Earlier this year, I decided to do something about missing regular queer company, and got myself along to the Brum Bi Group. This turned out to be a lovely bunch of people of all genders, and amongst all the new friends I found that several old ones where regulars, too!
It was at the Brum Bi Group monthly meets that I heard talk of BiCon coming up in the summer. As a long time LGBTQUA+* activist, I’d heard of BiCon, but for various reasons I’d never actually attended one before. Now that I had a car and regular income, though, was this a possibility?
- I checked my calendar – that weekend was free!
- I checked with the girlfriend – she wasn’t going with me, but was happy for me to go!
- I checked with the bank – I could afford it!
- I checked with friends and family – several of them were going! “That settles it, “, I said, “I’m totally going to BiCon 2011!”
- In terms of the grounds, the location was quite nice, and managed to create a relaxed feel
- By arriving at midday on Saturday, there had already been two whole days of BiCon by this point. It felt very much like everyone had already met, so mingling was very hard
- …and on that note, BiCon does suffer very strongly from cliques. As a first-time attendee, it would have been easy to feel lonely. Thankfully I had some family there to support me, but it still felt closed. I suspect this relates to joining on the third day, though
- I fell totally in love with the con badge sticker system. BiCon has for a number of years done a craftwork badge system, wherein you are given the bare minimum of pre-made card and are pointed to a stand to decorate it yourself. This alone is cool, but what really make this work is the sticker system (from BiCon 2010) – the community agrees that certain stickers on a con badge have certain meanings. Unfortunately there tends to be a lot of sticker meanings, so they are hard to remember, but you tend to recall the ones you are most interested in. Very cool, I wish every event had something like it!
- …Sadly by the time I arrived, though, there were only a few stickers remaining. So I had to make do with only a few and a lot of “ask me!” stickers. Still, the system’s so cool, here’s a photo of my badge:
- BiCon started as a conference, but the name grew out of the Scifi convention community. This holds true across the whole of the event. In parts it felt like a student-organised workshop conference, with poor organisation but great workshops and lots of inclusion. At other times, there were some very hard-hitting talks, like an academic conference. All the while, though, there was the party atmosphere one expects from a convention. Definitely took some getting used to!
- Some of the more academic talks were very good, and quite surprising to see come up. Very much approved of the opportunity to attend these
- I heard that some of the workshops sounded good, but were aimed at a less experienced audience than the one that attended. This shows great things about the people who attend BiCon, but perhaps is something to think about
- Some of the workshops I missed, however, sounded positively fascinating. The brainstorming walls from a few of them remained up afterwards, revealing some incredibly deep discussions about Being a bi person. I was tempted to photograph them, but it didn’t feel respectful of their creation within a safe space
- One I felt safe to photograph, however, was one of the clear similarities to a scifi convention. There was at one point a discussion about bisexual fiction, and afterwards their recommendations were posted for everyone to enjoy:
- As the party unfolded on Saturday night, update newsletters about tomorrow where handed out. This was a great idea, and something I wish they had done at Ayacon a few weeks previously
- BiCon was one of the most inclusive spaces I have ever been in. I noticed a number of people with impairments, there were quite a surprising number of out trans people, and generally everyone was able to be themselves
- The party on Saturday night was good, however I missed my normal rock DJ
- …However there was a period on Saturday night that felt like “get hitched hour” – people’s body languages became distinctly about sleeping with people, it seemed
- Although staying with family off-site was cheap, it did prevent getting an early start
- The BiCon closing ceremony felt like a community love-in. This is understandable, since every community needs one, but as a first time attendee I didn’t get anything out of it (other than the location and committee of next year’s BiCon)
- Something that appears to be a yearly meme is accommodation issues. I didn’t meet anyone with anything positive to say about the accommodation this year or in previous years. People are optimistic about next year’s arrangements, however I know people who have stayed in the halls that will be used, and no comment
- BiCon was a very white-dominated event – which thankfully the community is already working to address
- In fact, there was a workshop about BiCon itself, and from the wall of notes, it seems that the event is aware of almost all it’s failings. This is very much a rarity, but the real test will be how they act on these
- Finally got to meet some incredible people I’d known online for a while!
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough leave from work to go for the Thursday and Friday, but cost-wise that about worked out to my benefit (as I couldn’t afford a full pass). So after work on Friday, I spent the night with my girlfriend, then headed up to BiCon for Saturday lunchtime.
My past experience with similar events was strictly limited to Anime conventions, small student day-long events, and the occasional corporate event. Sadly as a science and engineering student, my course load made it hard to attend NUS events.
Even though I was only there for barely two days, every hour was eventful. Rather than try and remember all the details, here’s an unordered list of the highs and lows of BiCon 2011:
All in all, BiCon was a very mixed event for me. Some of best things about BiCon was less the new, and more the time I spent with my family and old friends. Some of the worst would have probably been addressed by attending for the full duration.
There’s a strongly related unConference called OpenCon. Sadly I wasn’t able to attend this year, so I was very much pleased to find that Ludi had done a rather wonderful write-up of OpenCon. Although this was written about OpenCon, one passage applies to BiCon:
I think it was because many people had very little chance to talk about sexism in their everyday lives
For a significant group of people attending, BiCon is their only chance to be Bi or otherwise queer. I’m guessing most people would have never noticed this, since I’m more sensitive to body langauge, but it certainly created an odd atmosphere at times. It makes me wonder what can be done for these people outside of BiCon. I think events like BiFests and the local Bi groups are an important start, but clearly more needs to be done.
All in all, BiCon 2011 was a very mixed event for me. On the journey home, I was unsure about going to BiCon 2012. But almost two months on, I find myself remembering all the good bits and really wanting to be in such a space again. And as an activist, I know there’s only one way to improve community-ran events – to dive in and do what you can to make them even better!
Next up in my calendar is Brum BiFest, which clearly still needs some work on understanding the gender spectrum. I’m going to get involved with the community and see about improving everything I can. And, with any luck, see you at BiCon 2012!
* Lesbian, Gay, Bi*, Trans*, Queer, Undefined, Asexual and plus all the rest. Bit of a mouthful, but at least it’s now properly inclusive