Event Review: Butch, please!

I’ve been in London about a year and a half now and during that time I’ve really struggled to find a regularly occurring safe space where I feel happy to hang out and can meet other people like me. I think I’ve felt the absence of that in my life more because I’d lived in Manchester (which has one of the largest bi scenes in the country) and Nottingham (where almost all of the bi events were set up and run by me)!

I tried out a regular bi pub social in London when I first arrived but there were about 6 other people there who barely uttered a word to me all evening, including the organiser, so I never bothered going back.

Another option was to try going out to clubs like She in SoHo but when I went there the floor was covered in water due to a leak in the ceiling (which the bar staff were desperately trying to stop my stapling napkins to the plywood!) and I got tired of trying to go clubbing in a tiny rooms in basements about ten years ago.

A friend said she loved Butch, Please! and I thought I’d give it a go even though I was scared. I’ve long avoided events that are described as being solely lesbian after experiencing very violent and aggressive biphobia in the past, but I’d been to The Royal Vauxhall Tavern before and really like the venue so thought I’d give it a try.

The event is described as:

“A night for lesbians and their friends of all genders. Everyone welcome if you wanna have a good time. For Butch Muthers and Baby Dykes alike – bring the love, the respect and the power…Wear what you like. Be nice. Have a good time.”

It would be really nice if the organisers could add a few words to say that bi and pan people are welcome too! 

But gripes about bi erasure aside (it would also be nice if their FB had more bi stuff on it) I’m happy to say the night was absolutely *AMAZING*. I can only describe it as an absolute hoot. From the second I walked in I felt very welcome and safe. I was greeted by a friendly person on the door and I loved the event merchandise available (cute little badges).

If you get there early enough you can grab a table but if not, there is a large dance floor, a cloakroom, and plenty of space to put your drink down. It’s very cheap for London; only £5 to get in!  (Many clubs charge £20+.) The DJ played a wide range of music for people to dance to and there was something for everyone whether you wanted Abba or Le Tigre. I’m not a night owl so the fact that I could boogie from 8pm and leave at around midnight worked wonders for me – especially as it’s held on a weeknight.

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The picture shows the event logo; black lettering with the words ‘Butch. please!’ all in capitals.

People wore what they felt happiest in. You could see everything from fancy outfits with heels to t-shirt, jeans, and trainers. There was a mix of skin colours and nationalities. Trans and non-binary people were welcomed too.

One thing that really struck me was the sense of community. Most people were clearly regulars who knew each other. People who had never met me before saw I was with someone they knew and didn’t hesitate to introduce themselves, sit at my table, offer me a drink, or shake their stuff on the dance floor with me. It’s the friendliest club night I’ve ever been too. I’ve been recommending it to all my friends. Can’t wait for the next one!

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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.

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!

Saying Something Doesn’t Make It So

Recently I mentioned an LGBTQ+ issue to a neighbour and was immediately met with the words “But that’s not really a problem any more.”

This happens to me a lot.

I can understand the (false) reasoning behind the sentiment. There is a pervasive feeling amongst people with privilege in our society that, in this modern day and age, things have improved and people are now tolerant and accepting. Like we’ve reached and crossed a finish line and there is nothing else to be done. It’s 2016 you know? That stuff just doesn’t happen any more! I can also understand how the ‘I don’t see it, so it mustn’t happen’ way of thinking an take hold. For example if you are white, and your life doesn’t intersect with any/many BME people, then you wouldn’t see any violence, prejudice or discrimination against them taking place. So you could reach a false conclusion that it barely occurs. (I sadly, wrongly used to be that person.)

I think the British media also exacerbates this, as issues such as racism in the police force or the fight for equal marriage in America often get more coverage than UK issues. Or the UK issues barely get mentioned at all. So people think it’s not much of a problem here. E.g. many people have heard of how all the Oscar nominees are all white this year, but they might not think about the lack of diversity in British film and television. And BME people are more likely to die in police custody in the UK too. In terms of general knowledge, a lot of people will know who Caitlyn Jenner is, but could they name a British trans person?

A lot of people don’t want to think about these things because it makes them feel uncomfortable. So it’s easier for them just to say it’s not an issue, and suppress other people speaking up about it. “Just live your life and be happy.” they say. “Stop making everything into a big deal!” Or they do things like make you hide your (perfectly reasonable) posters for a protest in case you upset other people, who aren’t even affected by the issue you’re protesting against!

And yes things definitely have improved a lot over time. But saying that things are still bad isn’t disagreeing with that, it’s acknowledging that something is still happening that people shouldn’t have to deal with. That something, like violence against trans people, or LGBTQ+ homelessness, or the fact that women are more likely to be raped if they’re bisexual needs to stop NOW. ASAP. We can’t improve anything if people won’t even accept it’s happening. It’s a powerful tool of oppression.

It’s really frustrating when people who are not affected by an issue, or are not a member of a minority group disproportionately affected by something, insist that it’s not really a problem. Putting salt instead of sugar into your tea by accident is an example of something that is not really a problem. Saying something doesn’t make it so, and I wish people would at least listen for a few minutes before opening their mouths in these situations. If they meant well and honestly didn’t know it was an issue in society, then why can’t they take a step back and think, “Well by Jove, I’m so lucky. I was so unaffected by that awful thing I didn’t even know about it! I should learn about it, and see if there is anything I can do to help stop it.”

On this occasion I didn’t know the exact figures, so I just mumbled quietly that it is still a problem before the conversation moved on. I have just looked it up for next time. We shouldn’t have to be walking encyclopaedias of depressing statistics, but other people often force us into that position by insisting things aren’t important or that they aren’t happening. Then they get into arguments with us when we have the audacity to point out their false beliefs.

Life makes me tired, and I am tired of banging my head repeatedly against brick walls.

Fanfiction

Fanfiction is usually viewed in a derogatory way and is likely to be dismissed as badly written, childish drivel produced and consumed by “fangirls“. However people of all genders and ages write it. Some fiction will be published by the most talented authors you’ve ever encountered, whilst others are so bad you can’t read past their first paragraph but ultimately I don’t think ability is the point. Whatever their sexuality people are being inspired to write and create and I think that’s wonderful. Even if you never post any yourself, fanfiction improves your writing and editing skills just by reading it. It also builds friendships and community as people comment, critique and come together to recommend and discuss stories.

Fanfiction is important to me for several reasons. One is that there are so few LGBT+ characters in film, books and television it allows you to input something else into a monosexist heteronormative world. With hindsight I’m no longer surprised I’ve consumed so much fan fiction over the years. If writers, producers and television networks aren’t going to portray it then fans are certainly going to take their creations and write their own LGBT+ characters and storylines with them. Hell sometimes we even give them a happy ending too! It makes a nice change from all the character deaths we get lumbered with. I suppose you could view fanfic as some kind of creative, literary wish fulfilment. 

Fanfiction also allows us to have stories where other character’s reactions to someone’s gender or sexuality isn’t the plot. In TV & film the story for an LGBT+ character always seems to be about rejection, discrimination, bullying, violence, fighting for rights etc. If it’s not that then it’s a negative portrayal which, for example, sees bi people as hypersexual, greedy, murdering, cheating secondary characters to be used as a plot device to further someone else’s story.

For bisexuals, even reports on poor representation in the media are erasing. *cough*

So as you can see fan fiction has been invaluable for me. When I was a teenager I devoured it. I was addicted to it. I would do things like pretend to feel ill on family holidays just so I could ‘rest’ in a public library and read it on the Internet whilst my relatives went sightseeing.

For most of my teenage years I didn’t know anyone else who wasn’t straight. In my small town I had nowhere to go to meet other people like me. There was no LGBT centre or youth group where I could get support. I didn’t even know those things existed. So fanfic showed me that there were other queer people out there looking at their computer screens too. Thanks to fanfic authors and websites I knew I wasn’t alone. More importantly, fics taught me that life would get better. It wouldn’t always be about loneliness and isolation, combined with feeling terrified that your parents might find out about your sexuality whilst you were trying to cope with being bullied at school. It taught me that when I would be an adult there would be a scene, a community that I could join. Fics gave me hope I could find happiness and relationships in the future.

Fanfiction was also one to way to find out answers to a curious teenager’s questions. What was it like when two women kissed or had sex? How did two women have sex?! As I’ve written before, my education certainly didn’t provide any answers.

Of course it’s not all positive. When people post LGBT+ fanfiction online (or even just link to it) they face harassment, abuse and bullying. You’re also not going to get a safe, accurate sex education from reading fanfiction! In addition unquestioning minds can absorb the attitudes of the writers of what they read and they might not find, or there might not be, any alternative view points to counteract it. If they only find fanfics saying x, they might begin to think is x true.

Fanfic, like the media, is a reflection of the dominant beliefs and attitudes in our society. One example of bi erasure is that stories involving two women getting intimate are nearly always tagged ‘lesbian sex’, even if the characters in the story are bi. Biphobia might take the form of someone writing a character that pertains to the aforementioned negative stereotypes. People also tend to do things like take straight characters and write them as gay/lesbian. Yes fans are welcome to write whatever they like, and that’s the point I made in the second paragraph isn’t it? Though I guess what I’m trying to say is when the majority of fiction is gay/straight as it reflects our monosexist society, this sucks as it reinforces biphobia and bi erasure both internally for any readers attracted to more than one gender and amongst readers in general. I long for more bi fanfic and bi friendly fanfic!

However at least you can (for the most part) choose, control and contribute to what you read on the Internet. In film and television you don’t have a say about content. Nor can you stop people showing endless hetero kissing and sex yet cut to a shot of lady legs behind a metal shutter because showing two women so much as brush lips will…erm…cause the viwers’ eyes to burn? Send us all to hell? Yes The Good Wife, I’m looking at you!!

shutter shot

The picture is a screencap from the first season of The Good Wife. A kiss between two women is implied by a shot of two pairs of legs very close together. The upper halves of their bodies remain obscured by a partially closed shutter of a storage unit.

So yes, fanfic definitely fills the gaps of what you rarely/will never see onscreen.

So what is being an avid consumer of fanfiction like? How have things changed over time? 10-15 years ago before Google took off it was really hard to find any LGBT+ fiction. Search engines were so crappy! So when I did find some I always quickly copied and pasted it into Word documents. If you wanted to read it you either had to be in front of your own computer, or save it to a floppy disc in order to read it on a different computer. The only alternative was printing it off on A4 paper. This was easily done with a short stand alone story, but a bit more difficult and time consuming when it was written across 70 chapters all posted on different pages of a website! 

Closeted teenage life also meant having to delete all your browsing history and saving documents to floppy discs hidden in your bedroom so parents wouldn’t find anything on the computer. I certainly enjoy the freedom having my own laptop brings now.

As the web grew and grew so did massive archive sites like Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own. It soon become a lot easier to publish on sites and blogs through creating an account rather than through having to make your own website from scratch on somewhere like Geocities. As those older sites disappeared offline over time anything you hadn’t copied and pasted was lost forever. Now you can download nearly anything and put it on your phone or kindle to read anywhere you go. Some fandoms even have communities where people record themselves reading fics out loud (not necessarily their own stories) so others can listen to them instead of read them.

Experiences of finding fiction varies greatly depending on the popularity of the thing you’re interested in. The more well known and liked something is, the larger the fan base and the more fiction produced as a result. I’ve been lucky as the things I love have always had huge online fandoms. It’s nice to know you’ll never run out of anything to read.

I can’t imagine a life without fanfic. My favourite stories will always stir up emotions along with the memories from the period of my life when I first discovered them.

Hypersexualised Objectified Bisexual

Over the weekend I was helping a friend sell merchandise on her company stall at a large trade show up in Manchester. I had a great time, as I always enjoy meeting new people and chatting with them – even if they don’t end up buying anything! I also have a fair bit of experience in this particular field, and really like getting to know people in order to signpost them on to websites and events that I think they would enjoy and find useful.

Around midday on the second day, I chatted to a couple who I would guess were about 20 years older than me, possibly even double my age. They were very nice and lived in the East Midlands too and we were talking for about 5 minutes before they carried on looking round the event.

By the time I had arrived home that evening they had already messaged me to tell me that they were seeking a “suitable and enthusiastic submissive female”, and wondered whether I would consider having a relationship with them. From the way they described it in the message, this relationship would seemingly take the form of meeting up for sex a few times a month.

Needless to say I was a bit stunned. I had only spoken to them for a few minutes to recommend events in their area. I didn’t know their names, nor could I even remember what they looked like. I gave them my username for networking purposes as they were potential customers. I certainly didn’t think any of my actions during that brief time were flirtatious or suggestive.

I’m a very smiley, sociable person. I would never want to restrict that in order to reduce inappropriate and unwanted attention from others. I shouldn’t have to. No one should be making these kind of assumptions based on my sexuality and the fact that I was friendly towards them.

The sad thing is this kind of experience is really common for me. I hate how I never get asked how I am in a message, or asked what I want or what I’m looking for. People only state their wants and needs, as if I will immediately stop what I’m doing so I can fly over to theirs. (Presumedly leaving a trail of condoms and sex toys along the way, as I’d be unable to carry much whilst using my unicorn wings). People never speak of what they could bring to my life, they only write about what they want me to do for their sex life. They never offer to go out or do anything together or get to know me.

There is a sketch of a phallic object with an arrow pointing to it with the label ‘sex toy’. On the other side of the picture is a sad stick figure. There is an arrow pointing to them with the label ‘objectified bisexual’.

The myth that bisexuals are all super horny greedy sexed up individuals is just that, a big stupid myth. All I really want is someone to share my life with, so it would be nice if I could be considered for someone’s primary relationship for a change.

Hannah’s Write Up of BiCon 2015

TW: Mention of depression, and suicidal thoughts and feelings.

This year’s BiCon has been my best for several reasons. One is simply down to the fact that it was my fourth BiCon, so I knew what to expect and felt very comfortable for the whole weekend. I knew lots of people, I knew what to pack, and I knew what I wanted to get out of the conference. I had a chilled out time with plenty of naps.

My room was right next to registration and the location for the breakfast & evening meals, and all of the evening entertainment. So I was a happy hobbit with not having to wonder very far.

Fourth BiCon/having lived in two big cities/the fact that I run a group in the city where BiCon was being held… All of these things meant that I didn’t have to make any effort with socialising this year. This was a wonderful thing as I suffer from very low self esteem and always feel people are not interested in talking to me. The awkwardness of shuffling over to people to try and start a conversation with them was completely removed this year, as wherever I went people recognised me and approached me to chat & hang out with. Thank fuck for that!

Another reason why BiCon rocked for me this year was that during the closing plenary the leaders of local bi groups were given a purple unicorn to say thank you. I was absolutely delighted to receive one and was very moved by the gesture. Thank you Rowan!

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Photo description: a very cute, soft, small, purple unicorn cuddly toy poking its head and two front legs out of a black handbag.

The workshops I went to really helped me increase my knowledge and equip me with lots of practical steps to take in terms of improving my group and doing more bi activism in my area. Sam Rankin of The Equality Network was a particular inspiration. Her workshops were absolutely stellar. The confidence with which she presented her material, and her anger at the biphobia that plagues our country’s society and services were extremely validating for me. When you’re the only bi person in every meeting you attend, when you push and push for inclusion but never get let in, you start feeling like a tiny lamb bleating about bisexuality in a world of spiteful sheep. After some time of false compliance and facing resistance to all you say and do, you feel like you’re being silly. Like you should go home and not bother. Like it’s not really that important after all. Seeing Sam speak so passionately and eloquently has instilled me with confidence and reassured me that I’m on the right path. That I’m fighting for the right thing. Thank you!

Another wonderful thing was being able to introduce myself to people I follow online whose work I admire. Got totally bi star struck when meeting activists such as Hilde Vossen and loved having the chance to talk to them.

Several other people (including a published author) complimented me on my writing – which provided a much needed boost to my self esteem…

…You see I have a confession to make. My mental health has been very poor lately. Recently I have spent many hours and days lying in bed feeling such intense emotional pain I have been unable to move or function. I have been so depressed I have planned how to take my own life and what I would need to do in order to wrap up lose ends before I go. BiCon really helped me clear my mind and calm me down and cheer me up. Everyone is so lovely, friendly and supportive. Being at BiCon makes me feel like everything is going to be ok. It makes me realise I have so much support for when things aren’t going ok. I feel like everyone is on my side.

And that’s what makes BiCon so special and so important really. I did cool things like tasting tea and going to a beautiful exhibition at a gallery, but it’s always the people that make it for me. It’s catching up with friends and making new ones. Being loved and supported. Having your sexuality validated. It’s those little moments of hanging out in between workshops, or sitting on the grass in the sun with a drink or three. Looking round during the ball and seeing everyone laughing and smiling and looking happy.

Thank you so much to the BiCon organisers and volunteers. I am so grateful you made it happen. Congratulations and well done on running such a huge, successful event!