

 

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.

 

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.