Sunday, November 4, 2007


One of the people who founded the Bi Women's Group and who subsequently moved to New York told me that she went to a bi meeting in New York and that our Berkeley group was better than that one. I don't remember why, maybe because we're smaller or more focused or west coast people are different from easterners, New Yorkers in particular.

I love our group too. I've been a member for a long time, I think longer than any other current regular attendee as I started coming in the spring of 2001. I had a lot of men in my life at the time and wanted some "female energy." The change of which I am most fond is that of a woman who can in wondering if she's never kissed a woman is she really bi (yes) to now being married to and having a child with a woman. One thing this group has is persistence; even with the original founders having all moved away this meeting has met every week for close to ten years. In the time I've been going, there have only been two or three nights the group hasn't met and one of those times was when the Pacific Center was unexpectedly closed.

The Pacific Center requires that all potential facilitators take their seven-hour facilitator training, and this helps make our group strong. Because we know how, it is easy for us to be careful about allowing people their space to be whatever they are, and that includes reminding people to say "I" instead of using the "universal you" and to avoid generalizations and advice-giving. We've had a few light conversations (I mercifully missed an evening about email etiquette) and as facilitators we try to examine why people didn't feel comfortable opening up. Even as a facilitator and long-time attendee it seems to me that the group mostly runs itself; the people who come seem to understand how to behave in a group like this. It really is the attendees that have made the group last as long as it has.

I attended what was then called the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Support group at my alma mater one time. The group was sponsored by the university's Health & Wellness Center and facilitated by the Center's counselor. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to be there since I was no longer a student, but I was living nearby, my girlfriend was a student, and I was still strongly attached to the place since many friends, and all of my queer friends, were still students there. Tacoma was a very conservative place in those days, to the point where the single gay club in town was also the place where mixed-race couples felt most comfortable to "go out" to. I didn't even know where to begin looking for a queer support group off campus, and suspected that it would be in Seattle anyway.

The only thing I remember about the one meeting I attended was feeling really, really frustrated. I had gone because I was upset when I noticed a sign at work that my boss had "borrowed" from Nordstrom's. It was their EEO sign, which included the non-legally-required status of sexual orientation as a protected category. My boss, who was a religious nut (really), had carefully crossed out "sexual orientation" and I was upset because he and I spent a lot of time together putting together the newsletter and I knew that if he knew that my girlfriend wasn't just my roommate I would be out the door. I definitely felt targeted.

I went to the meeting and during check-ins every single person went on about the previous night's episode of Twin Peaks. I didn't watch the show and had no idea what was so fascinating about it, but beyond that I was frustrated with the group's lack of focus on queer issues. I'd never attended a group like this and I expected some focus. I felt like it was ivory-tower isolationism and a lack of understanding of what went on in the "real world," which I was experiencing in Federal Way. When it came my turn to talk I expressed my frustration with the group and my feelings about being targeted at work (whether my boss knew it or not).

I did not attend again.

Years later, after moving to Portland and my girlfriend and I split up, I learned that a bi women's group met at a women-focused shop and I attended that form time to time. I usually got annoyed with the way the groups were facilitated and would stay away for two or three weeks. The group was started by some bi women who felt that bi women needed a place to feel supported. It was quickly obvious to me that other than not interrupting each other and allowing check-ins, this group didn't have any guidelines and the facilitators had little, if any, training. More than once I found myself trying to remind people to stay away from generalizations; I specifically remember a meeting in which one of the attendees was struggling with her sexuality and her faith and another attendee going on about how "evil" Christians were because of their rejection of homosexuality. The facilitators rarely intervened in this kind of thing, and of course people of faith never came more than once to that group.

I'm glad that I've found a group that values what I value. If it didn't I would have stopped attending as quickly as I stopped attending the other groups I'd tried. The group has become the main way I express my bisexual identity - particularly politically, as mentioning the group is often the method by which I come out.

1 comment:

Phoebe J. Southwood said...

I miss the group. I'm so glad it's still alive and thriving. I can't believe ... 10 years!!!