Creating a Bisexual Community for Generation Y
By Kate Estrop on Bi Pride Day
In January of 2012, I stood outside a locked meeting room in Somerville, Massachusetts, where I was to facilitate my first monthly support and social group for bi, fluid, and questioning twenty-somethings. I was flattered when the Bisexual Resource Center asked me to lead this new group (eventually dubbed “Young BLiSS” after the all-ages BLiSS social and support group that preceded it) but also nervous – I’d been out less than a year myself and had no background in leading support discussions. I was counting on the experience of teaching college freshmen to nudge me through the meeting and had prepared accordingly: RSVP list and “lesson plan” in hand. I had no idea what it would be like, and being locked out of our meeting space didn’t make for a great start.
Five people attended that night, and once we’d assembled we decided to cross the street to a cozy bar where we could talk about what we all wanted out of the group. People wanted support, of course – they wanted advice from others, to hear and tell stories of coming out and of various forms of discrimination. But they also just wanted to meet other people like them, because even though there are many of us out there, we aren’t always easy to find.
The following month, having successfully opened the meeting space, I was more confident that I could do this. But when people came – five new people who hadn’t been there the month before – it was a lot harder to get them to talk to one another. I had discussion questions and topics picked out, but I found myself in the middle of awkward pauses, which I can normally fill by calling on someone. But this wasn’t my classroom and no one was required to speak. I had assumed, by the success of that first meeting, that everyone who attended would be just as enthusiastic to tell their stories and share their experiences. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
It took me several months of awkward pauses to realize that, while we did occasionally have good discussions, the real support was happening after the meeting during the social portion. It was outside of that classroom-like space, at a restaurant or coffee shop, where people started to open up. Once they felt they knew each other, even a little bit, the conversation evolved naturally into the very same topics they’d struggled to discuss an hour before. After a while I started asking, “What if we just started with the social part?” I scheduled our next month’s meeting at a coffee shop instead of the meeting room, and since then have observed bigger groups, more retention from the month before, and far fewer awkward pauses.
The number one thing I hear from new people who come to the group is that they don’t have any (or many) bisexual friends, and others in their social circles – both straight and non-straight – don’t understand what they’re going through. Many say that this is the group where they can finally, actually, be themselves around others, which is something that the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network and the Bisexual Resource Center gave me two years ago. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that what my peers needed most of all was a community. Watching Young BLiSS evolve to help members achieve this has been a rewarding experience, and I hope it will continue to evolve to meet needs as younger generations take over.
Today, on Celebrate Bisexuality Day, many exciting steps are being taken to meet the unique needs of bisexuals all across the country. Since getting to know the energetic members of Young BLiSS, I am confident that our voices will only get louder and our steps stronger as we become more secure in who we are, as individuals, and as a community.
Kate Estrop is on the board of the Bisexual Resource Center in Boston. She is an adjunct professor of English at Lesley University and Emmanuel College, and is an editor of Printer’s Devil Review