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Friends, Let's Get Better Together?

On Wednesday I was at the "Speaker's/Signer's Corner" event organised by Kairos. I'd not heard of the event before they invited me to speak there, and very much enjoyed the evening. The format is that there are presentations followed by discussions around the tables, a sort of cross between the usual set of speeches form and a workshop model. Everyone seemed to be very positive and interested in what I had to say and it was interesting to go on only second and then listen to the subsequent presenters fall into some of the traps I'd hope I was pointing out.

Because they had so many speakers, they wanted me to stick to five minutes and had someone timing us with cards to hold up to show when we were about to get the gong. Here's what I said:
The instructions sent out included the address and "We would appreciate it if you would raise a specific provocation you would like the other participants to think about."

This time next week, I'm going to be at the launch of a new report about Bisexuality and the integration of the B in LGBT equality work. It's the first report of its kind to be published in the UK, and as my group, The Bisexual Index, is one of the contributors we're very proud of the finished document.

But first, as it's LGBT History Month, a quick flashback...

Forty years ago, in 1972, the attendees at a Quaker conference in the US found they had enough interest to run an impromptu session about sexuality. Out of that session came a set of four questions, since called the Ithaca Statement. Quakers often use queries to prompt thoughts, and these were provocative ones. They each start with the words "Are Friends...?" because they're addressed to fellow members of The Religious Society of Friends. Two of the four are:

Are Friends open to examining in our Meetings facets of sexuality, including bisexuality, with openness and loving understanding?

Are Friends aware of their own tendency to falsely assume that any interest in the same sex necessarily indicates an exclusively homosexual orientation; and to further falsely assume that interest in the opposite sex necessarily indicates an exclusively heterosexual orientation?

Forty years later, the bi activists of today, we're still beating our heads against that last request.

For example, describing marriage as either gay or straight. I'm a bisexual man, with a bisexual partner. We went to the register office to get ourselves hitched and at no point did anyone ask us our sexualities so they could make sure we got the right union - marriage or civil partnership. I doubt the possibility even crossed their minds - we're an opposite sex couple. Yet if when you say "Gay" you mean "LGBT" then we're both gay.

This is the thing I want to bring to you today, to ask you to reflect on:

Are you, my Friends in LGBT activism, aware that when you say your group, or organisation, or fight is an "LGBT" one that bisexual people are excluded because our needs and issues are assumed to be exclusively homosexual ones?

As a t-shirt might say: Some LGBT people aren't gay, get over it.

The Bisexual Index contacted Peter Tatchell from the Equal Love campaign and pointed out that some opposite-sex couples are LGBT too and asked him why, unlike the Equal Love website, he was insisting on using "gay couples" and "straight couples" in his statements, emails, speeches and opinion pieces and newspaper columns on the issue. He replied telling us "the public don't understand the terms same-sex and opposite-sex", so he has to say "gay and straight" and that we shouldn't worry - bisexual and trans people would still benefit from the law being changed.

We kinda knew that last bit there. But our pretty little heads still fume when bisexuality is erased. People talk about "Bisexual Invisibility" like it's something we're actively doing - but we're not really invisible. Fried breakfasts have certainly contributed to my visibility.

But all around us in the street, or on the tube, or even at your LGBT event - the reason we don't spot the bisexuals is because people's minds don't go "Oh, what a cute couple of gay or bisexual women, or some combination thereof..." It's repeatedly drilled into us that if people aren't gay they're straight, if they aren't straight they're gay.

We're not standing up and waving flags or wearing bisexual t-shirts. And so people assume we're not here. Or even that we don't exist.

We do exist. Surveys repeatedly suggest that people who have been attracted to more than one gender outnumber the L and the G.

But the lie about it being either/or reaches our ears too, from an early age. We assume we're alone. Or not welcome if we are honest and come out. Or not "real bisexuals".

You really do have bisexual members, or colleagues, or service users, or attendees.

And I'm not here today to tell you what they want.

I'm here today to ask that we remember to fight that tendency to assume everyone's either gay, straight or lying.

Because if you want to be really LGBT, rather than just fight for the Gay rights of LGBT people, then show people that it's worth coming out as bi. Show us we'll be welcomed, supported, and believed.

So if you want to know what your bisexual people want - ask them. If no-one comes forward, ask yourselves what prevents your people being open with you about this facet of themselves - not congratulate yourselves that you did try but everyone you have is either gay or straight.

The report comes out next Wednesday and it'll be on our website that evening.

Friends, please read it, and do keep trying. It's been long enough.
And people liked it. The feedback from the discussions was that it had given people a lot to think about.

Of course, I was followed by "we want to help LGBT parents because children with same-sex parents get bullied" and a fair bit of "gay marriage", but I did see clue dawning in many eyes and went and spoke to the parenting group people and who accepted that some LGBT parents are in opposite-sex couples (and some in triples, and some single) and offered to help with their language. They were pleased to make the contact.

I'm aware that this is very much me banging the same old drum of course. But that's kind of the reason why I included the history lesson - we need people to get past that first hurdle. And I was very entertained to, after making the point that you need to empower your local bi people to come out, the main topic afterwards was "Yes, we can't find anyone to talk about bi issues at our [network/group/forum] either - would you be able to come to that?

Well, yes, yes I would but I'll be doing so to make this point to them too. Hopefully it'll inspire some of the bisexuals in the room to come out when it happens.

We'll see.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2012 12:47 pm (UTC)
Great stuff. Once I find out a bit more about our WorkLGBT bisexuality initiative, can I buy you lunch or coffee or something and pick your brains? I'm still figuring out exactly what I do want from them as a bisexual person, and of course what I want may not be the same as what other bi people want.
Feb. 10th, 2012 01:14 pm (UTC)
Absolutely, happy to (c:
Feb. 10th, 2012 03:40 pm (UTC)
Excellent! I'll drop you an e-mail when I know more.
Feb. 10th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
now that's a T-shirt i would buy (and give deal to others)
"Some LGBT people aren't gay, Get over it"

i would be very interested in seeing if we could have a design competition about it - say in BCN??/

with say a free T-shirt as a prize?

Feb. 10th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)

on the fried breakfast comment - if your talking about weight gain can I suggest you read Gary Taubes "Good calories, Bad calories" (US) "The Diet Delusion" (UK) - its a medical history of the last 150 years of diet and nutrition - i would be interested in your opinion.

Edited at 2012-02-10 03:38 pm (UTC)
Feb. 10th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
Feb. 11th, 2012 09:25 am (UTC)
You're brilliant. Thank you.
Feb. 11th, 2012 10:29 am (UTC)
another reclaimed t-shirt line might be
Straight? Gay?
Lying to yourself
Feb. 11th, 2012 12:06 pm (UTC)
Cool :-)
Like it...

Helps me try and think of being Bi as something positive for once (when generally I don't any more...).

Feb. 11th, 2012 03:14 pm (UTC)
Great speech. And I'd like that T-shirt too.
Feb. 12th, 2012 12:20 am (UTC)
*waves pom poms* that rocks, imho :)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )