Rewind: 1998

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 to 1998…

What a year it was. A new biography of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, by James H. Jones, published Kinsey’s own scores in the research grid for which he became so famous. We noted at the time, “Kinsey had sex with both men and women, including most of the faculty staff, indulged in masochistic masturbation and enjoyed being filmed as part of his experiments.”
Had any of that been public knowledge at the time of the groundbreaking Kinsey reports on human sexuality (late 50s and early 60s) it’s hard to imagine they would have been given enough respect to have the impact they made.

Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies MP was outed following a “moment of madness” with another man on Clapham Common in London. He lost his cabinet post and it was a season that also saw the outing of Peter Mandelson. In the New Statesman Simon Heffer puffed up all his best stereotypes in a piece titled “Why gays go into politics”.

A survey conducted across the main gay print titles of the time – Gay Times, Diva, and the Pink Paper – reported that while the vast majority of readers were gay or lesbian about 4% were bi and “Younger people were also more likely to define as bi: 9% of 16-24 year-olds did, versus 4% of 35-44 year olds.”
We get age difference figures like that in surveys today too. If only such data were being collected on a like-for-like basis we might have a better idea how much people opt away from identifying as bi over time versus how much bisexuality (and perhaps related terms) is on the increase as a label of choice.

London Bi Women’s Group (which has long since closed down) was having a big fight over whether trans women should be allowed to attend – and in particular who was woman enough to qualify. It seems to have been in response to some people who happened to be trans being disruptive at meetings.
A BCN report noted that it had been suggested that “any man could pretend to be transsexual to enjoy the company of ‘hot bi babes’”. This may seem wearily familiar to anyone watching debates around reform of the Gender Recognition Act today. It’s especially noticeable that we didn’t have the word ‘cis’ in common parlance as an antonym to ‘trans’ at the time, which makes the discussion wordier and less clear.
A special voting system was devised where members could vote whether there should be any rule limiting trans women’s attendance, but only those who voted “yes” in that round could vote in a second ballot on how broad or narrow the trans rule should be. If ever you need to ensure that the outcome to a decision tends to one extreme or the other, this is a brilliant method.

The fifth International Bisexual Conference was held in Boston, USA, and our report from attendees reflected that every speaker – bar one last-minute substitution – was from the US. The internet was starting to be widely used at this point and “the gap between those on the Internet and those who weren’t was all too apparent”. With over 1,000 attendees and a conference team forty strong it reflected the strength of BiNetUSA, whose turnover had just hit $150,000. A vision of what the UK BiCon could be?

Our own BiCon was in Cambridge, where the roof gave way in the dancehall and so most of the entertainment had to be held in a corridor. A reflective piece afterward noted the event “on average attracts between 200 and 350 attendees. These numbers have been fairly constant over the last eight years or so”. While we have had a couple of BiCons with attendance over 400, that remains much the case today.

The year wrapped up with the announcement of the first ever London Bisexual Festival for February 1999. That included one of the first bisexual pride marches, but is a story for another time.