Friday, 4 July 2014

MindOUT! Conference 26-27 June: When worlds collide...clearing a head-on crash at my queer intersection

I started writing this the morning after...really early morning after two days of the MindOUT Conference. The fact that that I was awake and starting my creation of this piece at 530 AM after two days of the usual rainbow conference combination of adrenaline and brain drain speaks volumes at volume about how deeply I’m feeling what I’m feeling.

First up, there were many positives over the two days. Trans (binary) is clearly on the map in Australia (albeit with state/territory and regional differences). Ever since Health in Difference 2010, including in particular Aram Hosie’s award winning workshop , efforts around Australia on many levels have skyrocketed. I had great resonance with James Moreton’s keynote on trans experiences in the Scottish health system. It sounded pretty similar to here in Australia and I think we can go bigger than national co-operation. International co-operation on this and other issues would mean rather than inventing the same basic wheel, we could invent a mega-wheel and adapt the wheel for local driving conditions. This could only save time, effort and money and I think would be looked at favourably by governments re funding.

The other positive is that there are an increasing number of people doing rainbow education e.g. talks, presentations. I think a network of some sort for people like that would be a good idea. Watch this space... J

I would acknowledge there are still issues for non-binary peeps. Using terms like brothers and sisters creates invisibility for non-binary folk. I acknowledge that it will take effort to uproot years of binary auto-pilot; thing is, it can happen more quickly it if we start re-programming the auto-pilot now. We can “engage not attack” and get it done.

I am not intersex and therefore will not speak re how much intersex is or isn’t on the map. I’ll let people such as Gina Wilson, Morgan Carpenter and other peeps experiencing intersex who attended.

So: why was I awake at such a proverbial ungodly hour? Houston, there’s a problem.

There wasn’t, to use my phrase, too many Bs buzzing in. Bisexual wasn’t really there.

I now define my own sexual orientation as bi/pan. My own personal definition of bi/pan is that over the course of my life, I’m attracted to people of more than one gender identity/attracted to people regardless of gender identity. Note, that’s only my definition for me. I respect your right to your definition and labels – or to not use labels too. J

The opening plenary was a pretty good start. Associate Professor and (medical) Doctor Ruth McNair used terminology such as “homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.” She’s always been streets ahead on bi/pan (and trans too). The warm comments for her that appeared after I uploaded a photo to social media of her in action are testament to how highly she is regarded. She’s a far cry from the researcher, who, at a 2009 roundtable lumped bisexual and undecided together without blinking...or thinking. We’ll clone Dr Ruth to replace those sorts of researchers any day. J

I then had a chance to share my own story of how I’ve dealt with mental health issues along with three other trans people. Powerful and moving. Watch this space (or the space on the 3 CR airwaves) for that one. Immediately after lunch, we heard two beautiful presentations on New Zealand takaapatui (from Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho) and Australian indigenous people (from Dameyon Bonson). Put simply, it showed great respect for diversity and intersectionality.

Thereafter, came, in my opinion, the conference bi-light. My good friend and former Bisexual Alliance Victoria (BAV) committee colleague Mary Rawson presented some of the BAV “bi the bi” stories to a small yet attentive audience in one of the breakout sessions. The feedback was along the lines of “yes we need more bi stories, keep them coming.” That feedback came from a person who didn’t identify as bi (or similar). #ally. Win.

Yours truly then chaired a breakout session to end the day. I had a chance to introduce people. I had a brief time to live out my fantasy occupation of being a WWE ring announcer/commentator. :)  Business had indeed picked up (copyright Jim Ross).

Bi and large, it was a good first day. Fun, positive and in no way were bi people stigmatised, erased or in any way, “savaged.” (I await more research on bi/pan and poly people being genetically inclined to punning).

The car crash happened for me, during the opening plenary of day two. It wasn’t anything that was said in the session, it was about what wasn’t said. Dr Gavi Ansara’s talk on being polycultural - addressed to “brothers, sisters and non-gendered siblings” (see, it’s easy) - was beautiful and authentic. Margaret Mayman, Minister at Sydney’s Pitt Street Uniting Church spoke on being a Uniting church minister and among many others things, how we need Christian voices other than the Australian Christian Lobby was spot on. Morgan Carpenter spoke clearly and effectively on intersex as always

And Margaret was totally positive in her support for polyamory and affirming all forms of relationships as opposed to putting marriage on a pedestal.

So what was the crash?

I felt that while my trans component was travelling down the freeway at 100 kph and even my poly component was cruising safely in the slow lane, my bi/pan identity suddenly felt like it had been wiped off the road. Was a quarter of one of 25 concurrent break-out sessions in two days of over 90 presenters enough?

I want to make it clear this was about my thoughts and my feelings. I don’t “blame” anyone for making biphobic remarks or anything similar.

My mind was whirling. I wanted to stand up and ask other bi/pan/similar to stand with me. But was that fair and right to ask people to out themselves? I didn’t know.

So I approached organiser Barry Taylor at morning tea with my dilemma. He unhesitatingly offered to slot three minutes for me into the closing plenary. I prepared a “manual powerpoint” (that’s hand-written notes for those under 30) on and off over the next few hours.

Maybe I was edgy, but I began to be more aware of bi invisibility. I felt annoyed at remarks from one presenter that “we get LGB.” I think most people “get” gay and lesbian; what about bi? Did that person know of the worse health outcomes and other issues for bi people?

Finally: 3:30 PM and the closing plenary. I’m sitting in the front row and I’m ready to get up. I wait through researcher John Howard (no, not the former Australian Prime Minister or the actor) – who mentioned the distressing “bi and undecided” research (to be fair he tried to point out it was not right to lump them together). Then Barry spoke – and the conference was closed. No 3 minutes.

I take responsibility for my own error in not being proactive and re-confirming at the start of the plenary I was to get 3 minutes. I apologise for letting bi/pan people down (this means there is a 98% probability I’m not a politician or a corporate media mogul – I take responsibility for my errors). I’ll learn from this and do it better next time.

All the same, I strongly believe bi/pan - and poly - folk can take something out of this. All indications are that people in fields such as those at this conference e.g. community workers, researchers – the relatively open-minded and empathic types - want more information. There is now in these sorts of circles a realisation that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” So we have a chance to tell such people what we know so they can know too and influence people in key positions

It is time for the first Australian bi/pan specific quantitative research piece/s on bi/pan and polyamory. We have research on the way re trans and gender diverse that has relatively big samples; we could get the same for bi/pan. It seems previous bi/pan research has achieved small numbers as it has only been aimed at “men who have sex with men” in venues. I think in this day and age of social media we can go further than that.

Similar to trans and gender diverse (and probably intersex), bi/pan people need to be part of BGILT initiatives from the start to promote inclusiveness and a sense of ownership. And the same as any professional with unique skills and knowledge, trans, gender diverse, intersex and bi/pan people need to be reimbursed adequately for their time. Project budgets need to factor in these amounts

So I conclude by saying it’s time the B’s more than buzzed in. It’s time to swarm.

 In 2012, after years of receiving biphobia at Melbourne’s Pride March, the organisers put bi (and poly) people near the front. The biphobia has gone away. We need to push to the front in every way.

In 2010, I presented at Health in Difference (on prejudice under the rainbow) with a paper called “How the BGILT community Can Work Together.” No one has ever asked me why I wrote the letters in that order. 4 years later, I state that there were three reasons: it uses alphabetical order – can’t dispute that (ok, I’m half serious, half humourous on that one); for me personally, the B and the T are the bookends holding things together and one other one...

I put B at the front in a symbolic way to say “we’re here; we’re visible and not hidden in the middle or anywhere else.”

So it’s time now, in 2014 to put B at the front, both symbolically and practically. I call on bi/pan people to start doing this by writing BGILT (or similar). I call on people to politely and assertively request keynote speeches and major plenary sessions at “rainbow” conferences on “binary busting” for all of relationship status, gender identity and sexual orientation.

And for my sake, I want my queer car to be fully on the road from now on. :)

(These views are my own and do not necessarily any organisation with which I am involved)


  1. Golly I chaired that plenary and had no idea you were to speak . I am very very sad you did not and likewise felt the absence of Poly and very slight inclusion of Bi.

  2. it was a last minute thing...with hindsight it would have been far better to mention it to you given Barry had a million things on his mind. Live and learn...