Bigger Ones?

Bisexual community events and organisations have been about the same size for many years as far as I have observed.  I wondered whether we were limiting our aspirations and imaginations to what we were familiar with so I decided to offer to facilitate a BiCon workshop as a space to imagine bigger things. It was accepted and listed as:

Bigger Ones: Grant Denkinson
We will imagine and talk about larger bi events, organisations and actions. We can talk about wild dreams or practical plans. For example:
• Bi events for 1000, 10 000 or 100 000 people. • Media to reach a bi audience, or a large non-bi audience. • international bodies. e.g. having bi parts of national LGBT campaigning groups, large heath charities, international LGBT organisations • having our own bisexual lobbying groups at Westminster, Brussels and New York…• What could we learn from researching a big cohort of bisexuals, perhaps also over a long time?• Imagine: our own buildings, staff, fleets of tour buses, perhaps our own island…

I found a small group of people eager to share their ideas: often complementary, sometimes clashing.  Here’s some of the things we talked about. Clearly these notes are fragmentary.

I’d love to see readers’ reactions and musings:

A bi music festival
There are various music festivals around the country – some with camping over a few days, some one-day on a park. Musical tastes vary: would they align well for a big bi crowd or for bi musicians or for musicians with a big bi fan base?
Ticket sales at £150 x 30000 people would bring in £450k plus sponsorship – so we would be looking at about half a million pounds income. It would take a serious amount of outlay and organising to put this on. A one-day event would be less to organise and would charge less or be free if enough sponsorship money or gifts in-kind came in.

We could get hold of a big indoor music venue and some people have contacts to do this. If they worked with us to put the event on, then the venue might take a lot of the financial risk and reward. They also have promotion networks.

Will this be for all queer friends with a bi emphasis? Why are we doing this? We could claim an audience of people aligned to bi behaviour who don’t access appropriate health services and so we could be trying to improve health outcomes by making contact with that group and offering space to a health / well-being roadshow.
• So how about a festival with a line-up of bi-friendly musicians? They are likely to have managers, press releases and relationships with their fans and so could attract people we don’t know.
• A well-known music event was Rock Against Racism. Would Pop Against Prejudice work well?
• A broad rather than narrow range of music might be more viable – but always bi positive. (Or could this be too broad to really touch on bi lives?)

Broadening out what we do
Our community have experience running sexuality events; could we run something broader? This could be something on how to manage relationships rather than focusing on bisexuality. Alternatively we could have an event on tackling anti-bi prejudice – open to all interested parties.

Getting the word out
There are already collections of bisexual related strap-lines and slogans such as at the Bisexual Index.
Do we contact journalists? Are there press releases for all bi events? Some bi organisers do this locally and nationally.
Bi themed daysIf a friendly organisation, say an LGBT centre, had a bi themed day what would we want it to be filled with?
What if they had a focus on bisexuality for a month? What would we want to see each day and overall. Can we think of 30 things we’d like to see promoted around bisexuality?

Ideas included:
• A radical “re-nicking” of historical figures, or at least challenging them being thought of as gay in the modern meaning.
• There are a range of ways people are bi in practice – perhaps we could put on a photo exhibition (which could also link with a press release for BiCon).
• A one day event like BiFest could be included.
• How about something on bi humour and comics?
• A bi T-shirt exhibition or shop was suggested after the workshop.
• We also thought of asking local services what they were doing for the estimated number of bisexuals in their service users. But what are those numbers?

How many bis?
We moved onto asking ourselves how many people in our town / county / country would identify as bisexual, have bisexual attractions and/or behave bisexually? How could we estimate this? What do we guess?
Our sources included the BiCon questionnaire and the research presented at BiReCon. We had some debate over whether local authorities and national offices gathered data we could use, even if we might have to do a freedom of information act request to get hold of it. The website “Make or explore Freedom of Information requests” might be helpful. The treasury or civil service may have estimates (1.5% identified was mentioned). The census may leave us invisible.
• We wondered about the disparity between bi identification and behaviour – perhaps “getting needs met” and outweighing homosexual behaviour.
• We thought a “health warning” would be useful when discussing the number of bisexuals: our numbers are under-reported so figures should be treated as minima.
• For men, perhaps changing identification between straight and gay is easier than calling themselves bi.  If that is true, why?

Connecting to bisexuals in other places using our home towns’ twinning schemes was suggested.

Broader context
Would a group of say “sophisticated artistic sensual” people have a large bi crossover? What about other groups?
Do we want to focus on these crossover groups, or would this lead to bisexuality been seen too much as a say “swinging” or “pagan” or “sci-fi” thing?

Talking to others
• We could run workshops on bi issues elsewhere, in the style we more often see at BiCon with a community facilitator rather than a guest speaker or expert.
• We spoke briefly about mental health in the bi community and how we are treated by mental health professionals.
• How would we get “bi” on the table at meetings to be discussed? Is this controversial?
• Health services seem disease focused using terms like “men who have sex with men” Do we want to include bisexuality as a word in there?
• We have successful Pride event packs for running bi stalls. This could this be extended to other friendly cons (e.g. Science-fiction) – perhaps customised to the cross-over community between the con and bisexuality (bi fictional characters anyone?)
• People we know who belong to one non-traditional group tend to belong to many. Could we share a stall with vegans at a food event since we know a bunch of bi vegans?
• Could we make reciprocal arrangements? We’ll give a free stall at our event if you give us one at yours.
• There already seems to be a sizeable bisexual / polyamory crossover – would there be enough for a bi/poly  event/group/ thing?
• A couple of attendees’ training told us that when we try to get over an agenda we’ll need to limit ourselves to three points only and we should try to coordinate our press messages to get some point noticed on a particular day.

Unions and intersections
We got onto what feels to me like a fundamental question: to use somewhat mathematical language, do we want to work with a larger union (people who are bi and people who are equality activists for example) or are we looking at smaller intersections (people who are both bi and into kinky sex).  Jennifer’s “Fitting and Misfitting” workshops came to mind when considering this – are we opening up community or finding smaller cliques with more in common?

If we have a bigger bi community then it might be more mainstream. Many people have been happiest outside of that mainstream so how would bigger events be different in terms of shared values, knowledge and interests?

Thinking of where are now
One view was that our finances in the bi community have been pretty much stagnant and we really need to be raising more significant amounts of money if we wish to grow and have more influence.

We talked about the cycle that more people could bring more money and more money could bring more people.
What if our shared judgements on closeting and outness are wrong – that being more out would be detrimental to some people?
How are we at talking to “normal people”? Some see the bi community as awful at talking to all of the hidden bisexuals out there.  We could get to parish fairs etc – perhaps staffing a stall with people from outside the area if that much outness would be uncomfortable for stallholders or visitors.

Some people find BiCon is too much about activism and would like us to reach out in creative, colourful and exciting ways – movies and pop stars were mentioned. Some people perceive the bi community as too activist. Others see us as not activist enough. For some we are too “right-on” for others we carelessly exclude people and perpetuate oppression. For some our events are too much about sex.
• We talked about whether some groups tend not to mix – for example people of different ages. Do we try to encourage mixing? Do we do a big, broad event to have all these groups separately at the same time? Or do we have many events, e.g. For Black and Minority Ethnic Bisexuals, for trans bisexuals… There have already been a number of bi activist get-togethers and a BiCon for younger people (but not for some years).
• If certain types of workshop sessions are missing when we take an overview of BiCon, could the organisers recruit people to put them on?
• Do we “exit interview” to know why so many people come to a bi event and then don’t come to the next one?• Do conferences share data between each other from one year to another?
• Could this be facilitated by software for example. Continuity between people on organising teams may be more important than structures such as databases
• One idea was to ask people who had been to a BiCon about their connection with bi community not just at the end of the event but many months or a year later.
• The 30% who don’t come back could be people who just go to local events and BiCon moves around, they could get what they need or not feel they would be coming back.
• Some of us noted that we were getting onto ideas that might double the size of existing events but not have them grow by ten times. Some of us also noted we were talking more about BiCon and expanding existing events rather than organising new and separate things.• The bi community can be pretty nebulous and some said the gay community was more precisely defined. Commercialisation targeting gay men may have led to this perception. Where is the non-commercial gay scene?• If our community is nebulous then too many events could spread it too thin.
• If we lack an agenda (such as wanting legal sex with other men) then we might need an analysis of what “gay” and “straight” mean and what is unique about being bi making it easier to campaign. Others thought we had this from bi activist weekends. “Biphobia” and the difficulty of being out at work seemed to be on the agenda recently.

• Some of us are “bridging people”
• Some bis are afraid to associate with other bisexuals. Should some of us be more subtle, less out, lightly deceive or allow false assumptions in order to build relationship and be in a position to be more honest later?
• The best people to “get out there” and talk about bisexuality may not be bisexuals but our allies who are already in other communities – for example our gay friends.
• “We can not please everyone” including the organisers. Do we run things for ourselves?• With overwhelming daily lives many of us like the idea of doing more bi community stuff but are exhausted. If people are burnt out already then perhaps go for small things that fit in our own lives well – not so much wider activism but following our present ideas.
• How do we deal with fear of a bad reaction?
• How do we engage with younger people? On the internet? Are there bi resources for children?
• The Stonewall DVD given to schools “Fit” was mentioned positively.

• How about a bi-hour on a national radio station?
• How about coordinating bi visibility day as a national event?
• What about a bi nightclub? There have been some, but now?

We have enemies. In some places they are rich and powerful, though perhaps less so in the UK than in other countries.

So where do we go from here?
This is to share our ideas with you the BCN readership: do some of these things sound attractive to you to attend?

How about to organise?

Do you think they would be doomed to failure?

Another workshop anyone?

What next?

Grant Denkinson