The 11th National Bisexual Conference was held at the University of Nottingham, on the 1st-3rd October 1993. It was organised by the (mixed) Nottingham Bi Group. Over 250 people attended.
For some reason, the student hall accommodation had a hotel style licence – they kept serving alcohol for as long as people kept asking for it.
First Published in Bifrost #27, September 1993 (just before the event)
So, what can you expect from the Eleventh National Bisexual Conference?
Well, you can expect the best bisexual T-shirt ever, very nice breakfast, enough vegan food (what it is to have the power to chose the menu!), a chance to meet up with all your friends, discussions on just about everything, events designed for newcomers and old-timers alike, and hopefully enough support for if it all gets too much.
Consultation has been great fun. We sent out loads of questionnaires which were designed for us earlier this year (although on reflection some of us feel they were completely incomprehensible!). We've sold subscriptions to our minutes (and so far nobody has commented on any of the decisions we've taken, so we must be doing everything right). And we've spent long hours looking at the compiled feedback from the last ten conferences and trying to reconcile all the contradictions. (When you've got one note which says the venue was too big and another saying it was too small, you just know you've got to disappoint someone).
The biggest job was finding a venue: we all thought that Nottingham was full of suitable places, but when we started to ask questions like "is this wheelchair accessible?" the list rapidly shrunk. What made the big difference in the end was the financial support of the Health Education Authority, which enabled us to subsidise accommodation at Nottingham University. The University had become our first choice, but until we heard from the HEA it would have been too expensive – many thanks to the HEA's Bisexuality Working Group for pushing that through for us.
As with previous conferences, there will be a range of activities, discussions, workshops, and talks over the three days, including space for impromptu events and repeat runs. This year we will also be having a wider range of other activities, for all those times when you've just had enough of intense discussions. Live music, parachute games, volleyball, and a very big rounders match are just some of what's on offer – we're keeping a few surprises and entertainments up our sleeves. We hope that this years conference will be a place where people can celebrate their sexuality in as many ways as possible – and even have time to do things which have nothing to do with sexuality at all!
One of the most exciting things is that Claire Dowie, an award winning bisexual performer is writing and performing a one woman show specially for us. If you want to get a taste of Claire's unique take on gender and sexuality and life in general, you can catch her play "Death and Dancing" in London at the Shaw theatre from 21st to 25th of September. Telephone their box office on [phone number].
We didn't get everything we wanted of course. One of the biggest disappointments was that the planned bisexual film festival simply disappeared. The cinema recently told us they had no record of our five letters or twenty phonecalls (?!) and had booked other events for the times we'd agreed. Not being able to provide crash space at the venue or people's homes has also been a problem. Our creative solution has been to book a campsite and tents, plus lay on transport, so that anyone who can't afford residential accommodation will have somewhere to stay. (There may be a nominal cost to cover this).
Oh, and for anyone who still hasn't made up their minds: one of the deciding factors for this venue is that it has a hotel license, which means that the bar will stay open each night until there is no-one left to serve. Don't say we didn't try and get the best for you!
11th Conference Get Record Breaking Numbers
First published in Bifrost #29. November 1993
The 11th National Bisexual Conference in Nottingham reports the highest attendance yet at a bisexual conference with 248 registrations and over 250 people in attendance including workers and the collective themselves.
The conference also attracted attention from the media with reporter Dixie Mann from Greater London Radio and another from a French radio station prowling around looking for quotes. They (and Bifrost) were kept in check by Caramel, the conference press officer. It was the first time such a post had been needed, after the unprecedented media attention at the 10th Conference in Norwich last year, and she not only protected people from the press, but also did an excellent job of finding people for us all to interview.
On Having Fun at Bicon
First published in Bifrost #29. November 1993
So the eleventh national Bisexual Conference is over and done. At times the three crammed days in Nottingham seemed like an exercise in sleep deprivation. There was so much to do that I hope conferences grow longer, that we may all sample more. What I did and the flavour I got out of it might have little to do with another person's experiences.
Motoring up in the official London Bisexual Group minibus, I learned several shocking new verses to "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain". On arrival I registered, took my room key, and discovered that the bed in my study cell was significantly wider than the one last year in Norwich. Evidently universities have seen that the 1980s-style HIV transmission prevention policy didn't work: narrow mattresses provide no protection. Much more sensible and comfortable to have beds made for sharing.
This was put to the proof later when the heating in the halls failed and many of us resorted to bisexual bodywarmth-sharing strategies to get us through the nights. As I said, a sleepless conference. However…
The daytime round of workshops covered a lot of ground. I had a chance to discuss local groups, the structure of relationships with friends and lovers, public sex policy, broader political movements, and other subjects more informally. I have to say that the most exhilarating workshops for me were the ones I led. The nervous changed to positive excitement as participants began to respond to the themes I proposed: on separate days, Paganism, dialogue between lesbian and bi women, and "Where do you belong?" (finding your space between communities). For anyone who's wondering how they could possibly facilitate something next year, I say, go for it!
The socials in the evenings were enjoyed, too. I don't have space to list them all, but the Brazilian band had great energy, Claire Dowie great wit, and the Saturday night disco great…attendance.
On Friday I'd noticed that I was one of very few wearing a dress, so the following day, having decided that as a minority we must be oppressed and therefore in need of solidarity, I put the following announcement on the noticeboard: "The Frock Support Group will meet at the disco tonight. Wear your best dress and we'll dance together! – Roberta in the wine velvet)". It worked a treat.
Also on the noticeboard was a good luck message from Peter Tatchell of Outrage, and requests for old jokes turned new, viz:
Q: What does a gay man take on the second date?
A: Second date?
Q: What does a lesbian take on the second date?
A: Everything she owns.
Q: What does a bisexual take on the second date?
followed by a very large blank space which folks wrote in:-
Someone else; A strap-on; Their cat; Their time; Dope; The initiative; I've no idea – you can't expect me to be decisive; A large cucumber; Notes (to post to soc.bi next day); Their partner; The piss (in my experience). And also "their toolbox". Someone explain this one to me, please. (Or maybe not).
There was another sheet of paper requesting suggestions for bisexual pick-up lines. "Lea de Laria, America's funniest lesbian, dusts here face and says: let me clear you a seat." But my favourite tied into the Conference: "I've got heating in my room…"
On not having fun at BiCon
First Published in Bifrost #30, December 1993
So the eleventh National Bisexual Conference is over and done. Here I part company with last month's article. My flavour does have little to do with that auditor's experiences. I have a number of genuine problems, pointless gripes, and futile complaints about BiCon this year. These are things I hope next year will be avoided.
Where did all the money go? Some, but not all of it was visible. Oh yes there was a lot to do and see. Too much, in my opinion: "Hmm, a nice night in the bar after a long day of workshops, a chance to unwind and actually talk to a load of bisexuals from around the country without having to keep to one topic, or worry about interrupting the facilitator. Ah yes, a nice night. Oh no, a samba band." A bisexual samba band? A not-bisexual samba band, but one playing bisexual samba tunes? A not-bisexual samba band playing not-bisexual samba tunes that a bisexual might want to leave his/her pint to go and watch? Nay, nay and thrice nay. So what happens? The samba band, well aware that they are not giving us our money's worth, decide to stand in the bar too. I'm sorry, but doesn't being pointedly ignored by the masses give any clues as to your popularity? Why were they there in the first place?
Safer sex material is important, and one would hope high priority if we're having unsightly amounts of money thrown at us by the HEA. Where was it? It was in a small cardboard box at the desk in Derby Hall. Was there a sign saying "Condoms and Dental Dams and info on safe sex for bi girls and boys here"? – no, there wasn't. Was there condoms and Dental Dams and info on safe sex for bi girls and boys? No, there was condoms and advice for gay men. I'm sorry, but which conference is this? Oh really, just checking.
The band on Saturday and the disco. [fx: teeth grinding] I'm sorry but whose brilliant idea was it to cut into the disco time with some dreadful guitar-mauling wailing people like that? I do sincerely hope the HEA's money didn't go on the band. Especially not if they were in anyway connected to any members of the conference collective. Just a thought, you understand. The disco! Yes, there were a number of people in intriguing get-ups. Yes, there were people dancing and having a great time. But despite, I fancy, the music… I went up to the DJ and asked for: any Abba, any Queen, any 70s disco, anything from Rocky Horror or "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred. Did they have any of them? Yes, but they hadn't brought them with them! I'm sorry, but where did they think they were going of an evening? Didn't the name of their gig "The National Bisexual Conference" give any clues as to the sort of music that would get most people on the dance floor? Do we really have to go as far as to give the entertainment a playlist?
"Oh, but it was a happy conference, there wasn't the griping at plenaries that we had in Norwich…" True. There wasn't any plenaries. Personally I'd much rather people voiced their grievances aloud and returned the year after to see if we've improved, than feel isolated in silence. Admittedly the fact that breakfast and the conference were separated by a ten minute uphill walk might have had something to do with their absence from the programme. Of course, that's ten minutes if your legs are as able as mine, but I'm sure others will make that point…
I'm sorry, but am I being unreasonable? But I did have a good time. Honest. And I'll be there next year. So I hope I won't have to write this again…
I arrived at BiCon on the Thursday evening, very late due to pressure at work. I spent the remainder of the evening mainly catching up with old friends, many of whom you know from soc.bi – Olaf, Sion Arrowsmith, Bethan, Kay and Justin, Dave Berry and Diana, among others. I also met lots of others whose names but not faces were familiar, that evening and the following one – the "rufty tufty" Peter Cameron, the youthfully cute Sean Doran, the bubbly Lizzy and the lovely Vashti. Jon was there too of course, and Ciaran, though he'd been staying with me the week up to BiCon so I didn't see much of him at BiCon itself. A few people who I'd hoped to see, such as Sara (swamp thing) and Ang, couldn't make it.
Friday: Opening session – mixed bag
I went to this because I was neither a first-timer, nor a woman, nor an "old hand" (it being my 2nd BiCon); those were the other opening sessions. The discussion was initially about what our expectations of the conference were, and how we could achieve them. However, the discussion eventually got taken over by those people present who wanted to get laid – how to tell whether someone is "available" or not, in order to avoid offending those people who weren't available by asking (and perhaps to avoid wasting time with them). The group's facilitator being one of the ones who was hoping to get laid, he let the discussion focus on this for much of the workshop. Those of us who weren't, of course, said nothing and the workshop was rather a waste of time. One idea which was discussed to death (and has been mentioned on soc.bi) was that people should signal their availability by wearing their conference badge on their sleeve instead of their chest (you could of course move your badge at different times, even while talking to someone!) Personally I was against the idea; I wouldn't want to be part of a system which had no "maybe" option, and moreover the "yes" option was too ambiguous – yes is not simple, it means different thing to different people. Come to that, no is ambiguous too – for example, I'm effectively monogamous at the moment, but hugs and cuddles are certainly welcome, and the odd friendly kiss from certain special people, and a massage? Well, maybe. It's a question of where you draw the line, and that varies a lot on circumstances.
Who has the power in our communities?
The question posed by this workshop was never really answered, but it was interesting nonetheless. Some time was spent trying to develop a "map" of the bisexual communities. It's a difficult task. The way it ended up was with the UK community at the centre (local bi groups, BiCon); related activities close by (Bifrost, phone lines, support groups and so on); then other bi communities such as overseas groups, some connected by international groups such as the electronic bi communities; and other groups which involve bisexuals such as campaign groups. At the edges were non-bisexual entities which have an effect on our communities, such as the media, and so on. Unfortunately the workshop was somewhat marred for me by the period in which we were split into smaller groups – in my group of four, one was more interested in pursuing his own agenda than the question at hand, and one (for whatever reason) was almost completely silent. But that's just chance, not a criticism of the workshop. In the final analysis, the workshop was interesting, but I felt not quite as interesting as it could have been. I was expecting a little more discussion about power and leadership. It seems to me that bisexuals are particularly suspicious about leadership, and that this may be one of the reasons the bi movement hasn't progressed further. But there wasn't really the opportunity to pursue this. Of course, workshops are to a large extent democratic, and you have to follow where everyone else wants to go. Perhaps the solution would be for me to run a similar workshop next year.
Professionalisation of the bi movement
…was another workshop which, I suspect, didn't quite go where its facilitator was expecting. The central idea was that as movements become more successful, they need to attract money. This leads to questions both of professionalisation and power – they get dependent on the money, and may ultimately be forced to go down paths dictated by the sources of the money. The example at the forefront of everyone's mind was that this year's BiCon itself was sponsored (the first time this has happened) by the Health Education Authority, a governmental organisation. While the extra money was no doubt of benefit to everyone at BiCon, the money must have come with conditions attached, judging by the presence of an HIV/AIDS/safer sex workshop in almost every slot; and, I understand, facilitators for some of these workshops had been hired, the first time facilitators at BiCon have been paid. Hence professionalisation.
In the split-into-small-groups section, the editor of Bifrost (the only national UK publication for bis, and amateur in the sense that the editorial collective do it for free) was in my group, which was interesting – she had a lot to say about her attitude to professionalism (she's all for it, and cited a number of achievements Bifrost has only been able to make through assuming professional practices, such as accepting advertising). Numerous other examples of, and attitudes to, professionalisation were expressed when the group came back together towards the end. No real conclusions were reached on the political side (how to prevent the bi movement being subverted by money), as I think the facilitator hoped, but at least we were (or I was) made much more aware of the implications.
At the same time as the professionalisation workshop was one on paganism, which I'd quite like to have attended – I suppose you would have. Luckily my better half did go, and we talked about it afterwards. I guess I would have been the odd one out if I had gone – I'm more interested in why so many bifolk seem to be pagans, than in pagan worship itself. Maybe next year.
There were a few things on on the Friday evening, but I concentrated on socialising. I met lots of new people, both from the net (see above) and non-net. Ciaran made us play a bizarre game called Pictionary (heard of it?) in the bar, and my team (Kay, Peter and myself) managed to lose pretty convincingly. I went to bed soon after 1am – I gather others went on partying until 4 or 5.
Saturday: Organising a local bi group
The workshop suffered from being held in a lecture theatre, which made it hard for people to see others in rows behind them. Everyone there who was in an existing group seemed to have a lot of urgent things to say, which made it difficult for the facilitators to structure the discussion – people kept returning to points other speakers had made. Still, I got a few good ideas out of it. There isn't a bi group (for men) in Brum… yet. However, there are some interested people, and I hope we may get one going soon. If there was one overriding thing I got out of this workshop, it's that starting up a new bi group requires different techniques to running an existing one.
Towards a bi men's event
…suffered, in my view, from a lack of leadership – no-one was prepared to assume full responsibility for being at the centre of some organisation dedicated to a bi men's event, newsletter, or anything. The group floundered around trying to decide everything democratically, without really getting it clear what decisions we were trying to make first. Also, it was held over lunchtime – I left early, desperate for a quarter-hour break between 3 hours of workshops and another 3 in the afternoon.
Monogamy and bisexuality – are they compatible?
The answer is of course yes, since some bisexuals live serially monogamous lives quite happily. The workshop, then, turned out to be a safe space for some people who felt there was too much of an assumption that polyamory is the natural state for bisexuals. I was somewhat unusual, being the only one there who was not convinced that monogamy and bisexuality are compatible for themselves – I'm more "agnostic" about that, and went seeking further input. I did get some – beforehand, I would have quite liked to go to "creative non-monogamy" as well, but it was scheduled to happen in the same slot. Afterwards, felt I had had enough of the subject for a while – it's not exactly a pressing concern for me, since it is rare enough that I find one person interested in me.
My partner's a bisexual
A safe space for a wide range of views from people in relationships with a bisexual (both monogamous and non-monogamous). People felt wonderfully able to talk about some deeply personal aspects of their relationships. I came away with lots of insights into and food for thought on what it is like to be in a relationship with a bi, particularly for a non-bi person. It can only be good for bisexuals to understand this kind of thing.
Young people in the bi community
was a mistake really; I let myself be persuaded to go, without being young or in touch with youth culture (I don't believe I really was even when I was young!). There is clearly much to be done in terms of raising bi awareness among the young, but I don't think I'm the person to do it. If I have any criticism of the workshop, it's that the facilitator let the discussion get too theoretical and grandiose (how bisexuality should be portrayed for the young on TV, for example); I felt it should have been more focused on the practical aspects of how to get a bi youth movement going. Still, I'm sure many people (my SO included) got a lot more out of it than I did.
That was it for Saturday. Saturday night was the big party/disco night, but I didn't really have the energy for it (and I didn't fancy the music much, either). I just sat and talked to my good friend Bethan all evening, and other people who came and sat down with us for a while. After that there was something of a party in Jon's room, but I was too tired to join in much. I must be getting old. I think Jon and I got about 3 hours' sleep that night.
My concentration on Sunday morning was absolutely lousy – probably from lack of sleep and workshop overload the previous day – so much so that I couldn't even read to the end of the day's programme. So I skipped the workshop on Theorising Bisexuality that I'd been planning to go to, and went for a walk round the lake instead. Jon was a bit depressed too, and went off on his own as well. I realised I will have to come to terms with not having a PhD to do any more – I think this was the first walk I've taken, for its own sake, for at least a year. I think a lot of people used BiCon not just for the interest in the workshops, but as a de-stressing break, a holiday even. If I wasn't such an intellectualism-junkie, perhaps I would have benefited more from it in that way too.
Politics – the wider picture
Was initially about the political links which bis bring into the bi movement, and about whether there is common ground in these links, and in what way the bi movement should deal with them. However, after the small-groups section, the discussion moved towards the extent to which BiCon itself is political. Which was a useful discussion in itself, although it left many of the original questions unanswered – another topic for a workshop next year, perhaps.
was the last workshop I went to – she is the author of a recent book "Women and Bisexuality", which I've heard good things about, so I went along (one of very few men to do so). It was mainly a question-and-answer session, and her views were interesting – she has been around in the bi movement for many years so has a long view, and is a journalist, so has lots of insight into the media. However, she sidestepped what was to me the most important question – namely is there much in the book applicable to bi men? I'll just have to read it for myself I suppose.
After that, there was a closing ritual – intended to send everyone off with warm feelings. And finally, a closing session with announcements and much- deserved thanks for the conference collective. Next year's will be in Edinburgh (it'll be the EBG's 10th anniversary), and there were a number of voices raised for holding 1995's in the west midlands. If it ever happens, and I'm still here, I look forward to helping with that.** Either way, I'm already looking forward to next year's BiCon. For some reason, most of the people who go to BiCon seem so much nicer than most of the people you meet in everyday life. It's impossible to say whether that's because they're bi, or the other way round; but I like them, I feel comfortable and have fun around them. It's a shame I can't be in a bisexual crowd all year round really.
From Outright #43 (Nov 1993) "for gays lesbians and bisexuals in central england" (the first issue to include 'bisexuals' in the tagline!)
Simon Scott reports on the 11th National Bisexual Conference held at Nottingham University last month.
"There were around 250 of us straight, gay, lesbian – but mainly bi. We converged on Nottingham University for a long weekend of discussion, socialising, entertainment, and fun."
As one of the conference organisers, staffing the Reception desk, I still managed to get to a few things. First there were the workshops. There was a huge range, from safe sex to politics to massage – practical, discussion-based, and lectures. Many sessions were impromptu, a deliberate policy. Then there was the entertainment, including (a real coup, this) Claire Dowie presenting a new one-woman show. This was followed by bands, a disco, a street entertainer… And the fact that we had a hotel licence at Derby Hall bar meant that we could socialise until we dropped!
Most conference attenders were residential. This was not entirely successful because the heating didn’t work properly but I think most people found creative solutions to that problem!
So I don’t think this prevented everyone from having a stimulating time, at what was the biggest formal gathering of bi women, and men in this country. Look out 1994, Edinburgh here we come!
* One of the main organisers.
** Jon ended up as one of the main organisers of BiCon 13. The 'Jon' in his piece is another Jon!