“If You Wanted Support, You Sent Off For Leaflets” – Finding a Bi Community Before the Internet

associationsWe at Biscuit are constantly surprised how many people simply don’t know that a vibrant and active bisexual community exists in the UK. In the digital age it’s much easier than ever before to connect with people just like you, but what did people do before Google? We asked Marcus Morgan of the Bisexual Index to tell us how he found a community he could call home.

The story of how I came to find the UK bisexual community is one I tell often – if you’ve heard it before I apologise – but it’s a useful example of the subtle, or perhaps not so subtle, biphobia we encounter. Of the way we are delegitimised with the kindest intentions.

I was 21 years old. I worked in a high street insurance brokers on the outskirts of London. I had keys to lock up the shop so I waited on a Friday afternoon until after everyone else had gone, finished off putting the day’s takings into the floor safe. We all knew that whoever locked up could linger slightly longer and use the phones for personal calls, and the bosses turned a blind eye provided it wasn’t international. A week before the book people had been round and left us a sample of the latest paperbacks and hardbacks, and I’d spent my Friday evening speed reading novels. Sitting alone in a darkened office so no customers would think we were open late. The same again on this night, sitting in the shadows and telling myself it was time to make the phone call. That phone call. I’d been working up the courage for a while. The place I was living I’d found through the gay switchboard, I was lodging with an older gay man in Wimbledon. So I had their number and I hoped they could help me.

A couple of years later I was a happy bisexual and he kicked me out. He’d been happy to rent his spare bedroom to a young gay man, but I kept bringing back women. He described it as us “growing apart” which always felt like weird language as we’d never socialised together. He kept to his 85% of the house, I kept to my room. I used the kitchen but ate upstairs. Looking back I can see it was the bisexuality he had a problem with. Another example of the problem gay people have with the reality of bisexual lives.

So I rang the switchboard and I asked them. Was there a group for bisexual people in London? This was the days before the internet; if you wanted support you went to a meeting or sent off a stamped-addressed-envelope for leaflets. Books from the library hadn’t been any real help and a support group was my best hope for meeting people like me. I think one of the greatest leaps forward for the bi community has been the rise of the internet and the scope it brings for horizontal communication rather than the trickle down we had when I was growing up. We don’t need to wait for a book or newsletter to be published from on high, we can now educate each other among ourselves. Educate, inspire, inform.

Some people love the imagery of bisexuality being a bridge that brings straight and gay communities together, but bridges are for travelling over, not really for stopping on.

Yes, came the reply from the man on the phone. Yes, there was a London Bisexual Group. In fact, he went on, they met on a Friday evening so I could get there that night. My mind whirled with the possibilities. I could be hours away from meeting other bisexuals, finding out if what I felt made me one of them. I had so many questions that needed answers.

So too did the man from the switchboard. Before I give you the details, he said cautiously, there is something I feel I need to ask.

“Are you sure you’re bisexual? I mean, a lot of men claim to be bisexual because they think it’s easier than admitting they’re gay. It might be easier in the long term to just take a good look at yourself and be proud to be gay now rather than pretend to be something you’re not.”

I was floored, momentarily. But then the words flowed out of me – polite still but with indignation. I’d already admitted I was gay to my friends, work colleagues and to my family. I’d endured the horror on my mother’s face and had to wade through the ‘what about AIDS’ conversation with my father. I’d had one boyfriend and several incidental partners. I really enjoyed the sex, and wasn’t ashamed or in denial. I spent a considerable amount of time in gay pubs and clubs. I spent probably too much money on alcohol there. I liked getting picked up.

And that was very true – I remember I really did like getting picked up by men in bars. At school and then at college I’d deliberately erased myself from people’s sight. A friend had noted how I always walked so far to the side in corridors it was like I was disappearing into the wall. I had no social confidence, hated people turning to look at me when I spoke. But going to a gay club and standing against a wall, preferably the last wall on people’s way to the toilets was all the conversation that was required of me. It didn’t harm my prospects that I was skinny, geeky, and looked vulnerable. I was skinny because I hadn’t quite enough money for the train tickets in to London or the booze, so during the week all I could afford in the week before pay-day was to have a nap for lunch.

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I wish I could say his reply was embarrassed or flustered, realising his own biphobia and put right by my response. But it wasn’t, it was just bemused. He said that maybe I was making the reverse journey instead, and when I asked what he meant he said that many people went straight then bisexual then gay, and so perhaps I was going to go gay then bisexual then straight.

Some people love the imagery of bisexuality being a bridge that brings straight and gay communities together, but this is why I’ve never liked that. Bridges are for travelling over, not really for stopping on. People live on the islands that they connect, but hurry over them if the weather is bad. Bridges sway. Bridges buckle. And most of all bridges aren’t needed unless there is a chasm to span. I don’t think there is between gay and straight, and I don’t think bisexuality is between the two. That would make it less a third option and more a one-and-a-halfth.

No, I said. No, I don’t think so. Maybe I was moving away from being gay but I wasn’t going to stop wanting sex with guys. Maybe I’d stop at bisexual. And anyway, I’d like to find out more about where I am now. After some verbal shrugging I did get the details of the London Bisexual Group, and put the phone down. That was the last time I used that particular gay switchboard. Almost 25 years later I was asked by them to come and give them bisexuality awareness training as they rebranded themselves as LGBT+.

And so it was that I had a Friday evening free and a bisexual group to be at. I went home, changed out of my work clothes, waited six months, and went and joined the bisexual community.

To find a local bisexual group, check out our guide to what’s on where, or contact Switchboard.

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