Manchester – BiCon 22

Issue 69

Originally appeared in issue 69 of BCN

August 2004 – Four and a half days of BiCon and two days of “BiCon Extra” bi social space after the conference itself ended

Manchester BiCon was memorable for many things, including the return of the bouncy castle, live music safest listened to from the next building, & a closing plenary where the team stayed in bed and let the attendees ‘do all the pretending to be awake at this time of day’. Rather than ask the team about it – we’d just get lectured on the headaches of every workshop room changing 24 hours from the start of the conference and such – BCN grabbed a couple of first timer’s and quizzed them about the highs, lows, and reasons for going back next year.

“Come to BiCon!”, they said, “You’ll have a fantastic time!”

‘They’, being some friends of the LondonPolyBi set, I being a somewhat isolated bisexual from the North, and BiCon being, apparently, something to do with bisexuals, and a bar, in Manchester. My protestations of skint studentdom were firmly stepped over and I was pointed in the direction of the Helping Hand Fund, which very kindly granted me some assistance in getting there.

So, gifted with this and some sketchy but enthusiastic descriptions of the sort of thing it was, I awaited the event with more than a little anxiety about it.

I thought that I might be too young, or that I’d find it difficult to find myself a clique, that I’d get lost in Manchester or come across as naiive or that I’d just never get the confidence up to actually say hello to anybody. I really wanted to just make new friends and hopefully find people closer to where I live, as well as just have a nice relaxed week away from the various stresses of the real world. And, having heard that prospects were favourable, I was also pretty damned keen to pull 🙂

So, armed with a rucsack of clothes and an optimistic head on, I departed for manchester on the Thursday to see what would happen. I’d gotten a first-timers mailing filled with useful bits of information for newcomers, which gave me a bit more information on what a Bicon tends to consist of, plus a handy guide to everything I might want to know about bisexuality but hadn’t gotten around to asking, all of which made handy preparatory train reading. It also explained to me the concept of “workshops” – those small(ish) groups which convene somewhere over the course of the weekend and discuss or demonstrate various subjects which interest bisexuals.

It all sounded good, and once I’d arrived, picked up my keys and got settled in the flat, – which were in nice little blocks of 8, perfect for getting to meet at least a few other people, even if you came on your own – headed into the main venue to register myself and start meeting people. I evidently looked a bit nervous, as the organisers were very friendly and helpful and made me feel welcome and less nervous about being there.

So, I got eased in to conversations, partly with the assistance of the coloured-dots system of displaying basic information (blue for “first-timer”, green for “available”, that kind of thing) and found before long that this was going to be a good week. There was a good balance of partying and socialising, and even though it’s the kind of place where there’s a lot of flirting and such going on, it didn’t have that nasty meat-market feel that some clubs do – I felt safe and comfortable and not at all as if any particular behaviour was expected, beyond mutual respect of other people there. There were plenty of afterparties to head on to after the main bar had closed, most of which went on well into the morning, which meant that getting up for workshops a few hours later was something of a task. The workshops offered were interesting and quite varied – from Fun and Games to Bondage For Beginners and History of Bisexuality (sounds a bit like the timetable for a slightly odd school, doesn’t it…?), and those that I did make (*cough* – stay in bed until the bar opens, me? Nah 😉 were certainly worth going to, and useful as I kind of ice-breaker and a way of getting to know people away from the bar. There were also plenaries to announce bits of information as it came in, none of which I made due to their being at around 9.30 in the morning.

Anyway, before I knew it, it was all over and everybody was saying goodbye and going home (although I stubbornly refused to leave Manchester until the following Thursday), which was very sad but good because I got lots of people’s phone numbers and emails and made me feel tremendously sociable and helped me avoid the inevitable post-bicon crash that I had been warned of. To anybody who hasn’t been, I’d say go! Because it was utterly brilliant and everybody has a fantastic time and considering the setup of having almost 300 people in close proximity to each other with a healthy dollop of sex and partying, pleasantly little drama.

Best bit of Bicon 2004? Not telling ;-P

Worst? Going home! (Oh, and not making the plenaries due to being in bed until noon :o)

I went to Bicon… and felt normal

Confessions of a newbie

I think it was when I received the pre-conference questionnaire through the post that I really got a taster as to what I had let myself in for. Let’s face it, any form which takes four questions to determine gender (ranging from “gender at birth” to “gender you identity as”) and has no less than four tick-boxes for each (male, female, male and female and the rather intriguing “other”), clearly isn’t letting anyone slip through the net.

I felt almost boring ticking female all the way down. I could almost visualise the statistician compiling my results: Oh come on, it can’t really be that simple… Then there was the question asking how many partners I had. Slightly sheepishly, I confessed: one. I almost expected the completed form to be sent back to me with “Must try harder” scrawled in red ink.

My feelings were compounded as I signed in, made myself a name badge and got it “stickered up”. Where was I on the traffic-light scale of availability? Well, if I defined myself as red, that might be taken as aloof. But amber or green, on the other hand – well, my girlfriend might hit me.

The orange “likes hugs” sticker provoked a similar dilemma. Now, with the right person and after the right amount of alcohol and/or drugs, I like a hug as much as the next repressed middle-class Brit. But would a sticker be read as an invitation to casual, promiscuous hugging?

I decided to play it safe and leave it all open to mystery, opting only for a blue “first-timer” sticker. On safe enough ground there – except that, in a certain light, it could be mistaken for the black BDSM marker. I worried faintly that scary people with poor eyesight might mistakenly chain me up and start shoving red-hot pokers into me.

The workshops, at first, did nothing to assuage my feeling of being a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. As other people casually volunteered information about their most intimate sexual predilections to a roomful of strangers, I was reminded of a “purity test” which was doing the rounds when I was at college. You’ve probably seen something similar – it starts by asking “Have you ever held hands with a member of the opposite sex?”, then the questions gradually increase in shockability. The final one, if I remember correctly, was along the lines of: “Have you ever had sex in a church, with a nun, while the archbishop of Canterbury looked on?”

Well, I’d always been satisfied that my score was comfortably far from pure. But from the impression I was getting of the other delegates – well, let’s just say that had the archbishop of Canterbury paid us a visit, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him exchanging a few knowing winks.

For the first time in my life, I felt mainstream and conventional. In the provincial town where I work, if the truth ever got out that I have a current girlfriend and a string of ex-boyfriends, the shock would be enough to keep the gossip channels buzzing for months. And probably no few heart attacks. Yet here I felt positively suburban. By Bicon standards, I felt I should take out a subscription to the Daily Mail and start voting Conservative.

But after one day, an exhausting schedule of workshops and some fascinating and illuminating conversations in the bar about BDSM, polyamory and naturism, I was wondering how I had ever managed to feel overawed. (Although, incidentally, nobody I spoke to seemed impressed by my polyamory joke: “Does that mean you have sex with parrots?”) By the end of the weekend, I wanted it to start all over again.

It was when I next met with my two best friends – straight but far from narrow-minded – that I realised how much the experience had changed me. I was raving about the people I’d met, conversations I’d had and workshops I’d been to when I suddenly stopped mid-flow, aware that their jaws had dropped and their eyes were out on stalks.

It’s not that shocking, is it? I thought. Then I understood. I’d been Bicon-ed. Normality would never be the same again.