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I'm very - perhaps too - fond of asking why people so rarely look at their actions in the context of "what happens next?" As Peter Cook might have asked, did A Question Of Sport die in vain?
Back when the same-sex marriage bill was wending its way through parliament, we heard many arguments for and against. Some were coherent. Some were respectable. There's a fun venn diagram to be drawn of which were one, neither or both.
Now, I've just been reading some research from the USA looking at the impacts of same-sex marriage legislation there, where change happened in bursts from state to state over several years.
No, not at the number of weddings and the impact on the sale of top hats and fabulous frocks. One of the other impacts same-sex marriage has had.
It's based on huge sample sizes and shows one of the effects of allowing same-sex marriage nationwide was about 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year. Looking at numbers before and after, there's a 7 percent reduction in the proportion of all high-school students reporting a suicide attempt over the previous year, and a 14 percent drop among LGB students, when same-sex marriage becomes lawful where you live.
Often we talk about these kind of statistics but we rarely pause to turn them round. To consider the "what if", the "what happens next" of the path not taken. The path we didn't take thanks to the passage of the two same-sex marriage bills in Wales & England and in Scotland.
US and UK culture are in very many ways similar. So with about a quarter of their population we might rule-of-thumb that the impact here is 134,000 divided by four - 33,500 fewer young people attempting to end their lives each year in the UK. Each year. Our 2013 vote is four years ago already: so the change is 33,500 upon 33,500 upon 33,500 upon...
What an amazing number. What a horrifying number. For the 400 MPs who voted to allow same-sex marriage, what a humbling number. Yes, you let some people get married, and that was beautiful. But "what happened next" was a huge positive impact on the mental health and even survival of young people. You let some people get married and, thanks to an unwritten clause in the Bill, you saw to it that thousands did not try to end their lives early. An unknowable number of parents never came home to the horrible ultimate consequence of social, legal and institutional homophobia.
And for the 175 MPs (and indeed 148 Peers) who planted their colours against the tide of history, with numbers like these the nature of their actions and motives is laid bare. We can see what they were actively, consciously, premeditatedly complicit in, what they were voting for, because let's be frank: while we didn't have these figures, we and they knew the answer to the "what happens next" question all along.
A handful of the 175 have said they'd vote differently today. We have to conclude that the rest are proud of the future they were voting for, and take comfort that they didn't get what they wanted.
here. By way of marking LGBT History Month a trainee priest put together a Christian service in Polari; thus "Glory be to the father, and to the son, and the Holy Spirit" became "Fabeness be to the Auntie, and to the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy".
Camp as tits and given that all the attendees were also trainee vicar types, clearly a fun "spot the familiar thing" rendering of familiar rhythms. As well as a way of thinking about the language you communicate in and how queer people had to hide behind codes in plain sight (and much worse, obv) because of the actions of priests and politicians past.
The church involved is full of huff and puff and apology, in an amusing echo of the days long gone when they said that services had to be in Latin for fear of the riff-raff understanding what was going on.
Local boss Canon Rev Chris Chivers told the press that, "for some members of the house this caused considerable upset". Really? Well, I suppose it is cold and dark at this time of year in Narnia and that can provoke a mighty fear.
About three months on from the publication of the Honours List in June an invitation arrives in the post. It's just about the best "boss, I want to take the day off work because..." you could hope for. The Head of State, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, wants you to pop round to her place so you can be given a medal. I'm sure there are employers who would say "no" to that one, but you really wouldn't want to work for them if you could avoid it. I am finally sure from the paperwork that when you get the gong it's called an Investiture: I am very much a fish out of water here so the language is all a bit alien.
You get to take three guests with you. I make my choices and so we are attending as a quartet of people who have volunteered with some of the UK's most prolific and enduring bi projects.
9am on the big day and I and my three guests are pulling on posh frocks and the like. It's not far from where we've stayed the night to Buckingham Palace but there's unanimity on "in these shoes, we're getting a taxi".
To the Palace and we arrive early so there is time for some queueing in the grounds, being photographed through the gates by tourists. This is followed by being guided around the building and after a short while separated, recipients from their guests. The guests - being mostly in threes - can chat amongst their groups or with one another, while we recipients are led to a room where we mill about together for about an hour - so lots of respectful conversation with people you'd probably not otherwise meet who you know are bloody good at whatever it is they do. A couple of them I know faintly from their equalities work or from the occassional 10 Downing Street LGBT receptions.
There are about 83 of us in attendance, and about two dozen people guiding us around the building, checking who is there and so on. One with exquisite politeness takes me to one side: the medals are in female and male versions, and we wanted to make sure which you would prefer, very sorry to disturb you and ask. An answer is given and from that point on there is never so much as a flicker of an eyebrow.
The honours come in descending order of rank so I get a while of waiting while the Knights and what have you are taken first. A CCTV feed lets you watch the ceremony in progress - and there are my guests in the front row! Hell, they look so fine. And then my name is called and I am off to the final queue.
Presentation of each honour is made in female first then male, and within each alphabetical order, so being a Yockney I conveniently came either at the end of the women or between the two big gender blocs depending how you choose to see it. It's not often having a name at the end of the list works out to my advantage!
Whatever you think of the monarchy as a thing, it is amazing what a fine job of her role here the Princess Royal makes. Each one of us, whether the highest ranking or the last in the line, get a very similar amount of time in conversation, and I gather afterwards that the ones higher up the queue who have ever received another honour from here are greeted with how good it is to see them again. I know she must be very well briefed but it is flawless and consistent.
Everyone wants to know the conversation you get: the Princess Royal asks about where I live and reflects that on matters of gender and sexuality diversity it must be difficult to know quite when and where to be out. I think herein is kind of an acknowledgement of the struggle I had back in the spring, working out what to put when it asked about things like gender and title, as well as the wider world. I answer that the thing is that while it can be hard to be out, everyone who is makes the closet door that little bit wider open for the person behind them. And my time is up and my medal is on my chest and I have shaken a Princess' hand.
In the structure of the presentation you bow or curtsey, go forward to receive your honour and brief talk, walk backward, curtsey or bow again and move on. To blend things as best as I can, I curtsey at the start and bow at the end. Again: no flicker of judgement or what have you, just the same warm congratulation from the team keeping the wheels turning as they give every other recipient. The monarchy is ancient, the honour I'm receiving some hundred years old, but the people making the wheels turn are thoroughly modern.
An orchestra plays as the presentations take place - as I took my seat after the presentation I realised we were being treated to an arrangement of a David Bowie song. Deliciously appropriate. (As I was receiving the award I'm told it was Nobody Does It Better. I have no idea, I was far too lost in worrying about falling over as I curtseyed or what have you).
And it was over and outside for photos and off for a huge slap-up meal and strawberry cider and, at last, taking your posh shoes off and being able to walk more easily!
The Honour Thing
It's a big deal, and one I find a bit weird: I have to tell myself now and then during introductions to add "MBE" to who I am. I didn't start volunteering for glory (hell if I had I'd've picked a different field!) but because I'd come out as bi and trans and tried to find support and social spaces, but the services and spaces I found were so lacking that I felt the only way they would happen would be if I learned the skills and got stuck in.
But I have been volunteering, for various bi causes, for over 20 years - I started in about 1992 depending on quite where you draw the line. Since 1995 there's been at least something every month and from 1996 or so something every week, barring hospital levels of health problems like having to lie down for a month after four charmers queerbashed me. Some of the projects have been fleeting, others carry on for years: frontline support for people coming out as bi at BiPhoria, for example.
People ask me about the monarchy and the empire aspects. There are those who turn down their gongs and the press is busy this week with a story of how John Lennon sent his back. I'm not wild about either the monarchy as a system or the empire as, well, my heritage is not very empire. But the bottom line for me is: this is the current Head of State of the country I choose to live in, and this is the system that same country uses for recognising the work in the community of its citizens. It is both an Honour and actually an honour, and a world away from the world I grew up in that such a symbol of the establishment is recognising someone genderqueer championing bi people's liberty and equality.
So: it was an amazing day out, and I shall probably spend the next fortnight gazing into the middle distance and going "wow" as I zone out for a moment. A double first, so to speak, that I hope to see followed up with seconds and thirds quite soon.
Oh: and here are some photos!
I figured that on a cold windy evening they wanted something short and sweet, so I reflected on how different from many other Prides the weekend had been. B throughout, T throughout, and with more of a mix of ages and skin hues than just about any other Pride I've been to.
"Hello and thank you for inviting me along.
"This weekend has been Bolton Pride but it opened with Bi Visibility Day on Friday. The eighteenth year we have celebrated that date.
"Bi Visibility Day started as a celebration of bisexual space. In the years it has grown hugely and was marked in about twenty countries with getting on for a hundred events this year.
"But it started because too many of us had found that we were pushed out, excluded, from LGBT space. We were only welcome if somehow we only brought a part of who we were.
"But here, at Bolton Pride, and in the run up to Pride here what I have seen in Bolton's LGBT+ group and the organising team, is the opposite of that story.
"So I want to say thank you: thank you to the team who put this weekend together and to all the people who have come along to the event, for giving us a postive inclusive pride that welcomed and reached out to us regardless, that was open to all of us and lived all of its LGBT letters and more."
When did you first realise you might be bisexual?
My sister came to visit and left a copy of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit on our kitchen table. I was 15; within a week it was read and something I'd known since I was about 12 started to develop a word to go with the feeling.
How did you come out? What were people's reactions?
I came out to the whole of my sixth form shortly after - it was a new school and had the "I can't lose any friends" aspect, though I look back at it now and it feels like a lot more of a risky idea. From there there's been the whole gamut from "me too" to a couple of old friends who didn't want to know me any more. That made me achingly sad at the time but is their loss, in the end.
What's the best thing about being bisexual?
I tend to think it's that whoever you fall for is never a surprise - as compared to say someone who has always thought of themselves as a lesbian and then falls for a man. Actually it can still be quite a surprise, just in other ways.
Have you experienced biphobia? Were you able to do anything about it?
Many times. Sometimes, being trans, it gets hard to spot which bit of prejudice is which. But for example a while ago I said something about being bi at an LGBT meeting and the person next to me said; "if you say you're bisexual to me that means you're not happy in your current relationship". Well, I've been saying it since I was sixteen and that's included, ahem, a fair few relationships over the years. If I've managed to be unhappy in all of them I must be a lousy picker! The situation there though just felt a bit too unsafe, so I found a way to extract myself from the conversation and be elsewhere.
Why do you think Bi Visibility Day is important?
For a long time now I've been saying: the principal challenge for bisexuals is invisibility and all that flows from it, and the solution is visibility and all that comes with it. I've been involved in marking Bi Visibility Day every year since that first time back in 1999, both raising the bi profile and celebrating the mutual support we get from bi community spaces. As visibility has risen some of the challenges - that our needs were assumed to be whatever gay and lesbian needs were only lesser, for example - have started to be acknowledged more widely.
We've still got a long way to go, mind.
Do you have any bisexual role-models?
Not really. I have a few queer heroes, people like Bernard Greaves who has been consistently championing LGBT rights since before I was born, but I'm more motivated by my antiheroes, the biphobic and transphobic people whose actions made me get off the sofa and get stuck in!
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of coming out as bi?
First, and this is the same for coming out as trans or gay as well, work out a safe plan. If coming out going badly may for instanct mean you lose your home, you need to have a plan for what to do, where to go.
Take it at a speed that works for you: you may have had a really important realisation about yourself, but if today isn't the right day for it you can still come out tomorrow.
Second, and especially for bi people because we tend to be a bit "invisible", find other bi people for peer support. It's good to have other people to reassure you you're "bi enough" or to share some of the more peculiar responses you get with and let off steam. BiPhoria's a good place to start.
And last, be ready for surprises. Because, again, we can be a bit invisible, some of the people you tell will reply "me too". Which can be wonderful, even if you do think "damn, if you'd told me sooner I wouldn't have been so worried about telling you myself!"
For a long time I've been talking about biphobia. Back in the mid 1990s, as I have surely written here before, someone asked me to define biphobia for them. They wanted a snappy soundbite: treating bisexuals as lesser or something like that.
Instead I talked about four flavours of biphobia.
There's institutional biphobia. The way organisations work can marginalise bi people. You have an LGBT group, and it holds gendered meetings... the bi attendee wonders whether they can bring their other-gendered partner along to a social. When they let off steam about their relationship it gets less sympathy than if only they were dating someone of the same sex. Slowly they are squeezed out and leave. This can be more calculated too: the LGBT organisation that will give you support about relationship problems, provided you're in a same-sex relationship. The big sign on the wall promising to challenge homophobia, that assumes biphobia to just be the lite version, a subset of the big bad.
Next there's internalised biphobia. This one's a big challenge for our communities and organising. Yougov reckoned last year that 23% of people were... well, somewhere between straight and gay. Just 2% owned the label "bisexual". So ten times as many people who could call themselves bi didn't, as did. Whether an internal narrative of I'm not bi enough or I don't want to be one of 'those bisexuals', people shy away from the word that perhaps best describes their atttractions.
Then, that biphobia which is analagous to heterophobia; we get this chiefly in the gay community. "Just here as a tourist", they'll say. Or warn you off dating bis as "they'll always leave you for a member of the opposite sex". This isn't the main thrust of this thought piece so I shall move on...
There's that which is analagous to homophobia. For women, that the sex they have with other women is less 'real' than sex with men. For men, that having slept with another man makes you dirty, undesireable. There is probably still a bit of taint from the fear of bi men that was raised during the 1980s there.
The last two though have a curious overlap, in the way that homophobia-like and heterophobia-like patterns operate too often in our relationships.
I used to hear it from the couple next door. They've moved now, and most of the time their relationship seemed calm and happy, but when things kicked off... well, usually you can't make out the details through a thick pile of bricks, but every so often "At least I know which -----ing gender I'm attracted to" yelled from one of them to the other gave a remarkably good clue as to what they had been arguing about this time.
It's a common thread of bi experience too; running bi outreach stalls at events there's always someone who comes over looking interested and friendly but is then pulled away by a partner; sometimes with a breezy "he used to be bisexual before he met me".
On its own this is a problem, but in the workplace it has an added dimension. Suppose your employee, Sam, has been dating a woman for months and breaks up with her, and after a few weeks is now dating a man. Work colleagues give Sam a ribbing about switching teams, being confused, greedy or what have you. It goes on a bit too long for "good-natured banter" and Sam complains.
"Aha!" the LGBT Staff Network eager-beaver in HR thinks. "A bisexual for us to recruit! We need bi role models!"
But the staffer you offer support to may not be able to be your out bisexual, even though they are on the recieving end of biphobia and even though they brought it to HR to deal with: quite possibly Sam's new partner knows nothing about their previous dalliances with women. Or indeed, whenever that part of Sam's life gets mentioned, the crockery starts flying.
People who always date people of the same sexual orientation as themselves are rarely made to feel bad about their sexual orientation by their partner. For bis, most of our "dating pool" are not bi: most of the people who might fancy us identify as straight or lesbian/gay. The closet door may be being pushed shut by the person who is most important to us in our lives. And some of us have at the back of our mind that even if that is not the case now, it might have been different in the past, and might be different in the future.
Which means that, when you seek out bi role models, it's that bit harder for us to stand up than for our lesbian and gay counterparts.
This is the second blog post around a "we can't..." theme. Don't get me wrong. We can. It is a slightly provocative title about why bi people are under-represented.
Well, it is an interesting question. Why don't all those people from other backgrounds come forward? Why - to pick the topical strand for today - aren't the bisexuals (and so on) stepping up? Or the unspoken side question: why do the people who do step up not mention their bisexuality?
This is one of the big challenges for bisexual organising, too. We know, and Bi Visibility Day events and materials work hard to remind us, how things are different for bis. Not in the "double your chances of a date on a Friday night" kind of a way. If only. No, in the way that our mental health statistics are worse than those of gay and straight people. Our experience of being victims of domestic violence and other abuse are worse too. Economically, we earn less than gay, straight and lesbian people. We might be in the closet at work with all the negative consequences that has; but we might be in the closet at home too.
Now these are terrible facts and figures: issues where a lot of work is needed to change the way our world works. But I know what you are thinking - the vacancy on your board of trustees isn't going to wait for that to happen.
But those facts should be telling you things about the pool of people of whom most of your bisexual volunteers, bisexual organisers, bisexual group steering committees, are made up.
Those statistics aren't just there to frighten us. They ARE us.
So when you ask: can we have a bisexual person with free time, great qualifications and experience in these demanding roles from which they will have skills that our charity's board needs, and why aren't they coming forward?
Those people you would be looking to are the people who didn't get those promotions because of how biphobia limits their career. That lower income means they're worried whether they can afford to come to all your meetings and fundraising shin-digs.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who don't get to be out and proud because it upsets their non-bi partner if they "keep going on" about being bisexual.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who don't "look the part" perhaps because the intersectional identities they have mean they don't have the right professional look-and-feel that you warm to, or whose bisexuality you are oblivious to because they tick some other box.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who have those mental health challenges you have read the statistics about and who aren't sure your organisation would be tolerant when their health meant they needed to take some time out. Who use up their mental and social energy holding down that job and don't have the extra to spare that you need, because they are weaving their way through a gay-straight world.
This is not meant to be a counsel of despair, though it does read that way. And I know some will be saying: there are plenty of burned-out or fighting-health-issues gay and straight people. Yes there are, far too many. But like for like, more of the bis are dealing with those problems.
We can change this.
Well, you and your organisation can change this.
I'd love to see more mentoring and support rolled out for bi people. Don't ask for a new treasurer or chief exec; invite the groups who never get represented on your boards to shadow and be mentored by the person already doing it. They may wind up volunteering for some other organisation instead: so be it.
We can't do it on our own. But we would benefit from it, and so would you. Let's have a programme across business and the heavyweight end of the voluntary sector to give the bis who should be on your boards the skills and authority they need to take their seat at the table. Who's up for it?
I’ve been sitting on this for weeks now but at last it is public: today’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List names me among the many others recognised for their work.So from today I’m Jen Yockney MBE, which is one of the weirdest things I could imagine.The Honour is for my extensive volunteering work with the bisexual community and on wider LGBT issues over the past couple of decades, whether with BCN, BiPhoria, Bisexual History Project, the Bisexuality Report, Bi Life, Bisexual Action, LGBT+LD, lobbying of ministers and GEO, or other things that just now I’ve forgotten.When I saw the full citation for my activities – and all unpaid – it did come as a bit of a frightener. By doing at least something every month for such a long time it adds up and by now I have done quite a bit.In the 80s I was a teenager, following the progress of Clause 28 in the broadsheets but still in the closet about gender and sexuality both to others and myself.I started to come out and get engaged in community organising and LGBT politics in the 90s, with student groups and the like. I found that they were very LG in their LGBT, with bi people, voices and experiences silenced and sidelined. This meant seeking out bi and trans spaces: at that point my activism could have gone either way, but the bi spaces I found were perversely more inclusive of gender diversity than the trans spaces. Don’t take that as meaning either that bi spaces were perfect – they definitely weren’t! – or that trans spaces were all dire: it’s just the balance of comfort between the two, then, for me.Over time I came to be involved in different projects. Publishing magazines and pamphlets and lobbying local and national government and LGBT organisations can be removed from ordinary lived experience so I’m glad to also have BiPhoria keeping me - I think and hope - grounded in the day-to-day challenges of bisexual life for ordinary bi people.The high points have included the first full-colour issue of BCN, the huge scale of the two Manchester BiCons, and being the first representative from a bisexual community project to be invited to the annual 10 Downing Street LGBT reception. And now, of course, today.Thank you.