Rewind: The Fence Sitter’s Ball, BASH and Unison

One of the joys of BCN having been publishing for quite so long is that we can dig into the archives and see what bis were talking about back in the day. This month we rewind 21 years to 1996…

21 years ago Bi Britain saw the launch of the Fence Sitters’ Ball, to our reporter of the time’s knowledge the first bi club night in the UK. In the days of gay clubs and straight clubs and in some places door policies turning bi people away or kicking them out for kissing someone of the ‘wrong’ sex the call for a bi club was a common refrain at bi meetups.

So what was it like? Well, “what do bisexuals do at clubs? Well much the same as we do elsewhere… Drink, gossip, play ‘Truth or Dare’, dance, flirt and snog”. I’ve not been to many – make that any – clubs where Truth Or Dare is part of the evening’s lineup: perhaps it was a London thing. FSB bounced between venues for a while before petering out. Most club nights do, so it isn’t necessarily a problem with bi nights, but even over the 21 years since we have a frustratingly small sample to judge from.

Also at the tail end of 1995, an away weekend was held by Bisexual Action on Sexual Health (BASH) to train 30 bi people to spread safer sex messages as peer educators. One of the participants, Judy, wrote about it for BCN including some powerful learning experiences:

“We did day one on condoms, lube, practicalities, groupwork skills, and negotiating safer sex. This did not prepare me at all for meeting some bisexuals living with AIDS the next day. This session did the optimum to challenge even the minimal preconception that I can reduce myself to holding. Any ideas I could have developed about the difficulties of negotiating safer sex were nothing compared to the reality of the difficulties explained to us. Any ideas I had that negotiating was “slightly difficult”, any ideas I had that “in the end responsibility can be taken if only you really try”, and that “it comes down to one party”, were shattered by the examples given to us of the uncertainties, difficult decisions, and sheer hard work that positive people face. Certainly any ideas I had about the concept of putting negotiating skills over as “not entirely clear cut” were magnified to a mind boggling extent.”

BASH engaged widely and reflected some of the grassroots strength the bi movement had at the time, with 21 groups represented among the 30 trainees.  As I remember it the project came to an end a year later with a printed report and tempestuous review workshop at BiCon.  I’m struck that we’ve not done a lot of safe/r sex education work amongst our community since.

Elsewhere bis were engaging with Unison’s gay wing – but sadly it didn’t reciprocate.  A report highlighted a warm, welcoming and engaging conference, then ended: “If you read the above sentences and insert the words ‘except to Bisexuals’”. The bi-positive voices present were from young and student attendees; in time they would turn Unison around, but not then.

Finally, we saw a new book about bi life in the UK, Bisexual Horizons. It was to take about another 20 years before there would be another. It was a good year for bi books with Paula Rust’s Bisexuality and the challenge to lesbian politics and Marjorie Garber’s heavyweight tome Vice Versa also hot off the presses.