[Written for Outright, December 1996]
You can now call the "Nottingham Bisexuality Info Line" on (0115) xxx xxx*. This is a joint initiative by the Nottingham Bisexual Group and the Nottingham Bi-Women's Group. It has an answer-phone message including information about the local groups, and people can ask to be called back or to receive an information pack.
So why do we need a bisexuality line when there's already Lesbian and Gay Switchboard?
One reason is practical - it's an easy point of contact with the bi community. Another is to do with visibility.
Visibility is one of the key political issues for people who identify as bisexual. If you're seen with someone of the opposite sex, people assume you're straight. If you're with someone of the same sex, people assume you're gay. (Hence the popularity of the bi catchphrase "Assume nothing".) Contrary to stereotype, bisexuality doesn't equal non-monogamy - many monogamous people consider themselves bisexual, based on their desires or their history. It takes language to claim a bi identity.
In the early seventies, gay politics was much more about which people you did love or fancy than which people you didn't. Bi people were naturally included - albeit often invisibly, because of the way that bi people with same-sex partners tend to be seen as gay. Clearly, in an often homophobic and profoundly gender-split society, lesbian, gay and bi people have important things in common. In some ways, bi-women and lesbians have more in common than lesbians do with gay men.
In the eighties, gay and especially lesbian identity became more about what you didn't do. And nowadays, Lesbian and Gay sometimes really does mean "And not bisexual" (as with Unison's Lesbian and Gay self-organisation). *
Meanwhile, some people believe that all bisexuals are "really" lesbian or gay, just haven't had the courage to come out properly yet.
Some behaviourally bisexual people do identify as lesbian or gay - sometimes in conjunction with a bi identity (e.g. "gay-identified bisexual" or "bi-dyke"), more often by officially disowning or discounting their opposite-sex desires (for political or social reasons, or because they don't consider them important). But many not-entirely-heterosexual people aren't "on their way to coming out" as lesbian or gay, and never will be.
Bi-identified people (and people who align with the social and political bi community, whatever label they choose) are the tip of the iceberg of bisexual behaviour. Many, or even most, behaviourally-bisexual people probably don't even realise there is a bi community. One of the stereotypes of bi people is that they're unpoliticised around their sexuality - but when almost all our culture is divided by the binary opposition "Gay or straight?", it's not surprising that relatively few people so far have claimed bisexuality as a political identity, or discovered the social bi world. That's one reason it's important for the bi community to be visible, and not only invisibly included behind the words "Lesbian and Gay".