Square Peg 17 on 5th National Conference on Bisexuality (BiCon 5)

Following their article on bisexuality in Square Peg 14, issue 17 (published some time after June 1987*) had something in its news pages on the 5th National Conference on Bisexuality** that was to happen in Edinburgh during mid-October.

Note the line welcoming "feminist transsexuals to women-only workshops"!

Alongside assorted art, Square Peg 17 also had one of the most erotic short stories I've ever read, Chrissy by Fi Craig; a look at the bathrooms of six LGBT people; a look at the films of Barbara Hammer and the recently deceased Curt McDowell; some photos of sex involving several women ("In issue 11 we talked about it, in issue 14 we read about it, in this issue we deliver it"); Manchester as England's second city; some photos of sex involving two or more men (probably); a look at pre-Aids gay porn stories; homo-eroticism in Italian cannibal movies; an interview with Roz Kaveney; a look at Aids in the USA; a Prague travelogue, then behind the 'Iron Curtain'.

Square Peg 17 cover

Double page spread of news pieces in Square Peg 17

image of text in article


Bisexuality Conference

"WE'RE NOT PLAYING AT OUR SEXUALITY; we can't trim it neatly to conform to heterosexual or homosexual stereotype and nor do we want to."

The 5th National Conference on Bisexuality offers bisexuals and their allies a weekend of discussion; support and fun; and promises workshops on such subjects as safe sex; positive pornography; heterosexuality, power and privilege; lesbian and gay attitudes to bisexuals; and SM. The women in the organising group welcome feminist transsexuals to women-only workshops. The conference is to be held at 60, The Pleasance, Edinburgh*** on October 16 to 18. For further information phone the Bisexual Phoneline**** (031-557 3620) on Thursdays 7:30-9:30pm, or write to: Edinburgh Bisexual Group, 58a Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 3SA.


* A THT ad elsewhere in it mentions the level of HIV infection as of June 1987.

** BiCon 5, but this was two years before the first one to be called 'BiCon'.

*** Owned by the University of Edinburgh, the Pleasance was also the venue for 1985's 'Bisexuality and the Politics of Sex' conference – what we'd now call BiCon 3.

**** The use of 'the' is more evidence that the London Bisexual Helpline started later in 1987.

Bi-Issues #3

The last issue of the run, this was first published around September 1991* as another A5 4 page newsletter, given away free.

Given how much text there was in this one, I can only guess that the type size was smaller to fit it all in the same space – again, I don't think I have a paper copy to check.


Editorial. Introduction.
Form EN202 Application form for Bisexuals.
Census, Bloody Census, by Russell Gardner.
Reviews of Anything that Moves, Bi-Us.
Community in the Bisexual Movement by Kevin Saunders.

 

Editorial

Welcome to the third edition of Bi-Issues. With the advent of a new newsletter on the Bisexual scene, (Bi-Frost**) Bisexual publishing is looking more healthy. Bi-Frost is published every month and has so far produced two editions. They are hoping to expand to a two page format. More information can be obtained by writing to Bifrost, [PO Box address in Norwich].

Good progress is reported on the new book Bi-lives 2.***

Bi-Issues will be concentrating more on the issues around community and the running of groups. In the next few editions we will be taking a look at some of the more established groups in the country. If you attend a bisexual group on a fairly regular basis and want to write about your impressions and experiences then write to Bi-Issues. The article can be a few sentences or as long as you want. Either way, if you have something to say about your group, let us know.

Health and Happiness
Kevin Saunders

Bi-Issues is published every two to three months. If you want to get a copy, they will be available at most of the national groups. If you want to take a subscription, send four 1st class stamps (unwaged) or £1.50 (waged) to [address].

NOTE
Bi-Issues is published independently of the London Bisexual Group. The views published here are the views of Bi-Issues, not the LBG.****

 

Form EN202

Application Form for Bisexuals

  1. Are you Bisexual?
    Yes__ No__ Don't know__
    Don't believe in labels__
    Only in it for the sex__
  2. How many partners have you had in the past year?
    …..
    Really?…. No, really?.
    Oh dear.
  3. Do you have frequent arguments about monogamous and non-monogamous lifestyles?
    Yes__ No__ Don't Know__
    Look I keep telling you I don't believe in labels__ Only in it for the sex__

 

Census, Bloody Census

Russell Gardener

Did you or did you not fill in your 1991 census form?***** Whether you did or not is completely irrelevant, but the chances are that you would have been either angry about some of the sections or very distrustful of it. The Gay Press made, much of the assumption of universal heterosexuality in the relationship section. That was certainly something that annoyed me. Just why is it necessary to know the name of my employer? Knowing my occupation is enough, I think.

In my first job I worked for a company which provided retail location studies for major petrol banking and food retailers. A company such as Esso might be considering two new sites for petrol stations in Sheffield and need to have more data on which to base their decisions. The company I worked for did an in-depth study of all factors, both supply and demand, then gave recommendations. This is where the census form came in, it gives all the information a commercial operation might need, such as household sizes, average income, etc. The materialist bias of the form is depressing, anyone wanting to get information for such things as health care or the integration of energy saving insulation into national life would have to go elsewhere.

Another worrying aspect of the census was the nationality part. Page 2 carried the figures for the place of birth. Who does this information benefit? A lot of non-white adults now living here were born outside of Britain. Does that sort of information help racial integration? or does it just help the bigots to target racial minorities more effectively?

The census provides much useful information and is an interesting social document. Unfortunately it seems to provide us with more information about the attitudes and prejudices of the people who wrote it than genuine snapshot of the population as a whole.

 

Reviews

Bi Any Other Name

This review is eight months after the publication of 'Bi Any Other Name', but better late than never. It is a collection of short pieces and is divided into four sections; Facing ourselves, Healing Splits, Bi-Community and Politics. No less than 76 contributors make their voice heard. Articles range from 'My life as a lesbian identified bisexual fag hag' to 'Growing up with a bisexual dad'.

The breadth of the book is tremendous and really does bring out the immense diversity of the bisexual community and experience. The depth is somewhat lacking due to the shortness of each contribution. The effect is like being at a party where 76 people stand up and do their party piece. it leaves me thinking 'Wow there are a lot of them … tell me more'.

The writing is sometimes awkward, I sense that many of the contributors are ill at ease with putting their thoughts on paper, yet the really unique achievement of both the editors and the contributors is that each personality behind the article shines through. I was left with a feeling of contact with real people, even the political section was remarkably free of the aggressive posturing, something which can mar similar works by Gay and Lesbian writers. For all the works flaws it is human and this bisexual is grateful to Editors Lani Kaahumanu and Loriane Hutchins for producing it.

Bi-Us

Bi-Us has now been published and is available from the Bi-Us collective (see below for the address). It is well written and is lighter in tone than its predecessor Bi-Monthly. Articles include 'Threesomes' and it has an advice column.

The collective deserve congratulations for their hard work, it has not been easy for them to publish. There are still some unanswered questions about why it took over two years to produce and whether it has a long term future.***** *

Bi-Us costs 1.25 and is available from PO BOX 1912 LONDON N16 5AU

 

Community in the Bisexual Movement

I like being powerful. Being powerful, to me, means being able to truly be myself. It means being able to love who I want in the way I want without the debilitating fear of being judged and found lacking. The knowledge that others think I'm O.K. no matter what helps me take risks I'd never normally take. This knowledge also helps me heal my wounds and protect myself from attack. This is what I understand to be in community.

Community is both an intuitive feeling of being involved, of feeling safe and stimulated, and a pragmatic task which the Bi-movement needs to tackle. The following list is one of the attributes of community is one used by Scott Peck. (The different Drum).

Inclusivity; one of the greatest means of control in Western Societies is the threat of exclusion. For many bisexuals being excluded for not towing the line on sexual identities is one of the most painful experiences they have had. Conversely one of the great healing factors of Bisexual groups is their inclusivity.

Commitment; this means hanging in there when the going gets rough, and believe me the going can get very rough indeed.

Consensus; conventional use of the word consensus means everyone being equally unhappy and no-one really getting what they want. The real meaning of the word is getting agreement by balancing individual needs against group needs. This requires;

Realism; which is facing up to all the issues and not just the ones you find the easiest to deal with. It also means acknowledging different aspect of reality both the positive and the negative. This requires;

Contemplation; which means knowing your own shit and owning the effect you have on others.

Can Fight Gracefully; a toughy, most groups avoid contentious issues in the hope that they will go away, and when it is obvious that it will not, they'll have a enormous bust-up (later saying really stupid things like "that cleared the air, didn't it") Fighting gracefully means knowing exactly what you're arguing about and its relevance to the overall group aims.

A safe place; a place where people can let their defences down and know that they're going to be 0.K.

Group of all leaders; means that everyone has some contribution to make, I take it to mean that power within the group is able to be passed to those who are fitted to take on whatever task needs to be undertaken.

Having read through the rather formidable list above, try to figure out how your group is doing on nurturing community. Probably no group ever has all the above attributes, no-one is totally perfect. Have a go at the questions below and if you'd like to write them out and send them to Bi-Issues I'd be happy to read them and perhaps publish an overall conclusion.

  • What sort of people do you have difficulty with in the Bi-movement? Can you say why?
  • What sort of things make you want to give up going to your group or dissociate yourself from being Bisexual? Are you doing anything to ensure that you can keep up your enthusiasm for a long period?
  • Can you say what your groups aims and goals are? Do you think that these aims and goals are being carried out effectively by; others? yourself?
  • What sort of issues is your group good at dealing with? What sort of issues would the group try and avoid unless you all had a gun pointed at the group?
  • On the whole, do you feel safe in your group? If not can you say what it is that gives you feelings of being in an unsafe place?
  • Do you encourage others to make a contribution? Do others encourage you to make a contribution?

Kevin Saunders


* When originally putting these online, Rowan reckoned the date for this one was August or September 1991. The way Bifrost – said to have 'so far produced two editions' – was ultra-reliably monthly would suggest September as that started coming out in July 1991.

But the comment that it was eight months after the publication of Bi Any Other Name which happened in March 1991 would suggest it was later. Or perhaps Kevin made a mistake in that latter comment.

I have a memory he'd produced all three copies by the time of BiCon / the '9th National Bisexual Conference' in late September.

** There's no hyphen in 'bisexual', and there isn't one in Bifrost either 🙂

*** The first 'Bi-Lives' is obviously Bisexual Lives, republished here. 'Bi-Lives 2' would be published as Bisexual Horizons: Politics, Histories, Lives in 1996, a mere five years later than this newsletter.

**** There's obviously a story behind this – I wonder what it was. Did people assume it was an official publication of the LBG?

***** The UK has one census every decade: this one was on Sunday 21st April 1991. It was the first UK census to have a question on respondents' ethnic group. Probably largely because of the deeply unpopular Poll Tax in England, Wales and Scotland, over half a million people failed to respond, despite the announcement of its abolition in March.

***** * I don't think I have ever had a copy of this 🙁 and it wasn't something Rowan put online either.

The aside about it being the successor to Bi-Monthly and taking a while to produce makes me wonder if it was the same team who put together the unpublished Bi-Monthly 22, a copy of which I had in my hands at an LBG meeting to discuss the magazine's future but never saw again.

The question as to whether or not it had a future was answered by the way that I don't think there was ever a second issue. By this point, Bifrost had replaced Bi-Monthly for most people and the community wasn't big enough / have enough spoons for two similar publications.

Outright #43 article on BiCon 11

Outright was a free community newspaper in the East Midlands – it started life in February 1990 as 'Outright: Gay Freesheet for the East Midlands', and became '.. For Gays and Lesbians in Central England' by November 1992.

By issue 43 in November 1993, it was '.. For Gays Lesbians and Bisexuals in Central England' and in the same issue carried the following story about the recent BiCon 11 in Nottingham:

(HTML version of the text on the BiCon website.)

Outright dropped the '.. in Central England' bit of its subheading September 1995. Its last issue was #89 in October 1997.

Its archive is at The Sparrows Nest.

Bi-Issues #2

With an estimated date of May 1991, the second issue of Bi-Issues was "slightly larger than the first" according to the intro, but was also "an A5, 4 page newsletter, given away free" like the first according to Rowan in 1999.

Perhaps there was more text without increasing the page count; I don't think I have any paper copies to check.


Editorial. Introduction.
Bi-Issues Guide: Promoting Peace in the Gulf.
News from Off Pink, bisexual summer Camp, facilitators workshop.
The Group. A personal account of going to a bi group.

 

Editorial

Welcome to the second edition of Bi-Issues. This edition is slightly larger than the first. I hope you like it.

If you want to submit articles, suggestions or readers letters, write to the contact address. If you want a copy then send an SAE to the contact address:-

Health and Happiness
Kevin Saunders (Editor)
Contact Address: [address].

 

Bi-Issues Guide: Promoting Peace in the Gulf*

  • Launch your own missile at Downing Street. In case your local supermarket doesn't stock one, missile launchers are available from Brigadier I.L.L. Coverup, M.O.D., Little Hypocrisy St., London WC2. If you need an end-users certificate remember to emphasise your psychopathic credentials.
  • Join the majority of the male population over thirty-five and use C.N.N. as a hard porn S&M; channel. Every time a Cruise or Scud finds its target ejaculate (or orgasm). Remember to shout "Britain" as you come.
  • Make effigies of Major Bush and Hussein then vomit all over them.
  • Count the number of times the word butt is used and wonder why American military commanders are so anally fixated. Write letters to Gen. C. Powell on the benefits of sex as a way of sublimating his war drive.
  • Cry a lot.

 

News

The Off Pink publishing collective is getting material for a successor of "Bisexual Lives". They are hoping for a wider selection of material which will stretch across cultural boundaries. They also want material about sexual oppression, gender, relationships, personal and creative stories from bisexual people and their partners. If you want to contribute write to Guy Chapman** [address and phone number] or Zaidie Parr*** [address and phone number].

Bisexual Summer Camp – space limited to thirty people for a self-contained self-catering centre with accommodation and camping in June in S.W. Wales. Come for the weekend or five days. Contact Guy Chapman at the above address.

Facilitators' Workshop – N. London 9.30am-5.00pm on 18th May. A workshop to help participants improve their facilitation skills. It is aimed at those wanting to facilitate at the 1991 Bisexual Conference but all are welcome. It will be run by Kevin Saunders Andrew Cullis and Andrea Perry. Andrew Cullis and Andrea Perry are both qualified Psychotherapists with extensive experience in facilitating workshops on bisexual issues. Workshop limited to 20 spaces. Phone Kevin [phone number] for details.

 

The Group

I pause as I walk into the room.

"Is this the Bisexual Group?", I ask.

Heads turn, "You've come to the right place, we're just beginning the discussion, what's your name?".

"Julie".

"OK Julie, have a seat, we're just starting".

I sit down feeling like I'm the only one at the party who doesn't know the others and who can't point out the host either. I smile with an effort as the group leader starts an introduction exercise. In the circle the nervous 'hellos' are beginning; my thoughts become less jumbled.

– Do I belong here? Are they going to close me in? Who is the real bisexual here? I wonder if anyone is worth knowing? That guy is looking at me strangely, does that mean he is attracted to me?, or does he dislike me already?

My feelings are churning around a lump where the memories of past rejections is sitting in my guts. I look around the room meeting one or two people's eyes. It's my turn to speak.

"Hi, I'm Julie from Peckham".

It's reassuring to hear how calm my voice is, none of the strident note which can betray my nervousness, a good even contralto …… er, what's the discussion about again?

I look to the group leader for guidance and reassurance. He looks as nervous as all the rest; Christ! are they all as untogether as this; no, maybe that's a bit harsh. I connect with the discussion again as the voice of a woman with a beautiful jumper comes into focus. I remember her name; Caroline.

"…and I felt pissed off my friend said that, you'd think being a lesbian she'd understand about repression; but she went on about bisexuals being confused and it not being a proper identity anyway'.

Nods, sighs of recognition among the women, sympathetic bobs from the men. The facilitator asks whether this is a common experience. A black guy begins to speak of his experiences at work, being afraid to come out. Suddenly it seems like everyone dives in at once. The emotional temperature of the room goes up, voices rise in volume, men seem more aggressive, women shriller and eyes harder as everyone competes for air time.

I take a sudden breath, tense my mouth and am about to launch into my bossy routine when a guy with Latin American looks gets in before me.

"Yeah, I used to have that problem but since I changed jobs I'm OK".

Momentarily I'm pissed off at the group leader, then I think "fuck it", at least I didn't get hooked into bossing the meeting around. Like my friend Nadine says, being bossy is good for work; in social situations better to be gentle without losing the strength.

The Latin American guy has finished his spiel and is looking around the room. There is a pause; no-one meets his eye. I stop my mouth tensing up again and keep quiet.

Then a chubby guy speaks up, his voice is soft and somehow soothing; "Yes, I find other people's attitudes a problem sometimes – times when I'm feeling good I can dismiss others' attitudes as their problem, times when I feel confused or down, maybe a bit needy or wanting to be liked then those sort of attitudes really hurt".

The atmosphere eases, people meet each other's eyes again. My guts relax and I settle into my chair more. The discussion ambles on without drawing any mind shattering conclusions. The facilitator makes some announcements and asks for money.

I stand around wondering who to talk to: already little subgroups are forming, everyone is holding cups and talking about the latest Outrage protest, or where people live, whether this is their first time here; why aren't there any Bi pubs or discos? I stand around wishing this were a work situation where I was in control and the agenda was clear. I change my mind at least four times about who I want to talk to. Just as I make up my mind to talk to Caroline, the guy with the Latin American looks comes over and launches into a conversation about "where do you live and how did you get here?". He stands between me and the rest of the people, he talks earnestly and smiles at me hopefully.

My hackles rise; I make my voice non-committal and sidle around him so that our initial positions are reversed. I make a move to another group which isn't very interesting to talk to but at least puts me in a place where I can make eye contact with Caroline. She's in conversation with three other guys and although it's difficult to tell, I sense she's not interested in them. She looks over to me occasionally, I smile every time she does.

I'm about to move over to her when the Latin American guy appears from nowhere and backs her into a corner. I'm taken aback by his sheer nerve and insensitivity. Maybe he was sent to make my life difficult for me. I stare hard at him and look away for a while. I wonder about going over and talking to someone else then change my mind. Suddenly I want the guy out of the way and preferably in a stretcher. I begin to walk purposefully towards them, at that moment Caroline breaks free and comes over to me. I change my purposeful stride to casual saunter in ten microseconds.

We talk with each other, I risk a small smile and a joke which evokes laughter from Caroline. I immediately go serious, worried I may be coming across as too frivolous. I discretely ask some leading questions, and she does the same to me. I'm wondering, hoping all the time. That mixture of longing and fear rises from my guts making a lump in my throat. I'm thinking maybe, maybe this time. Along to the pub afterwards, drifting off to talk with someone else, afraid to appear too eager yet still wanting to maintain contact.

I manage to get close to Caroline by choosing a gap in the bar so I can buy drinks and talk to her. I let my eyes soften and open wider (I've been told I have attractive doe eyes). She turns and talks with me, conversation flows easily and naturally, a lot of the awkward pauses are ironed out by thinking up lines of conversation ahead. Definitely getting somewhere here.

"Would you like to come to a nightclub afterwards?" She would, uh oh things hotting up here. Engage pelvis, move breasts suggestively while thinking; try and be subtle about it.

I lose sight of Caroline for a moment as she goes off somewhere and suddenly the whole pub seems to become stilted, two dimensional and indifferent. The other drinkers look fleshy and bland, towering above me. An effort of will and the people shrink to normal human size again. Caroline returns and we move on to the nightclub.

In the nightclub people moving, moving the beat. Holding glasses, looking good, I try to get conversation with Caroline along sexual lines. I talk about bodies she talks about fashion, I talk about the way that woman's clothes cling to her body. Definite warmth in my pelvis rising to my breasts, the urgency of my sexual pulse making itself felt. Our smiles beginning to become private, we're laughing like we're already sharing a delightful secret.

More drink, more dancing, then we leave the nightclub. I feel as light and graceful as a gazelle. Just then the thought pops into my head, how to proposition her?.

Immediately my heart is in my mouth, my stomach muscles tense, my smile becomes a little fixed. I wonder which pick up line to use, "back for coffee?", no, no too feeble, think of something original, "want to see this article in Spare Rib I was telling you about?", no too indirect, "Want to come back and fuck each other's brains out?". Christ no, steady on, I couldn't possibly say that. Caroline smiles at me and says, "You look impish, what are you thinking of?".

I reply, "I don't feel like parting, why don't you come back to my place?". She smiles, god she has such a kind face.

"Yes, OK", she says "that sounds nice."

Whew! Slump a little with relief, I feel a bit drained, perk up, and continue on the way home, both of us thinking of later…


* In response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 'Operation Desert Storm', the counter invasion of Kuwait by the US, UK and various other allies, started with a bombing campaign in January 1991 and a ground assault five weeks later. Kevin wasn't happy with either.

** Along with another 'out of London' attendee, Guy was the person I stayed with at my first BiCon in 1986. He moved to Bristol a couple of years later.

*** If you put Zadie in a room with a dozen other people with everyone talking to each other, and said to another group 'spot the social worker', most of them would have pointed to Zadie.

One of my favourite memories of her is from the launch of Sue George's Women and Bisexuality at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, where she caused much amused laughter with her comments.

She died a few years ago.

Bay Area Reporter on first US national bisexual conference

The mention of the Revolting Sexologists from Hell in Bi-Issues #1 got me doing a search for them. Before today, Google knew of one usage, in a Bay Area Reporter* article on the first US 'national bisexual conference' in 1990. (And it should have been the 'Radical Revolting Sexologists from Hell'!)

I didn't go to the conference – too poor, amongst other things – but several people from the UK did. I do have a couple of the brochures from it – one as a result of Robyn bringing some to the 1990 BiCon two months later, and one from being married to someone who did go.

That BiCon is probably where I got one of the event's t-shirts from…


The cover of the Bay Area Reporter newspaper, 5th July 1990

Bay Area Reporter article image 1

Bay Area Reporter article image 2

Conference Marks Bisexuals' Stonewall

by Richard McPherson

Four hundred and fifty men and women were in town last weekend to attend the 1990 National Bisexual Conference held at San Francisco's Mission High School.

Two years in the making, this conference, hosted by Bisexual Political Action Group (BiPOL), is the culmination of a nationwide effort of local bisexual centers to create a bisexual network and draw attention to the bi community.

The primary purpose of the conference for participants and the public at large was to: "Educate, Advocate, Agitate and Celebrate."

To this end the workshop, which ran June 21-23, focused on political, general information and AIDS oriented issues with subgroups and tracks dealing with feminism, people of color, relationships, androgyny, spirituality, sexuality and writing and publishing.

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation by a representative of Supervisor Hongisto's office of a resolution passed by the S.F. board and signed by Mayor Agnos, declaring Saturday, June 23 "Bisexual Pride Day in San Francisco."

David Lourea, a BiPOL spokesperson, stressed that much of the focus of the conference was directed toward coming out and gaining personal and public support while emphasizing the need "of being out there in straight and gay communities as out-front, vocal bisexuals."

In addition to bisexual registrants, gay and lesbian people attended the conference as well, according to Carol Queen, a BiPOL steering committee member.

"We certainly have gay and lesbian-identified people here who are behaviorally bisexual," said Queen. "Gay and lesbian communities everywhere have a bisexual component to them, whether those folks are out or not.

"There are gay and lesbian people [here] who aren't bisexual behaviorally but who consider the struggles of bisexuals real important to them, who are working on their biphobia and working on understanding 'who are these bi upstarts anyway and what are they talking about?'"

A Part Yet Separate

David Lourea, sees similarities as well as differences between the bisexual and gay and lesbian communities in terms of beliefs and concerns.

"You need to see that bisexuals see themselves as part of the gay and lesbian community," he began. "Apart and separate from the community. So, while we have always been a part of every single gay and lesbian organization anywhere, there have been vast numbers of people who have been bisexual and have not felt comfortable to come out or secure to come out — have been discriminated against, ridiculed and have lived within the gay community in silence."

Lourea feels that even though bisexuals see their situation as very much related to the gay cause, they feel cut off from gays and lesbians due to lack of education and understanding.

Debunking the myth that bi people are confused about their sexual preference, Lourea says: "It is realistic to be confused if you live in a world that says that you do not exist. Confusion is an appropriate response to the gay and lesbian community telling you that your heterosexual feelings are just an indication of your internalized homophobia; of the straight community telling you that 'you're just a little strange and need to get rid of your homosexual feelings.' So people who are bi live with monosexuals [gays, lesbians and straights] telling them that they don't exist. It's appropriate to be confused. It's an appropriate choice not to make a choice; we live in a world that says you have to.

Addressing the opinion of some gays that bisexuals can't be trusted, that they'll go back in the closet and take "heterosexual privilege," Lourea responds: "A great many people who are bi are 'out there,' have always been beaten up, have put their lives on the line all the time. In some ways we risk more because the reality is that we don't want to give up our heterosexual partners, we don't want to give up our heterosexual life — we also don't want to give up our gay life. For many of us acknowledging our gay side does mean alienation of our heterosexual side, and that's very painful. Sometimes more painful than it is for someone who is gay or lesbian."

Exploding Biphobia

Carol Queen, a writer, educator, activist and charter member of Radical Revolting Sexologists from Hell, said that BiPOL exists as a political and educational tool to further the understanding and rights of not only bisexuals, but the gay and lesbian communities as well. "Since most of the projects of the gay and lesbian community are also our projects, anything that helps gay and lesbian visibility and identity and combats homophobia helps [us too]." For example, BiPOL, she said, was out in force in support of Project 10, a program to provide S.F. high schools with gay youth counseling programs.

Queen agrees with Lourea that a major part of BiPOL's agenda is to talk about biphobia to the gay and lesbian community, in addition to the straight community. "We want the lesbian and gay community to know that we're here as a part of their community, that we're moving into a new phase of community building and organizing. We're thinking of this as our non-violent Stonewall. 20 years later, thanks to the gay and lesbian community … Our same sex connections are very powerful and precious to us. You know, that's what makes us bisexual instead of heterosexual. We're not heterosexual people."

The conference weekend culminated on Sunday with a contingent of 250 participants marching in the Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. ▼

BAY AREA REPORTER JULY 5, 1990 PAGE 20 & 22

Page 20 of the Bay Area Reporter newspaper, 5th July 1990

Page 22 of the Bay Area Reporter newspaper, 5th July 1990


* Founded in 1971, the BAR is the USA's the oldest continually published LGBT newspaper. The article on the conference was just after two pages of obituaries, almost all as a result of Aids:

Obituries in the Bay Area Reporter 5th July 1990 1

Obituries in the Bay Area Reporter 5th July 1990 2

Bi-Issues #1

After the extended end of Bi-Monthly* three newsletters started up in 1991: Bi-Issues, Bi-Us, and Bifrost. (Spot the naming convention used by UK bi stuff…)

Bi-Issues was edited by Kevin Saunders. It was, I think, the first of the three to see print: if he was a member of the London Bisexual Group committee when they took the decision not to publish any more issues of Bi-Monthly, he'd have known of its demise before most people.

Published around February 1991, Bi-Issues #1 was an A5 4 page newsletter (i.e. a sheet of A4 folded in half) given away free. I don't think I have any copies of it (or Bi-Us) but it was converted to HTML by Rowan – editor of Bifrost, the most successful and long-running of the three – around 1999:

Every issue contains all the articles originally published in it with the exception of poetry, reprints from other publications .. Listings are not included in order to avoid confusion. Adverts are generally not included, though they may be if they were for an event within the bi community.

Bi-Issues ran for three editions. Kevin died in summer 2019.


Editorial. Introduction.
Bisexuals Stage Kiss-in at Edinburgh Conference.
Quote from workshop on eliminating internalised oppression.
The 8th National Bisexual Conference.

 

Editorial

Welcome to the first edition of Bi-Issues, a quarterly newsletter for Bisexuals. We will provide news and current issues for bisexuals.

In future editions we hope to publish articles by Iain Ryman, Clare Thompson, Robyn Ochs (American Bi-activist), David Lourea (American Bi-activist and one of the founding members of the Revolting Sexologists from Hell) and many others.

If you wish for a copy of Bi-Issues or you want to contribute then send an S.A.E. to: [address]

Health and happiness,
Kevin Saunders (Editor)

 

Bisexuals Stage Kiss-in at Edinburgh Conference

By our Staff Reporter

Our brave lads and lasses were dispatched to Edinburgh on 7th September to attend the 8th National Bisexual Conference. There fired by the enthusiasm of the occasion, 20-30 people staged a kiss-in on Lothian Rd. Said co-ordinator Ruth from Liverpool, "I think it's unfair that if I were kissing my boyfriend no-one would mind, yet if I were kissing my girlfriend I could end up being arrested."

As a result of this kiss-in 3 men, 4 women, 1 cat, 2 budgies and one baby have subsequently come out as Bisexual. Said Fiona Cambell, mother of three, "I'm worried about my husband. Ever since he saw the kiss-in he's been dating men. He's even lost interest in football".

 

Quote from the Workshop on eliminating internalised oppression

When a young elephant is trained, he or she is tied to a stick with a length of rope. The length of rope becomes engraved on the elephant's consciousness until one day when the rope is removed, the elephant moves around the stick as though the rope were still there.

It is the same with Bisexuals; every time someone puts us down or we limit ourselves because we are afraid of what others may think of us, we are acting as though we had an invisible rope limiting our actions. To move beyond this "rope" is to end internalised oppression. This takes great courage to even move small steps, yet is worth doing.

 

The 8th National Bisexual Conference

I knew I'd arrived in Edinburgh because the railway porters were saying "hey Jimmy, ken ye get the bike off the trean". If I were in London the porters would be saying,"Oi mate can you get this bleedin' load of shit off the fucking train". Anyway, I'd arrived, it was midnight on Friday 7th September, I still hadn't turned into a pumpkin yet and I still had to find the guest house. I took the zig-zag route, finally reached the Armadillo Guest house and crashed out wondering what the 8th National Conference was going to be like.

I went to Tollcross Community Centre on Saturday and crossed a line of religious Fundamentalists complete with long beards and thirteen children.** I stuck two fingers up as I passed and felt considerably better (though I had great difficulty in taking my fingers out again, bigots have very tight asses). The assembly hall*** was packed with Bisexuals all sitting nervously and waiting for the conference to begin.

I was somewhat dazed and overwhelmed by the feelings of being in a hall with people who shared my sexual identity, "God they're all so good looking" was one thought that crossed my mind. The conference duly began with Kate Fearnley welcoming everyone to the three day conference. Then it was off to the first workshop. There were three workshops a day and a choice of 55 workshops to choose from.

I was spoilt for choice; should I go to Bisexuality and Choice?, The Yo-Yo effect, Push me-Pull yous and the Flying Trapeze Syndrome? or the Variables of Sexual Orientation run by the noted author and sexologist Fritz Klein? The agonising decision made I went off to Bisexuality and Choice run by Clare Thompson.

Clare's theory is that bisexuals have special difficulty in making choices and if confronted with two options will tend to find ways of doing both. Her examples of sharing dishes at restaurants, having several part-time jobs, or trying to watch two or more films on TV produced many nods and sighs of recognition.

We explored what it felt like to stick with a choice. It was very thought provoking, a common theme being the hassles we all gave ourselves around choice as well as the fear of taking the unconventional option. Even re-reading the programme in order to write this article has brought up all sorts of regrets about the workshops I missed because of the ones I went to.

I was struck by the openness and the energy of all the people who were there, cuddles and open displays of affection were always present. There were also some excellent speeches by Robyn Ochs (American Bi Activist) and Lisa Power**** (Stonewall Group). I found it particularly encouraging that a Lesbian activist was so positive about bisexuals and bisexuality.

Saturday evening was rounded off by a disco and an Erotic dancing competition (which I missed, sigh), organised by Del Ray, Vice-chair of LBG (Geddit, yes I know this joke is recycled, sorry it's the only one I have available at the moment).

Sunday I ran a massage workshop and missed another of Fritz Klein's workshops, this one being on the advantages of a bisexual lifestyle. Still, maybe at another conference… More workshops and discussions more sitting around in circles and always the energy of bisexuality becoming clearer and easier to see.

One of the most disturbing workshops I attended was on Eliminating Internalised Oppression. We drew up a list of stereotypical sayings and put-downs associated with bisexuals. Towards the end of a very long list I was thinking, "Oh my God is there no end to all this crap"? I left feeling angry and depressed at all the negative messages bi's have to cope with, yet also more hopeful about our power to overcome these messages.

Finally, all too quickly the conference reached Monday evening and we all parted. Robyn Ochs, the American activist, summed it up by saying, "I don't want to leave. I want to take you all with me."


* It had become more and more irregular. The last published issue had a cover date of February/March 1989, but the actual publication date would have been later in 1989.

** It did actually have a tiny picket! First, and so far, last time.

*** The community centre was also a primary school. Again, first, and so far, last time BiCon's been in one of those. Another one in Edinburgh was in a church / Methodist Hall.

**** Legendary activist Lisa identifies as lesbian, but has famously had relationships with more than one gender.

Square Peg on bisexuality

It looks like two lesbian and gay magazines have used the title Square Peg. The later one is American, founded by long-time lesbian activist Jeanne Córdova, and ran from 1992-94.

The original was British, started in 1983 and if it wasn't unique, I've never seen anything else like it. A later subtitle for it was '(the journal for contemporary perverts)' – a queer art and politics and art quarterly magazine. On heavy glossy paper. In a square format.

In one of the few mentions I can find of it, 1980s gay activist Colin Clews says "In effect, it was probably one of the first publications to segment the gay and lesbian market by any measure other than gender" – and that's probably why it was so good. The collective that ran it were mixed gender, and the content was far more gender balanced than any other lesbian or gay publication.

The book What is She Like: Lesbian Identities from the 1950s to the 1990s includes it in a list of lesbian publications* that disappeared in the 1980s. That last bit's not true – its last issue was in 1991 – but the comment that "It was alternative, upfront, sexual, mixed, arty, offering fiction and plenty of art work. At the time, Square Peg was decidedly innovative, and it led the way for journals with stronger design input, higher production quality and higher prices" is spot on.

The design aesthetic didn't always make it the easiest thing to read, but the actual content was all highly readable.

Anyway, somehow it became known as somewhere that – in comparison to the rest of the lesbian and gay media – was bi friendly. Maybe that was because of the mixed gender collective, but it confused them…

"bisexuality has never been mentioned or featured in Square Peg"

So, from Square Peg issue 14 (late summer 1986):


Bisexuality
Coming out of the closet

Kinsey: 'There remains among males and females a considerable number of persons who include homosexual and heterosexual responses and attitudes… these are called bisexual.'
The only statement Kinsey made about bisexuality. He thought the common reader wouldn't know the meaning of the word.

City Limits** on Square Peg: '.. where bisexuality isn't a dirty word' – bisexuality has never been mentioned or featured in Square Peg.

Parents' Music Resource Centre,*** Washington D.C.: 'Many of today's rock stars have exceeded the bounds of decency by singing about incest, sadomasochism, bisexuality, bondage, even necrophilia..'

Kate Millett (author of Flying): 'Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality.'

If the straight world has the failed to deal with its own invention, consider its record in dealing with bisexuality, trivialising and usually ignoring it. Repeatedly, bisexuality has been ignored by sexologists and psychologists, at best being included with homosexual studies. Consequently, there is very little written on the subject and a lot of what is written is a mishmash of questionable theories and outlandish statements:

'Bisexuals reject stereotyped sex roles and attributes' (Charlotte Woolf)
'Everybody is bisexual really' (Ken Livingstone)

This information and confusion is not very far from popular opinion on bisexuality and supports the many myths that surround it.

There are many 'bisexualities' as there are people calling themselves bisexual. As well, there are large numbers of people both gay, lesbian and straight who, while not calling themselves bisexual, nevertheless have had closet relations with members of the other or same sex respectively; A married man who cottages, would he be considered bisexual, or is it more important how he labels himself? If your fantasies are about the opposite sex sometimes, does that you make you a bisexual, rather than lesbian or gay? Is bisexuality simply a matter of what you call yourself?

'When I started going to the group Sexual Fringe – a group which was known for its radical line on 'deviant' sexualities – some members of the group were quite hostile to the bisexual people who went along to the meetings; why is it, I wondered, that some lesbians and gays find bisexuality so threatening? After the first few meetings of Sexual Fringe realised that there were more than just a few people who, while calling themselves 'gay' or 'lesbian' actually had sexual partners of the opposite sex.'
(bisexual woman)

Bisexuals: Politics and Myths

So long as this society encourages one form of 'normal' sexuality and punishes bisexuality, homo- sexuality and other 'deviant' sexualities, then bisexuality cannot be seen as a 'choice'. Both heterosexuals and homosexuals feel alienated when bisexuals 'come out'. The majority of heterosexuals will still see gays and lesbians as something alien. Bisexuality undermines their sexual sensibility by confronting them with possibility of same sex and opposite sex contacts. Not all bisexuals are in a 'transition' stage between heterosexuality and homosexuality – yet such an assumption, that we are 'really gay' or 'really straight', is common. This is a blatant dismissal of ongoing experiences that are extremely powerful, and which have warranted many people to 'come out' as bisexual.

'I had been calling myself gay for about five years, yet for some time I had been having closeted relations with women. I always told myself that I'd eventually 'grow out of it'. Ever heard that before? I realised I was lying to myself – and my friends for that matter – by calling myself gay. Bisexuality, to me now, is an ongoing process of discovery, which constantly confronts me… every day.'
(bisexual man)
 

Some bisexuals do 'come out', finding the alternative, of staying in the closet, intolerable. Coming out releases the constraints that they themselves and others have placed on them. To have to be purely heterosexual or purely homosexual feels as though only half of your being is allowed to exist; the other half must remain hidden.

Bisexuals coming out after having been heterosexual will probably not find themselves taken seriously (by heterosexuals) and their bisexuality will be seen as 'just a phase'. In the case of lesbians and gay men who come out as bisexual, they are coming out for the second time and it is, in many ways, harder. They will be seen as going straight and will risk being ostracised by their lesbian/gay friends.

'One boyfriend told me that I was probably straight, another told me I was definitely gay. They couldn't acknowledge my bisexuality, but it is their problem, not mine.'
(bisexual man)
 

It is important that people come out as bisexual, but for individuals their situation may make this very difficult. Avoid the urgent cries of 'come out from those already out and secure in their own safe communities. Come out at your own pace, seeking support should you need it.

'For me, bisexuality is a description I have used reluctantly or not at all, though I'm more willing to admit to having had the occasional relationship with a man. It's much easier to do that 'as a lesbian' – somehow, just even calling yourself 'bisexual' undermines your credibility…'
(bisexual woman)

Bisexuality, Sex and Myth

'When I'm having a relationship with a woman, there's more of a necessity to explore our sexuality, to talk about what pleases us and find ways of physically expressing love. In relationships with men, I've found it's often more difficult to achieve the equality of sexual satisfaction because the necessity to experiment is not there for one partner who can easily satisfy their own desire through penetration, and communication can be more confused as heterosexual stereotypes need to be rejected.'
(bisexual woman)
 

Bisexuality challenges the sexual classification system and questions fundamental notions about sexuality and gender. Within relationships with either sex bisexuals will be continually redefining their sexual identity while society will treat the two relationships vastly differently, Bisexuals can and up trying to combine two lifestyles. two erotic preferences in one way of another. Sexual orientation is subject to profound change and is constantly created and recreated every day as sexual and social experiences develop. Bisexuals have to make specific sexual choices about how and with whom they will express their sexuality.

'Sex with men is far more relaxed and anything goes, yet with women some things could be construed as sexist, rather than sexual enjoyment.'
(bisexual man)
 

Bisexuals vary from person to person, gender to gender. But in most studies of bisexuality the experiences drawn on have traditionally been those of heterosexuals who became bisexual in writing this article the people we talked to had mostly been lesbian or gay, and had later come out as bisexual They all related common experiences of coming out of their lesbian or gay 'closet'.

'Two of my co-workers were discussing a mutual friend whom they had considered had fallen from 'lesbian-feminist' grace. All three women had identified as radical lesbian separatists. The friend apparently had, after some years in their community, begun an affair with a man. The reaction of these two women was a mixture of self-righteous disgust and horror. "How could she do it!" "Well, we don't see her anymore… and it's just as well" I felt rather sorry this woman, who probably needed more support from her friends at this point her life than she ever had before, especially having been part of such of such a closed community as this. Anyway, their attitude irritated me and I said to them: "Perhaps the people who react most violently against someone like you friend are those who fear the possibility of the same thing happening to them." Half expecting an ideological rebuke, I was surprised that my comment completely silenced them.'
(lesbian)
 

Yet all the bisexual people we spoke to – the ones who had first been lesbian or gay – considered they had a definite place in the lesbian and gay community and had experienced a common oppression. The similarities with lesbians and gays, and with their struggle for an end to oppression are many.

While bisexuals differ in their attraction to the opposite sex, they share with lesbians and gays their attraction to the same sex. Disharmony between bisexuals and gay people is against everybody's interest, and ultimately is destructive of their common struggle. Yet most had already hoard the usual put-downs aimed at bisexuals from their gay and lesbian friends and now had to face up to a new type of discrimination all over again.

In relationships, if men don't like me it doesn't matter so much, but with women it's more important.
(bisexual woman)
 

Bisexuality is nowhere in this society dealt with as a potentially open, valid and acceptable option My gay friends are annoyed that I'm 'half-straight' and my straight friends are waiting for me to 'come to my senses'. Talk about alienation!
(from the Hite Report)
 

Bisexuals have no focal community (although bisexual groups exist around the country – see list below) in the way that lesbians and gays do: no pubs, clubs, venues or even special interest groups (Bisexual clones?**** SM bisexuals?***** Bisexual skinheads? Radical feminist bisexuals?) Everyone who uses lesbian/gay venues or goes to lesbian or gay groups are assured that everyone else is lesbian or gay too. Likewise the same can be said for heterosexuals who have their own communities and identity. But there is no bisexual community, no bisexual subculture. Bisexuals are forced to go either to gay or straight clubs and pubs where their identity will be taken for granted as gay or straight.

Bisexuals are people who eroticise both women and men but, as a label, it cannot say anything about the morality of politics of the individual.

'Bisexuality for me could never just be a question of personal choice; it is always a question of politics. My politics start with being honest about what I desire, instead of trying to make my desires conform to what I think I ought to want. That necessarily involves having to think and act on different levels – to my parents or employers, or to a homophobic society, I am a lesbian. At the moment it is only within lesbian/gay contexts (and only a few of them) that I can talk about how contradictory my sexuality is.'

Resources and further reading:
Sex, Power and Pleasure, Mariana Valverde (Canadian Women's Press, 1985)
Bisexuality: A Study, Charlotte Woolf
Hite Report on Male Sexuality, Shere Hite

Contacts:
London Bisexual Group – Mondays 8:30pm Fallen Angel, Graham Street N1   Tel: David (his then home number)
London Bisexual Women's Drop-in: Alternate Wednesdays 7:30pm, London Friend 33a Seven Sisters Road N7.   Tel: Sara (.. and presumably hers)
Bi-Monthly Magazine – BM Bi, London WC1N 3XX
Radical Gay/Lesbian Identified Bisexual Network Pink Dandelion (his home) Brighton BN2 3ET
Edinburgh Bisexual Group, Thursdays at LGC, 58a Broughton Street   Tel: Kate (her then home number)
Tyneside Bisexual Group, Tel: Simon (.. and presumably his***** *)


Many articles in Square Peg were uncredited and this was one such. Other material in the issue included:

Poetry in Motion – photographs by Juanito Wadhwani [in addition to the one on the cover]
Contexts – assorted news and short pieces
In Defence of [the then-banned rape revenge film] 'I Spit On Your Grave' – When the tables are turned..
Half-Hearted – Donna Deitch (just about) talks to SP about the making of 'Desert Hearts' [they weren't impressed by her not being more out]
Even Louder – New photo-graffiti by Jill Posener [about her second photo book, following on from Spray It Loud]
Parting Glances – An interview with film-make Bill Sherwood
Dominatrix, Virgina Intata – Diamanda Galás talks to Alan Reid about life, love and death
Photgyne – Photographs by Cheryl Newman
Lesbian Pornography – Love it or hate it, it's here!
Bisexuality = Coming out of the closet
Making a Statement – Emmanuel Cooper discusses the work of Adam Jones and Nick Lowe
Travelogue – Lino-prints by Kathy Ludlow
Raving Reviews
Concerning the Centenary & Eccentricities of Ronald Firbank – A re-evaluation of the work of one of England's underestimated talents [two years before the publication of Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Swimming Pool Library, which featured his life and work as a major plot element]
Letters.

A combination of buying them at the time, getting a handful of back issues from before I found out about it, and someone else's patchy collection filling two of the three holes means that I have the set.. with the exception of the issue with probably the largest print run, #1. (The collective behind it gave away copies at a summer gay festival.)

It stopped publishing in 1991 not long after I'd bought a lifetime subscription for £100 – basically a fortnight's benefit money – at a time when the cover price was £3. There are some times where I'm annoyed at publishers who've done that, but this was not a commercial venture and the magazine was so good, I just hope the money was useful.

I also got several t-shirts from them which still get worn – the one with 1970s heart-trob David Cassidy with a whip in his mouth that's made multiple appearances at BiCon is one of theirs.

I'd love a copy of the first issue…


* If you can think of another mixed gender magazine that someone with a very definite lesbian perspective would say that about without any hedging, do say.

** London listings weekly magazine City Limits was founded in 1981 by a group of striking Time Out workers following that publication's move from operating as a co-operative. As you can imagine, it kept the radical left politics that Time Out had had when it started in the 1960s.

A couple of years later, the wonderful 'fat is a feminist issue' singing group, Spare Tyre, had a song that went "Spare Rib and City Limits keep us on the straight and nar-row! We don't know where we'd be without their feminist loving care-oh.." Interestingly, between the version that's online (with a couple of mistakes in the lyrics) and the mid-80s, one of the group came out which meant changing a line to 'only (name) is gay'.

*** This then new bunch of powerful women objected to lyrics in a host of songs. They're responsible for the introduction of the "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics" labels on records that have been with us ever since.

**** This makes me feel old, but I may have to explain what a 'clone' is in this context! Think Freddie Mercury in his 'short hair and a moustache' phase in leather – a prefect demonstration of a bisexual clone! – or the Tom of Finland leather men. It was a hugely popular look on the gay scene at the time.

***** SM Bisexuals came into existence a few years later

***** * This number was an 0632 Newcastle one. In the late 80s, the codes for Newcastle were changed, and since then 0632 (and, following PhONEday, 01632) have been only used for 'fictitious numbers'. Not really existing.. it's the perfect metaphor for society's view of bisexuality, isn't it?

Bisexual Phoneline rings the changes

Originally published in BCN 54: Mar 2002 with additional footnotes added in June 2020.

January [2002] saw the 15th anniversary of the start of the Edinburgh bisexual helpline (RIP). It almost saw the end of the London one.

After over 13 years of letting it use a phone line in his West London flat, Ian Saxton moved to somewhere in Berkshire. The new people were due to move into his old flat the following weekend.

While I am of course incredibly grateful to him for his help over past years – especially when the helpline operated by connecting two phone lines together with an expensive but appallingly unreliable box of tricks that he had to keep kicking – I would also really rather have liked to have had more than two days notice of the move. Oh well.

For almost seven years, we've been operating with a single line. Most times of the week, callers to the helpline get through to an answerphone. Its message tells them to go away… and call back when we're open. At those times, we use a service BT now call 'Smart Divert' — we were one of the first to use it in the UK! — which enables us to divert calls to the helpline's number to (almost) anywhere else in the world, from anywhere in the world.

So volunteers can do shifts anywhere that's convenient and callers don't know the difference. We pay the cost of diverting the call 'from' the flat to wherever the shift is being done plus a quarterly fee for the privilege of letting BT charge twice for one call, but that's less than the previous cost of having two lines. And as the line is only open at evenings and weekends, the diversion call costs are minimal.

Now, with Ian gone, we were in trouble. Especially as I had to remove the helpline's answerphone while he was still there, so for one week callers 'outside hours' only got a ringing tone.

Something had to be done… but what, exactly?

"Very lucky or very poor"

The last time I looked it up, every year around one in ten people moves. And nearly all of them have a phone. So you'd expect it to be easy to move and keep your phone number.

Of course, you'd be wrong. If you want to do so, you either have to be very lucky, or you end up very poor.

Technically, there is no reason whatsoever why we could not have the line into the flat disconnected (we absolutely did not want the new owners to be able to answer 'our' phone number, much less call out on it), add something like the otherwise evil Call Minder – BT's virtual answerphone service – and keep going with Smart Divert.

But they wouldn't do that. Even though BT would make even more money: not only would they get the Call Minder rental money, they'd save on having to provide a physical line. Oh no, the marketing division says we 'have' to have a physical line. It doesn't have to be where they send the bills (and it never has been) but it has to be somewhere. And not just anywhere.

It turns out there were only two ways to keep the helpline's number – which has appeared in innumerable places in the past fourteen years – either find somewhere within the area of its 020 8569 exchange to host it, or pay a fortune (about £500 per year on top of our current phone bill of about £250) for an 'Out of Exchange Number'.

Yet, incredibly, you can't find out where the exchanges' area actually is except by ringing up and asking on an address-by-address basis. ("12 London Road?" "Nope." "How about 34 High Street?" "Nope." etc etc etc) This makes finding a suitable location somewhat difficult, particularly as the time scale for installing a new line means we had about 48 hours to do so. If we had managed it, it'd have cost £120 for that new line.

The alternative was to have a new number, plus Caller Redirect which sounds more impressive than what it is: a message on the old number saying 'we've moved, try this number instead'. BT want £25 per quarter for that (more than the cost of a residential line with an answerphone doing exactly the same thing!) and will only do it for up to a year. That'll mean losing everyone – and there are people who do this – who make a note of the number then call it years later.

Then we get onto the choice of which new number to have. An ordinary boring 020 number will be that £120. Cheap for people to call, costs us £60 a quarter with Smart Divert. But where to site it? And what happens when they move?

The alternative is a 'non geographic' number – the 0800s, 0845s, 0870s etc. These can be redirected to any 'real' phoneline. (Mind you, if you want to change where you redirect them to, you can end up paying £25 a time, so don't even think about trying to do away with Smart Divert.)

As Arthur C Clarke predicted decades ago, the real cost of calls is now tiny and almost entirely independent of where they end up. The fact that you pay more for eg long distance calls than local ones is purely down to marketing and companies charging what the market will bear. So it's not surprising that various sorts of lines are available.

0800 numbers are free for callers (unless they're using most mobiles, but it turns out they make an exception for calls to at least some telephone helplines) because the receiving end ends up paying the cost of the call. Exactly how much depends on who sells you the number, but it can be up to 12p a minute. Most providers charge a 'rental' fee as well (£60 a quarter with BT, for example). As a helpline, we'd qualify for a special 0808 number — still free to call, but it'd cost us about 4p per minute to receive calls on top of the rental. No thanks.

0870 numbers are meant to cost people with BT lines the same as a 'national [non-local] call', but they're much more expensive with other providers. (There are people who think they should be redesignated as 'premium rate' lines.) Because they generate large piles of cash for the telecoms company, they're prepared to share it with you. BT, as ever, is the meanest, but finding someone who'll give you an 0870 number for free and hand over 1p per minute every time someone calls it is not very difficult.

It was tempting, but not for long. For example, BT residential customers on the 'BT Together'* scheme (which experience tells me they are put on whether they request it or not, and even if they explicitly say they don't want it) are charged 1p (rather than the usual 1.5p) per minute for evening local rate calls and 2p (rather than 4p) per minute for evening national calls. Except that 0870 numbers are still charged for at the 4p per minute rate. Not good.

There are also lines that cost the caller even more — like 0700 numbers and anything starting with 09 — which are so profitable that it's hard to move without suppliers begging you to have one, but that was never a realistic option.

In between 0800 and 0870 is 0845, which for most people costs the same as a local call, even with BT Together. As there's less money to go around, many suppliers (including BT of course) expect you to pay to receive calls on an 0845 number and with most of them, the difference between receiving an 0800 call and a 0845 one is pretty small. (It even turns out that some suppliers will charge you more for receiving off-peak 0845 calls than peak rate 0800 ones!) Fortunately for us, there are some suppliers who don't charge to receive 0845 numbers.

So we've gone for an 0845 number – 0845 450 1263 – from one of them. This costs us £120 per year in rental, but nothing per minute.** I'm not entirely sure if the supplier is going to make any money off us, but at the moment I don't care.

Sorting out the BT end was somewhat harder. All we wanted to do was set up Caller Redirect on the old number and have an existing line in someone else's flat be the one with Smart Divert. It should have been simple.

However, it does not help customers trying to get the best deal that trying to get a paper copy of the BT price list which will tell you definitively what they will sell you for how much is almost impossible, searching it on the BT website is hopeless, and the downloadable version is stored in a deliberately annoying format. Once you do manage to read it all, you discover that they've been letting you pay more than you needed to for the past decade (hmmm, could this possibly be why it is made so difficult to find out?***)

It is made worse by the fact that some of the people answering the relevant BT sales lines would have difficulty finding their bottom with a torch and a map. For example, one BT 'droid' got quite annoyed when insisting (wrongly) that the Caller Redirect was £25 per month, rather than per quarter. Another messed up a request for Ring Back Inhibit, the free stopping of callers to your number using the Ring Back When Free**** service, and marked us down as wanting the £4-odd per quarter Ring Back No Fee***** service instead. And I made the mistake of believing a third who insisted we couldn't have Smart Divert on a residential line (you can, but you can't have a special deal we didn't want bundling it with another service we don't want) so we ended up wasting time and effort converting a residential line to a business line… and back again.

But I think it's all sorted out. We've certainly been receiving calls on the new setup. And we're going to use all this as an opportunity to have a bit of a publicity campaign.

The end result is that the next year will cost us about twice what it otherwise would, and subsequent years will cost about 50% more. But at least we shouldn't have to go through this ever again. If the current host of the answerphone (me) moves, we'll be able to keep the same 0845 number and move where it ends up with a simple phone call.

What makes me optimistic about that is the way our 0845 providers proved more efficient than expected (they said it'd take a week to set up, but in fact took just two days) and no shifts were missed.

Their surprising speed did mean that callers one Friday got an old answerphone message that was only slightly more polite than 'leave a message, you bastard' but I was quite amused to see that two people actually did. One was from a London GLB project that a) really should have known the answer to the question they wanted answering, especially given how much they get in grants and b) really should have given me the job I applied for with them a year ago.***** * The other was from someone looking for a date that night for his bi girlfriend…

Of course, it didn't turn out quite that simple. The pile of paperwork you get from BT when you do something like this revealed, on close inspection, that we'd been paying for years for a 'fast repair' service we've never used. That was cancelled… and strangely, the line suffered a failure immediately afterwards. Odd that. Added to BT managing to change the PIN used to control Smart Divert without bothering to tell us, that meant that we did, in fact, miss a couple of shifts.

But given the effort involved to ensure the line's survival, I don't think that's too bad.

Ian Watters


* At the time, BT had an almost complete monopoly on residential landlines. Of course, they used this to exploit their customers. A number of firms had used cheap prices to buy phone capacity in bulk and started 'carrier pre-select' businesses – by, for example, dialling a short prefix before the number you actually wanted, you said 'I want this call to be billed by Swiftcall (or whoever) not BT' – that could save customers lots of money. This was especially true for international calls, but also applied to UK calls too.

BT Together was the response: in exchange for a small-ish fee on your BT bill, the actual cost of UK calls would be less. Customers were often put on it by default, so even if you used an alternative carrier, BT still got more money from you. Alternative carriers complained, OfCom sided with BT.

** Since this was written, the cost of getting an 0845 number has fallen – you can certainly get a free one and may well find someone willing to pay you to have one – because the cost of calling them has risen.

*** In 1998, BT were given a "final reminder" by their regulator over their failure to make "an accurate and comprehensible" price list easily available.

In June 2020, the BT "price guide" to residential customers is 217 pages long, up from 134 pages in October 2016. I strongly suspect it's not complete: there aren't nearly enough pages on products and services that aren't available to new customers but are doubtless still being charged to people who are still on them.

The full BT business price list is currently only available as fifty eight separate .zip files typically containing dozens of HTML files, plus eight further .zip files of notes and notices.

**** 'Ring back when free' allows callers who get an engaged tone to say 'automatically call me when the number I'm calling stops being engaged. It's great when calling a friend, but for a phoneline, it's a nightmare and means that if you're busy, the only callers you'll get are people able and prepared to use it.

Typically of BT, you had to actively stop people using it when calling your number.

***** Allowing you to use 'Ring back when free' without paying each time.

***** * I couldn't remember which one that was at first – I knew it wasn't Stonewall, because I wouldn't have called that Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual at the time. The job reference means it was probably an HIV service in East London, then known as London East AIDS Network (LEAN) and now called Positive East.

UK bisexual phonelines

One of the sessions at BiCon 2003 was "Number unobtainable – what next for bisexual phonelines?"

This is an expanded version of that session, now with added bisexual phoneline.. that I forgot about until after first publishing it, ahem.

At that point, there had been five six 'bisexual phonelines' in the UK and none of them were operating any more.

All phonelines have some factors in common. Some callers have had the number for years before deciding to actually call it; others have only just noticed it. The caller choses when to call, can hang-up at any time, and may never call again.

You will wish that some people who do call again wouldn't – learning to spot a repeat caller you can do nothing to help and is blocking the line for other people is a very useful skill.

Compared to many other LGBT phonelines, the bisexual phonelines got far fewer abusive calls – possibly because they were never so widely publicised. We also had fewer silent calls, where the caller would say nothing before eventually hanging up (after a minute or two, the person answering the call usually says a little spiel about it being ok not to say anything and to call back at another time – unlike some, the London phoneline didn't have a policy of never hanging up on silent callers, but would do so after giving a gentle warning), and 'wank calls', where the caller is more or less obviously masturbating while on the line.

So what were the six?

1. Do it from home

As part of organising the first meeting of the London Bisexual Group back in September 1981, David Burkle put his home phone number as a contact. Although the group itself soon started renting a mail forwarding address ('BM Bi' at British Monomarks), the phone number stayed fairly widely publicised..

.. and around twenty people a week rang it. Some were straight information calls ("What's happening at the LBG this week?") but most were counselling calls from people who wanted personal assistance. David wrote about the experience in Bisexual Lives and, as he says, "there are several disadvantages in operating a telephone counselling service from home".

By 1987, he'd had enough of doing it this way. Because of how phonelines work – see above – he doubtless continued to get calls, but callers could be 'signposted' to another bisexual phoneline…

2. Do it from an office

In January 1987, the Edinburgh Bisexual Group was meeting at the (then) Lesbian & Gay Centre in Broughton Street on Thursday evenings. The basement room they used had a side room, and once a couple of phones were installed, this became the home for the Edinburgh Bisexual Phoneline.

The advertised hours, two hours on a Thursday evening, were the same as the EBG's. If a call came in, one of the two people 'on duty' would leave the meeting and answer the phone. They planned to have a man and a woman available each Thursday.

Having an office is the classic way for groups with resources to have a phoneline: it's how London's Gay / Lesbian & Gay Switchboard – now just 'Switchboard' – has operated since starting in 1974, for example. They used a room above Housemans, the alternative bookshop in London's Kings Cross area, before moving up the road a bit to their own offices.

Similarly London Friend, venue for the London Bisexual Group from the late 80s until it ceased meeting, runs their phoneline from their basement.

The disadvantages include that you need somewhere, and that usually costs money, sometimes lots of it.

If you're doing this somewhere like London, you can often have people spending an hour travelling to the 'office', doing a shift of two or three hours, then spending an hour going home afterwards.

The advantages include that there's a clear separation between 'phoneline' and 'normal life'. If you have a secure office, you can keep resources and records there. It is also easier to have more than one phone line for your phoneline if you have a single location.

There's a 1997 Bi Community News article from two people then helping organise the Edinburgh phoneline. (The 'Friday' in the last paragraph is almost certainly a typo!)

It stopped operating in early 2000, when the Edinburgh group closed. The Centre had been the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Centre since BiCon 1994.

3. Do it from home.. via a central number

David organised the London Bisexual Helpline which opened later in 1987 for many years. It had a new number that could be redirected to people's homes. At the start, this was done by an expensive* box – bought from a telecoms shop that was right by Housemans – which was located in someone's flat and could do what was then almost magical…

Callers to the published number got a message that said something like 'Please wait.. connecting..' while it dialled out on a second phone line to one of ten or so numbers that had been programmed into it. When that number answered, the two lines would be effectively connected together.

From the person on duty's perspective, you dialled the box at the start of your shift and then, as it answered, dialled a series of code numbers that said 'Hello, I'm someone who really has the right to do this, and** I'd like you to redirect incoming calls to the nth phone number in your list until told otherwise'. That list was presumably set up by another set of codes that I was never given.

At the end of the shift, you dialled the box again, and gave it the codes for 'stop redirecting calls'. Callers would then get a message from an answerphone that was plugged into the phone line and/or the box.

From the phoneline's perspective, it meant paying for two phone lines (the published number and the number that dialled out), and the occasional repair to the box when it stopped working, but the saving in travel costs – time and money – meant it was worth it.

Training was done by having the new person visit an existing person's home, listening to them dealing with calls for a couple of evenings, then taking calls with them listening. After a few shifts like that, they would almost always be added to the rota.

Every two or so months, usually on a Sunday, everyone working on the phoneline would get together somewhere – the main place I remember was the London Lighthouse (an Aids hospice in Kensington) which had a nice cafe and very comfy chairs and beanbags in its meeting rooms – to discuss calls, the shift rota, and have some continuing training and support. It was an opportunity to spot repeat callers and talk about policies like the 'non-directional' approach the phoneline took: callers wouldn't be told what to do, but we'd explore options with them and leave the final decision about whether to come out or visit a bi group or.. up to them.

Initially operating on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, at some point in the early 90s, Saturday lunchtime was also added for a total of six hours a week.

With the exception of the initial donation, all this was largely unfunded work as usually understood. There were 'bucket rattle' collections at events like BiCon, and the London Bisexual Group did the odd fundraiser too. A trio of anonymous donations around the 9th National Bisexual Conference in 1991 raised an impressive £1,600 which would have been enough to keep the London one going for around four years.

The main exception followed the second (and final?) run of the Health Education Authority's 'hands' ad, the only bit of "bisexual" advertising they ever did. That one included the two bisexual phonelines' numbers and they were willing to fund the London one to extend its service to six days a week for a couple of months.

The HEA's 'hands' ad - close up photo of two middle class men holding hands, with the strapline 'If a married man has an affair, it may not be with a woman'

A combination of their refusal to fund existing work and – I think – the way that the money was officially for England & Wales only meant they wouldn't let the Edinburgh group have any of it, annoyingly. There was enough money for the London line to recruit some additional people, do some additional training, and pay people a few quid per shift during those months.

When the HEA ran their 'torsos' ad (a male and a female torso, both topless, with a strapline of 'Which do you find more attractive? If you're not certain, read on.') they absolutely refused to mention the bisexual phonelines. This was for "undecided" people, not bisexuals! They did provide the number of the (then distinctly biphobic) London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard though…

The HEA's 'torsos' ad, showing a male and female upper body, both topless

 

In 1995, the box either needed an expensive repair or the services available from BT improved to the point that we no longer needed it*** or both.

When I investigated, it turned out that for around than the cost of the second phone line, we could use BT's then brand new 'Smart Divert' service which did what the box did, including charging us for the call 'from' the published number to the actual destination, except instantly and without needing a second phone line, all for a "quarterly fee for the privilege of letting BT charge twice for one call".

It meant that, for example, people could do shifts even if they weren't at home. We could have even, if we'd been prepared to pay the international call fees, redirect calls to almost anywhere in the world.**** The phoneline was one of the first BT customers to use it***** and I had to explain to some BT sales person exactly what to do to find it in the company's extremely long price list.

Overall, the new system was a noticeable improvement and it all went fine, until the point where the person whose flat the phoneline's number went to moved home.

 

What the article doesn't say is that, in common with most of the helplines I talked to, we were already noticing a significant drop in the number of calls because of the increasing popularity of 'the internet', i.e. the web. Instead of getting a handful of calls per shift – the number depending on how long they were more than anything else – it was getting increasingly common to have no calls at all.

Obviously, that made doing shifts somewhat frustrating and made training new people in the way that had worked for over a decade almost impossible.

At some point early in 2003, there was a problem with the 0845 number or the BT line that it redirected to, very probably the latter. I can't remember exactly what it was – BT deciding to charge more for something and not telling us, I think.

In any event, it would have cost us more to have the phoneline continue and, asking around, given the call volume we were getting, the people left doing it decided to close the line. An annual financial cost of around £340 for phone line, smart divert and calls, plus £120 for the 0845 number is one thing when you're getting up to a thousand calls a year; when you're getting closer to fifty, it's another.

I still think it was the right decision, but before the line at my flat was cut off, one young woman left a message on the answerphone there that expressed the reason that it existed. I hope she was able to find help elsewhere.

4. 'We'll do it for you'

.. or, the one I forgot about until earlier today.

The first run of the HEA's 'hands' ad had, in its completely different body text, an invitation to call "the special bisexual helpline" on an 0800 freephone number, open from 4pm to 10pm seven days a week.

This one was run by the same people who ran the National Aids Helpline on a different 0800 number. Just as that had drawn away volunteers from places like the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard by paying people answering the phone, this paid people like David to do some training on bisexual issues. I think the people answering it primarily came from the NAH staff.

I have no idea how many people called it or what the HEA were charged for running it. Quite a lot, I suspect. In fact, I would be utterly astonished if, in its short life, this didn't cost much more than the total of all the other ones over their entire lives – for the London and Edinburgh ones, that's about thirty years, combined.

The person who ran the NAH around this time came to BiCon a couple of times in the early 90s. He had several amusing stories, including the way that he had to keep explaining to visiting ministers that calls were confidential, so no, they couldn't ever listen to one.

The 'special bisexual phoneline' was phased out after a number of months, but the NAH is still going today, rebranded as the 'Sexual Health Information Line', and ultimately funded by Public Health England. It has kept the same phone number from the 1980s too, although it's likely to change to an 0300 freephone number at some point.

5. Answerphone

In the 1990s, the (mixed) Nottingham Bisexual Group had one of these for a while: a simple answerphone had a long outgoing message that mentioned the bi groups in Nottingham and several other bi resources. The phone number was publicised locally.

The big advantage is that it's extremely simple to set up.

For something more complicated, the Asterisk open source software has made having a phone tree ('press 1 for more about answering Am I bisexual?, press 2 for more about..') on an internet server relatively easy for over a decade. Getting a 'cheap to call' phone number redirect to such a server can be free. Having something like this was talked about in BiCon 2010***** * but as far as I know, no-one's ever actually done it.

6. Like #1, but to get laid

The exception, in more ways than one!

Also at one point in the 1990s, people working on the London Bisexual Phoneline noticed an ad in somewhere like Diva for a "bisexual women's helpline" with a phone number from somewhere near London.

One of the women on the London phoneline called it, and was later able to confirm what was happening: after chatting for a while, the woman on the other end would invite the caller to come and visit them in person at their home for further 'discussions'. They were also able to confirm, having gone along there, that the discussions expected were the horizontal kind…

Obviously this is appallingly unethical behaviour for a phoneline (even if our test caller did enjoy themselves!) and the policies of any worthwhile phoneline will include 'don't arrange dates with callers' as well as issues around confidentiality etc.

The ads disappeared from Diva a while later.


* Several hundred pounds. An anonymous donor covered the cost.

** Update: having found the instruction sheet, there wasn't a PIN and the only protections against random people doing this were a) not publishing the box's private number and b) a forty second wait until it picked up and you could start programming it to do something via pressing the keys on your phone. Fortunately, the way that local calls were charged for in the UK meant that 'wardialing' – dialling endless numbers until an interesting one answered – was never a big thing here, unlike the USA.

*** Sadly, I think the original box was junked when the new system was introduced, because it would have been fascinating to open it up and see how it worked. There must have been an 8-bit CPU in there somewhere! There were strict limits on what you could electrically connect to a BT phoneline, and I did wonder if it was being naughty and efficient or good and rather less so.

**** There were a couple of exceptions, probably due to fraud.

***** I can't remember where I heard about it – probably the online conferencing service cix where someone working at BT may have mentioned it: "In its heyday, CIX was one of the UK's premier online locations for both technical and social interaction" (Wikipedia)

***** * At the same venue as BiCon 2003!