‘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


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’.


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…



Dr Helen Bowes-Catton and Dr Kaye McLelland (Open University)

We are delighted to have been approached by Routledge to edit a major new reference book on bisexuality. This landmark volume will bring together scholars and activists from all over the globe to reflect on 50 years of bisexual research and activism. Grounded in the social sciences with insights from across the arts and humanities, this field-defining book will critically examine long-standing debates, provide an overview of the current state of bisexual studies, give fresh perspectives and insights into neglected and emerging areas, and help to set the agenda for future research.

It is our aim to produce a book which-

  • Foregrounds the priorities and perspectives of bisexual communities, bringing community knowledges to an academic audience,
  • Is genuinely intersectional in its understanding of bisexualities,
  • Reflects critically on the role of minority world understandings of (bi)sexualities in the reproduction of white supremacy, and considers how, and whether, bisexualities might be decolonised,
  • Provides a complex, nuanced, and wide-reaching picture of the state of bisexual studies across the arts, humanities and social sciences
  • Considers the ways in which the idea of bisexuality is deployed in narrative and culture, and the impact of these tropes on the lived experiences of bisexual subjects,


This book will be a reference work aimed primarily at the international academic library market. It will be of interest to academics, activists, researchers, and postgraduates, as well as to a wider readership.

Structure of the book

It is important to us that the book should be intersectional from the ground up and have its priorities set by bisexual activists and communities. To this end, each section of the book will be prefaced by readings from key activist texts that will set the content and agenda for that section.

List of potential book sections and chapter topics

The overall structure of the book will be determined by the themes and priorities emerging from submitted chapter proposals. The list of potential topics below is not exhaustive -the editors also welcome proposals on other topics that fall within the remit of the book. The structure and approach of book chapters can be decided by each author. It is the intention of the editors that intersectionality and decoloniality should be integral to the book rather than being considered only in a discrete section.

  • Bisexualities in stories, myths, archetypes, tropes and memes
  • Intersections of bisexualities with race, class, gender, disability, faith, neurodiversity, nationality, immigration status and other related identities (including pansexuality)
  • Bisexual histories; discursive histories of bisexuality, historical bisexuality, the politics of ‘reclaiming’ historical figures as bi
  • Bisexual futures
  • Non-monosexualities in the majority world
  • Bisexual spaces; bisexual community online, bisexual liminalities, bisexualities in LGBTQ+ spaces and communities, bisexual events, the bisexual everyday
  • Bisexual sex; bisexual erotic subjectivities, practices, imaginaries, sex education
  • Bisexuality and relationships; monogamies and non-monogamies, bisexual domesticity, bi visibility in relationships
  • Bisexuality and the life course; coming of age narratives, bi youth, bi parenting, bi ageing
  • Bisexuality and temporality; temporary or transient bisexuality, situational bisexuality, fixity and fluidity
  • Bisexuality and culture; media portrayals of bisexuality, literary genre and bisexuality,  bisexuality in porn, bisexuality in education
  • Bisexuality and wellbeing; interpersonal violence, loneliness, mental health, addiction, sport, healthcare
  • Narrative, rhetorical and discursive functions of bisexuality, ‘straight, gay, or lying’
  • Bisexuality research; historiography, the current state of the art, future directions

Please send your book chapter proposals of up to 500 words to Helen Bowes-Catton (helen.bowes-catton@open.ac.uk) and Kaye McLelland kaye.mclelland@open.ac.uk) by : 1st December 2021.

Writing for PhD students 1: taming the inner critic

Writing is hard.

Writing is hard. It just is. I know one person who finds writing easy, and they are very much the exception to the rule. Most people find it really difficult, and for most people, that never changes.

What gets easier is that, as you get more experience, you learn to trust your own processes more, and that makes everything less stressful. You think ‘oh yes, this is the bit where I feel like it’s never going to make sense’ rather than ‘it’snevergoingtomakesenseohmygodwhatamIevendoingwhodoIthinkIamI’msostupid’ . It all gets a bit less visceral and existential after a few iterations.

Meeting the inner critic.

Part of the reason that writing is hard is that it inevitably brings us into dialogue with our inner critic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing- internal critics are useful, and I don’t think we’d get a lot done without them (I, for one, would still be in bed right now if my inner critic hadn’t shouted at me continually until I got up).

However, inner critics are also a bit like dogs, and they need a lot of boundary reinforcement. Someone once told me that, if you have a dog, you have to let it see you standing in its bed every so often, so that it knows that, while you don’t let the dog go everywhere in the house, you can go anywhere in the house, because you’re the pack leader. Otherwise it’ll get too big for its boots and start trying to be the boss of you (1). It’s kind of the same with inner critics- ok, I’d never get out of the house in the morning if mine didn’t kick my butt every step of the way, but I need to go and stand in her bed every so often, just so she doesn’t get above herself.

At the same time, though, you don’t want to over-discipline a dog and make it fearful and insecure, so that it goes and hides under a table whenever it sees you. Similarly, you don’t want to completely repress your inner critic, because they’ll just end up sneaking off into your subconscious where they can wreak even more havoc. You want your inner critic well-trained and friendly, and sitting nicely on the rug where you can see what it’s getting up to.

In case you haven’t noticed by now, I think it can be quite useful to personify your inner critic. It’s a way of externalising it, so that you can start to recognise its voice for what it is.

So, here’s an exercise to try. It’s a bit playful and silly, but surprisingly powerful. Give it a go- try and take at least ten minutes over it.

  • Draw a picture of your inner critic. What do they look like? What do they sound like?
  • Add some speech bubbles. What sorts of things does your inner critic say to you?
  • Now give your inner critic a name.


Making friends with your inner critic (2) (3)

OK, so, here’s my inner critic, in her current incarnation. She’s called Marge.

A very bad felt-tip pen drawing of a white woman with pale orange messy hair, a pastel green shirt and an unflattering calf-length pastel blue skirt. She is wringing her hands nervously. To the left, a caption reads ‘MARGE SAYS- You’re lazy! You’re patronising! You should STFU! You’re a quitter! You’re wasting everyone’s time! You’re unproductive! You’re an underachiever! It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!’

Marge is basically the middle-aged woman I don’t want to be. She’s scared of sticking out and so she wears beige and pastels. She doesn’t speak up in meetings. She’s hopelessly passive-aggressive and rather bitter. She thinks I’ve got rather above myself and should know my place and not be too ambitious. She also has strong views on how tidy my house should be, how much exercise I should do, and how I should raise my kid. She is, to be frank, A Pain In The Arse.

Marge is actually Version 2.0 of my inner critic. Version 1 looked like this:

An image titled ‘DARTH MARGE’. Against a grey background stands a black robed figure wearing some kind of rectangular helmet with a single, huge, flaming eye where the face should be. The figure holds a flaming staff and orange flames shoot out of its head.

As you can see, Darth Marge was a LOT scarier. Where Marge will stand at my elbow flapping around and pointing out housework that needs doing, interrupting me every time I get going on something, Darth Marge was more of a STANDING IN FRONT OF YOUR DESK WITH A FLAMING SWORD kind of person. Darth was much more powerful, and I’d cower under the duvet, completely unable to face her.

I got (slowly!) from Darth Marge to Marge by taking a deep breath, giving Darth an ‘I can see through your bullshit’ look, and offering her a cup of tea and a chat. Over a number of imaginary chats, I asked Darth why she was so invested in keeping me from writing, and what she was afraid would happen if I did.

Eventually, gradually, Darth took off the silly mask and robes and stopped waving the sword around, and it became apparent, underneath all that bluster, there was a just a scared, flappy middle-aged woman called Marge. She was scared I’d make a fool of myself/her, scared I’d realise I was a big fake, scared I’d forget how lucky I was, scared I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, scared people wouldn’t like me…scared of loads of things. Ultimately she just has a lot invested in me being A Proper Woman, and she has some funny ideas about what that means.

At first I tried telling Marge to calm down and read some feminism. She started shrieking. I told her that she was being irrational, and that there was nothing to be afraid of. She shrieked even louder, and I retreated under the duvet. She stood outside the bedroom door telling me all the cautionary tales she could muster. She was easier to handle than Darth had been, but she was still pretty unpleasant.

Things got better when I stopped telling Marge what not to feel, and started listening to how she did feel. I learned that saying ‘Yes, this is scary, but I think it’s worth trying’ and ‘Ok, let’s give it half an hour and see how we feel then’, and ‘It’s ok to be nervous about this’ got me a lot further than just telling her to get a grip and leave me alone. She got less scared, and a bit less flappy.

And it helped when I finished my thesis, because now, when she has a bad day, I point at it on the shelf to remind her that we can do this.

I wouldn’t say that Marge and I are friends, but we do okay. And something I’ve noticed lately is that I see rather less of Marge these days, and rather more of a happy retired greyhound called Midge, who rests her muzzle on my knee while I’m writing- keeping an eye on me and constantly soliciting petting, but (mostly) not whining too much. Writing’s still hard, and even Midge has a bad day and gets sent to her basket with a stern word occasionally. But as long as I remember to stand in that bed of hers every so often, I think we’ll rub along together just fine.



(1) No idea if that’s actually true, as I’ve never owned a (non-imaginary) dog. But you see what I mean.

(2) Or at least, frenemies..

(3) The concept of the ‘inner critic’ is well-established in psychology, and the internet is full of ‘guides to taming your inner critic’, which you should check out. I make no claims to originality here, but I don’t think I owe too much to any one source, either. Marge and Darth and Midge are certainly my own 🙂 But do let me know if you feel I should credit you/others for anything I’ve written here, and I’ll amend promptly.