‘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…

FAQ: Is bisexuality becoming more common?

boy wearing white shirt with iridescent hair color infront of flag
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Last October, bisexuality was in the UK news because of an increase in the proportion of young people identifying as bi. Data from the Office of National Statistics showed that for the first time, the proportion of 16-24 year olds identifying as bi (1.8%), was greater than that identifying as gay or lesbian- 55% of LGB (lesbian, gay or bisexual)-identified young people identified as bi rather than lesbian or gay. Furthermore, the ONS’s Annual Population Survey showed that the number of people identifying as bisexual (across all age groups) had risen by 45% in three years.

So, what’s this all about? Is bisexuality becoming more common? I was invited to discuss this question on Newsnight on 6th October 2016- I can’t find an official BBC clip to link to, but you can watch the segment I’m in below:


The main points I make in the clip are below (I’ve expanded on them a bit to make them clearer):

  • Society’s attitude towards sexuality has changed a great deal, and people in general are  more confident to talk about their sexual identities and feelings than they used to be- so we’d expect to hear about more diversity than previously.
  • People are not so invested in identity politics as they once were. In the 1980s and 1990s, activists lobbied for equal rights for lesbian and gay (LG) people on the basis that people were born lesbian or gay. They hadn’t chosen their sexuality, so they couldn’t be blamed for it, and ought to have the same rights as anyone else.
    • In contrast, social conservatives were keen to establish that being lesbian or gay was Not Normal.  If you weren’t straight, you were either developmentally abnormal in some way and needed fixing, or you were downright perverse, and deliberately choosing to behave badly. Straight people, on the other hand, were healthy and normal.
    • So, both ‘sides’- LG and straight people- had a lot invested in establishing that you could either be lesbian/gay, or heterosexual. Homophobes needed to be sure that they weren’t tainted by icky homosexuality, and LG folk needed to make it clear that they couldn’t help being different.
    • The idea that some people were bisexual was unacceptable to both sides, because it suggested that individuals could choose their sexuality. For the conservatives, bisexual people were particularly depraved because they ‘could’ choose to be ‘normal’, and didn’t. For LG people, bisexual people were confusing the issue- their whole argument for equal rights was based on the idea that sexuality wasn’t a choice.
    • Happily, although things are far from rosy for a lot of LGBT people, most of the legal battles for equality have now been won. LG identities are less stigmatised in most communities than they were 20 years ago, so people are not as worried about bisexuality’s potential to confuse the issue.
  • Sexuality is fluid. Bisexuals are often described as ‘going through a phase’ or ‘bi now, gay later’, as Stuart Whoo pithily puts it in the clip. But bi people’s sexualities aren’t any more fluid than anyone else’s – sexuality is just quite a fluid thing, and that fluidity is more obvious to the world if it shows up in the gender of your partners, than if your sexual tastes change in other ways. Furthermore, there are of course a lot of people who initially come out as lesbian, gay, or straight, and then come out as bi later, and plenty who identify as bi for their whole lives.
  • Biphobia isn’t necessarily as overt as it used to be, but research shows that bi people often struggle with a sense of feeling out of place- there are thriving bi communities in the UK but they don’t have permanent commercial spaces in the same way that LG communities do, and bi people are often marginalised in LG spaces.
  • Stereotypes about bisexuality persist, partly because;
    • As a society, we like binary categories. Right and wrong, good and evil, normal and abnormal. We like things to be ‘either/or’, not ‘both/and’.
    • Because of this, you can’t talk about being bisexual without using binary language like ‘male/female’ and ‘gay/straight’, which makes it sounds as if your identity is split between gay and straight ‘sides’.
    • Research shows that bi people experience their identities as unified, not split, but it’s hard to express that verbally, so when bi people are asked about their identities and experiences, they can sound as if they’re ‘confused’ or ‘going through a phase’.
    • We tend to see identities as authentic if they persist over time, and as inauthentic if they aren’t consistent. We’re used to hearing about people who had been ‘living a lie’ until they ‘finally admitted to themselves that they had been L/G all along’. Bi people can look to others as if they are still in the ‘living a lie’ part of this narrative, particularly if they have partners of different genders over their life course.


P.S. If you’re wondering what being on Newsnight was like, here’s a clip of me being interviewed by a colleague the next morning for the OU Graduate School’s YouTube channel.  (You can tell I’ve had a late night, I look very tired… ). I talk about what it was like to do TV for the first time, and share some of the advice colleagues gave me beforehand: