Bi Conferences: You Can’t Have Just One…

Feb 1, 2011 | 2011 Winter - Intersections, Articles

By Ellyn Ruthstrom, Heidi Bruins, Vicky Rosa, Shiri Eisner, Steph Miserlis

In August, with 450 attendees from 28 countries, the 10th International Conference on Bisexuality in London was certainly an eclectic place to be. As everyone soon agreed, some of the most eye-opening moments for attendees were occuring not in the workshop sessions, but rather in one-on-one interchanges or group conversations in the hallways and at the pub. Personal connections and political networking abounded as most of the attendees spent several days sharing space, meals, and bodily fluids (come on, it’s a bi conference—let me make a joke!) Here are just a few impressions shared by some attendees:

Bi Conferences Are Like Crack: It Just Takes Once to Get Hooked!

By Heidi Bruins

Spanish activists hold impromptu gathering.

I was a bi conference virgin when I arrived in London at the combined BiReCon/BiCon 2010/10 ICB in August of this year. I had attended many LGBT conferences over the years (Out & Equal Workplace Summit, Creating Change, Southern Comfort, Fantasia Fair, and many more) and I wondered if/how this experience would be any different. After all, for the first time ever, people who share my sexual orientation would be in the majority!

Experiencing three conferences at once can be confusing, especially if you have not been to any of them before, but by the end I felt I could tell the difference, at least some of the time. The first day of the gathering was BiReCon, the first international Bisexual Research Conference, which involved scholarly, research-based presentations. The other two events took more time, but I eventually discerned that BiCon (28th UK National Bisexual Conference) contributed the fun, sexy workshops like Cuddle Party, Naked Lunch and CoverBis, while 10 ICB (the 10th International Bisexual Conference) brought with it more serious workshops such as Love, Rage and the Occupation: Bisexual Politics in Israel/Palestine and Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World. Ultimately, it didn’t matter which workshops were from which conference, since they all contributed to the wonderfully unique and powerful event I simply called BiCon.  

While many of the workshops were mind-boggling and thought-provoking, fully half of the BiCon experience for me was the people I met. I flew in on a red eye from San Francisco (after hooking up with Mikey, my brotherof-the-heart in Chicago) and got to campus around lunch time. We were determined to stay awake so we could sleep all night, but in our groggy state, didn’t think to buy food to have in our flat for breakfast the next morning. On the newcomers list-serv, people had discussed this issue and made arrangements with each other. At it turns out, we had the loveliest flatmates, experienced BiCon goers, who, as I discovered the next morning, had brought everything imaginable to eat with them and laid it all out on the counters with signs encouraging us to help ourselves! They were lifesavers, and we had a number of delightful conversations with them during BiCon week.  

Our flatmates were not the only amazing people we met. Every workshop, every meal either introduced us to new friends or deepened connections to people we had already met. I met Xurxo, an activist from Spain who had taken on himself to distribute my survey on the experiences of bisexuals in the workplace to all the Spanish-speaking countries in the world. I met someone I had connected with on the newcomer’s list prior to the conference, a woman from the US who lives in London, and we really hit it off. And I got to meet face-to-face Denise Penn from the American Institute of Bisexuality, the gang from the Bisexual Resource Center, and the wonderful Robyn Ochs.

The wry humor and endless good will of the BiCon and BiReCon staff, and the other people from around the world filled me with warm feelings. This is a community that likes to have fun, to share, to think, and to go deep. I may have been a bi conference virgin when I arrived at BiCon, but I’m a bi conference addict from here on out.

An added attraction of attending an international bi conference is getting perspectives from people whose lives were very similar to mine, though they lived in other parts of the world. Then there were other people whose lives and interests did not seem to intersect with mine in the slightest. I haven’t been truly surprised by a conference in many years, but BiCon 28 /10 ICB/BiReCon definitely broadened my horizons.

Apphia K. (India) and Robyn Ochs (US)

I would love to see the ICB and maybe the BiReCon conferences brought to the U.S. again in the near future.

(Of the ten international conferences, three have been in the US: New York, 1994; Boston, 1998; Minneapolis, 2004.) If anyone out there is thinking about making that happen, I would be happy to be on an exploratory team for it, and if it comes together, to be part of the planning team. I like to think these international conferences can help expose the greater LGBT community to bisexuality and make the B even more visible within the movement.

Heidi lives in California, USA. She is a researcher studying bisexuals in the workplace.

Never In My Wildest Dreams

By Vicky Rosa

Being at BiCon for me was like walking through town and watching people—except they were all bisexual (or most of them were!) People were actually much more diverse than you would see on your average stroll. There were differently-abled people of every kind, older people, strikingly young people, people of color, all types of transgender and genderqueers, people dressed as Goths, in latex, or resembling the cast of ‘Grease,’ plenty of internationals. Seeing them was a great reminder of the diversity of our community, which I generally don’t get to see. I found it amazing that all those people had the same identity, albeit interwoven with plenty of other identities. It was very inspiring to see how people interconnected their identities and activisms—poly, BDSM, trade unions, LGBT, etc. Everyone was different and everyone was respectful. At the closing plenary I was told there were over 400 attendees. Never in my wildest dreams did I think so many people would attend a bisexual conference. So, in a way, it was like a dream come true.   

Vicky is a bisexual and polyamory activist from Madrid, Spain.


By Shiri Eisner

BiCon was absolutely awesome. I had never witnessed a well-based bisexual community, have never been to a bisexual event that I didn’t organize myself. Being able to experience a space dedicated to the bisexual community, full of bisexual, pansexual and queer people was deeply heartening for me, and gave me hope for my local community.

However, it was also a complex experience for me. BiCon was also the first time I experienced being a person of color from a country perceived as “backward,” within a community of white people in a country that once colonized the place where I now live (before the founding of the state of Israel, the occupation, the Nakba, and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians). It’s hard to describe racism so imbued within a culture—in Israel, as a Mizrahi person, I am a person of color as well—and the culture is imbued with it. But at BiCon (in the UK), I sensed a sort of white cultural supremacy that I have never felt in my life—after all, this was the culture that had mastered colonialism.

Other problems were also present in BiCon. I was disheartened by this bisexual community’s liberal assimilationism, marking the struggle for marriage equality as its most central one, in lieu of burning issues such as housing, health, mental health and suicidality, work discrimination, rape, violence, and many other issues with particular (and high) effect on bisexual people (and especially those of color, transgenders and genderqueers, youth, women, differently abled people, working class people, etc.). In fact, as working class transgender/genderqueer people of color traveling from a different country, my girlfriend and I could not afford the expensive food provided at the bar and often went hungry during the day. I feel that this would not have happened had the organizers made themselves aware and committed to addressing such issues.

However, despite all these problems, I did find a community: I found the radicals, the transgenders, the genderqueers, the feminists, the vegans, the anarchists, and the people of color—the community’s delightful fringes. Within that circle, I found friendship, politics, solidarity and hope. After returning home, we started a small mailing list for the radical BPQ’s (bisexuals, pansexuals and queers) and are now working on writing a new, radical bisexual manifesto. Now, I feel, the revolution is closer at hand.

Shiri is a bisexual, anarchafeminist and political activist in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Beyond the Conference

By Ellyn Ruthstrom

This was my third international conference and I got a kick out of traveling across an ocean to meet other North American activists—even people from my own Boston community I hadn’t met before. I’m hopeful that some of the people I met during the conference I’ll be seeing again within the bi community and beyond.

I enjoyed presenting two workshops at the conference. Two other Bisexual Resource Center board members and I detailed what the organization does while also swapping stories about what is going on within the attendees’ own communities. Steph Miserlis and I facilitated another workshop exploring the variety of identifiers that the bi community uses to name ourselves. From bi, fluid, pansexual, omnisexual, pomosexual and more, the group discussed their reasoning for each and whether we can work together politically if our word choices are different.

I was also honored to participate in Robyn Ochs’ panel of international contributors from Getting Bi: Voices From Around the World, which truly did offer an amazing array of experiences from very diverse parts of the world: Denmark, Finland, India, Israel, Portugal, Spain, the UK, and the US.

One of the highlights for me was hearing the preliminary findings that Heidi Bruins Green and Nick Payne were discovering from their internet Bis in the Workplace survey. The discussion among the participants was really compelling and the researchers earnestly accepted the feedback to keep refining the examination of the data. I’m sure you will see mention of their final results in this newsletter.

As a bi activist, it’s exciting to gather together with others who share commonalities, but also to be open to learning from our differences. These international spaces are so worthwhile for those experiences that change one’s perspective, not necessarily overnight, but as part of one’s entire journey.

Ellyn is the President of the Bisexual Resource Center.

A Favorite Moment

By Steph Miserlis

Though asked to sum up my conference experience with one favorite thing, I have to say there wasn’t one. It was a mix. I’d never been to England before and that alone was my favorite thing about BiCon. Big Ben looked big. So did purses. There were pointier shoes, stylish untucked shirttails, fabulous Indian food, and very polite Underground (subway) announcements. And the bi conference itself was just as impressionable in its mix of moments and emotion—political workshops, nudist lunches, earnest explorations of sexuality, politics and meaning, and a sea of purple and pinks.  

It was a kaleidoscope of people, cultures, ideas, and expectations. Just like our community. Nothing homogeneous. There was the wonderful breakfast chat with a Dutch man about musical overtones, the Sri Lankan’s passion about being bi and visible in an activist workshop, the curvy English woman at the dance moving like wheat in the wind, and the tearful trans woman telling me how freeing it was to finally be wholly herself at the conference.  

Ellyn and Steph outside the conference venue, happy about something or other.

So, I felt right at home and in community. And I saw myself in so many of the attendees; it didn’t matter the culture or country. I recognized myself in the young Israeli radical, maybe about 20 years ago. I saw myself in the overwhelmed woman hiding in the corner of the dining room. I emotionally resonated with a man’s complete frustration with yet another bisexual discussion about making sure we include, identify, and isolate “bisexuality” instead of just moving forward already. I felt connected to it all, and the messy blend of moments caught in between workshops, on the tube with fellow Boston bis, on late night strolls by the bar, and in political chats over muffins and coffee. BiCon has already become one of my life’s own favorite moments.

Steph is on the Board of the Bisexual Resource Center.

Featured image: The Getting Bi panel

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