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It not a joke!!! It is the truth!!!

Giving people what they want: violence and sloppy eating

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Prompted by some conversations at EBC2
mini me + poo
If the UK bi community fell under a (rather small fleet of) buses tomorrow, would anyone notice?

I don't think so.

With the exception of Jen's efforts in Manchester, the last serious bits of collective dealing with the outside world we had were London's Pride - getting the name changed in 1996, and the tents at the festival in 96 and 97 - and BiFest in 99.

Since then, what? We've had BiCons. Yay the organisers. We're still to beat the attendance record of 1991 though, and it's been a while since we had anyone significant from outside groups coming to talk with us. (A panel I chaired back in Edinburgh 99, I think. I'm suggesting names in the hope it will be better this year.)

Some bis have done stuff as bisexuals in other organisations - eg Grant and Elizabeth (and Anna Maria before she went off) with the Sexual Freedom Coalition. Yay them. Not least because SFC actually does stuff as well as have fun.

Yay too to Jen for her 'if it doesn't move, ask it for funds' approach. (Even if I sometimes think some things that would be cheap and easy don't get done because they get complicated by seeking funding.) And double yay Jen for doing so much for BCN. But there are some very noticeable omissions from the subscribers list, and it's not really distributed outside the community.

Some readers may remember that at the end of the first EuroBiCon, some people from Belgium got upset at some others for not working with the lesbian and gay communities more and for pointing out that not all of the rest of the happy queer family were nice to bisexuals.

The alternative style they didn't like was personal liberation - 'trying to fuck yourselves free' was the memorable summary.

And it's obviously the way things have gone here. Ten years ago LBG was a thriving, outward looking, mixed social and political space. Now Fridays are split into a dismal small self-support group for men that retains the name, and a slightly larger 'party party party' clique that has the fun.

But what, beyond the individual level of some good times, some serious hangovers and various life-shortening habits, has been the result?

Some recent developments in the health promotion field have me jumping up and down in anger. But while I blame the people who've taken huge piles of cash for work with gay and bisexual men - and then promptly and deliberately dropped the 'and bisexual' bit when it comes to doing the work - I also think that we're not entirely blame-free.

By opting out into the personal liberation attitude, fun though it can be, we've let them get away with it.

Pride didn't change its name because we sat around moaning - and there had been a lot of that. They were prodded into coming to BiCon 13, then lots of people joined, and some actually did something to make the tents the huge successes they were.

Now, the gay scene may be a over-commercialised ghetto, with some dodgy businessmen interested in grabbing some pink pounds for themselves, and Stonewall a private club that delayed at least one law reform by a year due to incompetence and sucking up to a Labour government, but it's extremely difficult to ignore gay men. (The only people more ignored than lesbians are bisexual women of course...)

Witness the "gay marriage" partnership proposals currently out for consultation. No bisexual input, especially on the 'only one' aspect, was ever wanted or offered.

It's equal now despite Stonewall's best efforts, but even though a differential age of consent was another absolutely blatant 'bisexual issue', no-one ever bothered to contact us, never mind involve us. Why should they? Who would they ask?

'We agreed - no leader!' 'Right. So shut up and do as I say!'

Along with the dash for personal liberation has been the Time Bandits approach to leadership.

Its huge advantage is that if someone wants to do something, they can. If I had thought having EBC3 in the UK was a good idea, I could have committed to doing it on the spot. The Germans who did offer had to do so provisionally - they need to ask the rest of their national organization's board.

I quite like that. I think that freedom should continue.

But what we miss out on are the advantages of having something between BiCons. Certain decisions have dragged on for years as successive BiCon sessions have gone 'ooh, that's too complicated / difficult, let's put it off until next year.'

(Of course, even organisations with continuing structures can do that - softfruit and vampwillow, have the LibDems ever got around to deciding their position on the Elgin Marbles? Twenty years ago, putting that one off for next time was already a tradition almost as old as the sculptures themselves...)

And when something does happen or someone - gasp - does want to get in touch, what happens? Nothing usually.

The two approaches are not incompatible - while there's a national Dutch Bi Network, just try stopping Dutch people doing their thing!

So why don't we have a national body too?

The basic reason is that the people who tried back in 99 were the wrong people and went about it the wrong way. Spurred on by Dr F Patronising, they formed the British Bisexual Federation and probably never got above three members.

At the time, I was one of the people who said the idea was stupid anyway. We don't need no stinking organization. Now, I'm not so sure.

For all the bitchy comments about it, the LBG's constitution was very simple. You have members. Once a year, they elect some people. They can do what the fuck they like, but the members can have a meeting to throw them out if they go too far.

It made it clear who was running it, and for how long, and what you could do about it.

I think that's a reasonable model for an organization that actually wants to do something. And I'd quite like to have people do something, not least because I think there's a lot that needs doing.

Looking around, we're being fucked over the health promotion issue. Bisexuals are considerably less popular with the public than either gay men or lesbians (it's the non-monogamy issue!). Bisexuals have worse mental health on average and to my knowledge, no-one in the health field has ever done anything about that. There are still organizations that are rabidly biphobic. You can probably add some more, but do you care?

Poll #154791 A UK bi organization

So, what do you think? Having a UK bi organization would be...

Very wrong. I'd try to stop it
Wrong. I'd not join it, but if other people wanted to, let them
Good, but I'd not join
Very good, and I'd join

Whatever the answer, I'd love to hear your comments.

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An outreach and campaigning group would be a good idea, I feel. I think any organisation would need to have a very definite set of goals before I'd join it.

Although we're annoyingly unaware of how much good it's done us (yet) this year's BiCon has mailshotted every single university Student's Union in the UK with flyers about BiCon - using the rolling bicon.org.uk url.

I don't need to add that this would be a fascinating discussion to have away from an electronic medium, at (for example) a large gathering of bisexuals...

Re: I think you're right.

Experience means as far as the idea is concerned, I would rather present something that already exists, having been sorted out over a few weeks, than try to have the necessary discussions in a session at BiCon.

What such a body could do would be a good session.

I'd be opposed to a national bi organisation that presented itself as representing all or most bisexuals. Anything that's called something like The Bisexual Federation can't help doing that. The alternative of *a* bisexual organisation, like Outrage for bi's, I might be happier with. The problem is that for the media profile to work (and hence for it to get asked its opinion on anything) organisations of that type seem to either have to pretend to represent all of their interest group (Stonewall) or do high profile media stunts (Outrage). The reasoned approach doesn't seem to go far.

Oh, and do you categorise things like getting an employer to change their policy on domestic partners to be part of the personal freedom approach? Because I did that, and I couldn't have done it without the bi community, in a roundabout way.

I'd be opposed to a national bi organisation that presented itself as representing all or most bisexuals.

Oh god yes - this was one of my main beefs with the BBF.

Is my mind playing tricks on me or was there once / for a while a media focussed group who set about replying to negative bi items in the press?

Now that I'd be very interested in seeing.

I put irrelevant as rather simplistically you could say that I often wonder what the issues are. Maybe if I understood what the issues were I could be more supportive of "organising".

A few thoughts:

1: How different is the situation elsewhere? Is there a French BiCon or something similar?

2: I like the celebratory aspect of BiCon, it's a place where so many things are indulged as normal, and I think it's an important high point in the identity calendar of all of us.

3: What, precisely, would the group be campaigning for - that isn't covered already by other groups? By having a foot in both camps, I think it's essential to filter out what are Straight issues, Gay issues, SM issues, Poly issues and look at the core campaigning issues of bisexual people - universal experiences which we can all draw on.

4: Again, the difficulty is perhaps the very diversity of bisexuality, because for a lot of practicing bisexuals out there, their bisexuality isn't enough of an issue for them to self-identify to the extent of coming to BiCon and such like.

1. I don't think there's a French one in the UK mould. They do have the odd conference, but it's much more oriented at academics. Germany and the Netherlands have them regularly, and there's been one or two in places like Sweden.

2. Oh yes, yes and yes!

3. I'll post some of my thoughts soon. But I don't think you need exclusivity. The differential age of consent wasn't an issue just for bisexuals, for example.

4. Oh yeah, half the people who are bisexual in behaviour don't have any sexual identity, never mind a bisexual one.

Oh, and I resent "life-shortening habits". Given the amount the bi community has contributed to the safer sex habits and mental good health of its members, I feel certain our overall life expectancy has increased.

Smoking was the one I particularly had in mind, not least because of H-L's recent comments. It'll almost certainly kill more of us than HIV.

With a quick *curtsey* I agree with some of that but I think part of your analysis is biased by the state of the bi scene in London rather than elsewhere. It does have a direct impact on the wider world though since so many people and organisations think the UK ends at Watford. (Sorry I didn't type that it were me whippet walking across t'keyboard).

We've got funding for 300 BCNs for distribution outside the subscriber list for the next 3 issues - if there are people who should be seeing it, name them. Oh, and give us the addresses.

I'm also quietly working on getting some Bigger Picture type projects into a state where they are worth sharing with the world, but for now I'll say no more.

Err, me! I've not had a BCN in yonks and I have tried and tried to get my new address to you!

(Deleted comment)
Provided there's someone from the bicon team each year and someone from BCN willing to be rentaquotes to the media then the public figure type angle is covered. Plus when they do get quoted, it promotes a bi "thing" rather than a loose networky thing.

We do have a few media whores, it's just a case of linking them up with the journo's.

Do we need a national bi organisation?

I was someone who was involved in wanting to start the uk bi network. In hindsight calling it the BBF and the way we went about it
was misguided but the actual idea of having a bi activist Group was not.

BiCon can never be this nor can it of itself decide whether a campaining bi group can be setup or not. It is a Convention not a Conference; groups do not send delegates; it's a collection of individuals.

I believe such a group will eventally be set up, quite possibly by a group of bi people who:

a) have never heard of BiCon.
b) think BiCon is irrelevant
c) think BiCon may be a good place to meet old friends, make new friends and if lucky get a shag or two but that's it.
d) all of the above.

What I'm trying to get at is that there are thousands of bisexuals in the UK; some who are closeted and a hell of a lot who are not. Go take a look on the Gaydar personals website or Bi Bar website or the bi uk chat website. This is where most bi's who use the net frequent; they don't use bi.org or the uk bi mailing list. It is also interesting that quite a few swingers' clubs now have regular bi nights for both sexes. These are the places where bi's socialise; not BiCon or the London or Manchester bi group. It is these people who need to be made aware that there are a few bi groups they can go to.

If you want to change society's view of us, you have to get your point across to the media. They will only talk to you if you acually represent an organisation. The number of members Stonewall or Outrage have is small compared to the size of the gay community but this is where gay policy is decided. Precisely because of this, journalists know where to get a quote from. Once you get publicity people will join you. This is how organisations grow.

Here ends the lesson!!! :-)

Interesting post!

I've got that "more thoughts than time to write them" feeling about it, but here are some of my thoughts:

I'm reluctant to generalise about whether "a national bi organisation" is a good idea. Probably about 90% of my opinion on that would depend on what organisation and how it was done.

However, my feeling about it a.t.m. is that rather than one big organisation for everything, I'd be more inclined to argue for various national groups focusing on particular areas, being developed over time.

I would love to see the thing that adjectivemarcus mentions - the media response task force thingy - happening again. If I were (re)inventing it, I would still envisage that organisation concentrating purely on that mission. It would respond in a timely way to any bi-relevant crap that got into the media (especially national media), but also do press releases with comments about the other news.

I don't know how close that is to what Jo & co did before, but I suspect that if that were done consistently for a year or so, journalists would gradually start to take the initiative and ring up for comments. I stress "consistently", and the key to that i.m.o. is having enough people to do the job without it all landing on about 3 or fewer people who then get burnt out.

Longer term, a group to concentrate on government lobbying would interest me greatly. (Obviously those people would stay in touch with the ones working on the media side even if it were a different organisation.) And I'd like to hear other suggestions of what national organisations might be for.

Why I'm drawn to the media thing first is that media stories could potentially lead fairly directly to more people hooking up with the community. Even if it's only because the words "A spokesperson from the Bisexuality Media Alliance" (or whatever) appear in a story somewhere, and somebody thinks "wow, unashamed out-bi people exist somewhere, I must find them".

Anything that doesn't have that direct and fairly immediate payback-of-investment potential, I would be far more cautious about launching into, because of the risk that it'll suck a lot of energy and then prove to be unsustainable. Even if it were a blatantly good cause.

To come at your argument from a slightly different direction: I have this sense that a sustainable activist contingent depends upon a thriving mostly-non-activist community, who pitch in when needed, and a few of whom are always gradually evolving into activists to replace the ones who leave.

I think about 90% of my activism in recent years has simply been aimed at reaching people who don't even know yet that the bi community exists, and making it safe (as in "emotionally possible") for people to come out as bi. Basically by education and local publicity. And my sense is that that groundwork is necessary, to build a critical mass which the gay male community has, and lesbians have to a lesser degree, and which as yet we are nowhere near.

Like, I have this sense that the kind of visible high-leverage activism you're mostly talking about is the fruit of a tree, and I feel like I'm mostly working on growing the tree... Or something :-)

At the Out & Out conference that the LGB Consortium ran in Nottingham in 2001, they had a guest speaker from East Midlands Voice (the Black & "ethnic minority" umbrella group). And they said this thing about: When the BME voluntary orgs began to suddenly get given resources, it didn't mean they were ready to take an equal place at the governmental table, and they needed to concentrate on developing their own strengths and building alliances among themselves first. And I heard a lot in what they said which I felt applied to the bi community.

personal liberation - 'trying to fuck yourselves free' was the memorable summary.

And it's obviously the way things have gone here.

Where is this "here" to which you refer? 'Cause it ain't here!!

Certain decisions have dragged on for years as successive BiCon sessions have gone 'ooh, that's too complicated / difficult, let's put it off until next year.'

::innocent look:: What decisions would those be, then, Ian?

::giggling to myself::

Seriously, if you mean the thing about financial structure for BiCons, I for one was not going "ooh, that's too complicated/difficult". I was going "This proposal is nowhere near ready for voting on at a plenary, and putting it to a plenary at this stage is a waste of time".

As counterexample, I refer you to the sterling contribution of purplerabbits & co in Cambridge in 1998, on the BiCon guidelines. The interested parties got together, and kept going until all the recurring objections had been resolved and they'd created something resembling consensus (for that group of people). Then when they put it to the plenary, everyone could hear that yes, this was going to work. And, quelle surprise, it got voted in straight away, 'cause there were no snaggy "Yes but"s left for people to raise!

Now you might think that the BiCon financial structure is more controversial than that. And if so, you might be right, because I think there are some genuine either/or/or/or choices to be made there about which direction to go in. (Though you might also be forgetting how much relatively fruitless argument there was about "how to defend the true way of BiCon" before the Guidelines were invented. :-) ) So in this case it might not be "Here's one proposal, everyone says yes". It might be more "Here are two or three possible ways forward, each of which has its possible failure points ironed out and planned for, each of which has been looked over by our friendly bi lawyers and accountants... now we vote to choose among them". But that is still a lot different from what was on offer last year.

Of course you may have been thinking of some quite different issue that had been put off from year to year :-)

Just to clarify, when I chose "irrelevant" I meant "irrelevant to me". I have no problem with anyone who feels it would be relevant to them going ahead and organising one, though as purplerabbits says, it shouldn't claim to represent all UK bisexuals.

I also somewhat resent the implication in your post that organising fun things isn't "doing stuff". You may consider it less important than overtly political activism, but that's down to your personal priorities. It's not a self-evident truth. Go ahead and organise whatever you like on behalf of yourself and anyone who agrees with you, but please don't act like it gives you any right to the moral high ground over those who are quietly getting on with implementing their own, different priorities.

And I also think it's somewhat inconsistent to argue that bisexuals should have had specific input on the "only one" aspect of partnership registration, while at the same time complaining that "the public" dislikes bisexuals more than lesbians and gay men because of the association with non-monogamy. (I think this is actually more of a meeja figment than a reality, fwiw). I also think that bisexuality and ethical non-monogamy should not be conflated for campaigning purposes, IMO, or the result will be a worse mess.

Organising fun things is activism, I quite agree. I'm delighted by it.

What I'm moaning about are the areas that haven't had so much attention. If that sounds like claiming the moral high ground, it's not meant to, and I'd welcome a way of putting it that didn't.

I don't think those two are inconsistent. What research has been done is quite clear, BTW.

I think government, church and public need education on the matter. And if not by us, by who? I can see the point that to mix up the two is not the best idea, but they already are mixed up!

For a single example, see the CofE's 'Issues in Human Sexuality' that's been in the news again recently:

5.8 [..] it is clear that bisexual activity must always be wrong, for this reason, if for no other, that it inevitably involves being unfaithful.

One other thing I meant to say...

I sometimes think some things that would be cheap and easy don't get done because they get complicated by seeking funding

One person's cheap may be another person's whopping great wodge of cash.

Oh yes indeed, and I am delighted to see how much cash you've raised. What's the grand total now? It's probably more than everyone else, ever, combined. Yay you (again!)

What prompted the comment was that the idea of having another get-away at a YH earlier this year was left, if I remember accurately, with you trying to get funding for it. It certainly didn't actually happen (or if it did, I didn't get to hear about it!)

Last year, there was no attempt to get funding for it - £240 split n ways is not much - and it did happen.

Now, of course with funding it would be possible to pay people's fares etc as well. And that'd be good. But I still think it's better that something like this happen than not because of not being able to get the funding for it.

Or was there another reason?

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