Bi Bodies and BiCon

BCN 88 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 88, Dec 2007.

Some thoughts about bodies at BiCon 2007

One of the things that really struck me about BiCon this year was how many of the workshops had to do with bodies in some way. Of 63 workshops run during the weekend, 24 (around 40%) were in some way concerned with bodies.

That’s quite striking, when you compare the number of ‘body’ workshops to the number of workshops about bisexuality (16), activism/bi-community building (8), identity/labels (3), and sex/BDSM (8). Obviously, lots of workshops appear in more than one of these categories (Advanced BDSM for example, appears in sex/BDSM and the ‘workshops involving bodies’ category), but I’d still argue that bodies and embodiment were the dominant themes of this year’s BiCon workshops.

Some workshops were about bodies but didn’t directly involve them. For example, the ‘Body Image’ workshop gave people the chance to talk about their relationships with their bodies, but didn’t require them to do anything with their bodies. Other workshops involved bodies more directly- yoga workshops, for example, required people to do something with their bodies.

Many of the workshops that directly involved bodies seemed to me to be about offering people the opportunity to experiment with their bodies, to produce and experience them in a number of ways. Some workshops were activity based, and gave people a chance to try out a new activity, or to share an interest with likeminded others,  or to have some quiet/contemplative time in the middle of a busy BiCon – I’m thinking of things like the bellydancing, chi kung, yoga, and swordfighting workshops here.

Meanwhile, some workshops had a sensory focus and provided a space for people to experiment with sensation. For example, ‘Multi-faith multi-sensory worship’ explored the links between the senses and the spiritual, while ‘Painless sensation play’ , ‘Advanced BDSM’, and ‘Elementary flogging’ offered people the opportunity to explore (and practise!) the use of a range of sensations in sensuality/sex/BDSM.

Other workshops, like Bodypainting, Drag-Kings, and the Costume-making workshop, gave people the opportunity to experience different ways of presenting their bodies, temporarily transforming, revealing, or concealing them.

Finally, some sessions involved participants engaging physically with each other’s bodies in various ways. The Cuddle Party Lunch, Massage, Advanced BDSM, and Elementary Flogging workshops all fell into this category.

Some workshops seemed to be about producing particular kinds of bodies For example, some workshops had gender as their focus, and offered participants an opportunity to explore, experiment with, or express their gender presentation. Some workshops offered participants the opportunity to transform the appearance of their bodies, and learn new ways of moving and holding their bodies, in order to inhabit them differently.

So, what, if anything, does this all mean? First, I’m developing a bit of a theory here about the relationship between the space that’s created at BiCon, and the bodies that inhabit it. BiCon seems to me to create a space away from the everyday, where normal rules are suspended, and people can experiment with new activities, and present themselves in ways which may be less available to them in everyday life. Secondly, I think that the ways that people produce and experience their bodies at BiCon are an important part of what makes BiCon the place it is. And thirdly, I find myself wondering whether this emphasis on bodies is something new, or just a blip this year. Is it part of the shift, perceived by some longstanding members of the community, from political/peer-support/consciousness-raising-oriented BiCons to events that are more about socialising, partying, and pulling? Is this something that’s reflected in other conferences and conventions, or is it specific to the bi community? Is it something that’s happened since BiCon’s been taking place in self-contained university venues? I’d be interested to hear what others think…

Helen Bowes-Catton
[email protected]

1.  I should point out that I obviously didn’t attend all the workshops I’ve talked about here, so if I’ve misunderstood the point of a workshop you ran/attended, please let me know!