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

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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.