Thursday, 7 December 2017

Bi Groups Back Then

It's 23 years ago today that I first went along to BiPhoria, then a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new meetup for bisexual people and today the oldest bi group in the country.

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. 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. Rather than just meet 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. We were given use of a filing cabinet to keep bi resources in, but no-one had a 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.

It was technically not before the internet, but for all practical purposes it was. Communication was through postal mailouts, and people got in touch to know more about the group by writing letters to us at our P.O. Box address. As the person most likely to turn up first I was entrusted with knowing where the post went, collecting it, and doling it out ("we have a letter from someone wanting to know if there is a bi group near them in Liverpool, who wants to write a reply?")

But I think getting information through the post was much better for people actually coming to the meetings: rather than a vague "oh, I'll post it on the facebook group 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 one month and hammer out a letter; a month later, with a typed copy, we'd sign it and put it in the mail. Another month on we would meet and read the reply, and agree a rough wording for what we should say in turn. With no quick way of rounding people up, dates for meetings were set on a "they'll probably have written back by then" basis, and at least once 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 and today would be over in an afternoon's worth of angry tweeting.

What's interesting is what hasn't changed. With growing bi visibility in public life, people are much less likely to write in asking: is this real, am I not the only one after all?  But the moment of personal crisis when coming out to family, friends or partners still wants a human face and connection for support and advice. People who have come along for the first time to the group in 2017 describe being in a special space where 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 or are trying not to be erased into monosexuality whilst in a monogamous relationship is still just as real, the same way we did back in the 1990s.

23 years on for me, 23 and a quarter years of regular meetings for the group. The change all around us has been remarkable but BiPhoria being there is still surprisingly important.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

United In Anger

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day.

Got a couple of hours to spare? Youtube has United In Anger here - a film I had the pleasure of watching on the big screen at the Cornerhouse 70 Oxford Street

It's a fine documentary film about the rise and fall of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, a huge and high-impact campaign group which worked mostly in the USA in protest at state and corporate indifference to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. I remember - or I think I remember - ACT UP stalls at Flesh at the Hacienda circa 1992. They had some brilliant designers making powerful posters and other art.

It is well worth a watch though it makes me think I'd love to see something equivalent about the UK. Of course it'd be different - our government was somewhat more responsive to the issue ("Don't Die Of Ignorance") and while there was a lack of effective medication worldwide at that stage and a shared media hysteria at spending money on healthcare for people with HIV, I get the impression that the difference the NHS makes is huge. But like so many LGBT+ stories, and indeed those of other marginalised groups, the USA is not the same as the world and the tale here is a smidge different.

I get the impression that almost everything in the film is in New York or Washington DC, too, and I would quite like to have more of a flavour of what it was like elsewhere in the USA, what the other chapters of ACT UP were doing. Because as well as America not being the world, New York is not America any more than the bottom right-hand corner of our island is Britain.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Period poverty on Trans Day of Remembrance

It's good to see talk of 'period poverty' ahead of the budget. The suggestion is we provide free sanitary products to young people in schools. 

Compared to the amount of money we are taking out of the economy through Brexit, the cost of ensuring young menstruators who need sanitary products is a piffling sum that could make a lot of lives a lot easier.

And I say menstruators rather than 'young girls' as most of the coverage of this issue does, because period poverty is also a big issue for young trans guys and many young nonbinary people. As if puberty wasn't stressful enough for everyone else it is a time of additional personal challenge if you're trans.

As a trans teen years ago, I remember how puberty feels as though your body is in open rebellion against you, doing all the wrong things and just getting worse with every passing - no pun intended - day. As a very short-sighted teenager I tried to only look in the mirror with my glasses off: I looked more like myself if things were blurry.

For trans guys, for all that it's the particular pubescent hell I didn't live through, I am sure that if you talk about having periods to anyone there's the feeling it undermines their sense of who you are as well as your own. And that can be such a hard-won recognition from others, if you have it at all. 

Doubly so in the current climate where barely a day passes without a newspaper story inciting transphobic hate.

So on Transgender Day of Remembrance, please voice your support for tackling period poverty. If you aren't already doing it for the girls: do it for the boys.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Off the fence: Bi Vis in the Village

I had an idea last month, and after a bit of prep work like finding out who at the council you have to get permission from to do this sort of a thing, I made a banner and - with a gaggle of people from BiPhoria - today we went and hung it on the side of the park on Canal Street.

In a city - and especially in a gay quarter - that has often struggled with the B in LGBT, hopefully this banner will last the next couple of weeks, and maybe garner a few tweets and conversations along the way.

With bars that only display in the rainbow and trans flags, I think this is the most visible we've ever managed to get things in the gay village!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Election, For Liberals, In Brief

Journo: Hello, welcome to the programme. I'm Agatha Prejudiced, and with me in the studio first this morning I have the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron. Tim, thank you for coming on the programme.
Tim: Thanks for having me on, it's great to be here. (waves at camera) Hello mum! I told you I'd be on telly one day!
Journo: Now with this snap election being called
Tim: About Brexit
Journo: Yes, about Brexit, and with a crucial decision in front of the British people as to whether to stay, to go, or to do a conga along the English Channel, it's important people know what each and every one of their Liberal candidates up and down the country stand for.
Tim: Yes, and we want a second ref-
Journo: If I can just finish
Tim: -eren... sorry, go on.
Journo: And what they want to know is: is gay sex a sin?
Tim: Whu?
Journo: You believe in God, don't you. And Britain has never had a Liberal leader who believed in a deity before, apart from Gladstone and Lloyd George and ...well OK all of them apart from Clegg, but Clegg goes back to 2007 and no-one can remember the time before the crash so you're the first.
Tim: I... Sorry?
Journo: So why haven't you answered the question?
Tim: That I believe in God? Yes. Or do you mean about whether I can remember a time before 2007 because let me tell you, in 1984 Prefab Sprout released their first LP and I still remember that, I was straight down to Woollies after school...
Journo: No, that gay sex is a sin, because it is, isn't it?
Tim: Well, I've nothing against it, but I happen to be happily married to a woman so that's not really what I came on the programme to do. I thought we were going to talk about my plan for government? Which is to be in opposition, because we tried government and to be honest with you, it was a shitstorm.
Journo: For the eleventh time of asking, is gay sex a sin?
Tim: Yes. And no.
Journo: Bloody liberal.
Tim: Well, it's morality isn't it. I'm not in the running to be Pope, I mean the kind of stuff that was in Leviticus frankly it's up to individual people and their relationship with their god, if they have one, and thankfully we don't live in the kind of country where the church dictates that kind of thing to everyone - for all that some people would like it not to be that way
Journo: So it is a sin?
Tim: ....Oh, for my good mate Jesus's dad's sake. No. There. No. Happy?
Journo: And what about straight sex?
Tim: Eh... No, I think that's probably alright too. I'm a bit busy being leader of a political party to download any updates to the Bible onto my iPhone, but I'm pretty sure.
Journo: OK, but supposing it was a sin, does being married make the difference?
Tim: Well I suppose, if you thought... Can I just ask, have you read our manifesto? (waves small orange pamphlet) I was expecting I might get quizzed about that a bit and I've been boning up on the figures all night to avoid having a Natalie Bennett moment. Ask me about how many social houses you can build for a hundred million quid and what a police officer earns, go on.
Journo: (blinks, carries on regardless) So is that why you voted for same-sex marriage and against the spousal veto - so everyone had an equal chance of sinless sex if they happened to see the world that way?
Tim: Er. It could be a benefit, I suppose, I was just doing what seemed right. We would quite like proportional rep-
Journo: Aha! So what about people who deliberately buy a bed big enough for five people, and is the person who sells them the bed a sinner too for enabling that kind of filth? And what if one of the five people in question had just eaten lobster? Hmm?
Tim: (stares at ceiling for a moment) Oh I give in. Alright. This document here, this isn't our real manifesto. (takes Bible from pocket) This is the real Liberal manifesto. And it's been a bugger to edit, let me tell you, it's taken me two years staying up at bedtime with a highlighter pen and a black marker to cross through the bits that aren't policy now we've left the coalition and don't have to include the stuff Anne Widdecombe kept going on about.
"In the beginning was the word, and the word was" (flicks through pages looking for next uncensored bit) "Leaflets".
"There shall be"... "to choose a new leader for the Nation"... "Forty days and forty nights"...."of"...  "Leaflets".
"The LORD spoke to"....."Nick"...."saying, 30 pieces of silver".... "and the tribe shall wander in the wilderness for".... "three score years and ten".... And let me just add, although we have ruled out coalitions this time, in future we would be open to negotiating that three score and ten down to just ten.
"And".... "let them be healed".... "Gomorrah".... "did not bury the coins but invested wisely".... "Amen".
So there you go. Health, long term investment, different lifestyles, freedom of movement, all the big policy areas. And you know what, I know I said I'm not in the running to be Pope, but sod it, there's never been a Pope from Preston. I hereby quit as Liberal leader and am off to the Vatican to give that a go.
Journo: Tim Farron, thank you. Now next on the programme we are delighted to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has made some bold remarks this week about the housing crisis and the outrage of so many people being dependent upon foodbanks. Archbishop, good morning.
Bish: Hello.
Journo: Starting with the housing challenge. You say Britain needs more homes - probably around three million of them. How much would that cost and how many of them would be affordable properties for first-time buyers?
Bish: Oh bloody hell, my job is to pontificate on morals not plan a budget. (picks up abandoned Lib Dem manifesto)  Hang on, the answer's probably in here...

Questions Unasked

I'm fond of the principle of turning things around and considering the opposite claim. Take the number of times politicians regardless of stripe say "now is not the time for complacency". Perhaps I should pick one, wait for them to say it, and then message them every week thereafter asking, "is it the time for complacency yet?" It must be complacency's moment sooner or later, but if we are complacent about getting complacency its turn, it might never get its moment of not doing much in the spotlight because it didn't prepare.

Whatever happens in politics or elections, the party or ideology of the politician is always crucial to the moment. Whether the Liberals on one side, UKIP on the other, or the rainbow of assorted rosettes in between, however well or badly a cause has done at an election the politico will always tell you "our cause has never been more relevant or more important." Liberalism has never been more vital; the need to ensure a red white and blue Brexit has never been more pressing; the environmental challenge has never been so great; empowering business has never been so important to our nation's interests; the need for democratic reform has never been more pressing; the time for proper socialism is definitely upon us; and the NHS has never been in more peril, and the barbarian horde are at the door. It's never, ever, "well, no-one gives a monkeys about our ideology at the moment, and who can blame them as it seemed plausible in the 1950s but now it's plainly bobbins."

Similarly, I do love the questions that go unasked and what they tell you.

For instance, as I've observed elsewhere, the questioning of Tim Farron about his take on whether "gay sex" is a sin reveals the conscious or internalised homophobia of the journalists involved when there are other closely related questions that go unasked. Farron was never asked "and what about straight sex? OK, but supposing it was a sin, does being married make the difference and is that why you voted for same-sex marriage and against the spousal veto so everyone had an equal chance of sinless sex if they happened to see the world that way? What about people who deliberately buy a bed big enough for five people, and is the person who sells them the bed a sinner too for enabling that kind of fun filth? Well, what if one of the five people in question had just eaten lobster?" No, we never get that, just a question that tells us more about the journo than the answer does about the subject.

Which brings me to my motivation to write today, as we see the curse of the unasked question again in today's Sun (I know, but still) with a feature about a three-person relationship that seems to be blossoming and working well for all three and, well, not really to be news but they make for a good photo and that'll do.

Under the headline "triple threat: Married couple who added a girlfriend to their family say being in a threesome makes them BETTER parents" - yep, this is the kind of threat that doesn't seem to have anything threatening about it at all, just a 50% better chance of the kids being picked up from school - we find that "Parents-of-two Matthew, 31, and Michelle, 30, from Huntington Beach, California, met Courtney, 26" and they've all been going steady for a while. Michelle and Courtney have excellent hair: one does the pink and blue bits, the other purple, so if you put them together you kinda get a bi flag.

On the upside, it's a pretty positive poly story, though as you scroll through photos of the two women kissing it's also a reminder of how unlikely the same piece would be with more than one man in the thruple.

But it's a classic of the question unasked that reinforces a certain narrative about bisexual people. Courtney tells the paper, “It’s the best of both worlds. I love having a male and female partner and they both show love and affection in different ways.”

Now I'm sure she does and I'm sure they do. But maybe ask Matthew directly if he does too - I bet he finds some differences between Courtney and Michelle, and that they each show love and affection in different ways. But I guess asking that wouldn't fit a lazy "women are like this and men are like that" narrative, nor a tired "bisexuals need one of each to be happy". Sigh.

LEAKED That speech in full:

My Lords and members of the House of Commons.

My government will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country, but particularly those in Northern Ireland who choose to take their seats in the Chamber.

Legislation will be presented to extend the annual Eisteddfod to 340 days, so that the four Plaid Cymru members are busy there and can't turn up for any critical votes. This is definitely important to the people of Wales, and not just Theresa chancing it so that the only thing people remember from this speech is the Queen trying to pronounce Eisteddfod, which one did like a boss, because one is Brenhines.

My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and international trade arrangements for the benefit of all. One will watch with great pleasure, and Philip will watch with popcorn.

Other measures will be laid before you if they look like they might get through. Don't hold your breath. One's ministers will try to spin that as being introducing family friendly hours.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Labels are not the Enemy

I made a little web graphic about something that keeps coming up in conversations around bisexuality both in person and online.

While labels are optional, too often they seem to catch the blame for another thing's misdeeds.

(shareable online from here on twitter, here on tumblr, here on facebook)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Returning an old favour

Here in Greater Manchester we're one of the six English subregions electing new supermayors, alongside places like Liverpool City Region and a sprawling mass of Yorkshire and Derbyshire around Sheffield.

You get to exercise two preference votes in this, so you get to pick two parties or two individuals, but one preference is a dead simple decision - because Jane Brophy's standing.

While I get to ponder who to give my other vote to, for one preference, it's payback: more than 20 years ago Jane stood alone in Trafford against Labour and Tory homophobia, indeed the other day I found a copy of the Delga News reporting the story.

New Labour Trafford had signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and wanted to celebrate the fact in an attention-seeking event that would please the press. Cue a big conference at Manchester United football ground, with lots of sixth-form students from nearby schools bussed in.

However a consultation with those same young people in the Trafford area had produced a list of things they wanted to get from the event, and in those days of an unequal age of consent, no partnership rights, and the freedom of employers to fire staff at will on the grounds of bisexuality or homosexuality, the single most frequently raised issue had been being LGB. Probably not LGBT: it was the 90s remember.

But Section 28 was on the statute books, so even though article 17 of the Convention is the right to information and article 28 is a right to education, the council's Labour leadership and Tory opposition decided it was all too liable to encourage kids to turn gay, and barred such information from being provided at the conference. Even though the previous three such events, held in other towns, had offered the same thing and without a whisper of a Section 28 prosecution ensuing.

As an aside, you do have to wonder how a workshop telling teens that they (if male) had to wait another five years to have sex, couldn't marry or adopt, would be perpetually insecure in their working life, would have lesser pension rights, be more likely to be made homeless and so forth, could be deemed to encourage them to make such a "lifestyle choice". This might be a sweeping generalisation about what people hope for in their futures, but surely it would if anything put them off.

As a local Lib Dem councillor Jane Brophy made a speech in full council challenging this, championing the need for isolated young bi and gay people to be given the information and support they needed. It was great to witness a press storm on the day that saw the leader of Trafford on Radio 4's Today programme and in the Manchester Evening News having to defend her decision to bar young people from learning about their rights at an event supposedly celebrating the council's commitment to doing exactly the opposite.

Anyway, back in those days of the mid 90s LGB(T+) rights were not popular, and when there were no votes to be had in championing them Jane stuck her neck out because it was the right thing to do.
Giving her my first preference vote seems a small thing to do to return the favour.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Shaming statistics for the 175

tw: suicide stats

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.

Sold out. Again.

The Brexit Bill has at last completed its process through the Houses of Parliament.

Labour chose to vote with the Conservatives, as so often before, and so things reached a speedy conclusion last night. We now have about two years before the UK, or what is left of it by then, exits stage right from the EU in favour of what seems sure to be a less kind, less prosperous, more blinkered and ironically less 'British' future.

It's less than two years since the faux-left's plan to rid politics of those nasty Liberals who had been lying on the grenade of Brexit since 2010 came to fruition. Hasn't it gone well?

Sunday, 19 February 2017

No change at NUS

"NUS in turmoil after internal report rules its President should not be punished despite making anti-Semitic remarks" is a genius Telegraph headline this week - the kind of headline that saves you all the bother of reading the article by telling you the entire story in one go.

I'm no great fan of clickbait, so I approve.

However the general story... I'm not sure current NUS president, Malia Bouattia, should be expunged for her hard-right views, bearing in mind there was never any action against her predecessor Vicky Baars.

Vicky you might remember called for the violent killing of thousands of the NUS' own members. For me that was when the NUS set its standards of decency for its national exec types, when it declared just how far down the line in the sand was drawn, and whatever I think of Malia's outbursts, I don't think she's quite fallen below the line set in Vicky's day.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Bona to vada the word of the Duchess

A frustrating but glorious story on the Beeb 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.