Emily Metcalfe: Full Interview
Interviewed by Ross Horsley
28th June 2018
RH: This is Ross Horsley for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories Project on the 28th June 2018.
EM: And I’m Emily Metcalfe, I run Leeds Bi Group and Leeds LGBT+ Book Club.
RH: So, Emily, can you tell us just a little bit about yourself, to get us going?
EM: Ok, um, what sort of thing do you want to know? [laughs] Sorry.
RH: So, where did you come from? Are you from Leeds? Or do you just live in Leeds?
EM: I have lived in and around Leeds for about 10 years now. Moved around quite a lot. I am actually Scottish, even though I don’t sound it. Um, and I’ve just moved into the city centre which is making running all my groups that I run much easier.
RH: So, tell us again what groups you run and tell us a little bit about each group.
EM: I run Leeds Bi Group which is a social support group for people who are attracted to more than one gender. We meet three times a month and we have a talky space here at MESMAC, um, where we sit down and we discuss issues. We have a theme every month, things like biphobia, role models, coming out, um, movies, we talk about movies a lot. We have a pub meet at Wharf Chambers which is very relaxed and it’s quite a nice space for people to go for the first time because it's slightly less intimidating than walking into a room, coming here and pressing a buzzer and having to identify yourself and things. We also run a social space once a month and that varies, so we'll have movie nights, board gaming, coffee meet ups, we went to see Leeds Hunters play the rugby in an inclusive rugby match the other week. So yeah, all different things, um, and we're just about to reach our fourth birthday.
RH: Fantastic. So how many members do you have in the group would you say?
EM: Well it varies. We, um, over the last couple of years we probably hit double figures quite a lot. It depends, what, you know, what we're running at the time, who’s interested. Usually what the weather is like, if it's really nice outside we might not get so many people. We tend to find we maybe have a couple of regulars and then some people will come once and that's, that's enough. Sometimes they'll come for maybe six months and really feel like they start to understand themselves a little bit better, have met other people like themselves, um, realised that it's okay to be bi, or part of the bisexual umbrella - sorry the bi umbrella – [pause] um, and then that's enough for them. So, we see quite a turnover really.
RH: And how do people find out about the group?
EM: We have a website, we're on Facebook and Twitter. We have links with other organisations like MESMAC, Leeds City Council's LGBT Community Hub, people like that who share our posts quite a lot. We do a lot of outreach work as well so we do stalls at local Prides. This year we've done York and Harrogate and we will be, um, there will be a market place stall on the Saturday of Leeds Pride. We do events in the city centre with Leeds City Council, so for, IDAHOBIT, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia in May and Bi Visibility Day which is in September. We always run a stall in the city centre usually sort of Albion St. or Dortmund Square, I think it's called, um, and just engage with the community.
RH: What are people's reactions when they sort of chat to you or see the stall?
EM: Yeah well, to be honest, the one that I find most... [unclear], the one I find most is actually we have a pop up banner and it says something along the lines of, um, Leeds Bi Group, Bisexual, Pansexual, um, Questioning and possibly a couple of other things and we have a lot of people coming up and saying, ‘Well I know what bisexual is but what does pansexual mean? What's the difference?’ that always generates quite an interesting conversation and surprisingly positive as well. The first time we did it I thought, you know, people are going to hate us, they're gonna hate the fact we're here, they're not going to take kindly to conversations around gender and gender identity, and um orientation. But actually, it's usually really positive and people generally go away with a little bit better understanding about different labels that people use.
RH: Is it a range of people that you find yourself talking to?
EM: Yeah absolutely. So, we have, we have a lot of bi people come up, who get very excited about the badges that we're selling and the fact that there's things with pink, purple and blue all over it right in the city centre. We get the occasional person who’s not very pleasant but generally it's just a bit of grumbling as opposed to anything, you know, anything more serious.
RH: Do you think people's understanding of bisexuality has changed in the last few years?
EM: Yeah, absolutely. I've definitely seen a change, um... there is, I feel that it's more in the media. So, people are starting to understand it more. Possibly not... not the depth of our community so I think there is still in the mainstream, the understanding is still bi is people who are attracted to men and women. And a lot of people haven't quite got beyond the two binary genders, um, but on a surface level of that, that understanding has got better.
And I think in the LGBT community as well, I, we marched in Leeds Pride for the first time a few years ago, and then we took a break, and then we came back last year. And the difference in the response that we got was amazing. Just there was, we felt it wasn't that we weren't welcome the first time, but last year when we, when we marched, just everybody was so happy to see a bisexual group marching with, you know, the bi, the pan flags going and the banner with ‘Leeds Bisexuals’ on it and just so many people that were obviously doing the ‘Oh my god there is a-’, you know [laughs] ‘That's my flag! That's my colours there!’ that's just, yeah, it was really lovely to see.
RH: Do you think there's any difference between the different sort of cities, towns in the local area? Have you come across, you know, different attitudes, different awareness?
EM: Um, not so much awareness for me, I've not really done much work in other cities so much to notice a difference. But there is a difference in the level of support that is available, so we're one of very few cities that have a long running bi group.
There is one in Sheffield, there is Manchester, so Manchester's is the longest running one. It's a group called Bipho-, er, Biphoria and they've been running for about 21 years... 22, I can't remember, something around that, um... Liverpool has a group, I'm not sure how often they meet. And that's kind of it for the, you know, the north of England really, there's, you know, the next ones are then Birmingham and the likes, so people really struggle to set them up because there is very little funding for bi stuff, um, people like me do it in our own time. There is very steep learning curve of, you know, how to engage, there's lots of things to learn to run a group other than just sitting people down in a room and getting them to talk which [laughs] is hard enough.
So yeah, it's sad to see how few of us there are, um, and like I said I go round all the local areas, the different prides and there's not really anything else like us going out and doing that in, er, kinda West Yorkshire at the moment.
RH: You mentioned the range of stuff that you do these days at the meetings, at special events, what was it like when you started four years ago?
EM: So, erm, when we started there was only a few of us running it, um, we, we had, we did have two meetups a month, straight off the bat. We decided we wanted to have a mix of the sitting down and the serious talking and the fun social side, because I think some places do one and some do the other but actually I think there's a need for both. We didn't really structure it, I think we had something like, the second Wednesday and the fourth Wednesday and it was just pretty random what we did on each one. And then we kinda structured out and then about, um... a year, year-and-a-half ago we started getting more people involved in the committee who were, you know really wanting to actually take part, um, and that's when the pub meet kicked off because we realised actually there was a need for that. I was quite, um, I wanted to make sure we were providing a space that wasn't solely based in an alcohol venue, because I think that can actually exclude quite a lot of people who can't or aren't comfortable with going to a venue like that. But now that we'd got the, kind of the set-up of these other two sessions a month, we felt that adding a pub meet actually really did add something to the group. And it's interesting cause we get a bit of a different group of people so some people just come to the pub meet and some people just come to the talky spaces, which is fine as well.
RH: Have you got any plans for things in the future that you want to start doing?
EM: Erm... Oh I've got lots of plans! Lots and lots of plans! I don't know how many of them will actually take fruit... erm, I'm considering maybe a coffee meet, a regular coffee meet space? Manchester does that, they have a coffee meet once a month and that works really, really well. But it's kind of based on volunteers and if, if people are interested really.
RH: So, what kind of support can you offer people who are struggling in terms of their sexuality?
EM: So we do some online support, it is, it is again based on volunteers responding, so we're not, you know, we're not paid workers working nine to five so it's often, you know, you might get an email [laughs] response at half past eleven at night, or it might be a few days before one of us can pick it up. We do quite a lot of signposting to resources because I think people struggle to find what resources there are out there cause aren't a huge amount but the ones that there are, are actually really good, so we do that quite a lot.
We talk about what the different definitions mean, erm, and kinda help people understand, erm, a little bit better if that's what they're, they want to know. We give suggestions about coming to group and kinda get the tone of which group they might be more comfortable with and suggestions, you know, do they want to come half an hour earlier to come before, before it gets busy. Would they find the pub meet easier because you can, you know, go in, plan to have one drink and then when that's done, leave. You don't even have to have spoken to anyone, things like that.
We also signpost to other services as well, so, erm, counselling services such as the counselling here at MESMAC, sexual health testing, things like that. We're very aware of what else is available because, erm, we are limited in what we can give, you know, we can give some online support and the support we give at the social and the support meetings. But beyond that our hands are a little bit tied so we prefer to kinda signpost on to make sure people get the help that they need, if that's, you know, if that's what they need.
RH: Do you find that the group as a whole is quite harmonious? Or is it quite a lively kind of discussion sometimes?
EM: Erm, a little bit of both. Yeah, we, so with the talky spaces we try and keep it off certain subjects a little bit, erm, particularly when the referendum was happening we had a bit of a... um... a bit of a ban on, on Brexit talk because, um, yeah I could see that quite [unclear] debate [unclear] quite heated. We do say, sometimes we have had to kind of say, actually let's, let's shelve this discussion for now, let's get back on topic and if you want to discuss it further in the pub afterwards, that's fine. Cause then we don't, you know, we don't police that and if people wanna get a little bit more rowdy that's fine. And we try, we try and talk about politics in general if it starts to get too strong. I want to make sure that people can come to our group no matter what political point they have. I don't want people to be sat there thinking, everybody in here would hate me if I told them that I'm a X-political party. So, yeah, we wanna try and make it as inclusive as possible just as we would for people of different genders, trans identity... erm all sorts.
RH: Do you feel, or do, you know [unclear] you know within the group, do you feel you sometimes get stereotyped by other parts of society?
EM: Yes. [laughs]
RH: What sort of stereotypes do people have of bi people?
EM: A lot! Erm, let's see. So, I think a lot of the stereotypes, and it's different for gender as well, so... erm... people who are female and bi often get stereotyped as easy and sexually promiscuous and you're bi, you'd sleep with anyone and you'd do anything and you'd definitely be into having sex with multiple partners at one time - at any one time and all these things. And actually that's, you know, they're very hypersexualised and that can be really damaging, erm, you know, people can [unclear] that's what's expected and that's not what the person is, that can cause quite a lot of conflict.
Erm, there's, there is also in general a bit of a stereotype that bi people are untrustworthy or flaky. There was a report done called the Bisexuality Report in 2012, I think, and that has quotes from people saying that they'd basically not been offered job promotions that they'd been told they would get because they came out as bi and they're told, oh well you're, well you're not trustworthy enough to get this job, I think, and erm... people being, having experiences in mental health services where they've mentioned being bi and then that's been put in their notes as a proof that they're struggling with their orientation, whereas actually it had nothing to do with the problems that they were there for.
I think stereotypes around bisexual men is slightly different. There seems to be quite a horrid thing of women not wanting to date bisexual men... whether they think it's [unclear], I think they think it's dirty I'm not sure, there was this, this horrible... erm, clip that I saw of Loose Women where all the women were sat there saying ‘Well if my husband came out to me as bisexual well he's obviously been lying to me, erm, and that's awful, that he might as well have cheated on me’ and all of this. And I guess that, that fear that with any gender, that you can't be in a monogamous relationship because you would still want somebody of a different gender than your partner is and things like that, which, you know, I've seen quite a lot on the internet, erm... particularly gay men saying that they wouldn't date a bisexual because they'd obviously cheat with a woman.
Erm, and then there's the stereotype that there is no such thing as bisexuality, so, erm, bisexual women are actually just straight and playing up to it, erm, and bisexual men just haven't realised that they're gay yet. Which is very male centred because in both of those scenarios they're saying, oh yes but you like men really. And then non-binary bi people just don't exist [laughs] apparently! Erm, you hardly hear anything about them.
RH: Is that changing at all?
EM: Erm, yes, I think so, I think that... erm, there are more celebrities out there who are, erm, coming out as non-binary, who actually also are recognising an attraction to more than one gender as well. But I think we're not quite there yet, it's just on the fringes of understanding I think.
It's difficult, because, I mean there is quite a lot of celebrities who aren't using labels and I understand, I erm, understand where that comes from and obviously that is completely their right, erm, but I think it maybe doesn't help understanding when someone is saying, oh well I'm not bisexual because of... often people say, oh because they only like men and women which is false. But erm, they'll use an outdated definition for bi and, but I’m not this and I’m not this, but I’m open to different genders and it's like well, that's, that's nice that's nice that you're going through, you're going through a journey or you know, you're comfortable without that label but sometimes it's really good to have somebody who just comes out and says absolutely, I'm bisexual, or I’m pan and you know, I’m proud of this and this is what it means and it's okay to be this and I think we don't have enough people like that.
RH: What bi role models are there? If at all?
EM: [chuckle] Erm, I always get their name the wrong way round, it's either Rachel Evan Woods or Evan Rachel Woods [Evan Rachel Wood is correct], you know who I mean!
RH: I know who you mean, yep.
EM: I always forget which way round it is, erm, so I did an event for Bi Visibility Day last year, we done it for a couple of years and we have like talks and vlogs and YouTube clips and all sorts. And one of them we did last year was, erm, a clip of her acceptance speech for the... erm... it's the HRC Human Rights Campaign Awards I think...
EM: Can't quite remember, erm, and yeah she just did such a- I was in tears at the end of it. It was amazing to hear somebody actually stand up, say the B-word, which hardly ever gets spoken out loud, erm, and actually say, that's, that's who I am and I'm proud of it which is lovely.
I guess from a celebrity point of view a lot of other people that I would say are role models, maybe aren't that... a lot of people don't realise they're bi. So, there's people like Alan Cumming erm, who was on the front of a magazine called Bi Community News and I took them to, I took a big stack of them to, erm, a teacher's LGBT conference in Leeds that was on earlier this year and the amount of people that came up and said oh is he not gay? It's like, okay, bisexual stall [chuckles], says bisexual on the front cover [laughs], little bit of a hint! Erm, so we get that quite a lot.
A couple of ones, good ones that I like are people like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie but because they only identified as bi either for a short period of time and then changed their language or the media then didn't, you know there's [sighs] just as now, it's, it's hard for people to be bi and seen as bi in the media, so, erm, often that's kind of portrayed as... portrayed differently.
RH: And your other group that you mentioned, the book based one, can you tell us a little bit about that?
EM: Yep! So, I also run Leeds LGBT+ Book Club. It's been running for just over a year now. Basically I finished my masters and started reading real books again [laughs] real good trashy fiction, that just you know it wasn't pure academic stuff that I had to read and I just thought, one day whilst driving, you know it'd be really nice to have a book club, where we can, where I can meet up with people who are similar to me, you know, like minded LGBT people and talk about works that actually, you know, I know quite a lot about bisexuality but I'm sure there's more to learn and you know it's always good to hear different people's experiences and there's other strands of LGBT+ that I don't hardly know anything about, so the best thing I can do is go and read more about it so why not start a book club that just, does just that?
RH: And what sort of books have you read?
EM: Erm, quite a range. I can now tell you that I don't like memoirs, I'm not really a graphic novel kind of person, as much as I want to be, erm, but it's nice to, you know, sit down with a book that I wouldn't have picked up because somebody else has chosen it.
At the moment we're reading The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall which sounds really, really depressing [chuckles] and I real- I keep putting off starting it and I need to read it because the book club is in a week and a half... but I'm really loving it and I would not have picked that book up.
And then other stuff we've read, erm, young adult fiction... I can't remember which way round the title is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe which was amazing, I really loved that. There was a young adult fiction trilogy about mermaids that starts with- the first one's called The Ice Massacre [Ice Massacre], but has a lesbian component to the story and just, yeah, it just was part of a- it's yeah, really good.
RH: So that group must attract a range of different people then does it?
EM: Yeah, yeah absolutely. Different genders, different ages, different orientations, it's really nice actually. And we do say, you know, it's open to anyone who's LGBT+ or an ally, because I think it's you know, no matter what part of LGBT+ you're from, there's still other parts that you've got that you can learn more about. Often our discussions, I mean we do say to people you don't have to have read all the book which is good because otherwise I would probably [laughs] not be able to attend my own book club! Erm, but you don't even, you know, even if you've not read it, it's still worth coming because often we spend half the time discussing the book and then the other half, the reflection of our own experiences. So we'll talk about how this character in this book came out and then the discussion will naturally progress to some of our coming out stories and things like that.
RH: So you share a lot more than just opinions on the book?
EM: Yeah, yeah. Yeah it's good.
RH: You mentioned that you studied in Leeds, is that right?
EM: Yes, I did my masters in Leeds. So I'm actually a nurse, in my [laughs] day job, as well as all these groups I run. I did my original training up in Edinburgh and then recently finished my masters here in- at Leeds Beckett.
RH: Was it studying that brought you to Leeds?
EM: No I followed a boy... [laughs]
RH: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
EM: Erm, not so much! Erm, I don't know. No, I just I followed him down, got a job nursing here in Leeds. The relationship didn't work out and I just, yeah, stayed here.
RH: Was there anything about Leeds that you liked that made you stay here?
EM: Erm, I think I just had, you know, I enjoyed my job, and I had friends here now, and it didn't even... there was no way I was moving again just because that relationship had broken up, you know I'd made a life for myself. I've actually circled Leeds for a while, so I've lived, when I first moved here, I lived in Drighlington and then I moved to East Ardsley and then I lived in Morley then I kinda [laughs] circled that southern section. It took - probably shouldn't say this - it took me a long time to fall in love with Leeds. You know, it's only in the last couple of years, I think it's being in the city centre more and actually running groups here and getting to know different people and you know, the work we've done in the city centre on you know, on the street stalls and things like that have just made me realise what an amazing city it is and that's, you know, that's one of the reasons I moved in to the city centre. And I love it now, it's finally home.
RH: How important is it for you on a personal level to get involved with things like groups and campaigning and things like that?
EM: Well if you'd asked me about five years ago, I would have said I didn't have time, I, you know, didn't have the drive to do that at all. But now I can't really imagine life without it. It's... it's an amazing feeling.
So at York Pride this year we had somebody come up to our stall who said that they hadn't felt like they were part of Pride, they didn- basically what they were saying is they didn't feel queer enough to be there, which is disgraceful that they were feeling like that, you know, that's, you know, it was as much for this person as it was for anyone else. Erm, and they said when they found our stall, it made everything click, that actually there is a place for me as a bi person here in Pride. Which is ridiculous because, I don't know if you know, Brenda Howard, who is, erm, she is also known as the Mother of Pride, she's one of the people who organised the very first Pride marches in New York I think, she was bisexual.
RH: Ah I didn't know that.
EM: So, there's... yeah, it's a lot better now but at some points, you know, bisexual people weren't welcome in gay bars, you know, Manchester had a no bisexuals policy in some of their gay bars. Not welcome in Pride, especially if people perceive you in a different gendered relationship, people will assume that you're straight and that you don't belong there and things like that so, that's something that we battle quite a lot is people not, not feeling... queer enough to come to bi spaces or LGBT spaces and not, you know, not being able to kinda feel comfortable with that label because they've maybe... maybe they've never had sex with anyone or maybe they've only had sex with- or relationships with a particular gender, so how can they identify as bi? But you can, cause you can identify as straight when you've never been in a relationship with someone and the same with gay and lesbian, so, yeah.
RH: What was your first Pride?
EM: Erm, Leeds Pride [laughs].
RH: When was that?
EM: Erm, that was, so we marched last year which was '17, didn't do '16, 2015. So it was after I'd started the group and it was with the group that I marched, did get quite teared up at that one, it was amazing. And then last year was so much better again, it was... yeah. Such an amazing feeling.
RH: What do you feel like when you're sort of marching?
EM: This is going to sound really cliché... the pride that bursts from your chest just to feel like, you know, I have a right to be here, you know, this is, this is me being completely me and it's accepted and it's welcomed and also knowing that we're showing people that this is okay. You know, on a personal level I've not had many bi role models within my local life so, you know, there's- I'd always wished there was someone higher up in my work structure who identified as bi so I knew I would be okay because if this person can be out and be bi... and be, you know, safe in their work environment then I can be too and I never had that. And you don't see people on the media very often and, you know, it's not- even our kinda local LGBT celebrities, it's not really, you know, it's not really seen. So to be able to kinda go out there and do the, you know, there's a lot of us, you're not alone because I mean that's one of the reasons I set up the bi group. It's again that clichéd ‘Am I the only bisexual person here in Leeds?’ and then in the end I just went you know what let's just start a group and find out.
RH: Let's end it on that nice message.
RH: Thank you so much.
EM: That's alright!