This is a guest post written by a BiCon attendee.
2015 was my first BiCon. I'd known about it for a few years, but it took me a while to pluck up the courage to actually attend. Coming from a very rural area I felt like I didn't know anyone and I really wasn't sure quite what to expect or how I'd fit in. I really shouldn't have worried. BiCon was overwhelmingly friendly.
No other event I have attended has made such an effort to be welcoming. There's a code of behaviour that every attendee has to agree to that basically boils down to treat people with respect and let them be who they are without questioning it. It doesn't matter how you identify, you can be completely out at BiCon so long as you're not trying to hassle anyone else. No-one will make assumptions about you – or at least if they do they will know they are doing so and be willing to be corrected if they have got it wrong. It is so different to mainstream culture it takes a bit of getting used to, but if you have ever wanted to experience the freedom to just be you, you'll love it.
There is something for everyone. I found myself bouncing from programme item to programme item, and having to choose between several interesting sounding options most of the time, but there was also plenty of space for downtime. There was a craft room where you could go and make stuff, socialising spaces and quiet spaces and safer spaces for those who feel a bit overwhelmed. In the evening there were the big social highlights like the ball, or separate areas for playing board games or just relaxing and chatting. You can be as busy or as relaxed as you liked.
Everyone seemed to know everyone else, which did feel quite intimidating at first but it also means that once you start talking to one person you're immediately part of the group and start feeling part of the crowd. I had more conversations with 'strangers' at BiCon than I'd had in years and added loads of new people to the facebook friends list. Somehow it is just easier to strike up a conversation when everyone you might talk to has committed to being nice to people for the weekend.
If you've decided this is the year you're going to give BiCon a go here are my top ten tips
- Do it! Even if you just come for a day it's worth it. You won't regret it.
- Wear what makes you feel good. BiCon is the perfect place for your cool t-shirts, outrageous outfits and all the fabulous clothes you can't wear every day, especially if they are purple. It's also the perfect place for regular clothes and comfy shoes. Be fabulous or be comfortable no one will judge you.
- If there's a programme item you want to be part of make sure you arrive on time. Sessions fill and many close when they start so waltzing in late doesn't work.
- Go to the plenary sessions – they include all sorts of information and updates that you won't want to miss.
- Talk to someone. It doesn't matter who, pick someone who doesn't look busy and say "Hi". Tell them you're new, ask which programme items they've enjoyed or which ones they think look interesting for the next session and see what it's like to have a conversation with someone who you know is committed to being nice.
- Remember that the code of conduct applies to you too but don't be stressed by it. If you aren't used to inclusive safe spaces you may find you make mistakes. Don't worry, so long as your attitude and intention is to be friendly and accepting people will understand. Just apologise if you get it wrong and keep practising until you get it right. If you aren't sure what pronouns to use or whether something is ok, ask.
- Look after yourself. It is really easy to get caught up in everything and to push yourself to keep on having fun. You'll get to enjoy a lot more of the weekend if you make time to eat, drink, shower and sleep.
- If you need it, there is support available. BiCon has a great team of people who can point you in the right direction. There is also a listening service so you can talk about anything that's bothering you. Or you can just use some of the quieter facilities to unwind.
- Give yourself time to recover afterwards. BiCon is not like normal life. It takes a bit of adjusting to get back to reality. I was absolutely exhausted when I got home and very glad I didn't have to go straight back to office life the next morning.
- If you really want the full BiCon experience, volunteer to help. It's a great way to guarantee you'll meet people and feel involved.
I hope you decide to join us.