The Toronto Bisexual Network (TBN) is currently celebrating 20 years of supporting queers who are attracted to multiple genders — but members say they’re still struggling with many of the same old misconceptions.
Organizer Cheryl Dobinson says it’s not uncommon to hear comments like “It’s a phase” or “You’ll grow out of it.”
“I still hear that to my face,” says Dobinson. “It’s not old news.”
TBN does much of its work through its presence at Toronto Pride and special events throughout the year, including the annual Bi Bash party in honour of Celebrate Bisexuality Day (Sep 23). This year’s Bash takes over the Tranzac on Fri, Sep 25.
But for many members it’s TBN’s monthly meetings at the 519 Community Centre that have been key to becoming comfortable with their bisexuality.
“We’ll often hear ‘I never knew anyone like me’ or ‘I’ve never been in another room with another bisexual before let alone a whole bunch of people,’” says Dobinson.
She adds that even coming to a meeting can be difficult for some. “There’s lot of people I know who are bi who are involved in the community but who are not involved in the network or super out as bi because it’s easier to navigate the queer community if people think you’re gay or lesbian.”
TBN — with subgroups Bisexual Women of Toronto and Bi Men of Toronto — offer mixed, all-female and all-male group meetings that give bi folks a space to discuss topics including relationships, queer identities, politics, representation in the media and some of the problematic perceptions they’ve encountered in both straight and gay scenes.
“People talk about how it’s changed their lives and how it’s so essential to their self-acceptance, self-esteem and alleviated their isolation,” Dobinson says. “It can mean big things for people.”
For bi folk who can’t make it to meetings TBN also offers various online mailing lists and a voicemail box as part of Xtra’s directory of community groups and services (see page 36). Longtime member and organizer Stephen Harvey says having a number listed in Xtra’s pages has proved to be a great way for bi men to reach out for advice.
“They felt they couldn’t come to the meeting and didn’t access to the email list, but they were able to pick up a copy of Xtra and see the phone number and contact us through that,” says Harvey.
He says TBN also tries to ensure that bi perspectives are heard throughout the queer community, adding that it’s not enough for an organization to simply say it’s inclusive.
“If you’re going to include the ‘B’ [in LGBT], show it,” says Harvey.
TBN member Pamela Sloan says the group’s approximately half-and-half mix of hetero and homo couples means discussions about straight privilege come up often.
“A lot of people in our group don’t want heterosexual privilege,” says Sloan. “It’s not just that they’re feeling that ‘I’m more than just this’ or ‘Don’t make assumptions based on the gender of my partner’…. They really struggle with bisexual guilt.”
She adds that for many bi people who are part of a mixed-gendered couple TBN is a place to go for validation of their queer selves, even though, as Sloan says, “They’re married and have three kids and live and work in a hetero world.”
By helping members come out as bisexual and build confidence in their relationships Sloan says TBN helps strengthen the city’s overall tolerance and queer diversity. “It shows that our community, not just Church St [but] Queer West and everything is encompassing.”