Naked Interview with a London Bi Panda

For a long time, it seemed that bisexuals were invisible. We didn’t have a tribe, a look, a dedicated space where we could fit in. Unicornhunting.blog has been built around the bones of the mythology (sometimes laughable, but sometimes dangerous) surrounding bisexual women and the way they we are viewed by society. Maybe this is about to change?

Recently, a wonderful Bi+ activism group has arisen, taken the media by storm and become a place where the wandering and invisible can stand up and suddenly be seen. This grassroots group has swelled and taken form with rapidity and a gutsy ethos that’s firmly putting the B back in LGBTQIA pride. It is my great honour to present the words of Mx Monroe, one of the key members of the Bi Panda movement: I welcome you to this latest of the unicorn blogs, a Naked Interview with a London Bi Panda.

Image by Pauline Di Silvestro

-What are the London Bi Pandas?

The London Bi Pandas are a collective of bi+ activists, supporters and allies. As a community group we are trying to create spaces for bi+ folks to feel like they belong. Both bi-phobia and bi-erasure has often meant that bi+ folks are often excluded from both “straight” and “gay” spaces. And as activists, we want to connect with each other on more than just our sexuality, but our values and actions. We go to protests together, we march, we host vigils, we host events.

-How did it get started?

We realised that this year there might not be a Bi+ float for London Pride 2019. The Bi Pandas assembled the night before the application and created a community group to take on that responsibility – we wanted to ensure that there would be another badass Bi+ float to take on the bi-baton.

The London Bi Pandas were formed from a small group comprised of mostly a few friends. We then ballooned into a huge community of nearly 600 members and counting. 

-Why pandas?

The name came from a joke that’s been floating around the bisexual community for a long time – that despite being labelled as “greedy” or “promiscuous”, bisexual people are in fact not very good at flirting!

Social theories around this talk about how most bisexual people are socialised to find only one gender attractive, which means that their romantic and sexual history is often with that one gender (i.e. as “straight” or “gay”). And when bisexual people want to flirt with or engage with any other gender or agender people that they have not had the same level of experience with – they lack confidence, they are shyer, they are fearful of that romantic pursuit. And so similarly to pandas, simply do not have sex with anyone!

It’s now become a verb, “to panda”, often means that we are hesitating, holding ourself back when it comes to romantic pursuits.

In addition to all of that, there are also continual other constraints on how queer people socialise. We are forever fearful of being labelled “predatory”, or worse being harmed and abused for our sexuality if we approach them wrong. In a landscape of rising homophobia, the risk of getting it wrong and hitting on someone of the same gender that you’re not sure is queer, who might turn out to assault you, is quite prevalent. So our lack of confidence and our anxiety is rooted in trauma, risk and the heteronormative (and often binary) socialisation we’ve had growing up. 

On a lighter note, we also loved the inadvertent Bi / Pan / Da pun!

Image by Pauline Di Silvestro

-What’s the mission?

The Bi Panda mission is to make the world for bisexual people a better place. We believe that “Love Wins” isn’t enough to change the status quo, and that we need direct, radical action to build that world. 

We have some specific political values that we believe in, and uphold including (but not limited to):

  • Dismantling biphobia and bi-erasure
  • Pride is a protest
  • Supporting and prioritising bi+ folks of marginalised intersectionalities
  • Anti-fascism
  • Anti-capitalism
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Supporting our bi+ trans+, non-binary and intersex siblings 
  • Decriminalisation of sex work
  • And more!

-What is your journey that got you here?

The journey that we’ve had so far as the Bi Pandas has been quite emotional. We started off as a really small group, just focused on getting the Pride float done. Many of us had not engaged in activism before. Many of us, as queer people, are often struggling with just basic survival. We had break-downs, break-ups and so many burn-outs.

Some of us were working an additional 20-30 hour week on top of day jobs to make the Bi Pandas happen over the initial 6 months of our start. We were working on community building, activism and concentrating on getting our big message out for Pride – #PrideIsAProtest (in response to the appropriation of Pride by rainbow capitalism). It was hard work!

But we’re here, and we created something beautiful and we’re watching it flourish into a supportive, embracing environment of people that care about each other – even if we’ve only met once!

-Do you think bisexual people are fairly represented in the media?

If you’re a bisexual character, you will have been portrayed as deviant in some way, whether that’s as being unable to commit to a monogamous relationship, as a “cheater” or as sexually promiscuous. 

Our sexuality will often be portrayed as a “phase”, where being bisexual is a stop-gap to being gay, or just an experiment in college or something.

Often bi+ characters will not even be explicitly labelled as bisexual. This continues to erase bisexuality. It took until the last season of Orange Is the New Black for Piper to be explicitly labelled bisexual.

Most recently as well, flawed and biphobic definitions of bisexuality have been prevailing in the media. In Netflix’s Big Mouth, we see Ali Wong’s character describe bisexuality with binary terms, and perpetuate the myth that bisexuality is transphobic. The “hearts not parts” description of pansexuality is also flawed, and continues to disparage and misrepresent what bisexuality actually is, while also feeding transphobic sentiments!

All of this continues to harm bi+ people and trans+ and non-binary and agender/genderless people! Bisexual characters deserve better stories, deserve accurate representation and deserve audiences embracing their sexuality in full, rather than in hiding. 

Image by Pauline Di Silvestro

-The pandas had a float at pride- how did that go?

The float was the most stressful thing I’ve done all year. It was a tremendous amount of work, organising and building. We had some amazing people in the team who helped make it happen all the way from managing the application, to driving the float, to fundraising, to organising events, to managing spreadsheets, to social media, to building our community, to engaging with activism, to managing the social media channels on the day and then even more!

We had a beautiful, and emotional, response. The theme of the pride float was #PrideIsAProtest. We spent days making placards with all of our beliefs and values. We wanted to protest everything that we believed was wrong. We wanted to be provocative, and we wanted something for everyone in the crowd to connect with. 

We strapped some very shocking signs like “Guillotine the bankers” and “ACAB” to our float. We had signs in queer solidarity like “No TERFS on our turf”. We wore badges that said “No Pride in War” to protest BAE’s participation in London Pride, and their sponsorship of Surrey Pride.

And we had Dorothy, a sound system built by hand by one of the Pandas, a queer protest playlist curated by another. 

The float was a radical, political act that showed that you could celebrate, you could party, you could dance – but that you can also take action while doing so. 

For so many bi+ pandas, pride has always been a challenging experience. The commodification of our sexuality, the rainbow capitalism, the focus on party over protest while we are still being harmed by the status quo, the heavy and inappropriate brand sponsorships, the involvement of the government, the police, arms-dealers in the march – it meant that pride was no longer a place where so many queer people felt connected to. 

The response to our float was beautiful and full of emotionally charged connection. The cheering when people saw us, when they danced with us, when they read our signs, was phenomenal. There was an energy there that changed us all. Every fist that raised itself back with ours, and every person that leaned over to high-five us, or hug us – they were why were there. 

We had a huge influx of members after Pride, and still to this day we have people recognising our t-shirt, or patch, or badge and coming up to us to tell us that they loved the float so much. 

-The pandas keep popping up in the news at protests- how much is political agitation a part of the panda mission?

It’s a huge part of it. It’s not a requirement for everyone to participate in all of our direct action, but it’s important that all pandas have a desire to leave the world a better place.

Image by Pauline Di Silvestro

-Who is the bi panda movement for?

It’s a movement, it’s a community, it’s a collective, it’s a riot, it’s a protest, it’s a party, it’s a meet up, it’s a D&D game, it’s a cabaret night, it’s a creative collaboration, it’s so many things. 

And it’s for bi+ folks (and in this definition we believe that it’s an umbrella term for all sorts of different non-monosexualities including but very much not limited to people of all genders who identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, fluid, heteroflexible, homoflexible, polysexual, questioning – and we don’t prescribe to define any of these labels ourselves. Your identity is self-determined and we respect that for whatever label feels most appropriate, if Bisexual doesn’t work for you) and our supporters and allies both from the wider LGBTQIA+ community and straight communities. 

-Who can join?

Anyone who is Bi+ (or an ally) and believes and supports our values, mission and agenda. 

-Who would not be welcome?

We are currently using Facebook as our primary online community space, and there are a few questions that we ask you to answer. Our moderators then check your publicly available facebook profile information to make sure that you’re not a bot, a spam account, a TERF, a white supremacist, a racist, or the problematic profiles. 

-What other events do the Bi Pandas host?

In addition to regularly participating in activism such as going to protests, vigils, marches and demos – we also have a whole host of regular social events that happen.

We meet every month on the first Monday of the month for an informal pub social. We also host regular Dungeons & Dragons nights, we’re starting a queer life drawing class this month as well as our Panda Book Club. We are hosting an open mic next month to give our creative pandas a platform, and workshops and panels. Our first workshop is in November and is called Flirting for Queers, and explores how we as queer people can give ourselves permission to stop panda-ing around!

-Is it all about sex?

No! We have a strict “no cruising” policy. The London Bi Pandas is a community space, we are NOT a hook up spot and we are not facilitating sexual or romantic connections.Of course we may have pandas in relationships of all kinds with other pandas, and new romances might bloom, or fun hook-ups might happen, just like in any other large group. But this is not the purpose of the London Bi Pandas – we are not focused on sex and sexuality alone. As a group, we aim to bond and connect over our values, our passions, our interests, our actions.

If anyone is looking to join the London Bi Pandas to find a hotbed of sex, lust, promiscuity, hedonism – you’ll be sorely disappointed. We love activism, drinking tea, calling out the cis het white supremacist system we live in, sober spaces, picnics, sombre vigils, playing dungeons and dragons and overwhelmingly supporting each other .

-What sort of people join the bi pandas?

We have people from all backgrounds, of all genders, of all variants of bi+ sexualities, of all allyships, of all ages, of all abilities, in all life stages, across all over London (and a few just beyond!). There’s no one “panda” type. 

Is it a commercial enterprise?

Nope – we’re an anticapitalist group trapped in a capitalist world. 

Which means we are volunteer run, volunteer led, and everyone who’s part of the pandas are giving their time and energy. We do some fundraising to support our activism, to put on events, to support some Pandas in accessing the activities that we do. 

Have there been any problems getting started?

We’ve had a ton of problems and we’ll always have problems. We’re a new community group on a shoe-string budget of bisexual folks who are all juggling a thousand things and trying to survive. We’re a hotbed of problems!

What’s beautiful though, is how we get through them, how we work on our own privileges and prejudices, how we dismantle our own nonsense, how we put aside our ego, how we are willing to learn and how we show up for each other. 

We’ll always face challenges. It’s important to know that this is a place where we will always work to overcome them. 

-What makes it all worthwhile for you?

When Bi+ people tell me that they’ve found somewhere that they can finally belong, in a way that inspires them to action. 

-If you want to get more involved with the panda movement, what should someone do? Are there any special skills or roles the pandas need?

We welcome everyone of all skills, abilities or experience. The best way to get involved is to join the Facebook group. It’ll show you where all the events are happening, and help you ease into the community and conversations we are having.

-How bi does someone need to be to be welcome as part of the pandas?

If you’re bi, you’re bi. We don’t measure bisexuality on any kind of standard. You could be married in a cis-heteronormative relationship, but if you’re bi, then you’re welcome. We don’t need people to be performing any kind of queerness, and we don’t ask people to prove how bi they are – it’s a false standard that continues to harm bisexual people.

-What message do you have for bi people who want to feel more a part of a community?

Come to the London Bi Pandas. 

-How inclusive are the London Bi Pandas?

There’s space for people of all marginalised intersectionalities at the London Bi Pandas. We try our best to be as inclusive as possible – but we know that we fall short sometimes. We know it’s a process that we need to keep continuing to work at and one of our commitments is to learn, evolve, and do better.

-How do you feel about the current bi tropes (wearing denim jackets, can’t sit straight on chairs, etc). Offensive or improving visibility?

I *personally* as Monroe, think bi tropes are great to a certain extent. For a really long time, we didn’t have bisexual culture, and watching it form in a way that is determined by bisexual people themselves is great. Lemon bars, awkward chair sitting, finger guns, denim jackets, panda-ing? These are all part of wider queer signals and codes that help us identify who else around us is queer in some way, and as a result safer to be around. They are necessary in some ways to create visibility and anchor and differentiate bisexual people from the wider LGBTQIA+ community that is predominantly dominated by cisgender, white gay men.

But like with all stereotypes, they may be harmful in the long run. 

Ultimately, I think bisexual people get to decide how they feel about these things, and are free to use them to whatever extent they want. 

-Final word?

Bi+ people deserve a space that encourages them to embrace, explore and celebrate who they are – and a space that doesn’t shy away from the wider context and world that we live in. Our existence, identity and sexuality is political, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be so either!

Join the London Bi Panda movement online, to find out about how to join their next protest, party, or social event:

London Bi Pandas on Twitter

London Bi Pandas on Tumblr

London Bi Pandas on Facebook

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