Nothing to be Proud about

This originally appeared in BCN issue 104.

After having written a couple of previous reports of cheerful, positive experiences at other cities’ Pride festivals in the summer, I find myself unable to do that for my last one.

Manchester, the city in which I was living when I really started to think of myself as bisexual and thus the one in which I have lived my whole bisexual life, left me feeling, during Pride, like it was not a good place to be bisexual.  This troubles me still.

My Pride experience started on the Saturday morning, getting ready for the parade.  But it wasn’t long before some of my fellow marchers were telling me what had happened Friday evening.

Here one of them, Steve, tells this in his own words: “I was shocked and dismayed by John Hamilton’s comments from the stage before he introduced Belinda Carlisle.

“Having asked the gays to cheer, and then the lesbians, he asked the bisexuals to cheer. After getting a response he said ‘greedy bisexuals, don’t know if they’re on this side or that side’ (he ran from side to side to illustrate the point).”

The compere Hamilton made no such comments, and indeed said nothing at all, about the gays or lesbians when they cheered.  It is only to be expected that the bisexuals present would’ve thought they were welcome to cheer without fear.  Manchester Pride is, after all, billing itself as “a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life”.  But that celebratory cheer immediately became an uncomfortable instance of bisexuals making themselves vulnerable to attack.

Such a small thing might not sound like much (though I’m afraid the readership of this magazine is likely to be all-too-familar with the extent to which biphobia can impact a person’s life), but such incidents have effects that last far longer than the time it takes them to happen.
I can’t say it better than Em J, who was aso there, did.

“Unfortunately the comments about bisexuals on Friday evening made me feel quite disheartened and that didn’t really change for me all weekend. I was teary being around the crowds, because I felt out of place and unwelcome.

“I had to give myself a few mental kicks up the butt to march the next day. After John Hamilton’s inappropriate remarks I just found myself feeling incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin.

“I can’t imagine how a bisexual person going to Pride for the first time would have felt.

“I refused to hold my male partner’s hand or show much affection towards him whilst at Pride, much the same as I do holding a girlfriend’s hand walking in a ‘straight’ environment. So where is a bisexual welcome if they aren’t welcome at Pride?

“I very much felt this weekend that it was LGBT, with the B and T being silent and when the B wasn’t silent it was to make jokes or fun out of bisexuality. I found this humiliating.

“We did get a few cheers whilst marching, but for the most part I felt like an impostor at a Gay Pride, not part of a LGBT pride.”
This last sentiment in particular was voiced by others too, and not just in Manchester.  An anonymous contributor says, “So we went down to Leicester Pride yesterday… Only one complaint, and it’s that oh so common problem of Bi invisibility. At one point the chap on stage gives a shout out to all the gay men, gay women, straight men and straight women, telling everyone to shout back. I’m sitting there waiting. Nope, we once again, don’t exist.”

Steve pointed out, “Surely, of all places, Pride is somewhere that should respect my sexuality, not put it down.

“Some people may say that it was just a bit of fun, where’s my sense of humour? However, that’s how Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson used to try to excuse their racist and homophobic ‘jokes’.”

And just as those racist and homophobic ‘jokes’ are now widely recognised as the distasteful hatemongering they are, we hope for similar recognition of the disrespectful and harmful nature of such biphobic comments.  Steve has emailed the Festival Coordinator to explain what happened and how objectionable he found it; I’ve got in touch too, explaining my interest in this subject; he has had no response and I got only a perfunctory soundbite for my efforts.

There are silver linings in this cloudy bi-erasure biphobia and their effects on the bisexuals who experienced it and those who share in their concern and outrage.  These incidents have spurned some of us to develop or revitalise an interest in bisexual activism, by registering our complaints, demanding better treatment, and making plans to boost the signal to the wider world so that biphobia has no choice but to take its place among homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and all the other ways in which humans disgrace ourselves by our intolerant treatment of each other.

Positive things can come of such negativity, and that we can make this happen is one of the many reasons I am proud to be a part of the bisexual community.