Fitting & misfitting in the bi community, 2005 version

This page is based on the notes used by the various co-leaders of this session at BiCon 2005. Specifically, this is based on the version used for the final re-run, after things had been changed during BiCon.

Many thanks again to Cat, Marcus, Anna and Bethan for their leadership, support, and wise feedback "on the day(s)" about what worked and what didn't.

For more about the context of this session, see part II of my BiCon 2005 report. That also links back to the original version of this session and some explanations of its design.

The challenge of designing something replicable

As I allude to in the BiCon report, there's a big learning curve on which I'm only a little way up, about how to hand on complex information so that someone else can use it and groove with it! and this is all part of that exploration.

When preparing these notes for other people to work from, I felt I was skating an impossible line between (a) giving people too much text to read (both to read out in the session, and as background information), and (b) leaving stuff out which needs to be said.

(For me it's not a problem to read things out word for word and still sound fairly natural, and when I'm preparing notes for myself, I often prepare them with that intention in mind. But most people would rather speak from notes. That's one small aspect of it.)

As regards layout, perhaps one helpful move would be for leaders to get a file some weeks before, as "rich text", HTML or maybe even XML, which they could experiment with to edit & style it into a form they feel happy with. This would have been fairly impractical during BiCon 2005, mainly because as it turned out, I was tweaking the content each time it ran, but could become more practical with a format which had settled down into some kind of final-ish shape.

On the other hand, even if the leaders all wanted to do that (which they might not), that probably still wouldn't be enough to support people in feeling thoroughly at home with the material and understanding why it is as it is. One of the pitfalls is that something unforeseen can come up in the session, and not be written down anywhere in the documented design. Because if I were leading, that situation would be new to me too! so I wouldn't have planned it either - I'd be winging it, but based on all the background thinking which had the design turn out the way it is.

On the other other hand, perhaps the way forward is simply to accept that complex stuff built on complex backgrounds of other thinking takes too much handover effort for the circumstances and available time, and invent simpler things if I want them to be replicated more closely.

So lots to think about there for the future. But, for what it's worth, here is what we had for the sessions at BiCon 2005.


[Note: Explanations shown like this were to give details or clarify the purpose of various bits, for the leaders' information. Anything in square brackets was a note for the leaders, rather than something for the leaders to say to the participants.]


Fitting & misfitting in the bi community

[Paper, stickers and pens as they come in.
Count number of people in the room to predict how division into 3s will work.]

Overview

- mostly in small groups and I'll give questions for you to talk about amongst yourselves

- some writing which we'll then put up on the wall

[close session at this point - don't want people coming in after ground rules]

Ground rules

- Usual ones about confidentiality and speaking for yourself. We're going to add 3:

  1. Be sensitive - sometimes people can have a wibbly moment about questions of identity and fitting in, and the more space we can provide for people to be honest, the more valuable the workshop can be for everyone.
  2. When we're in the small groups, don't interrupt or ask questions when it's someone's turn to talk, let them follow their own train of thought.
  3. Don't try to fix where people are at.
    "We live in a "fix-it" society, where people think the way to help is to make us feel feelings other than the ones we are actually experiencing." - Ann Kaiser Stearns
    The ground rule here is listen and let people think for themselves. E.g. if someone says "I feel like I don't fit in" you don't say to them "Oh I think you do fit in" - you listen and you let them explore what that's all about.

- Any questions about ground rules?

First go-round: "There's more to us than bisexuality"

- two or three roles or identities or interests you have or facets of your life. Or only one if you only want to do one.

- When we say "identity", we don't just mean the sexuality ones. We mean any word or label that you use to describe yourself, or to describe your history, or a community that you belong to.

- We're only going to go round once, and after that you'll be getting into your small groups. So if you specially want to hook up with people you have something in particular in common with, like for instance meeting other bi parents or other Christians or other ex-Lesbians, then you might want to advertise that facet of yourself. But otherwise you can just choose anything.

- could be based on a work role or a family role, like doctor or bus driver or parent of teenagers

- could be based on history, e.g. ex-bus driver

- could be based on an interest you have like cycling, or knitting, or writing, or playing music, or listening to music

- could be based on political or religious beliefs, or nationality

- could be based on sexuality or gender (inc bi if you id as bi)

- favourite kind of food.

- could be anything you like.

[a lot of blurb here, but this is partly to give them time to think and time to settle in while you're talking]

- As you're thinking about identities and roles, notice how comfortable or uncomfortable you are with outing yourself "as that" in this group. You might think "Oh, don't say that one, say another one!" Like, what are the identities that are easy to claim here.

[this sows the seeds for the identity continuum thing later]

I'll start...

[space here for your own notes]

.

.

.

Who else is ready to go?

[Look round for someone who's ready to go; Then go round circle. Or in the case where there's 2 leaders, other leader can go next.]

Into small groups

- in a moment we'll get into groups of three

- feel free to accost people who you think you'd like to talk to

- if you're the last few people & you can't make a three, make a two, or two twos. Don't make a four, because if you're in a four, someone won't get their turn to talk.

Off you go. [take a hand if necessary.]

When in 3s:

- I want to warn you now that these are quite juicy questions and we're not going to spend very long on each one. So it's likely that you'll just be getting into a question when we give you another one. So our recommendation is: treat the workshop as a catalyst and continue the interesting questions over lunch.

[This "future-pacing" is to head off frustration at the shortness of time.]

- Whenever we ask a question, we'll tell you how long you've each got to talk about it, and we'll call out "switch" when it's the next person's turn. Remember when it's someone else's turn you just listen to them.

Questions/exercises I: Starter questions

Q: Place in the community

1 minute each, then another 1 minute each:

[6 mins total.]

Whether or not you identify as bi, how do you think of your place in the bi community, or in relation to the bi community?

That could include whether you identify as bi or whether you're connected to the community in some other way;

it could include whether you're quite new to it all or whether you feel like a veteran;

it could include something about your friendships, or whether there's any kind of a bi community near where you live;

it could include more abstract ideas like whether you feel you're on the edge of the community, or in the middle of it, or in it only some of the time, or half in and half out, or whatever.

Q: Identity words

1 minute each:

[3 mins total.]

- Q - What words would you use to describe or label yourself in the area of sexuality? And are you happy with those words, or are they compromise words for you, that you use because there isn't a better word or because they are the words that other people would understand?

Q: At home or not at BiCon

1 minute each, then another 1 minute each:

[6 mins total.]

- Q - How at home do you feel at BiCon so far, and why or why not? It may have gone up or down during the time that you've been here. What made you feel at home and what made you feel not at home?

Questions/exercises II: "Seemings..."

- get pens & ordinary paper.

- When you've written on your piece of paper, we're going to stick them all on the wall and I'll read them out.

[this is partly so they know not to write anything they wouldn't want others to see, and also so they know not to write it in a notebook of their own instead.]

[up on display:

"In the bi community/at BiCon
everyone seems ______________
but I'm ______________"

"In the bi community/at BiCon,
people seem to assume that ______________,
but I'm _____________"

"Before I came to BiCon, I imagined
that people there would be _________________
and I might be the only __________]

Preamble for "seemings"

Some background and context for this...

First of all: This is about an impression that you might have had, and on reflection it might not be strictly true.

In reality it might only be "most people" or even just "a few people", not everyone.

But even taking that into account, some people dislike writing anything in this kind of format because of the way it's a generalisation about other people, which is perhaps part of what we've come here to get away from.

So feel free to rephrase it if you can't make this version fit at all. But what we're getting at is any situation or flavour where you get an impression that you're the odd one out, or different, or in the minority, and you start thinking "BiCon's supposed to be diverse, where are all the other people like me?"

[Writing time - they can talk as they write if they want to.]

[Everyone sticks them up on wall.]

[Session leader(s) read(s) them out, in a tone of voice implying "that's a good one", maybe a bit humorous, not adding significance or drama.]

Questions/exercises III: Labels continuum

[Text on ends of continuum display is:
Easy to come out as / discuss in the bi community (in general)
Hard to come out as / discuss in the bi community (in general)]

Back into small groups.

Q: Labels other than bi

This next exercise harks back to the first go-round.

1 minute each, then another 1 minute each:

[6 mins total.]

- Q - Aside from bisexual (if you identify as bisexual), what are some of your other identities or circumstances, and how do you feel about that identity or circumstance when you're in the bi community? (Again, when we say "identity", we mean any word or label that you might use to describe yourself, your history or a community that you belong to.)

[By now they should already have (paper) labels to write on - check everyone has some.]

Basic idea

- Next we're going to make a big picture of all these identities on this continuum:

[Read out continuum end text. "at this end we have..."]

The basic idea is

- Take a couple of minutes to write down as many of your identities or circumstances as you like, each on a separate label.

Then when you're ready, you can come and stick them onto the paper, and the place where you put them will depend on how you feel about that particular label.

Context / caveats / background

First some background:

- Note the wording: easy to come out as or discuss. There are some identities which are easy to come out as in the sense that they're obvious, like for instance a nationality that's obvious from your accent. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's easy to talk about what that identity means to you.

- A limitation of this exercise is that we've only got one continuum here and in fact there may be different bits of the bi community where your answers would be different. For instance you might feel comfortable talking about something in your local bi group and less comfortable here.

We discussed this in a previous running of this same session, and decided we'd take BiCon as the test case. So if it varies, you can do it as how you'd feel at BiCon.

Or if that doesn't quite satisfy you, do what makes sense for you. Another possibility is you could put the same words on more than once in different places.

- Another apparent limitation is that if you've only just got to BiCon and this is your first taste of the community, you might not have all that much experience to base this on. You might think "well how am I supposed to know, I've only just got here?".

But actually that's OK, because even if you only go by your feelings right now in this room, you can probably tell that there are some things you'd be happy to start talking about and some things where you'd wait to know people better or feel a bit cautious about how you'd be judged. And it's true that your ideas might change later as you get more real life experience, but that's actually true for everyone.

- This brings us onto an interesting dynamic of this exercise.

- On the one hand, at first glance we're asking you to think about the community.

- On the other hand, we're talking about your personal feelings. And you might find that for one of your identities, you think that would be easy to talk about at BiCon, so you stick it up this end <<. But then you see that someone else has put the same one over there >> and you realise for them it's different.

Couple of practical points:

- We're going to leave this up on the wall till the end of BiCon, so that it can accumulate more labels. So if you think of one later, you can always pop back and add it. Also if there are any that you'd like to add but you have a concern about outing yourself, you can wait and do them when there's no-one about.

- You can add identities or circumstances that aren't currently true for you as long as you have experienced them at some time. E.g. if you've never identified as monogamous, then don't write down monogamous at all. But if you used to be monogamous and now you're not, you can still put up a sticker based on your memories of how that was.

Sticking of stickers

[Set the amount of time for this according to how much time remains in the session. Minimum is perhaps 2 minutes, max more like 4 or 5. If short of time, tell them they can stick more stickers after the final go-round.]

Ending

If time, in small groups:

- Q - Take (a minute/two minutes*) each to share anything you want to share about any of this.

* depending on remaining time - or skip if you need to be getting on to next bit

Then back into main circle. (About 8-10 mins before end, or longer if group is specially big.)

- One thing you'll carry on thinking about after this session is over.

If early finish

If the session finishes early, invite people to stay if they want to put more labels up, or leave if they'd rather.


The end!

Here's a pic of the paper strip upon which we stuck our stickers during the "identity continuum" exercise. We kept the same piece of paper throughout all four times the session ran, so this is the cumulative result:

Results of identity continuum exercise; see d-link D