I’m an activist, I think…maybe?
There I was, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and excited to be around other bisexuals. I’d been going to my local bi group for a few months and I felt that I wanted to be more than just a recipient of all these good things.
The problem was, I looked around and it seemed that people were already doing Things. Can I help with this? I asked, erm, yes, you can hand out some leaflets. So, can I help with this then? Yes, just turn up and hold a banner and be a part of it. It quickly dawned on me that people were already doing things and I wondered if my help was really needed.
At the time, I didn’t appreciate that turning up, being there, handing out leaflets was actually a very important role. There were people running things, but without your everyday-normal-bisexual like me, it would just be a handful of people organising things without anyone being there.
Surely it was okay to just sit back and relax and not worry that other people were running around. After all I only wanted to help and I was. This was great, but then I realised actually, I wanted to do more. Now, by this point, I’d begun to look around at the folk who were organising groups, events, articles, talks, workshops and realised that there were a finite number of them. A very finite number who seemed to just put different hats on and off depending on when they were needed. It surprised me how long most of them had been doing things and how much energy they seemed to have. It almost seemed like a special group who seemed to know what was going on, had the latest news at their fingertips, were members of strange online chat rooms and had some invisible network.
In reality, they were a group of people who were friends, people who’d worked together and had simply built up informal communication networks over the years. Some of them even worked in areas where they would be kept up to date on matters bisexual, political, social, and so on. This was frankly quite intimidating. Who was I to even talk to some of these people, these pillars of the community? How could I dare to question any of them, after all, they’d been doing it for years! I didn’t speak the language of bisexuality, I didn’t understand what “heteronormative” meant, I didn’t remember years ago when Fred Bloggs marched in X parade – put simply, I felt stupid and unknowledgeable.
At this point I could have given up and thought, I’ll just leave it to them. Fortunately, BiCon happened. Repeatedly thankfully! It was a chance to chat to people and get to know them as individuals who happened to have experiences and information different to me. Most of them weren’t unapproachable. Yes, there were a few who were, but for every one who smiled politely at me and ignored me because I couldn’t join in the heated debates or argue the politics, there were several others who welcomed me and encouraged me to contribute in ways that I could.
And contribute I did. I ran workshops at BiCon. They had nothing to do with politics or identification arguments, or whether bisexual should be hyphenated or not. They were fun, simple and made the most of my talents. I didn’t want to take on the running of a group, I didn’t want to take on running a BiCon, I had no urge to delve deeply into the world of sexual politics and terminology. More than any of that, I didn’t have the time to commit to doing something alone.
After a while, the urge to do more itched at me. Naturally the next step was trying to find people to work with so I wasn’t having to try and take on something I felt I couldn’t cope with. It was harder than I thought. People knew other people and had worked with them before. I was a new, unknown, potentially flaky, melty or otherwise volatile being that had only proven I could run workshops and hand out leaflets. Other people knew what they were getting and had made their mistakes when the community was smaller. There seemed to be no room for a rookie who might get it wrong sometimes but still wanted to learn and help out.
Until I came across another person who was more knowledgeable than me on the politics and the long words but also didn’t want to do things alone for similar reasons. We each knew the same and different people in the community, we had different strengths and weaknesses and we wanted there to be a bi group. A third person joined us and we set up a bi group. It was scary to me to feel that suddenly people new to the bi community would be looking at us as experts and that people in the community from year plonk might point fingers and say, “Ooooh, you’re doing it wrong.”
We needn’t have worried. There was support and offers of help from the established activists. We didn’t need to pretend to know it all as the group we set up was not an Encyclopedia of All Things Bisexual, but a place for bisexuals to socialise, chat and generally meet others.
Nowadays, I’m trying to play to my strengths in working on little things that I have time for. This year I’ll get my first experience of being part of a BiCon organising team (which may or may not scar me for life). I’ll still offer to do workshops at events, I’ll still do my share of writing things and sitting on stalls and even making hot drinks if need be. It’s highly unlikely I will ever be a speaker on the politics, but not all bisexuals are politicians and the community needs a mix of people. I’m one of those people.
Does this make me an activist, maybe. Does it make me an active part of the bi community – yes, I like to think so!
(You rookie newbie, the point is that Fred Bloggs didn’t march in that parade! – Editor)
This article originally appeared in BCN magazine issue 95, April 2009.