The bisexual bench in HIV/Aids health promotion work

One of the never ending issues for graphic designers is 'how to show bisexuality without showing three (or more) people'. Most of them never work it out, so go for three people…

.. and sometimes, they add a bench!

I am not entirely sure which of the first two came first, but the Norwegian one is actually aimed at bisexual men, so…

A woman puts her arm around a man as they sit on one end of a bench as he puts arm out to hold hands with a man on the other side; a safe sex and AIDS prevention advertisement aimed at bisexual men by the Oslo Helseråd
The bisexual bench – 1990s Norwegian version – A2 sized poster

English translation of the text, with the help of Google Drive doing OCR and translation of images:

Men who have sex with men should have a health check regularly.

Men who have sex with men are today among those most at risk of becoming infected with the AIDS virus, HIV. Bisexual men who become infected through sexual contact with other men can then infect their female as well as male partners.

You should know if you are infected with HIV. Both because you are responsible for not infecting others, and for your own part. HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases do not always cause symptoms. Therefore, we recommend men who have sex with men to take regular health checks.

At the Counselling Service at the Oslo Health Council, we are happy to talk to you about safer sex. You can take the HIV test (anonymously if you wish), be screened for other sexually transmitted diseases and offered Hepatitis B (jaundice) vaccine. You decide which of the offers you want to take advantage of. And all consultations are free.

The counselling service for gays is a special part of the Oslo Health Council. We who work here have broad experience and are particularly concerned with gay and bisexual health problems. Here you will meet understanding at the same time as you get professional help.

Welcome Tuesday and Wednesday at 16.00 – 18.00. There are no appointments. For further information call: [phone number].

Oslo Health Council
St. Olavspl. 5, 4th floor

Note that the hand-holding of the men is literally behind her back, so there's no implication of this being a relationship that she knows about.

Unlike the Norwegian poster, the New South Wales, Australia one – probably first published in 1994 – is absolutely aimed at the female partners of bisexual men, despite having an almost identical central image:

A man sits with a woman on a bench looking out to sea while holding the hand of a man sitting on the end; an advertisement for The Women Partners of Bisexual Men Project
The bisexual bench – 1994 Australian version – A2 sized poster

Do you think your partner could be having sex with men?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

The Women Partners of Bisexual Men Project [phone number]

AIDS Council of NSW [phone number]
AIDS Hotline [phone numbers, including TTY for deaf callers]
Family Planning Association [phone number]

Thanks to all the women who have been involved in the project. Thanks to models Tim, Tegan, Michael. Photographer Patrick Earle. Design: David Hodge & Partners London

Here, there's no information beyond 'you're not the only one (being betrayed?)' and a referral to a group. Interestingly, some of the design decisions – the gap between the woman and the 'other man', the way he has a sleeve rolled up (so you can just see the hair on his arm?) and the woman has short sleeves (so you can just see that there isn't any hair?) – are identical.

Given the design was from a London agency, I wonder if there were uses of the 'three on a bench' imagery in the UK and if they were responsible (but uncredited) for the Norwegian one too.

Also from 1994, there's the 'one person in two separate twosomes' (and a dog!) version of the bench from France:

Two halves - in the top one, a male/female couple walk their dog past an empty bench in the day; in the bottom, the same man is talking to another man siting on top of the bench at night
The bisexual bench – 1994 French version – slightly smaller than A2 poster

I have two lovers, I protect myself

Because this one has just the headline, it is only about protecting the bisexual man rather than his partners. How he protects himself isn't stated: condoms? making sure his partners never meet? having a dog to put off muggers?

Again, the implication is that his female lover does not know about the male one..

.. even if the dog does.


Credit: A woman puts her arm around a man as they sit on one end of a bench as he puts arm out to hold hands with a man on the other side; a safe sex and AIDS prevention advertisement aimed at bisexual men by the Oslo Helseråd. Colour lithograph, ca. 1990. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Credit: A man sits with a woman on a bench looking out to sea while holding the hand of a man sitting on the end; an advertisement for The Women Partners of Bisexual Men Project with the telephone lines of the AIDS Council of NSW, AIDS Hotline and Family Planning Association. Colour lithograph, [1994]. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

More Health Education Authority memories

In 2018, some academics got eleven people who'd worked in the HIV prevention sector in the UK for a two hour discussion* on some of the history.

In this extract, they remember the 'hands' ad. Interestingly, the only one to get much more space is the 'iceberg and tombstone' "Don't die of ignorance' one.

'Ford' is Ford Hickson, part of Sigma Research, responsible for multiple surveys and research projects on gay and bisexual men.

'Lynne' is Lynne Walsh, talking about her time as half of (also known as 'in charge of') the press office for the Health Education Authority (HEA).

'Dominic' is Dominic McVey, talking about having been an HEA researcher. His line elsewhere about "Much of my work involved developing and evaluating the HEA gay and heterosexual public health interventions" accurately shows how much the HEA cared about bisexuals…


Ford: It is the case that any disease outbreak is an opportunity to marginalise the people who are suffering, ignore the structural factors, and the government and lots of people in the country took the HIV epidemic as an opportunity to suppress being gay, not having safe sex, just don't do it, and the things Thatcher said in public really reinforced that. That she thought the way to solve HIV was to not be gay, not to use drugs, and Section 28 is what rode on that. Section 28 for me, it really clearly ties to the HIV epidemic and an opportunity to try and stamp out homosexuals.

Lynne: But we did manage to have a press ad that had two men holding hands.

Dominic: The Bisexual Ad.

Lynne: At the time we called it a bisexual ad.

Dominic: Which went into Time Out and places like that, it wasn't just in the gay press.

Lynne: It went into the Telegraph, it's a visual of two men holding hands and it says, "If a married man has an affair it may not be with a woman." So clearly, Thatcher wouldn't have been delighted with that.

Ford: That's interesting, isn't it? Because who is that targeted at? Isn't that targeted at the wives of men, it's, "Be suspicious of your husband."

Lynne: At the time, the rationale was that it was targeting men who may have sex with men, maybe married to women. We particularly wanted to do some stuff with the Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph as well, not just advertising but to get editorial. That was in the context of the Sunday Times having a massive campaign against us led by Andrew Neil who insisted that there was no heterosexual risk at all. So, whereas we would have been able to run things in the Sunday Times as we did sometimes with the Observer, we had this barrage, every Sunday we had something that was attacking, so that was the context trying to do something.


"At the time" it was a bisexual ad?? It wasn't good, but it couldn't be anything else.

I'm also not convinced about Ford's framing of it as being targetted at wives. There were ads targetted at the female partners of bisexual men, but neither of the versions of the 'hands' ad is.. unless it's to get them to point it out to their partner.

Although he wasn't a co-author of Sigma Research's "Behaviourally Bisexual Men: Identifying needs for HIV prevention", he should also have been aware of it and known that there is a high level of disclosure…


* Published as Nicholls and Rosengarten (eds.) (2019). Witness Seminar: HIV Prevention and Health Promotion in the UK. Disentangling European HIV/AIDS Policies: Activism, Citizenship and Health (EUROPACH).

Boys and girls come out to play (The Independent, 1997)

The research on behaviourally bisexual men commissioned by Health Education Authority in 1994, completed in 1995, and eventually published in 1996, was largely ignored.

In part, that's because the HEA leaked the findings – there are a lot of bisexual men! – months earlier, so by the time it was properly published, it was no longer 'news'.

But at least one paper noticed enough to refer to it a year later…

.. even if they didn't read it properly. The estimate of 12% of men being behaviourally bisexual – that is, being sexual with more than one gender – is informed largely by a 1982 survey of Playboy readers in the US* and..

While exact rates are impossible accurately to quantify it seems reasonable to assert that the lifetime figure lies somewhere in the region of 5-15%. Our best guess would be closer to the 12% of Lever et al. (1989; 1992) than the 3-7% of Johnson et al. (1994). However, with little direct evidence, estimates of the proportion of adult men that have had sex with both males and females in the last five years are too hazardous to even attempt.

The "in the last five years" came from the predictions of the person who commissioned it that they'd find hardly any bisexual men and so they needed to make the criteria for being included fairly broad. In fact, it turned out that the average number of partners was three men and three women per year.

The article was prompted by an episode on bisexuality that was part of Channel 4's Seven Sins series, entitled 'Greed', sigh.


'Greedy' is the latest slang for bisexual. Hester Lacey reports from a scene which pities 'monosexuals' and revels in cake and eatism

28th September 1997

BISEXUALS have always been a notoriously discreet group; but not the exuberantly voluptuous Felicity Diamond, all long dark hair, flashing eyes and throaty voice. Felicity considers herself a bisexual "greedy". She fronts the episode on greed in Channel Four's Seven Sins series, talking not about gluttony, but about bisexuality, in a programme that mixes the imagery of food with that of sex.

Greedies, says Felicity, are hungry for sensuality. "It's not about greed for a number of partners. I want the best, not the most – I'm very, very selective. It's a lust for life rather than a generalised lusting – an intelligent form of greed. I have lots of friendships and good relationships and sometimes they may become sexual. When I like people I don't care what genitals they have."

Felicity, 33, is a professional cook and masseuse. The Islington flat she shares with kittens Special Baby Doll, Squeaky Tiger and Precious Minx Bear, smells wonderfully of chicken breasts stuffed with pesto in the oven. "I really like people and I really like food. Pleasure and lusciousness and luxury are what I do."

Heterosexual sex, she says, has become "tired". "Since the advent of HIV, people have had to become much more explorative, and now sex is not just about penetration. Bisexualism is increasing among women simply because of dissatisfaction with men. The new man thing never really happened and when you want to find someone you can live with, talk to and get on with, often men don't always make the grade." Greedies, on the other hand, she says, make better partners. "Monosexuals haven't explored what their sexuality is all about. The bisexuals I know are much more discerning."

Being bisexual is also rather trendy. Roxi Lockwood, 26, an exotic dancer and techno-violinist who also appears in the programme, says, "Bisexuals do seem to be more to the fore at the moment. I'm not greedy in that I wouldn't have partners of both sexes at once: I'm a monogamous bisexual. It is a wider field of experience, though it can be a pain in the neck – your partner thinks you're looking at girls as well as boys."

Bisexuals have not, up to now, been very vocal. They tend to be mistrusted by both heterosexuals and homosexuals (who regard them as "traitors"). But it seems that there are a considerable number of this quiet minority. A 1995 report commissioned by the Health Education Authority, which concentrated solely on men, found that around 12 per cent of men are probably bisexual.

There is no similar data available for women bisexuals and in any case, as a group, bisexuals are difficult to pin down. One of the difficulties that the HEA study found was in deciding what exactly constitutes bisexual (Freud had at least five definitions). The HEA researchers settled on "men who had had sex with both males and females in the preceding five years". It is, however, a grey area. When asked, less than half of the men interviewed identified themselves as "bisexual"; some called themselves straight, others gay, while others used terms like "confused", "broadminded", "horny" and "normal".

In her book Vice Versa,** published last year, Marjorie Garber, professor of English at Harvard University, made an in-depth study of bisexuality, and identifies a growing trend among American college students to define themselves as bisexual (aka "switch-hitters" or "AC-DC"). Another new book is to be published shortly by Cassell. The Bisexual Imaginary: Representation, Identity and Desire is a collection of essays edited by members of Bi Academic Intervention, a network of teachers, publishers and researchers working on the subject. Merl Storr, lecturer in sociology at the University of East London and one of the book's editors, agrees that bisexuals have become more high-profile. She believes that this is partly because of the HIV epidemic. "Bisexual men were demonised as carriers of the disease to the general population," she says. "Lots of people felt targeted and felt they had to fight back and become active. Also, lesbian and gay communities have come of age, and there is now more space for people to explore the contradictions of bisexuality." She is ambivalent about the use of the term "greedy" to describe bisexuals.

Acknowledged bisexuals include Sandra Bernhardt, REM's frontman Michael "I'm an equal opportunities lech" Stipe, Rachel Williams, the "supermodel" former presenter of The Girlie Show and the actor Alexis Arquette, while James Dean and Marlene Dietrich are two great bisexual Hollywood icons.

But while greed is all very well for the glamorous and famous, others can find they are less well catered for. "You can talk about bisexual greediness if you like, but in that case I'm practically anorexic," says David, 29, a teacher from Birmingham. "Greed is fine if you live in London and have places to go and similar people to meet. There is still a lot of prejudice about and people seem to find it even harder to come to terms with bisexuality than with homosexuality."

Kate, 33, who works in publishing, also dislikes the term "greedy". "It comes from a heterosexist position that bisexuals are promiscuous," she says. "We get that reaction from gays as well – that we want the best of both worlds and are letting the side down. Bisexuality still tends to be hidden. When I have a relationship with a woman, I seem to have to come out all over again." She adds a belief that many bisexuals share: "Everyone has the potential to explore their sexuality in terms of the same sex – it's a shame more people don't feel they can."

Freud's theory, too, was that everyone is positioned on a sliding scale between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Greedy or not, perhaps there are a lot more like Brett Anderson of Suede, who said, "I'm a bisexual man who has never had a homosexual experience."

`Greed', Channel 4, Monday, 10.55pm.


The List's preview of the programme:

Preview of 'Greedy' on bisexuality from The List 1997

The Independent's review of the programme said:

[Part of another programme] raised the hair on the back of your neck.

As did Felicity Diamond, the central character in Greed (C4), though "hackles" might be a better term. The third of a series of films on the theme of the seven deadly sins, this was actually about bisexuality (on the rather tenuous basis that "greedy" is a slang term for a bisexual. Several of the bisexuals interviewed didn't seem to know this, which made you suspect the whole thing might be a fit up). Felicity was the star attraction, a voluptuous Australian with a very self-congratulatory line in sexual liberty ("most people aren't intelligent enough to be bisexual"). Many of those who appeared, but Felicity in particular, seemed terrified of being "boxed in", "categorised", "straight-jacketed" or "programmed". Indeed, they went on about this so much that they began to sound rather neurotic, as though their sense of themselves were so fragile that it wouldn't withstand the impact of a casual preconception. Relax, you thought after a while, nobody cares what you do in bed remotely as much as you do. "Mutual respect" is apparently important to Felicity, but only for those who wear the same extravagant uniform as she does. "I'd cull about 90 per cent of the population," she said at one point, "and I'd eradicate genetic problems like idiocy, racism and lack of understanding". This final solution would seem to include those debased souls who quite like getting dressed in suits and are perfectly happy in "monosexual" affairs. Lack of understanding is the only kind of response those weirdos deserve.

The Times review said: "Last night's sinner was Felicity Diamond, who purred at us for half an hour about how much she enjoyed bring greedy. As it happens. Diamond — who is a caterer and a masseuse — is just the sort of woman who might well request an extra pillow: she believes in enjoying all that life has to offer. But she still resents the assumption that all bisexuals are promiscuous, explaining that "that's one of the reasons they call us greedy".


* Unlike most other large surveys done for magazines, it looks like all of the over 60,000 responses from men were actually analysed!

** An excellent 200 page book.. but it's just over 600 pages long…

The Health Education Authority's bisexual and 'definitely not' bisexual ads

Even governments sometimes realise that spending money on health promotion – enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health – can be better than dealing with the consequences of not doing so.

In the UK, the Health Education Council (greatest hit: the 'pregnant man' campaign with its "Would you be more careful if it was you who got pregnant?" strapline*) ran government campaigns between 1968 and 1987, before a reorganisation (not entirely coincidentally following a row about a politically embarrassing publication about health inequalities) led to its replacement by the Health Education Authority in 1987.

When the UK government decided that Aids was in fact worth doing something serious about (about three years after gay and bisexual men in the UK started dying from it, followed by similar epidemics amongst IV drug users and then haemophiliacs), one of the things that pushed it towards that position was the way that Aids activists had deliberately chosen to emphasise the risks of bisexual men being responsible for the spread of the epidemic into the presumed heterosexual population.

The result was the first big 'Don't die of ignorance' campaign by the Department of Health and Social Security – the 'icebergs and tombstones' one – following which the HEA ended up with the responsibility to do national HIV/Aids health promotion work.

Here's are the ads that they did aimed specifically at bisexual men rather than 'gay (oh.. and bisexual) men'.

The 'hands' ad #1

Safety in Numbers by Edward King reckons this was first published in spring 1990. The HEA operated on the principle, given to them by their ad agency, that if they ran it, once, in about half a dozen magazines – the TV/radio listings magazine Radio Times, some car thing, etc etc – then 90+% of men in the UK would (have a chance to) see it.

The first HEA 'hands' ad - close-up photo of two white middle class men holding hands

If a married man has an affair, it may not be with a woman.

According to the dictionary, a bisexual man is simply 'one who has sex with both men and women.'

As a way of life, however, bisexuality can prove to be anything but simple.

Yet few of the problems bisexual men have faced in the past can compare to the one that confronts them now.

HIV. The virus that causes AIDS.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is transmitted when infected semen, blood or vaginal fluid enters the body.

And of all sexual activities, unprotected anal intercourse presents the highest risk.

Even using a condom won't make it completely safe.

If you'd like more information about AIDS or safer sex, ring the special bisexual helpline on 0800 83 85 75.

This is open from 4pm to 10pm daily. All calls are free of charge and completely confidential.

It's hard to overstate how much the HEA loved this ad. Every time someone in the bi community pointed to some issue, like the implied class of the men photographed – look at the suit sleeves! – or their middle age or.. they'd point to the response from the advertising world who told them it was great.

They were working under some constraints. In particular, every. single. word. had to be signed off by a minister. Despite the personal behaviour of some politicians in the Conservative government of the day, at least one of them objected to a late draft of the ad which had the headline start "When a married man has an affair.." and insisted it be changed to something that didn't imply that affairs were normal.

The 'hands' ad #2

Although the first one may have had more than one run, in 1994 there was another run when a completely different body text was used. (As I say, the HEA loved the picture and the headline… and would not consider changing those.)

The HEA's 'hands' ad - close up photo of two middle class men holding hands

If a married man has an affair, it may not be with a woman.

It's not uncommon for some men to be attracted by the idea of having sex with another man.

Should these feelings lead to a physical relationship, the argument for safer sex becomes all-important.

Particularly when it comes to protecting against HIV, the virus that leads to Aids.

The safest way to have sex, of course, is where no penetration takes place at all.

And, therefore, no exchange of any semen or blood.

Other than that, using a stronger kitemarked condom such as Durex Extra Strong or Mates Super Strong significantly reduces the chance of HIV infection.**

With anal sex carrying the highest risk, it's certainly a precaution worth taking.

Moreover, along with personal protection, it's a way of protecting other partners as well, whether female or male.

To find out more, why not seek helpful advice from people who are easy to talk to.

Simply call the National Aids Helpline free on 0800 567 123, open 24 hours a day. Or, if you prefer, try one of the Bisexual Helplines. On Thursdays, the number is 031 557 3620, from 7:30pm to 10:30pm.

For other days of the week, ring 081 569 7500, from 7:30pm to 9:30pm.

Looking at assorted old files, I can see that we were told that this run would appear in Radio Times and TV Times (TV listings magazines) plus the Sunday Express / Observer / Mail on Sunday's "You" supplement (newspapers).

Discussions with the HEA about the cost of expanding the number of days that the London Bisexual Helpline would operate were happening in February 1994 and described the notice we were given about all this as "short".

By November 1994, the London Bisexual Helpline was back to opening on just Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, so the run must have been before then. They did tell us around then that they were going to run the ad again, but they didn't pay to have the London line expand to six evenings again, so if it did actually happen – around Christmas? – the text may have changed slightly to reflect that.

The absolutely not bisexual, really, honest 'torsos' ad

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

Which do you find more attractive? If you're not certain, read on.

For some people it's not always clear cut which sex they are attracted to.

If that sounds like you, you may have felt unsure for as long as you can remember. Or maybe your uncertain feelings are a relatively new thing. You might even be in a heterosexual relationship when such feelings began.

Whatever the case, it can seem very confusing, and discovering your sexuality may take time.

To help you sort out your feelings, it's quite likely you could have a sexual encounter or two with a member of your own sex.

Of course, this should still involve safer sex. Sex, that is, where there is little or no risk of HIV transmission through exchange of blood, semen, or vaginal fluid. This could include massage, body rubbing, or mutual masturbation.

Penetrative sex can be more risky. But it is unprotected anal sex that's the riskiest of all. For either partner.

So if you do try it, you should always use stronger condoms, such as, Durex Extra Strong, Mates Super Strong, or HT Special.

For more information about safer sex call one of the numbers at the bottom of this page. You'll also be able to talk openly to someone about your worries.

You may still feel unsure as to who you're attracted to, but one thing is certain, if you practise safer sex, you know you're doing everything you can to protect yourself and your partner.

Whatever sex they may be.

For help and advice call the National Aids Helpline free on 0800 567 123, the Terrence Higgins Trust on 071 242 1010 or London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard on 071 837 7234.

This is screamingly obviously a 'bisexual' ad. By definition anyone attracted to more than one gender is bisexual, regardless of whether or not they are attracted "more" to one gender.

The HEA absolutely and totally refused to accept that. They did show the ad before publication to their bisexual advisory group, but only to say that it wasn't a bisexual ad: it's for "confused" people.

They also absolutely and totally refused to give the details of the bisexual phonelines on this one. They did have the number of the then very definitely biphobic London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard – typical response to bisexual callers: 'you're the only one' / 'you're lesbian/gay really' – on it though.

Marcus's response was a version that had a picture of a male chicken and a cat, and wondered if you preferred cock or pussy…

Looking back, the HEA's bisexual advisory group should have resigned en masse at this point, in the way that their gay men's advisory group – which included the bisexual David Burkle for at least some of its time as well as some rather less bi-friendly men – had done on being presented with a particularly awful ad aimed at young gay men*** that, again, the HEA loved.

I doubt anyone would have noticed if we had; the HEA continued to pay the expenses of a bunch of bisexual activists to get together to talk about bisexual health stuff; and the sandwiches they provided were excellent.

We should have still done it though – having looked at the (not particularly large) bunch of health promotion ads aimed at bisexuals, this could have been by far the best of them and yet the HEA insisted on the bisexual erasure.

 

In 2005, the Health Education Authority was in turn abolished in yet another health reorganisation, with the health promotion bits going to Health Promotion England (and its Welsh equivalent) with research etc going to the Health Development Agency (2000-2005). According to the National Archive, they lost the HEA's papers between 1994 and 1998. The HDA in turn would be replaced in yet another health reorganisation by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). That in turn was renamed in…


* Created by the tiny agency that would become the global giant Saatchi & Saatchi, this was such a hit that the agency named its canteen/bar 'The Pregnant Man'. They did some other work for the HEC, then had to resign when they decided to work for a tobacco company instead.

** It turned out later, thanks to some research that was condemned in the Daily Mail etc, that 'strong' condoms don't provide any benefits compared with 'ordinary' ones. Using lube, especially for longer fucks, is far more important.

*** I don't think it was finally published, but the HEA's concept of an ad for young gay men on the gay scene – so many of them obsessed about looks – was a picture of a very old man – wrinkles, hair loss etc – with the headline something like "If you have safer sex, you could look like this".

!

The HEA loved it because it was so clever – 'How do you do, fellow kids? Have safer sex and you won't die young!' – but I would have loved to have been in the room when they presented it to people who had clue.

How Can We Help You? – Information, Advice & Counselling for Gay Men & Lesbians (1989)

Originally set up in 1971 with the intention of being the counselling arm of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, "Fellowship for the Relief of the Isolated and Emotionally in Need and Distress" was far more widely known as 'FRIEND'. By 1977, its national organiser stopped being on the CHE board by right, and its newsletter stopped calling FRIEND "the befriending arm of the CHE".

Also in 1977, the London arm became a company limited by guarantee, Friend Counselling (London). As 'London Friend', it ended up operating from Caledonian Road N1, and was the venue used by the London Bisexual Group from around 1990 to its end around 2004 or 2005ish. Its website is here.

As other groups sprang up, a network was created as National Friend, becoming a company in 1987. The book's author, Macolm Macourt, is described as its company secretary and a lecturer at Newcastle upon Tyne polytechnic. He was also involved with Project SIGMA that looked at the sex lives of gay and bisexual men* from the start of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the UK.


After four pages of introduction – sections on "What is a 'helpline'?; What is a 'gay helpline?'; Why call them 'gay helplines'?; Scope of the book" – it's onto the main content.

p1. The development of helplines

At that point, he reckoned that there were 80 or so gay helplines in the UK and Ireland getting a combined 400,000 calls a year. Even if the biggest one, London's then 'Lesbian & Gay Switchboard' got half of them, that's still an average of about fifty calls a week for the rest.

The other thing that seems remarkable, looking back thirty years, is a description of the services available in a 'typical' area of the UK with around four to five million residents:

One 'lesbian and gay switchboard', with a volunteer base of about thirty people (3/4 of them men); one 'lesbian line', one FRIEND; and one 'Aids line'… plus three or four other ones based in the area's smaller towns.

There is also a section on what was going on in the UK around lesbian and gay rights, including the recent introduction of 'Section 28'.

At the time, London's annual "Lesbian and Gay Pride" march, by far the biggest event in the UK community attracted around thirty thousand LGBT participants (even if it would be eight years before the latter two were recognised in the event's name…)

p23. Imagine you are a volunteer and the telephone rings

The types of calls received, from silent, to asking about the line's confidentiality, and abusive calls.

p33. What do callers ask?

It suggests the three most common questions asked are:

  • Am I gay/lesbian?
  • Will I get Aids?
  • Where is the best gay pub in town?

The first one is described as the most common and four examples are given:

"I don't want to be gay – nobody can make me, can they?"
"How do you know you're a lesbian?"
"I don't seem to be able to make friends with girls. Does that mean I'm queer?" (a 17-year old man)
Before looking at the question and at answers to it, another example, from 19-year old Simon, must not be forgotten:
"I saw a programme on television which made out that to have sex with another bloke was some big deal. I have sex with blokes and girls – so what's the fuss about?"

(Emphasis here, and elsewhere, mine – it's the first mention of anything bisexual in the book.)

The author says that Simon's call would have been rare ten or fifteen years earlier.. because of the 'what's the fuss' issue, rather than the bisexuality:

"Volunteers often find this type of call very difficult because they are unwilling to take Simon at face value, not because his sentiment" – not seeing the fuss about being sexual with both men and women, remember – "is unusual amongst young gay men and young lesbians, but because if Simon is experiencing no issues, why is he contacting a helpline?"

In the following "To 'be' or to 'do'" section – is being homosexual something that one 'is' or is it rather than some people 'do' sex with others of their own gender? – discussion of sexuality includes

In short, gay is something that one is, and therefore it should be possible to find an easy 'yes' or 'no' answer to the question 'Am I gay?' (Some supporters of this view also hold that there is a third type of person, the bisexual. Others regard such people as merely those who have yet to accept their basic sexual identity.)

Another view of sexuality is that people express their sexuality with others. For some, all the people they express their sexuality with are of their own sex, for others all of the people they express their sexuality with are of the opposite sex,** and for yet other people, some are of the same sex and some of the opposite sex. Sexual activity can be described – but people cannot be categorised.

The latter is straight out of Kinsey, of course, and that's the only reference in the index for 'bisexual'.

In talking about how to answer the question, one approach used is to ask about attraction, including..

.. "Who do you think about when you masturbate?"

The answer to these inquiries is often taken to provide the definitive answer to the question. For example, if a man always fantasises about men then he is gay, if he fantasises about women, then he is not. If he fantasises sometimes about men and sometimes about about women then he is bisexual.

That's reasonable – the simplest and best definition of bisexual is 'attraction to more than one gender' after all!

What's rather less reasonable is that I think that is the only other use of 'bisexual' in the main body of the book,*** and the reason that many bisexual callers received a poor service from 'lesbian and gay' helplines then follows:

The influence of gay liberation steers the volunteer towards the view that anyone who admits to sexual feelings for their own sex must be gay. .. volunteers often wish to involve anyone who has a desire for same-sex activity in a gay lifestyle within a gay/lesbian community.

On the plus side, the section on HIV/Aids calls mentions vaginal intercourse – plenty of resources for 'gay men' don't, despite research showing more gay-identified men are sexual in any one year than do BDSM – and that some mixed-sex couples have anal sex.

One sort of call the bisexual helplines did not get, in my experience, in anything like the volume reported here were the 'what's the best pub' calls.. because there's never been a commercial 'bisexual' scene.

There are a pile of issues to consider when answering such questions.. but Google and the steep decline in the number of 'gay pubs' means they're a lot less relevant today.

Interestingly, one example of a caller involved them saying they could "only get away during the lunch-hour, otherwise my husband will find out" – this was decades before same-sex marriage in the UK, so it can only be a (quite possibly bisexual) woman saying that.****

p51. Being a Volunteer

Extensive coverage of selection and training of volunteers, followed by the big 'Should I tell people what to do?' question, also known as 'directive or non-directive?'

As with the bi phonelines, most genuine 'lesbian and gay' ones weren't. It's a contrast with the "you should stop being gay" line that some, often religious-based, 'counselling services' adopt. (Similarly for their abortion 'counselling', where women are invariably told not to have an abortion.)

Another issue is 'Can I answer anybody, or only people like me?' The obvious example is around gender, and here the Edinburgh bisexual line tried to have a woman and a man on duty each shift, whereas only one person was ever on the London helpline at a time, but if a woman specifically requested to speak to another woman, they'd be told the next couple of shifts when that was expected.

p69. Callers and their World

Four issues are talked about. The first is 'Should I tell my parents?' where the b-word doesn't get a mention, or anything about the issues for bisexual people coming out to parents.

Then it's 'What about my marriage and children?' where there are two examples. In the first 'Mike' is having an affair with another man, and his wife is becoming suspicious.. but thinks it's an affair with another woman. In the just over a page dealing with this, the b-word doesn't get a mention, but

bar talk (a good indicator of the temperature of the male gay world) points to the number of marriages 'saved' because the man is able to go off from time to time for 'sexual relief' with another man, or men.

The suggested line of conversation is to ensure Mike's "recognition" that he cannot "exploit" the two people he's in a relationship with, so has three options: leave her for him; "working through the issues" with her and "coming to a new understanding of the nature of their marriage"; or "suppressing his feelings" for him and ending the affair.

In the other, 'Julia' has slowly come to realise she has an emotional relationship with another woman she met at a women's health group that she goes to partly because her husband is having affairs with other women. He then accuses her of having an affair with the woman, goes off to a mistress and starts custody proceedings over their son that he is likely to win thanks to the lesbian issue!

Here, the helpline has to deal with its own anger at the injustice, but also supports both women. Again, there's no use of the b-word.

The other issues are 'Should I be faithful to my lover?' and 'Will I fit into the gay world?' – in what's now another look back at the past, in the main population centre of that typical region mentioned earlier, there are said to be four 'gay pubs' (one almost exclusively lesbian, one 'current gay scene look'), two 'gay clubs' (and a struggling straight club that has a 'gay night'), and at least a handful of non-commercial social groups. Each of the four larger towns in the region also has one gay pub, and two have their own social groups.

There is also at least one town with a specialist youth group, where "everyone" – the thirty to forty so under 21***** and the three older organisers – "was gay".

p91. The More Difficult Problems

Repeat callers who stay stuck, legal and medical issues, professional help (i.e. support) for volunteers, and..

'How do I meet other transvestites?'

After spending several paragraphs reminding readers of Kinsey's 1948 finding that 37% of men they interviewed had had sexual contact with another man leading to orgasm, and mentioning the 5% that were "largely or exclusively gay", it doesn't say anything about the other 32%. If only there were a word to describe the sexuality of people who are sexual with more than one gender

Although the vast majority of those who declare themselves to be transvestites claim to be heterosexual, and although many of them claim to be disgusted by anything to do with gay sex, nonetheless they form a sizeable proportion – anything from 5 per cent to 20 per cent – of calls to gay helplines.

There's also a section on sex between callers and volunteers, with the fascinating comment that only one helpline was known to say that was ok. (Indeed, it almost sounds like it was actively encouraged!) Frustratingly, it's not named, and it also looks like it had closed by the time the book was written.

p111. Improving Helplines

"What functions do helplines have?" is given five answers:

  • To be a source of information
  • To be a neighbour
  • To be an entry point to a new world
  • To provide counselling and therapy
  • To provide a focus for campaigning for equal rights

In each, it suggests, the helpline is acting as the interpreter of one world – the gay/lesbian one – and is "often doing so through the eyes of the political activist".

That is, I suspect, probably the reason the number of calls to LGB phonelines dropped dramatically from the start of the Century, because when the book asks..

"Who else could provide these services?"

.. the web made it much easier for anyone to publish their interpretations and Google took over as the signposter.

Assessing quality

The suggestion is that a good helpline is one

  • which takes its work seriously, but which never allows its volunteers to become bored – or boring
  • which is clear about why it wants to provide the service it offers, while never allowing its volunteers to thrust services down callers' throats
  • where procedures are monitored in order to change and improve the service, but where volunteers do not find the monitoring intrusive because it is carried out sensitively and its purpose is agreed in advance
  • where the volunteers enjoy each other's company, without allowing the helpline to become their only social service.

In contrast, "a helpline is not discharging its responsibility to the community properly if it" fails to operate as advertised / has untrained or unassessed volunteers / fails to update its information files.

Based on those, I would say – and as I volunteered with one for years, I am biased – that the UK bisexual phonelines were good:

  • The only boring period was towards the end, when there were hardly any calls. Getting to talk anonymously to people about sexuality is fascinating!
  • We were also clear about why we existed, and reports of the bi-erasure – 'you're the only one / gay really' – reported from people who'd called other lines like the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard reinforced that
  • The London phoneline had regular meetings to discuss such issues and the monitoring was a mix of the simple – noting things like presented gender and issues raised, then asking at the end of calls about age and rough location, if those hadn't already been mentioned
  • Those meetings also confirmed that we got on, plus the geographic spread of people's homes meant it was never anyone's only community.

Looking at the other side, the main problems with missed shifts were technical issues – that expensive box or BT messing something up. If someone knew they couldn't do a shift they were scheduled to do, it was easy to call someone else to cover it. There was initial and continuing training, and we were also able to rely on the information in Bifrost and Bi Community News.

The birth, life (and death?) of helplines

"Helplines come into being because people with idealism, vision and a desire to care see an issue which needs attention."

"Helplines continue .. because the issue .. has not gone away": more people join in, and the calls keep coming.

"Helplines consolidate" including by developing a statement of purpose and monitoring of the service.

"Helplines improve when volunteers come in contact with people who renew the vision, who have new and fresh idealism and have a desire to help more people and help them more effectively" (and not necessarily as new volunteers).

"Helplines develop when they have the enthusiastic support of the community they seek to serve."

What the book, I think, failed to accurately predict is the reason why many of them, including the bisexual ones, closed.

It gave three circumstances where it might happen:

  • When society deals properly with the issue
  • When the community it serves stops appreciating it – with the suggestion that would be because it didn't do enough to promote itself
  • When the environment becomes so hostile

.. and then had two pages reminding readers that the first didn't seem very likely, but the third one was more so, thanks to Aids, Section 28, and Labour being as bad as the Tories ("the Labour Front Bench 'forgot' to oppose clause 28 until pressure from outside forced them to change their minds").

p129. Notes / index etc

You can tell how dedicated the book is to covering 'lesbian and gay' issues from a 'lesbian and gay' perspective by the way that the index starts by saying..

Note: the words advice, gay, heterosexual, identity, information, lesbian, sexual are used throughout the book, and therefore are indexed only when a particular use requires it.

.. whereas 'bisexual' is only in the index once, and the b-word is not used much more often in the book itself. I think I've quoted every single use of it.


By 1995, National Friend hade 31 local 'Friend' or 'Gay Switchboard' groups as members. In 1998, a grant from the National Lottery Charities Board enabled a Birmingham office base and the employment of two members of staff to deal with administration, publicity and fundraising.

Five years later, the charity was closed. My guess is a combination of not being able to maintain the funding and a drop in membership due to a drop in the demand for telephone counselling was the cause.

What caused that was a combination of the first circumstance mentioned earlier coming to pass – see the changes in the British Social Attitudes surveys towards same-sex relationships – and the enormous success of the "World Wide Web", invented just a few years after the book was written.


* They described it as "gay and bisexual lifestyles" but it was gay and bisexual men's sex lives that were the primary focus

** Yes, the whole book is very binary when it comes to sex and gender identity.

*** I can spot two more uses in the footnotes: one referencing a government health service update – The proportion of those newly-reported HIV who are known to be gay or bisexual men has declined from 73 per-cent to 50 per-cent between mid-1987 and mid-1988" – and one the title of an article in the Social Work journal – 'Groups for the wives of gay and bisexual men'.

**** It's also a reminder that until the Licensing Act 1988, pubs in England and Wales were not generally allowed to open between 3:00pm and 5:30pm. It extended permissible opening hours to 11am to 11pm.

***** Presumably it's not a coincidence that that was then the age of consent for any male-male sexual activity in England and Wles.

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?