A Place To Live (part one)
What does a bi home look and feel like? We asked an assortment of bisexuals around the UK about their experience of housing
Clays Lane Housing Cooperative (CLHC) is the 2nd largest purpose built co-op in Western Europe with 450 single rooms of different sizes. These share kitchens and bathrooms (a maximum of 3 sharing a bathroom) in houses of 4-10 people. The houses are organised into courtyards, like little villages, together with a community centre and a shop. The whole development is 20 years old. Six people have lived there the whole time.
You can move around and gravitate towards courtyards and houses with those with similar interests or lifestyles. Some courtyards are full of goths, ravers or weight trainers. Some houses welcome women, gay folks, smokers or pets; others are smoke, fur or meat free.
Clays Lane is community oriented. There are always people around after a crap day at work and there is energy and funding for communal activities. A writers and artists collective contribute to an internal newspaper and website. An outdoor sports club is for those into rock climbing or caving. If you think up a project or want to help out with one, the community spirit makes it a good place to do it. If you want to throw a party and everyone agrees, go ahead.
Part of the East London Housing Co-ops Association, CLHC is within walking distance of Stratford town centre, which is well connected, by bus, rail, tube and Docklands Light Railway. There is a degree of insulation from the town (seen as both a good and a bad thing) and little problem with crime. Neighbours include a travellers’ site and student flats.
CLHC is run by its own members. This reduces overheads and keeps rents reasonable. It costs just a pound share and a week’s rent to move in, no deposit is required. Simple furnishings are provided and assistance is available if you want to redecorate. A maintenance crew helps look after the place.
Residents range from 18-65 years of age and speak 50 languages. Professions vary from the unemployed and recently homeless to barristers. A strong equal ops policy protects the mix of sexualities. Five of the bi contingent were at the last BiCon. Bigots of any kind, including those who are biphobic or anti-TS, are asked to leave. Proselytizing religion door-to- door is considered harassment.
The co-op is run democratically by the residents through management and membership committees. Each courtyard elects a representative and meets monthly. Any resident is welcome to attend the meetings and committee members can be deselected at any time. A head of the co-op is elected from the management committee.
Clays Lane isn’t for you if you are looking for short-term housing or to live with a partner. You will need to be happy sharing space and interacting with others and you need to participate, at least at a basic level, with the running of the co-op such as attending courtyard meetings.
There are always a few vacant rooms and advertising is being revamped to include the alternative and queer press (including BCN), The Stage, Talking Stick and local papers and listings. To find our more, call the office on [number deleted from this article – phoneline discontinued] . Prospective new residents fill in an application form and then have interviews. The membership committee are likely to include questions to make sure you understand the equal ops policy. Possible housemates are likely to want to find out if you would get on well with them and their community.
Grant Denkinson, with thanks to Alex, Jackie and Marcus
Flying to the nest
When The Who sang “I’ll substitute you for my mum / At least I’ll get my washing done” (am I giving away my, erm, generation, here?) they were not wrong. The purely expedient – my childhood room in mum’s house when I became homeless and jobless – proved also highly convenient, rather cheap, and altogether too comfortable and mutually agreeable to give up for the expensive unknown of my own London digs.
So there we are flat sharing with a difference. Our respective privacy in this arrangement needs delicate negotiation (OK, I ´’fess up – my privacy). No admonition to “Call if you’ll be back after 11” will be brooked, but advice on whether a vest is advisable is welcome. A message not conveyed (to me, you understand) is sufficient cause for a mini-tantrum, but enquiries about “who is the Francis who rang?” will spark a sullen and accusing silence.
A far tougher time is had by the aged ancestor herself. She has to work overtime on her gargantuan denial – of her children having sex at all, I mean; let alone of unconventional kinds (a revelation since my return to the nest). She also has to be nice to these cuckoos in the morning. This social contortionism is an exquisite torment for her – will she stand the test, maintain her maternal dignity with this stranger without really engaging? Who would have guessed she’d still be sacrificing on the altar of motherhood so late in the game?
It’s maturing for me too, though. Bringing up your parents draws on your reserves of patience, forbearance, and conciliation just as much as bringing up kids. And the education this life-style choice offers about people’s sexual hangups is interesting as well.
Insights into aspects of people’s psychological makeup become available: Who will, and who will only look faintly disgusted at the thought of sleeping with me in the same house as your mother!? (Enlightenment as to what the precise nature of the insights these differing responses actually afford on a postcard please.)
A simple way of short-circuiting all the mindgames though (and a great relief it is too) is to make sure to choose lovers who have their own flats.
Living where I do has always been… interesting. I live in a 3- bedroom terrace in Birmingham with my parents. I’m 19, should be at uni, or working with a place of my own, or at least be able to bring partners home! Not too bad? Introduce 6 brothers and a sister. I am one of 9 children. The eldest brother moved out about a year ago.
I’m the eldest, my two-year-old sister is the youngest. It’s a bit weird, to put it mildly, and a cram. The middle five brothers are in bunkbeds in one room, in theory. In practice, at least one of them moves into my parents’ room during the night, and one of them comes downstairs to sleep on the sofa whilst we’re still up, because he ‘feels lonely’ upstairs. I’m not sure he understands the meaning of lonely! My parents share their room with my sister, and the youngest brother, and I have the smallest room to myself. I used to share with one brother with bunkbeds in my room, but in the end he moved in with the others. I guess he liked the ‘school holiday’ atmosphere!
I often retreat to my room or a friend’s house when things get too much. Sometimes I take books to a local pub and work there! I accidentally managed to procure myself a job by doing this, so I now work weekends and some weekday nights,getting me out of the house! Much fun, if a bit busy.
Living in this atmosphere is a bit stressful. I don’t normally mind largish groups, but if they’re children, it’s a bit different. Especially when you’re around them constantly, it does get overbearing. Sometimes I scream for adult conversation, especially as my college friends are not into the same things that I am, and most of them are a year younger, and it really shows. At times like that, when I’m too tired to go out, or I’ve just got back from work, and it’s late the Internet can be a godsend. Over the weekends, doing e-mail is a lot harder, because, like with everything else, you have to fight with everyone else for computer time!
There are good sides to a large family, although most of them are better for the children, or when you’ve moved out, rather than an adult who likes her quiet time. I wouldn’t be without my sister, for example. It’s lovely seeing her face peering round the door first thing in the morning, or on my lap whilst watching television. It’s almost like having a pet cat, without the moulting! The rest of them can be OK, most of the time, when they aren’t fighting, or being cheeky, or rude, or being too boisterous!
I’m definitely a ‘people person’ when I’m out, maybe because I am used to having to be loud to get some attention, makes my work a lot easier. Maybe, the craving for intelligent conversation means I natter incessantly to random people, or maybe that’s just the Brummie in me! I think I wouldn’t know half the people I know now, if I was part of a smaller family – mainly because I feel the need to escape, much more than my friends have time free!
Who’s to say what makes any of us ourselves? I’m me. Most people like me, and if that’s because of the way I live, and have been brought up, then who can critisise the way I live.
Living with one’s child is not always easy, but it is often considerably easier than living with one’s partner. I think that’s one reason why so many women choose to live as single parents.
I have never lived alone. I graduated from family life to self-catering hall of residence (a corridor of 12 who shared one cooker and one fridge in a reasonable sized kitchen). From there it was shared houses until my partner and I got rehoused in a one bed flat a couple of weeks before our wedding. Living with one’s spouse was much simpler than group living. We only did cleaning when we did it together – a top to bottom about once a month. During my MSc course this became impossible so we employed a cleaner who used to complain about the amount of papers we had everywhere. Over six years we furnished and decorated until the arrival of our child. After a couple of days it felt like he had always been there and I found it hard to remember or imagine life without him.
As a bisexual the main difference this made to my home life before my son’s birth was the regular arrival of bi visitors from other parts of the nation and the globe and holding group meetings in my bedroom or my living room. As a parent I have never particularly hidden or denied my activities. After all my baby son went to BiCon, slept in the same bedroom as me and my lover or me and his Dad, regarded my bi friends as part of the extended family and enjoyed Pride festival as much as any of his peers. I find being matter of fact helps. The time I chose to sleep with two men at home I just told Liam that was happening.
Similarly the time my girlfriend stayed and she shared my bed and my man slept in the spare bed. Now when we have visitors he asks where they are sleeping but isn’t worried by the answer. As he still likes to sleep in my bed (we currently have an agreement that this is allowed twice a week) I guess he’s not surprised that others want to as well.
Moving to a two bedroom house was something that pre-occupied my from when he was a few months old. I didn’t want to be like friends who were stuck in a one bed flat with a five year old. We made the move when he was just one. On reflection I don’t think children need their own bedroom until at least two, but the new location made getting to nursery easier. Living with children involves a lot of organisation, a lot of extra work and lots of adjustment.
I probably fed him bought jars of babyfood for too long – but they were so easy and liquidising was not my forte. Our diet changed to accommodate his pasta loving tastes. As a couple we used to cook for four every other day. He demanded different every day.
Starting a second relationship when he was 2 involved spending more nights away from him than most 2 year olds experience (although it was only one a month till he was well over three) and I have straight friends where the Mum works nights from the baby being a few months.
As we parents already found it easier to take chores and childcare in turn rather than doing it together it wasn’t too much of an adjustment for us until the stage where my second partner and I couldn’t bear to be apart for a whole week.
I now regret not holding out for a three bedroom place – one bedroom per household member does make polyamory and keeping the stream of visitors from bi community and family feeling happy much easier. Perhaps I was too worried about keeping the housing costs low. I also wish we had kept hold of the flat by subletting it for a while. It could have prevented the separation from my husband and it would certainly have made it a lot more affordable. My son prefers to stay at home
and likes Dad to come here to babysit rather than him going to the flat. Fortunately our relationship is still amicable enough for this to work. With three people there are more dynamics than with two. Having a child as one of the three creates more interesting dynamics because the adults have to share responsibilities and caring tasks for the young person.
I often prefer to have one adult with the child – there are fewer arguments, less tension. Also when I’m around I’m the focus of attention. By leaving the other two alone together they get time to develop their own relationship. I have found this as true with my new partner as it was with my son’s Dad. It serves my need for time out and in a household where the amount of labour required has increased it seemed to make more sense to divide tasks rather than doing them together. This could be more faulty thinking from me. Perhaps if we had all hung out together more and shared work it would have been more relaxed.