‘This magical place’- understanding bicon 2008

I have a new article out! This one has been a long time in the making- it’s drawn from my 2015 PhD thesis and has had a long journey to publication since I first submitted it in 2017. After all this time, I’m delighted to finally see it in print.

It’s been published open access in Sexualities, and you can download it by clicking on the image below. Underneath that, I’ve started writing a summary in less technical language, that I hope will be accessible to more people. I’ll keep adding to this as I have time- bear with me!

A link to my latest article on bi spaces as heterotopic place-events.

Plain English summary

Abstract

In this article I outline findings from my study of a bisexual community event in the United Kingdom, in which I interviewed people about photos they had taken at BiCon 2008. Participants described the event as taking place in ‘a separate world’, a ‘portable bubble’ that they reached by consciously leaving behind their everyday lives as they travelled to the event.

Bisexual people often speak of feeling invisible in their everyday lives, but BiCon is a place where bisexuals can recognise and validate each other. I’ve used two theoretical ideas to explain how the people I talked to experience BiCon. The idea of ‘heterotopia’ is useful in thinking about how BiCon is similar to, and different from, the spaces of the everyday world. The idea that BiCon is a ‘place-event’ helps to explain that people interact with one another and move around the spaces of the venue in particular ways. Taken together, these two ideas help to explain why many participants ee BiCon as a ‘magical place’.

Introduction

There is a shortage of research about bisexual-centred spaces. This study focuses on participants’ experiences of BiCon, an annual convention for UK bisexuals and their allies. In this article I talk a lot about ‘spaces’, and when I use this word I’m not just referring to physical space, but to the ways in which spaces are ‘made’ by people moving around and interacting over time- the kind of atmosphere they have, and what it’s like to be there. The main contribution that this article makes to the literature on bisexual spaces is that it uses the idea of ‘heterotopia’ to explain what BiCon is like. A heterotopia is a space that is different from the social world that surrounds it, but also has some of the same social dynamics.

Participants in this study see BiCon as different from the everyday world. They describe how, in everyday life, they feel displaced- for many there is no space or time in their lives where they feel their bisexuality is recognised and understood. In the first section of this article, I explain the history behind this sense of displacement, and discuss what various theorists have said about it. I then go on to look at the ways that activists and academics have sought to establish ‘bi spaces’ in literature, in language, and in the physical world. I then go on to explain what BiCon is and how I set about studying it. Then I explain my findings, which are that my participants see BiCon as a ‘magical place’ outside of ordinary reality, where they can express their desires for a differently-organised world that is more affirming of bisexuality. However, although participants describe BiCon as distant from the everyday world, their words also show that BiCon has a lot of the same problems as the outside world when it comes to issues of power and equality. They talk about BiCon in ways that suggest that BiCon can be understood as a ‘heterotopic place-event’. This idea is helpful because it allows me to explain both how BiCon is related to the everyday world, and how the movements and interactions of participants make BiCon a space in which bisexual identities can be recognised and validated in ways they often aren’t in everyday life.

More to follow…

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