Bisexual Icons: Natalya Dell – Making It Happen

This originally appeared in BCN issue 102.

How long have you been involved in the bisexual community?
Oooh, that’s a strange one.  I first attended a bi specific group in about 1998.  Before that I’d always been involved in LGBT mixed-sex groups and spaces.  My first BiCon was 1999 and when I properly got more into bi specific activism, so I’m hitting about 11 years for bi stuff and 13 years for LGBT youth stuff.

Why did you choose bi activism?
Why not?  Erm, I’ve always hated women-only space and it’s a long time since I was ‘the only girl in gay man space’ which was not really viable for me or the men as I don’t identify as male. I was also unhappy at the lack of representation and inclusion of B and T in general L&G or ‘queer’ spaces.
I went to my first few BiCons and realised I felt really comfortable, my way of being seemed much more normal and accepted. I wasn’t the only deaf person there, didn’t have to explain myself or justify having a male partner and whether I’d had sex with a woman or not.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a bi activist?
Same as for any activism I think.  Try and find what you enjoy and are good at.  Don’t do things you hate.  You don’t have to have a “skill” to be an activist.  The things I am best at are rather boring logistical and policy things. I recommend helping with the ‘housekeeping’ type stuff like setting up, clearing up and keeping things clean and tidy – it will get you noticed and people often go on to have a drink afterwards  Do volunteer to clear up and arrange drinks – best way in ever!
Start off with something manageable and try and stick to what you’ve agreed to do.  Most importantly if you find you can’t do it, are stuck or discover you hate it – TELL the person you’re doing it for or with. Ask for help – I do all the time.  Whether I post to “organising X” communities, or email three people I respect. Those who know me will recognise my “HEEEELP! WAAAAIL!” emails and posts!
It’s OK to pull out or reduce your commitment for life, health or personal reasons.  Sometimes it is better to do less and do it well than too much done badly.  If something screws up your life and makes you unable to do what you agreed, admit it sooner rather than later.  People really are understanding and good.
Don’t be scared of people you perceive as uber activists cos most of them are just like you or me. I was scared of an activist for years and then discovered that not only was she lovely, but she was also human too.  She knows lots of stuff, she makes mistakes like anyone but she’s also learned by experience and is very willing to share and pass on knowledge, support and ideas.  I am hoping that I too can share my ideas and not scare people off.  I promise I don’t bite!

What, as a community, is bisexuality’s biggest challenge at the moment?
The other big barrier is new blood in the volunteering scene.  I don’t know if we’re sometimes too good in that people think we’re paid, or so good that people don’t think we need or want help.  We experienced activists need to learn to be more inviting to new activists, and we need people to stand up and start doing new activism.

What’s been its greatest success of the last year?
I think our greatest successes have been the new projects that have been carried out, increasing our presence at Prides and events round the country.  We’re stepping out of our bisexual ghetto and into a wider LGBTS community!  And this is activism that people can enter into from the start.  Just coming along, being visible, helping with logistics, and so on.  To make that success worthwhile I want to see it maintained and possibly even improved.
Where do you see the British Bi World being in five years time?
The pessimist says somewhat where we are now with more burned out activists.
The optimist says hopefully with at least one full time paid member of staff doing bisexual stuff accessing bisexual money from LGB funding sources.  Greater awareness from sexual health organisations, greater connections with the large LGB organisations who will remember B from the start and not just as an afterthought.  And who knows what ideas will have shown up that I in 2010 couldn’t have possibly guessed would happen.
Where are we getting it right, when it comes to access?
Giving a shit and actively saying so – see BiCon organisers’ guidelines and BiFest websites. Information provision and encouraging people to let us know stuff so we can check. Where possible choosing physically accessible venues.  Hard-of-hearing awareness in general.  Chillout spaces in many places.  Acceptance of people’s coping mechanisms for social anxiety.  A willingness to listen to people’s narratives and what they’re asking for rather than presumption.  A belief that accessibility should where possible be built in from the start of anything.
How and where could we improve?
Being clear about our limits and what is and isn’t reasonable for volunteers running non-profit events.  We could continue to improve our information provision.  I suspect we don’t know who we are still excluding because they’re not coming to our stuff. We’re bad at non-Internet stuff for people who’s access limitations are technical or even financial. We’re not great with children but improving and should continue to invest the time and energy in this.
I hear a rumour that you wound up with two Bisexual Lions. What did you call them?
They don’t have names.  I don’t know why, but I’m not a big namer.  Some plushies get names, some don’t.  They’re currently sitting on top of my plastic monitor lizards.  Photos can be provided on request.

Natalya was interviewed by Dan Howells