Outreach opens our eyes too

Continuing the theme of accidental activism, some of the BiPhoria people who talked about bisexuality and mental health to an NHS trust last year found ourselves asked to do speak on the on biphobia within the LGBT community for a trade union’s regional LGBT conference.

It was certainly interesting… in both negative and positive ways.

On the negative side, we encountered jaw-dropping quantities of casual, unashamed biphobia. One particular charmer asserted early on that he would never sleep with a bi man and later claimed that the bi flag implied we were splitting away from the LGBT community. No apparent sense of contradiction.

The flag attracted a lot of attention; many people said they didn’t know there was a flag and had never seen it before.  They seemed to think we’d just made it up last week.  Their reactions to BiPhoria were similar; people looked amazed when we told them it has been going for seventeen years.

There was a particular theme asserting that bisexuals couldn’t be happy in monogamous relationships; they would always cheat, and therefore could not be fully trusted in a relationship.  This was backed up by personal stories used to justify a whole slew of horrible stereotypes, particularly about bi men, who are apparently self-hating, closeted and potentially violent.

Someone asserted that every bisexual he knew was in the closet, another that he knew rent boys and all their clients were ‘straight’ – by implication bisexual and in denial – and, most disturbingly, someone insisted that bisexual men would flip out after an orgasm and become violent (the person didn’t offer any explanation for this, clearly believing it was an inherent trait of bi men and didn’t require any further explanation, but we can only guess that such a reaction would be due to extreme internalised homophobia and shame). We were told that it wasn’t enough to organise bisexual support groups, there needed to be support groups for the partners of bisexuals, as they all get treated badly. Finally, there was a well-meant comment that clearly we were different, as ‘out’ bisexuals, but most bisexuals weren’t like that.They hit every bisexual stereotype we’ve ever heard except for “Bi men don’t exist” and “You’re all straight really.” and one we’d never heard before (bi men flip out after sex and become violent) – though later conversation with other bi activists confirmed that this is one that has been encountered before too.

But there were lots of positives, too.  The three of us worked really hard, put together a good presentation and kept calm and reasonable in the face of almost two hours of these kinds of responses. We got really good feedback from the organisers (including regional and national equality representatives and executive members of the trade union) and from participants.  We were told that participants’ evaluations at the end of the day said our session was the most popular.
We gave out loads of information about bi stuff – including many of BiPhoria’s awesome purple “Getting Bi in a Gay/Straight World” leaflets – which was particularly eagerly received by straight people, who had no idea that most of these issues existed and some of whom were quite shocked to see the biphobia playing out in front of them. The vocal minority demonstrated our point that biphobia from the LGBT community is a real issue and hopefully we’ll contribute to a gradual process of opening people’s minds and giving people confidence to challenge biphobic comments. We have hopefully given them some tools to respond if they encounter biphobia in the future, by seeing us having to respond to the blatant, unashamed bigotry at the session itself.It also made us very aware that there’s a real need for bi-friendly spaces and the support they provide. Some of us happily exist in a bubble of things like BiCon, BiFests, and Big Bi Fun Days, don’t have much to do with these supposed “LGBT” spaces, so it’s shocking to see how ugly things still can be outside the specifically bi spaces.

Our experience has reinforced that bi activism is vitally necessary and thus has energised all of us to do more in this area, including other presentations with that trade union and potentially a workshop at BiCon to get a different perspective on biphobia at work.

We are not going to stop here.  Our work has only just begun!

Em-J, Emily & Holly