5 min

A slippery slice of the rainbow

Bisexual activists head to Hogtown for international conference

Credit: (Richard Freeman)

Just one week before the city is overrun with sexual rebels of all stripes, Toronto will play host to a more focussed gathering of deviants, the Ninth International Conference On Bisexuality, Gender And Sexual Diversity (9ICB).

“This conference is going to be a chance to build on the energies of all the people out there working for bi-inclusivity, creating bi communities,” says 9ICB chair and organizer Dana Shaw. “We’ll bend the brains of all the people who think there are only two genders, that there can only be gay and straight. We’ve been sending out our publicity to bi, queer and genderqueer organizations so we expect a diverse group of attendees from all over the world.”

With 170 attendees registered by press time and room for a maximum of 400, the conference is attracting both presenters and attendees from Europe, Africa, South Asia, South America and the US.

True, the numbers are low in comparison to the hundreds of thousands that will come out to celebrate Toronto Pride, but significant when you consider that the vast majority of attendees will be bisexual activists in their own right, coming together to explore and celebrate what it means to experience multiple-gender attraction, to blur the distinction between the straight and gay society. These folks are different from the closeted ones found cruising the parks or the baths. These are out bisexuals making waves and many will stay to celebrate Pride Week.

Sometimes considered to be queer among queers, bisexuals are often overlooked as a sub-culture because they tend to blend in socially to either the queer or the straight world. Though the famous Kinsey report suggested that most people experience attraction to multiple genders, bisexuals often fly under the radar in order to avoid discrimination on either side of the fence.

The international bisexual conferences are held every two years, though there is no official international organizing body. The seventh conference was held in Minneapolis in 2004, and before that in Sydney, Australia in 2002.

The Toronto conference has been organized by local bisexual activists, many of whom have been inspired by their experiences at previous International Conferences On Bisexuality (ICB).

“We had it in mind to eventually host a North American conference,” says 9ICB chair Dana Shaw. “My friend [the late] Karol Steinhouse was inspired after attending an ICB in Boston [in 1998] and [at that time] we talked about hosting a conference in Toronto, which [fellow 9ICB organizer] Stephen Harvey was also excited about.

“At the event in Minneapolis I knew we had a good, strong bi community locally with the three organizations TBN [Tor-onto Bisexual Network], BIWOT [Bisexual Women Of Toronto] and BIMOT [Bisexual Men Of Toronto], in addition to BiNet-Canada. We knew that Toronto was ready to host a conference from a size-of-group standpoint, but we didn’t know if we had enough volunteers.”

Shaw agreed to take on the responsibility of hosting the event herself and built the 9ICB committee from the local community with TBN as the host organization.

The conference, which will take place on the Ryerson University campus just south of the Church-Wellesley village, will begin Thu, Jun 15 with an opening ceremony hosted by BiNet USA and the Bisexual Resource Centre. The ceremony will include a dedication to Steinhouse, cofounder of Bisexual Women Of Toronto, and Fritz Klein, a founding father of the bisexual movement in North America.

Over the course of the week-end there will be approximately 80 workshops, running all day on both Friday and Saturday, and three keynote addresses.

Loraine Hutchins will provide the opening keynote on Friday evening. Hutchins is a sexologist and sacred sexualities scholar who will discuss a possible future where the world isn’t divided by religious war and oppression. Hutchins will be inviting attendees to consider how to nurture faith-based communities where bisexuals are fully accepted and where different spiritualities might emerge.

Saturday’s keynote speaker, Trevor Jacques, is a local physicist, activist and author of On The Safe Edge: A Manual For SM Play. Jacques will be presenting the results from his recent study on BDSM with an emphasis on the ways in which bisexuals differ from heterosexuals and homosexuals.

“This will look at male, female [responses] and sexual orientation and where bis fit,” says Jacques. “The study started about 10 years ago. The data collection took a year and a half and another five years to analyze it.

“It’s really quite interesting. There are definitely trends and patterns. I’ll be looking at the links, if any, between gender orientation and BDSM orientation [such as top, bottom, switch, etc].”

Details about a possible third keynote address on Sunday won’t be released until the speaker is confirmed.

“The third keynote is some-one from Uganda and in order to be able to come he needs to get a travel visa,” explains Shaw. “The nearest embassy for Canada is in Nairobi so I’ve sent our request there to invite him to be a keynote [speaker].”

On the social side of things, there will be a dinner and dance on Fri, Jun 16 at Oakham House (63 Gould St) with the local musical duo and bi couple The Wet Spots performing. On Saturday night there will be a film screening and discussion and, for the kinkier attendees, a BDSM play party. Details weren’t available at press time.

“There’s a lot of crossover between the bi community and the kink community,” says Shaw. “There’s nothing more outcast than bisexuals… and if you’re already that outcast it’s easy to throw off other normalcy and expectations and just do whatever you want.”

Conference organizers have their own projected highlights for the weekend. (The list of workshops is still being fine-tuned so the times and locations are not yet available; go to for updates.)

“I’m interested in Loraine Hutchins’ keynote, A Future Full Of Erotic Spiritualities For All, and in the pro-sex spiritualities roundtable with Hutchins, Lynna Landstreet, Brian Walsh and Luigi Ferrer,” says 9ICB finance and programming coordinator Margaret Robinson.

“I’m interested to see how bi spiritualities might be different from both straight and gay or lesbian models,” adds Robinson, who is a theology student at U of T and a director of the Toronto Bisexuality Education Project, the nonprofit corporation created for the purposes of hosting the conference.

“There are some good workshops about race,” continues Robinson. “I’m looking forward to Dawn Comeau’s workshop on getting white women to talk about whiteness, and also to May Lui’s Boundaries And Borders: Crossing Lines Of Sexuality And Crossing Racial Boundaries.

“I’m biracial and I like it that the bi movement has an awareness of biracial existence and identities apart from sexuality. Yet in Toronto, the most multi-cultural city in the world, our conference is still too white, like most gay and lesbian events here. I think these workshops will be a good chance to listen to some different perspectives on this. Is bisexuality a white identity? Or are our spaces marginalizing bis of colour?”

Stephen Harvey, 9ICB outreach coordinator and also a director of the Toronto Bisexuality Education Project, cites Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way as an anticipated highlight. The workshop centres on an anthology of the same name of bisexual men’s coming out stories edited by Ron Suresha and Pete Chvany. The editors and several writers will be on hand to read from the book and to discuss the issues it touches on.

“I look forward to listening and learning from peers, as well as comparing the coming out stories of others to my own,” says Harvey.

“When I have attended bisexual conferences in the past there has always been an element of fun in my workshop choices, so I look at workshops such as Pepper Mint and Andrea Zanin’s Bisexuality And BDSM with an interest,” adds Harvey.

Zanin is a queer/bisexual woman who describes herself as polyamorous and a trans ally. She’s a founding member and play party organizer for the Unholy Army Of The Night, a 100-member BDSM group in Montreal. Zanin developed a following in Toronto through her workshops at the BDSM conference TO Kink this past April.

Shaw is reluctant to choose from the myriad of workshops and presentations available over the course of the weekend; she says she’s just going to be taking in as much as she can when she’s not occupied by her organizational role.

“Someone once said to me that sexuality is so amazingly complex that we should all stand in slack-jawed awe at how many creative ways people can live with it,” says Shaw. “At this con-ference, people can see beyond socially accepted views and really look at the diversity of expression that’s possible and the people who make that real.”