Bi Group First Timer Nerves?

The first time you go along to a bi meetup can be pretty nerve-wracking. What to expect? What will happen afterwards?

It depends a bit on the group.  Hannah gave a great overview of going along to pub / cafe type meets in BCN issue 122, which you can read here, but what about going to a bi meet at a community centre?  The ones like Bothways’ “talky space”, BiTalkia or BiPhoria’s Foundation meetings.

My First Time

It depends how “out” you are, of course, but when I went along to a bi group the first time I’d hardly told anyone and was nervous as hell. I was sure I wouldn’t be bi enough: I’d never so much as kissed anyone of a single gender, never mind anything more.

I walked round the block about five times before I could bring myself to ring the doorbell. What if I’d got the wrong building? The rational bit of my brain said that whoever answered the door would just look at me blankly and say they had no idea what I was talking about. The rest of humanity isn’t sitting in wait eager to spot the bisexual. But worry has an ability to blot out common sense.

So I rang the doorbell, and then knocked the door in case the bell was out of action. It was about thirty seconds before someone appeared.
“Hello,” I said “I’m here for the bi meet.”
“Oh dear,” said the person doing reception duty, “they’ve had to cancel tonight. You’re welcome to wait for a bit and see if anyone else turns up…”

That’s about as bad as it gets, really. Like turning up for a dental appointment to find the dentist is off with flu, a lot of buildup and then postponement – though even then I at least knew that next time I would be knocking on the right door.

But I turned up the next time and the group really was happening that month. There were about a dozen people, mostly a bit older than me, and after coming back for a few months I’d identified some people who seemed to be more on my wavelength and started to have Actual Bi Friends. There were some people who really weren’t coming from the same place as me, but it was interesting hearing how they saw being bi nonetheless – for example some people are really “out and proud” about being bi whereas for others it’s something private to them and a few close people in their life.

So What’s It Like?

You get to the centre, ring that doorbell, knock on that door, press an intercom buzzer: and someone will let you in.  This might be one of the people running the group, or someone running the centre that it’s held in. Tell them what you’re there for: if they are running the group it’s a good reassurance for them and if they are on door duty for several meetings in one place they’ll know which way to point you.

And now you’re at a bi meet.  Attendances at UK bi groups seem to vary between about half-a -dozen and twentyfive people. Some of them will already know each other, but they were all new to it and facing a room full of strangers once.

There may be a new members section of the meeting or someone who’s involved in running the group may welcome you. A good moment to find out some basics, like where the loo is or whether the place you’ve parked your car is OK.

The main section of the meeting will be discussion either around a specific theme – some groups advertise topics in advance for each month – or driven by whatever people have on their minds, preferably with some kind of a bi twist.

The key difference between community centre meets and pub meets is the venue, but something flows from that – the shape of the conversation.

There will normally be someone taking charge of proceedings: whose role is to make sure new members are welcomed along, get everyone to introduce themselves and help steer conversation either on a previously decided topic or whatever people want to talk about that night, who will try and see to it no-one either does all the talking or never gets a chance to get a word in edgeways. Their focus for the hour or so of the meeting is on what you are all doing and saying – so it’s polite for you to similarly not be checking your phone for messages and the like in a way that that’s much more usual in a pub.

None of our bi groups are run by professional staff, not all of the volunteers making them happen have been trained in managing group meetings, and we all have lousy days now and then, so this steering of the discussion may not be an exact art.

I’ve been to a few different community centre meets and cafe / pub meets (over the years it’s been about ten of them I think!) and I think they each suit people of particular personalities and perhaps different points in their life.  If talking to strangers comes easily and you’re pretty comfortable with being bi then cafe and pub meets are easy; if you need a bit more of a shove to talk to new people or have a lot going on around your sexuality then the quieter space and greater structure of community centre groups will probably be better for you.  But for most of us, there’s not much choice – you get whatever shape the local bi group is.

After an hour or two the group will reach the end of its allotted time. Make sure the organisers have your details for keeping in touch – it’s much simpler to remember when the next bi group meeting is if you’re getting an email, text or other reminder from them – and see whether there is a social space after the group.  Whether a pub they all adjourn to or if there’s a different meeting on another day of the month, now you’ve met people in the formalish setting of the centre, you can talk with them in a more casual environment.

Off home and you’re done – with the next meeting written into your diary and a new easy way of coming out to people about being bisexual: mention the bi group you go to.

Every bi group has its own little quirks, so for all this can be general advice, it’s always worth dropping them a line a few days before your first visit to make sure of the little things like whether the meetings are still going, or if it’s OK to bring a friend along to make sure you don’t chicken out from attending.

Good luck out there!
Jen

The Skinny Version: Top Tips

  • Check the time the group starts and be there on time. A couple of minutes early won’t hurt, though half an hour early and the organisers may not be there yet. Rock up an hour late and you might have missed something important.
  • Read the group’s web page or facebook page to check if there is anything about how the group works it would be useful to know beforehand.
  • You don’t have to say anything (much!). If you’re nervous or shy it can be enough of a new experience just to be in a room where the people around you will guess you are bi and not try telling you that you’re kidding yourself or just attention-seeking.
  • If you’re going to need to leave early or are going to be checking in with a friend by text to let them know you’re OK, let one of the people leading the meeting know – that way they don’t think you’ve grown bored or are walking out in response to something that was said.
  • Let others speak too. You may have loads of issues bubbling away inside, that you’re just aching to share with other people who might “get it”. Other people there probably have stuff on their mind too, and there will be another meeting in two weeks’ time or next month where you can talk about the other bi questions on your mind.
  • Confidentiality goes both ways. Most bi groups will have a rule that you don’t identify who was there to people outside the group, but you can take away what you learn.  Other people will not “out” you as having been there in return.
  • If there’s a “and then we go on to the pub”, and your travel options for getting home allow, go to the pub. There’s probably been something said during the meeting that you can use as an opening conversational gambit, and you get that slightly more relaxed social version of all the people you just met.
  • Try it again the next meeting. If there was no-one you related to at the first meeting you go to, it could just be the luck of the draw as to who turned up that time. Groups of all kinds also go through ebbs and flows of attendance so if there were just a handful of people or the discussion themes weren’t that interesting for you when you went along it may be different a few months later.
  • Keeping in touch: one to plan for beforehand – if you’re not very “out”, you may want to set up a special email address or social media profile in advance so that you can keep in touch with the group.
  • And finally: understand what the group space is for. The bi groups we list in BCN are social/support spaces for bi people, that give us all a way to meet other bis and share our ideas, questions and experiences good or bad. They are neither dating / pickup spaces, nor will the people who are at the group necessarily share your take on politics or morality.

    BCN’s nationwide listings of local bi groups and meetups are in the back pages of the mag and on the website here.