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This is what it was like to attend a bi group 23 years ago

This is what it was like to attend a bi group 23 years ago

Manchester-based Jen Yockney

I first went to a BiPhoria meeting more than 23 years ago.

I’d worked out I was bisexual some time around my sixteenth birthday.

With hindsight, I knew at thirteen but didn’t have a label to put on this thing that I knew (at the peak of Section 28 mania) I should best keep to myself.

At sixteen, I was out as bi to all of my sixth form but didn’t know any other queer people.

Back then it was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new monthly meet-up for bisexual people in and around Manchester.

The group is still active today and is the oldest bi group in the UK. Over the years it has grown to offer a myriad of social and support meetings, research publications, public speakers and outreach stalls.

It wasn’t my first time in bi space. But it was the first time I’d been in a bi space I hadn’t had to lobby for and organise myself.

University brought an LGB society that was very LG. I was attending LGB conferences where I would volunteer a bi space or workshop and often find I was sat in a room on my own for an hour.

We were pretty invisible back then and many of us had learned to keep our heads down.

And unlike those bi spaces I’d contributed to small conferences and events, this wasn’t a one-off, but a regularly repeated chance to hang out with other bis.

This wasn’t just fleetingly meeting people and talk. Here was a space to get to know people over time and make friends. So exciting!

Back then we met at the Sidney Street Lesbian & Gay Centre, whose name gives an honest reflection of where bisexuals came in the pecking order: every so often meeting rooms would be overbooked and upon arrival at the centre we’d find ourselves meeting in the kitchen or in the pub round the corner.

We were assigned use of a filing cabinet to keep bi resources in. But no-one gave us the key to it.

So what we really had was a filing cabinet we could perch a couple of cups of coffee on top of whilst talking.

Photo: BiPhoria Twitter

Communication was through postal mailouts. People got in touch to know more about the group by writing letters to us at our P.O. Box address.

Rather than a well-intentioned ‘I’ll post it on Facebook when I remember’ you’d have a half-dozen flyers for whatever upcoming event might be of interest to pass around and be taken home by anyone interested.

Decision making was painfully slow. A side project, Bisexual Action Manchester, engaged the local council in debate about their policy of the non-existence of bisexuality.

We’d meet once a month and hammer out a letter. A month later, there’d be a typed copy we’d sign it and put it in the mail.

Another month on we would meet, read the reply, and agree a rough wording for our response.

With no quick way of rounding people up, dates for meetings were set on a ‘they’ll probably have written back by then’ basis.

Often, we got to the bar to talk and the person with the typewriter sighed that they hadn’t.

A simple discussion like that would go on for six months then. Today, it would be over in an afternoon’s worth of angry tweeting.

Some things haven’t changed

What’s interesting is what hasn’t changed.

Growing bi visibility means people are less likely to write in asking: ‘Is this real? Am I not the only one after all?’

But the personal crisis moment when coming out still calls for a human face and connection for support and advice.

People who have come along to out monthly bi support meetings describe them as a special space .

This special place is somewhere you don’t have to defend the existence of bisexuality, or that your bi-ness is valid when you have a broad preference for this gender over those ones.

The experience of trying not to be erased into monosexuality whilst in a monogamous relationship is still just as real as when we railed against it together back in the 1990s.

23 and a quarter years on for me, 23 and a half years of regular meetings for the group.

The change all around us has been remarkable but BiPhoria being there is still surprisingly important.

To find a bi group like BiPhoria near you see (UK) or (USA).

Jen’s 25 years of bi activism won her the MBE in 2016 as the first person to be honored for ‘services to the bisexual community.’ She was also the first Mx ever in the honors list. Find Jen’s bi activism website here.

Read The Bi+ Manifesto below