This article has been reprinted from Bi-Monthly February/March 1986.
Over the last four and a half years David Burkle has borne the brunt of the telephone counselling and information work for the London Bisexual Group. In this article he assesses his own contribution and suggests a strategy for extending the service.
Anyone actively involved in running a bisexual group will inevitably be contacted by people seeking counselling.
Many of those who telephone or come to a meeting for the first time have never told anyone about their bisexual feelings or behaviour, have never discussed their sexual and emotional longings or uncertainty and therefore have never knowingly met other bisexual or gay people. To do these things will be a great relief for them – if they are welcomed, listened to non-judgmentally, encouraged to feel good about this previously hidden part of themselves and helped to work out for themselves what their options are and how they might change their lives for the better.
This in simple terms is what counselling is, and for a bisexual group to function effectively as a support group, all its members should be aware of their collective and ongoing responsibility for counselling.
At the meetings of the London Bisexual Group we have tried to meet this need by organising a 'personal group' as an option for people to take part in rather than listening to a guest speaker. Sometimes this has not been possible due to lack of space and insufficient people willing to regularly lead such groups, but there is a consistent demand for this opportunity to talk. We have never provided face-to-face counselling as a service, though many of us have given it from time to time as an element of conversation or as friendships develop.
Since the Group started we have always had a telephone contact available. For the three months before the London Bisexual Group's first meeting in September 1981 my phone number was used in small advertisements in Time Out and Gay News announcing the event. The calls flooded in, bringing normal life to a standstill and driving the rest of the household insane. That first meeting, for which 80 people turned up, is still the largest we have had.
The calls in that period were from a very wide cross section of people, but there was a noticeable proportion from people who equated bisexuality with a wild swinging time and instantly available sex. Often this only became apparent towards the end of a long call. Since those early days we have only publicised our telephone contact numbers in gay publications, on leaflets we send to people who write to us and with other counselling organisations and switchboards who can refer people to us. When a woman's number was publicised even in this limited way, she would receive nuisance calls from men pursuing the myths that bisexual women are the sexiest and 'wow – just think how much better for me two women at once would be.' So now the women's contact numbers are given to women only.
The average number of calls I receive is about twenty a week. Of these about 25% are just seeking information about the Group or where to meet bisexual people at times other than Monday evenings – and 75% are to some extent counselling calls, people who want to talk about their own situations. Calls from women make up approximately a quarter of the total and over half are from men living with or married to women who have not been told about their partner's sexuality. Some of these men have been involved in sexual activity and relationships with other men for several years, others, often quite late in life, become increasingly aware of their desire to do so, particularly the desire to be the passive partner, made love to by another man. A high proportion of them express continuing love for their wives, not as 'cover', but as people who 'wouldn't understand' or 'would be devastated'. The remaining calls are from couples seeking other couples, gay men wanting to be less exclusively gay, transvestites, and bisexual men specifically wanting to meet bisexual women.
There are several disadvantages in operating a telephone counselling service from home and it may come as a surprise to some people that it is done at all. Many support groups have started in this way. The advantages are that it costs very little other than your own time and that someone can be available almost continually within predetermined limits. The wider these limits of course, the greater the likelihood that some calls will come at highly inconvenient moments. Your caller may have taken weeks or years to pluck up courage to phone and gone to extensive lengths to set up a situation where time and privacy are available, and you as a counsellor have to deal with it effectively whether you have five minutes to spare before washing your hair or the fifty minutes that it may need. Your callers must not be aware of your irritation that you are going to be late for your lover yet again or they are unlikely to take up your suggestion to call you later.
There could be an intermediate arrangement between our present one of two or three people operating a helpline whenever they happen to be at home and setting up a fully independent bisexual switchboard. This arrangement would consist of a larger group of people each making a regular commitment to do the job at specific times. Callers would then be referred from a central number to the person on duty at that time.
Since this article was written, the Edinburgh Bisexual Group have set up a Bisexual Phoneline
BISEXUAL PHONELINE 031-557 xxxx (Thursdays, 7.30-9.30 p.m.)
LONDON LESBIAN & GAY SWITCHBOARD 01-837 xxxx
LESBIAN LINE 01-251 xxxx
TERRENCE HIGGINS TRUST (AIDS Helpline) 01-242 xxxx (3-10 p.m.)
LEEDS AIDS HELPLINE 0532-444xxx (Mondays & Thursdays, 7-9 p. m.)
GAY LEGAL ADVICE 01-253 xxxx (Monday-Friday, 7-10 p.m.)
Bisexual Groups and other Contacts
BI-MONTHLY – the magazine for bisexuals. Write to: [no longer valid]. Obtainable from alternative bookshops nationwide.
MEN'S ANTI-SEXIST NEWSLETTER exists as a forum for exchange of news, ideas, thoughts, feelings and information for men who are challenging sexism and particularly for people who wish to find for men alternative roles to those which society casts for them. Write to: MAN, [no longer valid], Cardiff.
THE FEMINIST LIBRARY AND INFORMATION CENTRE works to provide information facilities on subjects of importance to women and the Women's Movement. They possess many facilities including a newsletter every two months. The library is open to non-subscribers but membership is necessary to borrow books. Subscriptions vary according to income. Write to: [no longer valid] London WC2 6PA. Tel 01-930 xxxx.
LONDON BISEXUAL GROUP [at that point, met] every Monday, 8.30 p.m., at the Fallen Angel, [no longer valid], N.1. (nearest tube – Angel). Write to: LBG, [no longer valid].
LONDON BISEXUAL WOMEN'S GROUP, write to: [no longer valid] London WC1N 3XX.
BISEXUAL AND MARRIED GAYS GROUP, Phone: Nigel 01-558 xxxx (5.30-10 p.m.)
SIGMA is a support group for relationships where one partner is gay or bisexual. Details from Gay Switchboard 01-837 xxxx.
BISEXUALS IN NALGO, write to: [no longer valid].
EDINBURGH BISEXUAL GROUP [at that point, met] every Thursday, 8 p.m., at the Lesbian and Gay Community Centre, 58a Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 3SA [no longer valid] (no disabled access). Write to this address for further information or send an sae to join the Pen-Pal Scheme [no longer available]. The Bisexual Phoneline (see above) operates a contact service.
MANCHESTER BISEXUAL GROUP, Write to: [no longer valid] or Phone: Paul Owen, 061-228 xxxx (2-4 p.m.)
MANCHESTER WOMEN'S BISEXUAL GROUP meets monthly [no longer valid]. Write to: Viv, [no longer valid].
Other Groups are in the process of formation. Contact the Bisexual Phoneline for further information.
NETHERLANDS – Landelijk Netwerk Biseksualiteit, [no longer valid], Amsterdam (Phone: Vroomshoop 05498-xxxxx).
WEST GERMANY – Erika Kocher, [no longer valid] Frankfurt-A-M 90 (Phone: 010 49 69 761xxx).
Die Lade, 'Bi-Initiative', [no longer valid], Berlin 44 (Phone: 010 49 030 6243xxx).
CHICAGO – Chicago Bi-Ways, [no longer valid?], Chicago, Ill. 60605.
EAST COAST – Boston Bisexual Women's Network, [still going!], Cambridge, Ma 02140.
Boston Bisexual Men's Network, [no longer valid?], Cambridge, Ma 02238.
East Coast Bisexual Network, [no longer valid?], Cambridge, Ma 02140.
Melis Alliance, [no longer valid?], Philadelphia, Penn 19137.
University of Massachusetts Bisexual Group, [no longer valid?], Ma 01002.
NEW YORK – Bisexual Support Group, c/o Bill Himmelhoch, [no longer valid?], New York, NY 10034.
The Bulletin Board, [no longer valid?], New York, NY 10150.
WEST COAST – Arete, [no longer valid?], Van Nuys, Ca 91408.
Bi Forum, [no longer valid?], San Diego, Ca 92103.
San Francisco Bisexual Centre, [no longer valid?], San Francisco, Ca 94117.
MONTREAL – Les Capables Bisexual Group c/o Marcus, [no longer valid?], Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3G 2M9.