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A guide to settling in at BiCon
With so much to take in and so many people you don't know, it can take a while to 'find your BiCon feet'. Even people who come back year after year have their moments of feeling a bit wibbly or 'alone in a crowd'.
Here we aim to give you a little of the BiCon flavour, and tell you some useful things to help you settle in at your own pace.
Meeting new people
Who's in the same boat?
Approximately a third of the attendees each year are attending BiCon for the first time, so even though you might feel alone when you arrive, it won't be long before you meet people. We've all been there, and we'll try to make sure that there are plenty of icebreaker-type opportunities to help ease things along. And hopefully, by the time you leave, you'll have made some good friends.
Unless people have specially asked to be with a friend (whom they've named), we usually aim to put newcomers together in the flats with other newcomers, and/or other people from the same geographical area.
Traditional advice is to go to daytime sessions as a good way of meeting people. You won't necessarily make friends instantly in the sessions, but the discussion topic can lead into some interesting conversations then or later.
We will be running workshops specifically aimed at first-timers. These sessions will include icebreaker-type exercises as well as offering advice, reassurance, and a chance for you to ask any questions you may have.
If you've been to BiCon before, you'll already know we're looking (as always) for people with specific skills, such as counselling, First Aid and signing. In addition, we're going to need general helpers for the event. Ask at BiCon Reception if you'd like to help.
What if you want company for lunch? At meal breaks, turn up to the Noshers' Network Meeting Point at the times shown in the timetable. The idea is very simple: people who want the same kind of food get together. That might mean going to a supermarket or takeaway and then back to the kitchen in someone's flat, or if the weather's good perhaps having a picnic, or simply walking round the corner into the coffee shop. The group doesn't necessarily all go to the same place - it depends what people want. Aside from finding people to chat with, this can be a good way of getting to know the local places to go for food.
Meet & Mingle zones
Look out for 'Meet & Mingle' signs. The idea is that in those areas, you can go and join a table where you don't know the other people (yet). Obviously you could do that anywhere, but this way you know in advance that you're not interrupting a private conversation.
Meet & Mingle rules:
Some Meet & Mingle zones may have another theme too, such as 'Stitch & Bitch' (for both keen knitters, and people who just want to have a go), or board games. Ask at BiCon Reception if you want pens & paper to create your own Meet & Mingle sign with a particular theme.
Notice boards and plenary sessions
There will be some notice board space available for attendees to use. Feel free to put up a notice advertising for other people, e.g. from your geographical area or sharing a particular interest. You might also like to make a brief announcement at an evening plenary session, or ask for your announcement to be read out by the team.
On the net
The permanent BiCon website, http://www.bicon.org.uk/, links to info about past years' BiCons and next year's BiCon.
You might consider introducing yourself on the BiCon communities on on LiveJournal, Facebook or MySpace. There usually seem to be at least one or two newcomers who say hello there before BiCon, and more afterwards.
Community Info Zones
Coming to BiCon can be quite a learning curve in terms of different words and different communities. For instance, BiCon-goers include people who identify as transgender, transsexual, deaf, disabled and/or Goth. You might also hear words and abbreviations like polyamory, BDSM, genderqueer and so on. Look out for Community Info Zones - written displays which try to answer the basic questions about these various areas. You won't be the first person who's wondered what those words mean.
Who are these people in the strange clothes?
One of the wonderful things about BiCon is that it's a very non-judgmental place when it comes to dressing up. Leather, latex, purple velvet; corsets, drag, sparkly things; BiCon's seen it all (especially in the evenings). Sometimes it's easy to get the impression that these dressed-up people are of a different cooler species, or indeed strange alien weirdos. However, we're mostly much the same as anyone in ordinary life, as you'll find out if you get chatting to us. In a display of true BiCon diversity, you'll also see plenty of people in their favourite ordinary comfy clothes, especially in the daytime but even on the dance floor.
Not necessarily bi
BiCon welcomes bisexuals; their friends, partners and allies, this means that some of the people at BiCon do not identify as bisexual. Some attenders are questioning their sexuality. Some people don't like the word 'bisexual', and some don't like labels at all; others have found creative ways of identifying their preferences. You will probably hear a number of terms you have never heard before, and you may find that coming to BiCon helps you make sense of your own sexuality. Some non-bi people feel at home here thanks to the accepting attitude to other non-mainstream things. There may also be a few people with a professional interest in bisexuality, e.g. a researcher (though anyone at BiCon as a journalist must identify themselves). In short, don't assume that everyone you meet at BiCon is bi.
Sex and no sex
Just like in life outside BiCon, there are those who like to talk about their sexual activities, and those who don't. BiCon is certainly a sex-positive environment, but you'll also find plenty of people who, "would rather have a cup of tea".
Because BiCon is such an accepting and non-judgmental environment, many people who attend take the opportunity to be open about other aspects of their sexuality, some of which might not be so openly discussed in the outside world.
If you want to take the opportunity to learn about these aspects, you will probably find many people who will be happy to talk to you about them. Some things may also be covered in workshops. If you are not interested in kinks or fetishes, that's fine too!
What's your pronoun?
Although the majority at BiCon is people of fairly ordinary gender, it also attracts a lot of gender diversity. Some people identify (and live full time) as a gender you wouldn't necessarily have predicted from their appearance; others are just playing with a different role for an evening.
To be respectful, use the pronouns (he, she, her etc) which people prefer themselves. But how do you know which those are? Sometimes you can guess from the person's name or appearance, but sometimes the only way to know for sure is to ask. So don't feel you ought to know by some secret sign, and don't worry if you get it wrong sometimes, as long as you were doing your best to be polite. By the same token, if you want to be known by a different pronoun than someone's guessed for you, let them know. See also the Community Info Zones (described above).
What if I'm not bi enough?
Perhaps because there are so many different ways to be bi, it seems to be a common thread among bi people to worry sometimes that they don't quite qualify as a 'real' bi person. Let's just say that we're not going to be asking for some mythical certificate of bisexual authenticity. Besides, BiCon is open to people who don't even consider themselves bi. So don't worry - however tiny the element of bisexuality in your life, if you can respect the diversity of others then you're welcome at BiCon.
Many bisexual people have experienced forms of prejudice and intolerance because of their sexuality, and know first hand how difficult it can be to accept yourself when others do not. As a result, people at BiCon tend to be accepting and aim to be non-judgmental.
Take it easy
Because BiCon is such an exceptional experience, it can feel like you don't want to miss a moment. It might sound obvious to say this, but please do remember to eat and sleep a reasonable amount. Most people don't go to things in every session, but take time out in the day to chat, snooze, ring home, have a bath or go food shopping. It's not possible to do everything - if you like it here that much, you'll just have to come back next year!
Being at BiCon may stir up big feelings of one kind or another. Some BiCon-goers are trained counsellors who have volunteered to be available over the weekend. If you need a confidential listening ear, ask at BiCon Reception.
A lot of people have a sense of post-BiCon comedown a day or two after the event ends. It's also common to be fired up with activist inspiration and feel you can't wait to hook up again with some bit of the bi community. Or both.
It can be useful to think in advance about how you might feel when you get home, and build in a few plans to take care of yourself. Some people book a day or two off work after BiCon finishes, to unwind and catch up on sleep (though if you're already at BiCon when you read this, it may be too late to arrange for this year).
If where you live is somewhere you're not out as bi, it can be good to stay a night with a friend where you can talk freely and let off steam. You might want to fix up your next bi social event before you leave BiCon, to have something to look forward to. If there's nothing going on near where you live, you could still plan to stay in touch with people by phone or to join one of the internet groups.
Towards the end of the weekend, we hope to offer a 'Re-entry' session, offering advice about returning to 'normal' life.
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