If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Gay and Lesbian Bikers, Step This Way

Thanks to a tip from Windsock, an item from Pink News:

Hastings to host first gay and lesbian biker rally

The UK’s first gay and lesbian biker rally is to be held in Hastings next month. Around 1,000 gay and lesbian bikers are expected to descend on the Azur at the Marina Pavilion, St Leonards, on September 18th. Events will include a indoor/outdoor BBQ, music and comedy, while organisers have hired a car park and will offer visitors somewhere to store their helmets and gear.

Organiser Julian Langham told the Hastings Observer: “I think that a lot of people are excited about it. It will be interesting to see how far they will travel from.

“This is an opportunity to find out the extent of the gay biker community.”

For more information, visit gaybikerrally.co.uk.

I am restraining myself from making any jokes about finding somewhere to store your helmet for the day.

Windsock thinks that this could be "an interesting collision of worlds". I'm not so sure. I know that biking has a very rufty-tufty image and a lot of bikers would be horrified to be tarred with a 'gay icon' brush, but there are a couple of things that make me think it is more complicated than that. For one thing, it's impossible to read some of the biking press and not be aware of a considerable homoerotic content, especially in the adverts (Adonis clad in tight leather, staring with chiselled jaw in a thousand-yard stare). For another, of the five gay women I have known in the last few years, two have been active riders and one is seriously considering taking her Direct Access. I would suspect that the biking 'community' is about as gay, proportionately, as the rest of society. And bikers tend not to be shy about coming forward.

I think they will have a good turnout. We shall see.


  1. I await the formation of a 'Gay' Hells Angels chapter.

  2. Okay, I'm baffled. What's it meant to achieve?

    I can understand why there is a gay community. I can understand why there are bikers. What I fail to see is how conflating those two rather disparate factors benefits anyone except the spectacularly tiny minority who not only belong in both camps but also feel they want to voluntarily segregate themselves into that extreme identity margin. They, of course, get to belong to a new and quite exclusive self-selected club.

    Other than that, it's not really doing much for the equality message, giving the impression that no matter what activity is being considered, there's always room to divide it up into "gay" and "the rest of you".

    It's not really doing much for motorcycling, either. That's already full of people sharing a common and usually quite passionate interest. Wherever you go as a biker, basically, there will be someone who wants to talk to you. About bikes and biking, mainly.

    Finally, it's not really doing much for pride-style activism either. Hastings already has a) a fairly thriving gay presence and b) an annual May Day bike rally, so the good folk of that town have some experience of both LBGT activity and motorcycles. It's a fair bet that combining the two won't add a great deal of shock and awe.

    Personally, I think I have more in common with the average fellow biker than the average fellow heterosexual. It seems rather counterproductive - and a bit of a shame - to create a rally especially to imply that the opposite is true for homosexuals.

  3. Hmm, endemoniada_88: I take all your points, but
    a) aren't all clubs self-selecting? and
    b) so what if a group of men and women with two shared specific interests want to get together and share tips, points of view, problems, stories... I don't think this is about "pride"/equality as such and more about meeting socially like-minded people where you can talk about stupid gay bars that won't let you in wearing biking leathers (or some such - I can't imagine such a scenario unless the bar owner is stupid), or two gay men talking about the feel of a particular engine throbbing between their legs. What harm does it do for people with things in common to get together?

  4. Fifteen-love, I think, and I am sitting on the fence on this one.

    But throbbing engines do it for me every time :)

  5. @Windsock

    a) True enough, please excuse the tautology.
    b) In general, no harm at all.

    To be honest, I don't really care how people want to label, organise or make social space for themselves - that's no skin off my nose and I don't begrudge anyone doing what makes them happy.

    Where I do like to play Devil's Advocate, though, is in challenging what strikes me as lazy or misguided thinking. Such as in this case - although it happens to be on the subject of gay identity (again, but I'm not trying to get at you!) I'd be asking pretty much the same whatever the minority concerned was.

    It is, quite rightly, one of the central tenets of equality that sexual orientation (among many other things) doesn't result in any particular type of person. There is no "your own kind" to which gays belong. Surely, then, by definition there is also no social commonality unique or specific to gay people?

    So, what is that gay and lesbian bikers do on bikes or at a bike event that's any different to what straight bikers do? I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer is "absolutely nothing". They meet various people with all sorts of differing personalities and a shared interest in bikes. Is there some sort of similar shared interest in being gay? Because if there isn't, in a social context such as this, it's not increasing the potential to meet people you like by refining the common ground. It's reducing the pool of people you could meet and like by adding an arbitrary and irrelevant criterion.

    I could see the point of a rally that was sponsored by an LBGT organisation, all welcome, to get people together. (That's the way rallies usually work, in fact - organisers try to attract outside audiences, not exclude them). But I don't get the point of this rally at all. It really does give the impression of wilfully building fences rather than bridges.

    So in this specific instance the answer to b) becomes:
    It does a disservice to all those gay and lesbian people who would really rather not have a small minority finding new ways to put across the message that sexuality is still a case of "them" and "us".

    Yeah, me too!

  6. Hm, I am a member of a female rider's club, and we are a healthy mix of women from all walks of life, and yes various orientation. For all that matters we we share a common hobby and interest, as we all are motorcyclists. If we were to gather separate groups by sexual orientation some best friends and riding buddy-ettes would have never met. Not sure what to make out of it.

  7. endemoniada_88: I don't think you're getting at me at all.

    OK, let's put it this way... At a lesbian and gay motorcycle rally, Bloke A is more likely to be able to say to Bloke B "Cor, look at that engine. You must be able to ride for hours on that. I bet it's really smooth... but then you can ride me for hours and I'm as smooth as they come"... without fear of his face being dented with a fist. Isn't it just an excuse for a social dating thing? Ultimately? And that brings me back to my original point B... except organisers are usually a bit subtler than say "all poufs who fancy a bit of roughtie toughtie motorcycle action, get down to Hastings".

    Assuming you are heterosexual, would you be comfortable with that?

    It's a bit like a Gaydar special interests virtual chat room made 3D. So then sexuaity does become "them" and us". As I said, this is not about "pride"/equality.

    @SonjaM - your club chooses to segregate by gender - I have no problem with that at all, but would it make a difference if men joined in? I'm guessing it may alter the balance of conversations and atmosphere, so you have chosen to unite two aspects of your life - gender and bikes - for social reasons. I'm sure a lesbians only bike club would splinter off if need be, but there is probably no need.

    Me too, when I've been pillion riding (never trust me to steer ANYTHING!)

  8. Richard (at work)9 August 2011 at 10:06

    I'm quite persuaded by Sonja's example. No-one could possibly object to a women-only bike club, and for the reasons that Windsock states, uniting two aspects of your life is a natural and entertaining thing to do, and replacing 'female' with 'gay' in her comment makes no substantive difference to the logic.

    I'm still thinking about Endo's comment that "Personally, I think I have more in common with the average fellow biker than the average fellow heterosexual". This is certainly true of me, although it had never occurred to me before.

  9. @Windsock

    OK, I'll bite. In a hopefully polite manner, because I am genuinely curious.

    Yes, I am heterosexual. Why would that make me uncomfortable with gay people having a roughtie toughtie day out, if that's what they want to do? I still don't have a problem with other people enjoying themselves. I've also been to a number of mixed gay-run events of a non roughtie toughtie nature, thanks to contacts in the theatrical world, and I'm not uncomfortable with that, either.

    But I think you're moving the goalposts here.

    If you're now saying that it's an event designed to get a whole lot of blokes A and B together for sex, then it's at best disingenuous to present it, on a primarily motorcycling blog, as a "bike rally". Perhaps "gay dating seaside trip" would have been more apposite?

    If, however, it is a genuine rally (as seems to be the case from the website and the national press), then surely it represents a much wider spectrum of people, of whom - presumably, just like the rest of us - only a minority are looking to develop a new sexual relationship there and then. What's the benefit of limiting it to gays only for those who aren't just after sex? Seeing as how everyone there would already have a common interest, that is?

    Perhaps I could ask why you originally thought it would be an "interesting collision of worlds", since I still can't really see which worlds are coming together?


    Don't know if you'd agree, but I think there's quite a big difference between bike clubs and bike rallies. To me, the whole point of a rally is to involve a much wider audience than the people you regularly ride out with. I don't see any issue with how club membership is determined (although I'd bet there aren't that many outside the usual criteria of either ownership or locality). As I said above, an open rally sponsored by some LBGT bike club would make perfect sense to me.

  10. endemoniada_88 :

    I'll bite back - but in a sort of affectionate ear-nibbling way...

    It's brilliant that you would be comfortable in such a situation. I have met and still mix with many heterosexual men like yourself, for whom innuendo and a bit of camping up are taken in good spirit with great grace and charm.

    I have, however, met men (and am related to one by marriage) who find the whole subject distasteful and beyond even mentioning, let alone imagining. I have only ever met one person who identified as both biker and gay (we had a brief fling where I experienced the thrill, kind of vicariously as I was only a pillion passenger, of biking).

    I'm not saying the rally is designed as a sex fest... it is possible to get two gay men in a room without either of them going into cruise mode.... (sorry about that awful pun)... but then I have also experience of men who would turn a knitting circle into an orgy. All I'm saying is that this has the potential to become speed dating with bikes - and it has the potential not to be also. I don't know - never been to a gay bike rally.

    For me, it is an interesting collision of worlds in the same way that gay rugby is, in the way that stereotypes of what it means to be gay, or a biker, or a rugby player, are challenged and discarded. And it is sad to say that some gay people, who are not looking for sex, do feel more comfortable being around other gay people rather than in mixed circles - their loss, I know, but some gay people do feel that way. I also have experience of some lesbian friends for whom the only acceptable male company is gay, but that is because of a whole load of feminist stuff that I really am not qualified to defend.

    Yes you're right it shouldn't make a difference. But for some people, it does.

  11. @Windsock


    A fair response, and I'm trying not to underestimate the unknown nature of putting on the first ever such event in the UK. It's not just you - nobody's been to a gay bike rally in Britain, so it isn't unreasonable to be unsure how or if it's going to work. I can accept that as a good enough argument for keeping it a closed event.

    Objectively, I still think it carries a certain risk of generating negative perceptions by doing so (or possibly,more accurately, fails to make best use of the chance to generate positive perceptions). Increasingly, it seems, there is visible mainstream public resentment for groups considered to be asking for acceptance while refusing to integrate.

    In that light, it's never a bad idea to ask not what would be best for the individual, but what would be best for the cause that they are representing. Because, whatever nuances the people involved may be aware of, to many people, if it says "gay and lesbian" (for example) on the heading it will be perceived as speaking for the whole gay and lesbian population.

    Obviously turning it into a demonstration of mutual trust may well be uncomfortable for some people (on both sides of the divide), but in the long run may be the best option. Taking a bullet for the team, if you like.

    This may not actually be the time or the place to do that, but I think it could have been one of the easier opportunities. I know I've already said it several different ways, but bikes really are a transcendent passion amongst bikers. There are a lot of brand loyalty rivalries but underneath it all, there's the knowledge that we all share a special position that is still outside society's norms. Perhaps that even gives us a better understanding and empathy for other minority groups.

    It is a shame that there are still those differences in the way, but I like to think we can all get past them. And if all goes well this time, perhaps I can anticipate being welcome at the second annual UK gay bike rally. Although I'll probably pass if it does go down the speed dating route...!

  12. "...So, what is that gay and lesbian bikers do on bikes or at a bike event that's any different to what straight bikers do?"

    I'll tell you one thing I saw in a layby on the Macclesfield side of the Cat and Fiddle a few months ago, and that was a couple of leather clad lads "ear nibbling" or whatever they do with their tongues in full public view - rather put me off my next gear change and what my son thought does not bare repeating....

  13. At least they were in a layby.

  14. Nikos: aah, love and/or lust make no concessions to time or place do they? Those " leather clad lads "ear nibbling" or whatever they do with their tongues" were probably doing the same things with their tongues that you did when getting your son on to the production line.

    endemoniada_88: It's been a pleasure debating with you, but now I'll rest my case.

  15. I think that's probably the right course of action at this stage. I'll come back to this topic in due course, I think. On Sept 19 we can start all over again :)

  16. P.S. Richard: thanks for posting and hosting.

  17. P.S. Windsock - happy to do so. I like an eclectic mix. Layby snogging to the land speed record in one week is pleasant variety in my book. Thanks for the initial heads-up. I will return to this later, after the 'event'.


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