Bi The Way: a small group with a big impact

Part of our #BiVolunteering series

When I became interested in volunteering a few years ago, I knew that the most important thing for me was to work with people. But I had concerns and one of them was my bisexuality. As a journalist on an LGBT+ title, it would have been hard for me to hide my bi identity even if I’d wanted to, which I didn’t. The thought of having to explain all this, first through the application process, then to a volunteer coordinator (if I even got that far) and then to any person or group that I was matched with, brought me up short and stymied my good intentions. So it was pure serendipity that I met Nickie Roome, founder and facilitator of Opening Doors London’s Bi Visibility Group, at BiCon 2015. When she mentioned that she was about to retire to the country and needed to hand the group over to new volunteers I didn’t hesitate to step up.

Now known as Bi The Way, the group meets monthly in central London and while focused primarily on the needs and concerns of bi/pan people who are over 50, we welcome our allies of all ages and orientations to join us for relaxed conversation, occasional heated debate and a range of invited speakers and activities. In the last two years we have enjoyed seated yoga, group singing, “gender neutral” ballroom dancing and bi-focused talks on gender identity, coming out, hate crime, ageing and media representation.

Already marginalised, as we get older bi people often become even less visible in our public and private lives. In long-term relationships, we seem to vanish, assumed to be straight or gay. (Wrongly) associated with youthful confusion, bi identity can feel hard to embrace for older people coming out, as if we should by now “know our own minds”. The implied emphasis on sexual exploration may feel undignified or even creepy, because older people’s sexuality is routinely denied or stigmatised.

“The Bi The Way group is an excellent resource for older bi people to not be so isolated and invisible,” says Sam, who values the recognition shown by Opening Doors London in hosting BTW. “Often the B in LGBT gets utterly ignored and sidelined, so the fact that ODL supports a bi group for over-50s demonstrates an awareness of the isolation some of us feel.”

“For me it’s a chance to hear others in the hope it resonates with me, gives me perspective and connections with others who really understand my experience,” says Mark, noting that much of the London bi scene attracts a younger, louder crowd, and can feel “inaccessible to a quiet, reserved types like myself”.

The group also acts as a shared noticeboard about the wider bisexual community and scene. “It gives me information about events that I have known about for years and never felt able to attend,” adds Mark. “This year’s BiCon will be my first, because of BTW. Small things grow in very profound ways for me and the group is one of those.”

BTW attendees are a varied bunch and include people of many different genders and sexual histories. There are regulars who come back month after month and blow-ins from foreign parts who find us on MeetUp and decide to stop by. Meeting them all and hearing their amazing stories has given me a feeling of belonging and investment that was previously missing from my relationship with the bi community. Some of the group have been out bisexual activists for years; others are embracing a new identity. We are all full of questions, for ourselves and others, about what it means to be bisexual in the world. We are brave and cautious and honest and funny and provocative and gentle with each other. Being part of the group has given me so much.

Louise Carolin

Louise is looking for co-facilitators to help keep the group running. For a volunteer role description, email louise.carolin@openingdoorslondon.org.uk or visit openingdoorslondon.org.uk/vacancies/#bitheway.

Bi The Way meets on the fourth Monday of each month (not Bank Holidays) between 6-8pm at Tavis House, 1-6 Tavistock Square, London WC1N 9NA. Nearest tube: Euston. For details, see openingdoorslondon.org.uk/calendar-2/. Or see the what’s on listings each week at www.bicommunitynews.co.uk!