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Fresh batch of bisexual leaders emerging in Toronto

Two new events celebrating bi culture launched in June

One of the images from Fluid, a bisexual art exhibit that runs until Wednesday, July 2. Credit: Fluid/Kati Holland

The idea of organizing a bisexual art exhibit first came to Catherine Jones when her partner asked why there aren’t any good events for bisexuals during Pride.

“I really saw it as a chance to fill a void in the programming that happens around Pride, so I put together a little team to work on it with me,” says Jones, who is studying photography.

That was about a year ago. Jones and her team have been organizing Fluid ever since. They started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for rent, insurance and artist fees. “It was incredible the amount of support that came in for this project,” she says. They exceeded their goal of $4,000.

Jones wants to create a space where bisexuals can be themselves, something she doesn’t experience often. “If you have a male partner, you kind of navigate through this straight world, and if you have a same-sex partner, then maybe you navigate through a gay world, but there’s little for the bisexual community. I think people responded to that,” she says.

Before Fluid opened on June 5, Jones wasn’t sure if she would organize another one because of the amount of work that went into it. But “with the energy that it generated,” she now says she will “definitely look into doing it again.”

Katie Sly, a bisexual playwright and performer, was similarly overjoyed with the reception her Bi Visibility Cabaret received on June 6. “I’ve never seen that many people piled into Videofag,” she says. “They opened the doors at maybe quarter to, and instantly all our seating was gone. So it very quickly became standing only, and essentially, we would let people peek in the door and decide if they were comfortable squishing themselves in or not.”

Sly says the event was “such a success that the question is not ‘Do we do this again?’ It’s ‘Yes, we’re absolutely doing this again, just how soon?’ If I’m the only person organizing and curating it, I think I will do it every six months. I know that’s feasible for me with my other responsibilities.”

The only negative responses Sly received concerned the size of the venue. She’s looking into applying for grants and moving to another venue to accommodate a larger crowd. She also wants to rent a ramp to make the space wheelchair accessible and hire an ASL interpreter.

The popularity of her event reinforced her notion that a bisexual space is in demand. “There is this thing where we need a space just for us. It gives you something to be in a room full of people and see yourself reflected in them and to know that you don’t need to put your desires in boxes,” she says.

The idea for the cabaret grew out of a forum that Glad Day Bookshop hosted at Pride Toronto last year. “It was the first time I’ve stood in a room and was like, ‘Oh my god, we’re the majority in this room.’ That was a profound and emotional experience for me, and I want to create that, if I can, for other people,” Sly says.

Cheryl Dobinson, a bisexual health researcher who has been part of Toronto’s community for about 15 years, enjoyed both events. She says she used to run a cabaret of her own called Bi Bash but hasn’t for several years. These new events are the first in years to focus on bi culture, she says.

She believes Toronto lacks bi-focused events because the community relies heavily on individual leadership. “There’s no organized structures or organizations with jobs. It really depends on the energy and interest of folks and how much they’re able to devote and spend on something that’s probably going to be an unpaid aspect of one’s life.”

Dana Shaw, who has been part of Toronto’s bi community for about 15 years, says she’s tried leading the way, “but one voice doesn’t make a lot of noise, even if I am a very noisy person.” She says the last 10 years have been extremely tough when it comes to being visible.

“As much as there’s the LGBT, that B is like a silent B, and I’ve tried to get it on people’s radars before,” she says. “The bi movement ran out of juice. We have a fresh batch [of leaders] coming up right now.”