I came out as bisexual in 1993. My revelation came a year after I ran away from the people I had grown up with.
I arrived in a new part of London, homeless, penniless, very sick, but free to live a life of my choosing.
My first try at getting involved in LGBTI things was a black lesbian group in North London. Naïvely, I thought they might accept me there, but no, it was made very clear that bisexuals weren’t welcome.
A phone call to London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard also revealed massive biphobia – I was told that there was nothing for me in England, and that I should try going to Scotland instead!
Still, I managed to find and join one of the bisexual communities. Which was a lot harder to do in the days before social media. I went to the London bisexual women’s group for almost a year – and I was the only black person there, apart from once when there were two of us. During every visit somebody would ask where I was from, or sometimes where in Africa I was from. (I’m not.) Over time this all got annoying. And then really annoying.
Around that time I went to my first Pride. I wasn’t expecting to come up against misogyny and racism from white gay men at the event, but that’s what happened. I was treated like a novelty, and expected to perform for their amusement.
I had racism and biphobia at other Pride events later, too. I was called a ‘breeder’ and I was spat on at Brighton Pride by a white gay man who was marching in the parade.
I felt totally lost with everything to do with LGBTI matters. I decided to leave it all behind; I knew I would be lonely, but I also knew there were worse things than being alone. I longed to be either lesbian or straight. Bisexuality meant I was on the losing side no matter what.
It took me a long time to get over my fear of the treatment I’d received. But eventually I did go back – to a one-day bi event, Brighton BiFest. I was so impressed that I signed up to attend BiCon, which is a weekend-long bi convention/conference. I’d heard about it before, but I always thought it wouldn’t be for me.
I had a magical time at my first BiCon, in Glamorgan, south Wales. It was without a doubt the best weekend I’d ever had. On the second day I started crying. A man asked if I was okay, and I told him I’d been hugged more times in two days of BiCon than in my entire life before that.
I suppose I was silly to think every BiCon would be as wonderful as that. I soon learned that the BiCon-based bi communities didn’t have any shortage of racism, sexism and classism.
Things came to a head when one of the later BiCon organizers used Islamophobic and racist insults in a public forum, and only two people initially called him out on his behavior: me and a friend of mine, both of us people of color.
As a result of that experience, we decided we’d have a session at the next BiCon just for bisexuals of color. Surely we couldn’t be the only ones who wanted a safe space?
At the next BiCon I nervously waited outside the room where we were due to have our session. I was petrified that someone would make trouble, but nobody did.
Seventeen bisexuals of color walked in the room. Each person talked, they cried, they got angry and they laughed. Then the next person did exactly the same. It was an incredibly moving experience. Everyone went off to have lunch together. Everyone was smiling.
A few hours later, at a decision-making session, several delegates got up on stage to complain that bisexuals of color should not have their own separate session. They said the same thing for trans people too. I sat at the back of the lecture hall, cursing under my breath as my girlfriend clutched my hand.
When a white delegate said we should justify why we needed a safe space, I stood up, walked down to the lectern and addressed the hall.
‘Can everyone who’s able please stand up?’
I waited a moment.
‘Now all the white people sit down.’
I pointed to the small scattering of black and brown faces.
‘That is all the explanation you’re going to get. It’s all you need.’
I sat back down.
If you’ve ever complained about minority groups getting more and more niche – ‘what next, a group for Portuguese lesbian welders who knit Dr Who figures?’ – then you need to understand something: you might be the reason those groups are needed.
Imagine having nowhere you can be yourself – all of your selves. Imagine not having anywhere you feel safe. That’s why there’s a bi community: because we can’t always feel safe in gay and lesbian spaces, much as we want to.
It might be an LGBTI community in name but mostly it’s a GGGG community, to be honest. We can tell when we’re not wanted.
And that’s why there’s a Bis of Colour group. Maybe one day it won’t be needed, but for now, I’ll keep my one space where I get to be me.
This is an edited extract from Purple Prose: Bisexuality in Britain, now being crowdfunded. Please click this link if you want to support the project.