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.

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.

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?