This has been a very interesting week, particularly as it has been my first set of activities as co-chair of the LGBT+ staff network here at Swansea University. Having been welcomed into the role by the out-going co-chair, Tracy Maegesuku-Hewitt, and by my current co-chair, Cath Elms, I’ve spent a lot of time simply in awe of the amount of things that relate to the network. And then . . . there was Bivisibility day.
Having hit the ground running, so to speak, caught up in the whirl of the new term, my own new students, courses starting, I hadn’t realised how quickly this day would arrive. I had never before realised how important such a day would be on the LGBT+ calendar, but as soon as we started getting the information out there, I could see how important it is. I think it comes down to the simple fact that we all live our lives in relative isolation, and sooner or later we look outside ourselves for recognition. We look around for people who reflect our own identities in some way, so that we can get a sense of solidarity and belonging. If the world around you doesn’t present many opportunities to see parts of your identity reflected back at you, it can seem like a very lonely place.
I guess it’s even more important when considering working life and student life. The workplace, well, we don’t choose our colleagues but it is a bonus if we get on with them. And being able to be yourself at work, or whilst studying, is fundamental to happiness, and to being good at your job. I’ve experienced a lot of challenges along the way, but one of the key factors in choosing an academic role here was knowing that I would never have to hide any aspect of my identity in order to feel safe, secure and supported in my work role. This really is a very positive and inclusive place to work. But Bivisibility day helped me to see how it might not always be easy for people to express their identity in a similar way.
It was a real pleasure, therefore, to spend an hour staffing the Bivisiblity information stall in the library foyer, and to meet a few brave souls who came to talk to me. It was also entertaining to watch people look at the stall, realise what it was about, and hurry on past. In between these two extremes were the students who looked like they were interested, but didn’t have the courage to stop and talk to me, and of course, the ones who thought I was working for the library and could tell them where the tours were!
So, why do we have a Bivisibility day? Because largely, bisexual people get overlooked. I don’t know why. Maybe simply stating that you are lesbian or gay is a stronger statement in the eyes of the average person. Who knows? Maybe bisexuality is still largely misunderstood, or not accepted as a clear and defined identity. I am not sure. But it is important to recognise that there are many, many ways in which sexuality, sexual identity and gender identity are expressed – as many as there are people in the world. And it is important as well to challenge the stereotypes about people who identify as bisexual, because this is something that is often misrepresented in the larger world.
I was amazed by the display, put together by my co-chair, of famous bisexual people. David Bowie! Annie Lennox. And one of my favourite authors, Alice Walker. Who knew? I thought if anything would make people feel better about bisexuality it would be knowing that many highly creative, intelligent and expressive people are happily open about their identities. It can only help to be in such august company.
I felt immensely proud to hang the bisexual flag from Fulton house this week, and even prouder to sit on the stall and be visible! I felt that I reached out to some of the people who were brave enough to approach me, and if me sitting there made a difference to one person’s life, then it was worth it.
So all in all it’s been a good start to the term and to my new role, and I am really looking forward to all the other events and activities that we have planned.
The network is here for anyone, staff and students, who want more information, support, advice or solidarity, about LGBT+ issues. We’re all one family, highly diverse and often radically different in our ways of seeing the world, but we have one thing in common. We all want the world to be a better, more inclusive place.
Contact the network on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alys Einion September 25th, 2015
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