The bi A to Z: Bisexual Index

For a start, where did the initiative for Bisexual Index come from?  And who is involved?

We’ve been discussing activist groups and national organisations and charities and umbrellas for years at BiCon and the Bi Activist Weekends. The long repeated opinion has been that in order to demonstrate there’s a big bisexual community, there needs to be some non-local organisations. Obviously there is BiCon, but the main job of BiCon as an organisation is to put on a conference, there’s sometimes some time or people to go and do general outreach but not always – plus the email addresses and contact details change every year.

The gay community has groups like Stonewall or Outrage, and these are built on very different models. Clearly there’s no one true way, and so we concluded that we needed a couple of groups so that no-one has the responsibility of being the national group.

When you read a story in the press and see a comment being made, it’s never a random person off the street. It’ll be a spokesperson from Christian Voice or FOREST, and these groups don’t need to be big to be getting heard. There was a story about swearing on the BBC recently with a quote from the Casual Swearing Appreciation Society – which is (as far as I can tell) only a Facebook group.

On FOREST’s website they answer “How many members do you have” with “We’re not a membership organisation, people can register their support for our work and make donations”. How many people are in Christian Voice?  The only one ever named in the press is their chair – when I realised this I realised that a group isn’t judged by its size, but by its professionalism and commitment to the issues.

So, we needed somewhere to field people from, but setting things up in the bi community can take a long time. Look at the length of time it’s taking us to make progress on bi.org, or agree to a BiCon company, or create a fundraising bi charity.  So I realised that starting with a BiCon workshop wouldn’t be a good idea – we’d spend a lot of time on what structure everyone would like, and what name, and ideas for logos, and yes – it would result in plenty of useful ideas but no-one obvious to chose between them, and then the discussion would get put on hiatus for a year until the next BiCon.  Too slow!

But looking at Christian Voice, or FOREST as a model – such a group would initially only take a handful of people to set up. Why spend hours in discussing what sort of bank account if the group might not get a cheque in its own name in the first year?  Why worry about being a limited company yet if there’s no income?  Have those discussions later, get some work done first.

I was determined to see how far I could get the ball rolling with minimal people, and the first hurdle was to decide on a name.  I wanted something that wasn’t implying we would be the only group nationally, so no “British Bisexual Association” but which was also modern while still being not too frivolous or light sounding.  Which meant that we wouldn’t be “The Purple Patrol” or “Bisexual Angst”.

Why “Index”?

I spent a couple of months just jotting down every idea I had. BiVision, Bipinionated, BiFurious – lots of appalling puns. I checked a lot of them out on search engines, and it turns out that most bad jokes have already been made, so I needed something distinctive and not already in use elsewhere.

It had to have the word “Bisexual” in the name – Bipinionated is good but won’t automatically be read as being of bisexual interest. And if it was going to be “Bisexual Something” then the second word needed to begin with an “I” so that even at an initials level it spelt “BI”. Obviously “Bisexual Institute” has been done, and sounds far more scholarly than I could pull off.

An index is a list of items so a Bisexual Index could be a list of reasons to identify as bisexual, or bisexual issues, or famous bisexuals. It has many component parts. An index is a guide to what’s included elsewhere, a Bisexual Index could be a way to find what’s overlooked in the LGBT scene. An index can be a score or rating, so a person’s “Bisexual Index” could be how bisexual they were. The index finger is the one we use for pointing things out – so there’s a visibility connotation there. Lots of potential meanings, and it doesn’t sound either too fluffy or too formal.

Once I hit on the name I knew I had to use that, I registered the domain on the internet the next day.

You launched quite close to BB’s launch? Coincidence?

(Laughs) This was quite funny – I registered the domain name and a day later was forwarded the email BB had sent to BiFest introducing Bisexual Butterfly as a national bi organisation!
It’s interesting because my understanding is that James isn’t coming to this from within bi activism – so the need for an organisation is evidently apparent externally as well. His ideas and language are quite different from mine – which I think is good, it makes it clear that we’re separate and gives people more than one place to go to for information.

There are a number of bi projects out there — when you went through those, things like BiWales, bisexual.com, BCN, Bisexual Underground — what did you feel was missing that the Index can add?

What I wanted to add to the available resources was a group that was approachable for speakers and press comment, and which was setting out clear opinions on what bisexuality is and isn’t for people curious about their sexuality.

BCN has done a great job for many years fielding requests for speakers, and I hope that continues, but for people outside the bi community to have a choice of who they approach for comment and content vastly improves the realisation that there are lots of bisexuals in Britain.

If you look at the leaflets and webpages of so many groups though it’s all “if you sleep with men and women it’s okay if you don’t call yourself bisexual” and it’s fine to redefine gay or straight to include yourself if you don’t want to identify as “bi”, it’s fine to define new words like pansexual or bicurious or questioning to include yourself if you don’t want to identify as “bi”, but it’s time for people to stop redefining bisexuality so that they can say it excludes.  We don’t need a more complicated definition to make it clear what we’re not.  What we are is bisexual, and bisexual is simple to understand.  So we’re a little bit pushy on that!

What are your aims and objectives as an organisation?  And practically what will that mean Bisexual Index doing in the next year, two years, three years?

I don’t think becoming a charity is the right way for us to go – I think a BiCon charity and Bisexual Butterfly would be plenty.

I’m interested in getting people into discussions where they wouldn’t be permitted if they were individuals.  We’ve got an opinion piece into Pink News purely on the basis that a comment I left on a blog lead back to an organisation’s website rather than an individual’s. Through having an Index email address we’re getting involved in the discussions about local prides, and projects like Stonewall’s Bi Employees research – without an organisation behind us we wouldn’t be at those tables.

We want to change the language. It’s not enough to be a footnote on LG&T issues, people should say “straight and bisexual” too.  We think the way to do this is to improve visibility, to get bisexuality noticed and recognised – this widens the vocabulary. Simply having an organisation makes us more visible.

The t-shirt shop on the website is a case in point. Are we selling loads of shirts? No – but volume of sales isn’t the point. A person searching for information on bisexuality seeing that we have over a dozen different bisexual slogans on stuff up for sale is going to be reassured that there’s other people out there, purely by seeing the variety.

What ways can people get involved?
Buy t-shirts. Link to us online. Propagate our definitions. Download our leaflets and posters. Tell me when their local Pride is and I’ll send them postcards. Encourage their local LGBT organisations to link to us, or contact us. And become supporters or members – I’m hoping to have some discussion about group structure at BiCon and will keep BCN posted as to how people can sign up.

Thanks Marcus, and good luck.