No Fight Left In The Purple Corner: Are You Suffering From Bi Activist Fatigue?

Stigma, invisibility, lack of funding. It’s no surprise that in bisexual activist circles, burnout is an all-too-common phenomenon. Biscuit ed Lottie discusses Biscuit’s ongoing struggles – and talks to two prominent bi activists who are feeling just as wiped as she is.

nude-145119_1280It’s a miracle you’re about to read this article at all. Biscuit has, like many bi websites/publications and organisations, survived against all the odds. In January, the site will have been going for two years. It’s not making money, as I hoped it would. It needs a really good design overhaul which I’m not techy enough to be able to give it. But it’s still here, somehow. I just feel sad when I think about how much better it could be with a core group of regular writers, a few more hands and a wider skill-set on deck. I miss the burning passion and positivity I felt about the site back in the early days when we were setting it up and then again just after its award nomination.

I’d go so far as to say that the nomination probably saved the site, in fact. For those who need a little background: despite being a small voluntary project the site was nominated for the 2014 Publication of the Year award by Stonewall, the UK’s largest LGBT charity, just nine months after its inception. This was a landmark step in Stonewall’s positive new direction on bi issues. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time Stonewall had specifically nominated a specifically bi publication or organisation for an award. At this point my co-founder, who was taking care of the business side of things, had recently jumped ship and I was seriously considering packing the whole thing in. I won’t lie, I was astonished to read the email.

I’d worked on a publication which won the award under my editorship a few years previously. Unlike Biscuit, however, g3 magazine – at the time one of the two leading print mags for lesbian and bi women in the UK – had an estimated readership of 140,000, had been going for eight years and boasted full-time paid office staff and regular paid freelancers. Biscuit, by contrast, was being dragged along by one weary unpaid editor and a bunch of unpaid writers who understandably, for the most part, couldn’t commit to regularly submitting work.

Little Biscuit’s enormous competition for the award consisted of Buzzfeed, Attitude.co.uk, iNewspaper and Property Week. We didn’t win – that accolade went to iNewspaper – but the nomination was nevertheless, as I say, a huge catalyst to continue with the site. I launched a crowdfunder, which finished way off target. I sold one ad space, for two months. Then nothing. I attempted in vain to recruit a sales manager but nobody wanted to work on commission. Some wonderful writers came and went. There were periods of tumbleweed when I frantically had to fill the site with my own writing, thereby completely defeating the object of providing a platform for a wide range of bi voices.

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The Stonewall Award nomination persuaded me to keep going with the site

The departure of the webmaster was another blow. Thankfully by this point I had a co-editor on board – the amazing Libby – so I was persuaded to stick with it. And here we are now. I don’t actually know where the next article is coming from. That’s not a good feeling. But, apart from for Biscuit, I try not to write for free anymore myself, so I understand exactly why that is. As a freelance journo trying to make a living I’ve had to be strict with myself about that. I regularly post on the “Stop Working For Free” Facebook group and often feel a pang of misplaced guilt because I ask my writers to write for free, even though I’m working on the site for free myself, and losing valuable time I could be spending on looking for paid work.

Biscuit hasn’t exactly been a stranger to controversy, in addition to its financial and staffing issues. Its original tagline – “for girls who like girls and boys” – was considered cis-centric by some, leading to accusations that the site had some kind of trans/genderqueer*-phobic agenda. Which was amusing, as at the height of this a) we’d just had two articles about non-binary issues published and b) I was actually engaged to a genderqueer partner, a fact they were clearly unaware of. Now the site is under fire from various pansexual activists who object to the term “bisexual”. To clarify – “girl and boys” was supposed to imply a spectrum and, no, we don’t think “bi” applies only to an attraction to binary folk. The site aims the main part of its content at female-spectrum readers attracted to more than one gender because this group does have specific needs. But there is something here for EVERYONE bisexual. Anyway, it’s a shame all of this gossip was relayed secondhand, and the people in question didn’t think to confront me about it (which at least the pan activists have bothered to do). We damage our community immeasurably with these kinds of Chinese whispers.

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Biscuit ed Libby, being amazing

Whilst trying to keep the site afloat, I’ve also been building on the work I started right back when I edited g3, and trying to improve bi visibility in other media outlets. I’ve recently had articles published by Cosmopolitan, SheWired, The F-Word, GayStar News and Women Make Waves and I’m constantly emailing other sites which I’ve not yet written for with bi pitches. Unfortunately, although I am over the moon to be writing for mainstream outlets such as Cosmo about bi issues, it’s been an uphill struggle trying to persuade some editors out there that they have more readers to whom bi-interest stories apply than they might think. It’s an incredibly exhausting and frustrating process.

Libby and I are doing our best with Biscuit. I can’t guarantee that I would be doing anything at all with it if Libby hadn’t arrived on the scene, so once again I would like to mention how fabulous she is. But we desperately need more writers. We need some help with site design and tech issues. We need a hand with the business and sales side of things. We can’t do it without you. And if you know any rich bisexual heiresses who read Biscuit, please do send them our way. 😉

Grant Denkinson’s story

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Grant speaks on a panel chaired by Biscuit’s Lottie at a Bi Visibility Day event

So first of all, explain a little about the activism you’re involved/have been involved in. 


“I’ve been involved with bisexual community organising for a bit over 20 years. Some has been within community: writing for and editing our national newsletter, organising events for bisexuals and helping others with their events by running workshop sessions or offering services such as 1st aid. I’ve spoken to the media about bisexuality and organised bi contingents at LGBT Pride events (sometimes just me in a bi T-shirt!). I’ve helped organise and participated in bi activist weekends and trainings. I’ve help train professionals about bisexuality. I’ve also piped up about bisexuality a lot when organising within wider LGBT and gender and sexuality and relationship diversity umbrellas. I’ve been a supportive bi person on-line and in person for other bi folks. I’ve been out and visibly bi for some time. I’ve helped fund bi activists to meet, publish and travel. I’ve funded advertising for bi events. I’ve set up companies and charities for or including bi people. I’ve personally supported other bi activists.”


What made you get involved?

“
In some ways I was looking for a way to be outside the norm and to make a difference and coming out as bi gave me something to push against. I’ve been less down on myself when feeling attacked. I’ve also found the bi community very welcoming and where I can be myself and so wanted to organise with friends and to give others a similar experience. There weren’t too many others already doing everything better than I could.”

How do you feel about the state of bi activism worldwide (esp UK and USA) at the moment?

“There have been great changes for same-sex attracted people legally and socially and these have happened quickly. Bi people have been involved with making that happen and benefit from it. We can also be hidden by gay advances or actively erased. We still have bi people not knowing many or any other local bi people, not seeing other bisexuals in the mainstream or LGT worlds and not knowing or being able to access community things with other bis. We are little represented in books or the media and people don’t know about the books and zines and magazines already available. The internet has made it easy to find like-minded people but also limited privacy and I think is really fragmented and siloed. It is hard to find bisexuals who aren’t women actors, harmful or fucked up men or women in pornography designed for straight men. We have persistent and high quality bi events but they are sparse and small.”

What’s causing you to feel disillusioned?

“I’m fed up of bi things just not happening if I don’t do them. Not everything should be in my style and voice and I shouldn’t be doing it all. I and other activists campaign for bi people to be more OK and don’t take care of ourselves enough while doing so. People are so convinced we don’t exist they don’t bother with a simple search that would find us. We have little resources while having some of the worst outcomes of any group. I don’t want to spend my entire life being the one person who reminds people about bisexuals, including our so-called allies. I’m not impressed with the problem resolution skills in our communities and while we talk about being welcoming I’m not sure we’re very effective at it. I’m fed up with mouthing the very basics and never getting into depth about bi lives and being one who supports but who is not supported. I’m all for lowering barriers but at a certain point if people don’t actively want to do bi community volunteering it won’t happen. Some people are great critics but build little.”

What do you want to say to other activists about this?

“Why are we doing this personally? I’m not sure we know. How long will we hope rather than do? Honestly, are there so few who care? Alternatively should we stop the trying to do bi stuff and either do some self-analysis, be happy to accept being what we are now as a community, chill out and just let stuff happen or give up and go and do something else instead.”

Patrick Richards-Fink’s story

085d4de So first of all, explain a little about the activism you’re involved/have been involved in.

“Mostly internet – I am a Label Warrior, a theorist and educator. Here’s how I described it on my blog: “One of the reasons that I am a bisexual activist rather than a more general queer activist is because I see every day people just like me being told they don’t belong. It doesn’t mean I don’t work on the basic issues that we all struggle against — homophobia, heterosexism, classism, out-of-control oligarchy, racism, misogyny, this list in in no particular order and is by no means comprehensive. But I have found that I can be most effective if I focus, work towards understanding the deep issues that drive the problems that affect people who identify the same way that I have ever since I started to understand who I am. I find that I’m not a community organizer type of activist or a storm the capitol with a petition in one hand and a bullhorn in the other activist — I’m much better at poring over studies and writing long wall-o’-text articles and occasionally presenting what I’ve gleaned to groups of students until my voice is so hoarse that I can barely do more than croak.” So internet, and when I was still in school, a lot of on-campus stuff. Now I’m moving into a new phase where my activism is more subtle – I’m working as a therapist, and so my social justice lens informs my treatment, especially of bi and trans people.”

What made you get involved?

“I can’t not be.”

How do you feel about the state of bi activism worldwide (esp UK and USA) at the moment?

“I feel like we made a couple strides, and every time that happens the attacks renewed. I hionestly think the constant attempts to divide the bisexual community into ‘good pansexuals’ and ‘bad bisexuals’ and ‘holy no-labels’ is the thing that’s most likely to screw us.”

What’s causing you to feel disillusioned?



“It is literally everywhere I turn – colleges redefining bisexuality on their LGBT Center pages, news articles quoting how ‘Bi=2 and pan=all therefore pan=better’, everybloodywhere I turn I see it every day. The word bi is being taken out of the names of organisations now, by the next group of up-and-comers who haven’t bothered to learn their history and understand that if you erase our past, you take away our present. Celebrities come out as No Label, wtf is that. Don’t they make kids read 1984 anymore? It’s gotten to the point now that even seeing the word pansexual in print triggers me. I’m reaching the point now that if someone really wants to be offended when all I am trying to do is welcome them on board, then I don’t have time for it.”

What do you want to say to other activists about this?

“Stay strong, and don’t give them a goddamned inch. I honestly think that the bi organizations – even, truth be told, the one I am with – are enabling this level of bullshit by attempting to be conciliatory, saying things that end up reinforcing the idea that bi and pan are separate communities. We try to be too careful not to offend anyone. Like the thing about Freddie Mercury. Gay people say ‘He was gay.’ Bi people say ‘Um, begging your pardon, good sirs and madams and gentlefolk of other genders, but Freddie was bi.’ And they respond ‘DON’T GIVE HIM A LABEL HE DIDN’T CLAIM WAAHHH WAAHHH!’ And yet… Freddie Mercury never used the label ‘gay’, but it’s OK when they do it. And he WAS bisexual by any measure you want to use. But we back down. And 2.5% of the bisexual population decides pansexual is a better word, and instead of educating them, we add ‘pan’ to our organisation names and descriptions. Now, this is clearly a dissenting view – I will always be part of a united front where my organization is concerned. But everyone knows how I feel, and I think it’s totally valid to be loyal and in dissent at the same time. Not exactly a typically American viewpoint, but everyone says I’d be a lot more at home in Britain than I am here anyway.”

 

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Charlotte Dingle

Charlotte 'Lottie' Dingle is Biscuit's founding editor. When she's not running freelancing for a diverse bunch of clients ranging from Cosmo to Occupy, she enjoys teaching life drawing, discussing life/the universe/everything with her beloved (but smelly) 22-year-old cat, writing flash fiction for her MA course, getting pretentious tattoos, listening to folk music, creating surrealist art, trying to change the world and drinking red wine. Oh, and My Little Pony. Don't forget My Little Pony. Her favourite biscuits are cream crackers (do they count as biscuits?).

One Response to No Fight Left In The Purple Corner: Are You Suffering From Bi Activist Fatigue?

  • Linda says:

    Hello Lottie. I just wanted to say how much I value the hard work you put into this is biscuit. I feel there are so few places for bi women like me online, and so little bi visibility. So thank you x

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