So Much More Left To Be Said
I felt very “new” at the first European BiCon, like going to my first Bi conference again. I found the event intensely thought provoking and made new friends with many other bisexuals who were enthusiastic to form national and European networks. I loved being in such a queer and genderqueer atmosphere again. Rotterdam was also a good party city, particularly during “Pink Rotterdam” and with it being European cultural capital.
The conference opened with a trumpet solo by Herman Hopman in a church with a history of blessing gay couples. Rijk van Ark on behalf of Rotterdam Roze treated us to pink champagne. Dutch Big Brother winner Bianca Hagenbeek and Sandra Korthuis from the city council welcomed us and Heleen Rutgers spoke from the pulpit on bisexuality.
There were many workshops, mostly happening simultaneously. Long breaks and reasonable start times for each day gave us chance to get to know one another. There wasn’t a central socialising space for the conference and I missed that. We met in the secondary school where the workshops were held and many of us were staying at the City Hostel where we congregated in the bar. The staff and other guests were laid-back and friendly and the rooms were comfy and shared with a small number of others.
The Dutch Bi’s ran the conference smoothly, kitted out with radios and so looking like bodyguards at times! There were people from most European countries and a few from further away. A group from Nigeria got as far as Amsterdam Airport. I felt indulged by the way almost everything was in English.
I started my conference with the hands-on discussion of condoms, run by Kalja van de Linden and Ilse Kools fromspecialist condom shop “Condomerie” in Amsterdam. They had systematically measured all sorts of condoms for thickness, circumference and length and so could advise on good selections for folks who had had problems with some types being either uncomfortable or slipping off. Discussion was fun, sharing our own experiences as users as well as several of us being safer sex educators.
Hilde Vossen facilitated a workshop on building a “strong and sexy” European bi- network. She pushed things along at quite a quick pace, which I felt was a good idea since there was much energy and enthusiasm and we wouldn’t have had time to discuss anything in depth. We had many ideas for collaboration and we are continuing the discussion on-line.
“Bisexual Fine Artist” Jolie presided over an art exhibition which included work by professional artists as well as more spontaneous pieces created during the conference. Much of the work was auctioned at the end to raise money for Amnesty International. I spent a relaxed couple of hours on Saturday afternoon at Jolie’s badge making workshop after a morning listening to “Professor of Happiness” Ruut Veenhoven discuss his findings on the links between happiness and sexual tolerance. I found Tiger Otto’s Femme and Butch discussion fascinating. We each introduced an item that signified Butch or Femme to us. Mr Otto gave a concise theory overview and we talked about gender until we ran out of time, which seemed to happen really quickly. We had much more to talk about. A couple of people asked me afterwards about the gender balance of the workshop. Not an easy question to answer!
Saturday night was the “Erotisch, Sensueel, Biseksueel” dance party at a warehouse-like club in town. This was open to all, with conference attendees getting a discount. The DJ’s tried various tunes from their dance repertoire to see what would go down best with such a crowd. While the selections could have been mixed more smoothly from a wider range of music, I was happy dancing to most things with such company. Some of the dancing I’d definitely consider as having sex, and that wasn’t even in the darkroom! How comfortable everyone is with SM expression in such spaces is something that I hope will be an ongoing debate.
On Sunday, after some sleep, I facilitated a session on polyamory. I asked everyone to introduce themselves, say what level of experience they had with open non-monogamous relationships and also give us an idea whether we needed to slow down our discussion a little so they could understand it in English. Next, I drew a line on the board and asked people to categorise their relationships patterns between polyfideltious, group marriage type arrangements and more fluid clouds of friendships and partnerships. I also had a separate category for those who didn’t feel they fitted into that model well. We spent the rest of the workshop discussing some of the issues that arose including our support networks and what it means to have primary and secondary relationships.
The last session was in the main auditorium where a panel talked about responses to HIV. We discussed the relationship between bisexual and lesbian and gay campaigns and this prompted some robust but civil points about sexism and “gay-bashing” within the bi community and whether we could have representation before we had debated our politics. We didn’t have time by that point to do much more than name some of these issues.
We moved on to the closing ceremony where we got to thank those responsible for organising and contributing to the conference and were introduced to the Bi Irish group who will be running the next one in two years’ time. I’m looking forward to it.