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  1. #1
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    Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    By Jon Pressick

    Many a social movement has, as its basis, a moment in time, or first struggle that is the impetus for continued resistance. The queer community has certainly seen its share of “moments” that galvanized collective action. The main event is, of course, Stonewall, with many considering this to be the moment in queer history that kickstarted awareness of the struggles that were to be fought and rights that are continuing to be gained. Other instances, it can be argued, have all informed the continuing battles including trans exclusion at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, the fight for Gay Marriage, the legal battles of Little Sisters and Glad Day Bookshops and the Pussy Palace’s legal win over the Toronto Police Department. All of these have been specific wars that have influenced the queer community at large. But one subgroup of the LGBTQ umbrella has struggled for recognition, support, and understanding without benefit of a specific moment in time to rally around.

    Canada’s bisexual community is a diverse and ever-growing group that is slowly, but surely starting to come together. With all of the other segments of the queer community, much can be accomplished through activism and participation in the cause of improving situations for bi people. However, the reality remains that being an activist for bisexual people is often a lonely fight.

    So, what makes the prospect of bi-activism such an enigma? Surely, there are plenty of people out there who want to make Canada a better place for bi folks to be. Indeed, there surely are activists on the front lines and in the back rooms who are striving to break down stereotypes, organize events and eliminate biphobia. However, there are many factors that make being an activist impossible for many.

    One of the most difficult influences to overcome when supporting bi-activism is the potentially chilly reaction one might receive from the rest of the queer community. Many bi folk have related outright bi-phobia from the gay and lesbian community, and this is a hard pill to swallow.

    Nancy Leclerc, President of Bi Unité Montréal , considers this a “vicious cycle” where “we are sometimes told, explicitly and implicitly, by gay and lesbian activists that we should wait our turn. This makes it difficult for bisexuals to get involved as bisexuals.” Instead, many bi people, who are already involved in activism for the queer community shrink back a bit from participating in bi-centred work, instead choosing to support the greater good.

    And Nancy is not the only one who has felt the sting of this hypocritical stance. “After I moved to Toronto I joined Toronto Bisexual Network (TBN) and Bisexual Women of Toronto (BiWOT). I also joined some GLBT groups and groups for queer women,” relates Margaret Robinson “…That was where I encountered biphobia stronger than I ever had before. Once a woman I had a huge crush on said some horribly biphobic things….Another time a woman went on a rant against bisexuals. A really vicious rant. Then she stopped and said ‘I’m sorry, I guess I should ask, are there any bisexuals here?’ I knew that if I didn’t put up my hand, I’d never forgive myself. So I did.”

    That single act of defiance in the face of biphobia is, perhaps, the most potent form of activism that bi-people can embrace and work to use every day. There are many other things that bi-people can do, in and out of queer circles, to promote the understanding of all issues bisexual, but by openly questioning, challenging or disrupting biphobic statements or attitudes, you force those with those views to reflect on their own opinions.

    Cheryl Dobinson, a prominent bi-activist in Toronto and creator of the bi women’s zine The Fence, agrees with this idea, but suggests there is more. “A lot of my bi activism,” she offers, “is simply speaking up in the different situations I find myself in, and also doing eduction and community development work within the bi community.”

    Dobinson has been involved in some groundbreaking work on the part of the bisexual community. This past September, she successfully lobbied Egale, Canada’s national LGBT organization, to recognize and promote Celebrate Bisexuality Day (an internationally recognized day - September 23 - to embrace and support all things bisexual). She is also very involved with Toronto Bisexual Network and recently joined the Community Advisory Committee of David Kelley Services (LGBT-focused counselling services), where she will “certainly advocate for bi inclusivity.”

    These types of activities, joining committees, serving on boards, are important to do in any political or social cause, but they are an action that not everyone can participate in. Many bi people do not feel they can, for many varied reasons, be a public figure associated with their bisexuality. Whether it is because of family issues, work issues, self issues, many bi folks are just not comfortable being on the front lines like that. Even very active and prominent figures such as Nancy and Margaret feel some concern with being so publicly involved in bi activism. Nancy says that she has “a recurring fear that my son will feel the effects of social stigma, since, at some point, people at his school could find out, either by seeing me at Pride, hearing me on some interview, seeing something I wrote in the paper…”

    Nancy’s are legitimate concerns shared by many bisexual people, and this definitely detracts from the numbers of those who are able to be out and about. However, there is a different way to look at this seemingly impossible Catch-22. In every struggle there needs to be the few who, in the beginning, can take the reins and lead, with the hope of making things better for all those who are going to come after them. This is not to suggest that there are just a few leading the bisexual charge, indeed, there is a growing number of activists who are able to be prominent figures in media and community relations. And if you happen to be someone who can get involved, there are a number of great activities you can undertake to improve our community.

    The first place you should look if you’re interested in getting involved in bi-activism is the outstanding national resource BiNet Canada. The organization’s vision is concise: “BiNetCanada educates others about bisexuality and sexual diversity. It is a means for sexually diverse Canadians to organize at national, regional and local levels; and can provide a forum for discussion about related issues and concerns.” The website, which is fully bilingual, breaks resources down according to province, as well as listing national resources. Also offered within the individual province pages, are links to events, support groups, student and youth groups, recreational groups, religious or spiritual groups and activist groups. So, if you are unsure what resources you have in your area, the BiNet Canada website will direct you to what might interest you locally.

    However, this still does leave one specific obstacle to getting involved in bi-activism in your area. Perhaps, at this time, your area does not have an organized group that you can join. Maybe you live in a smaller town, maybe you live in a particularly conservative region. If you are alone in the beginning, the best thing you can do is research what is happening in other areas, and maybe make some phone calls to activists in other communities for guidance and support. It would also be helpful to look up what some specific activists are doing, people such as Robyn Ochs, Krista Taves, Loraine Hutchins, Lani Ka’ahumanu, Luigi Ferrer, Pete Chvany and Marshall Miller.

    Pamela Sloan, the listings co-ordinator for TBN, gives these suggestions on what people can start doing more of to get bisexual issues more recognition:
    • Visibility: Promote, promote, promote. Advertising and such is a dirty job, but VERY important. I think if the bi community was more ‘in your face,’ it would be taken a little more seriously, especially from the queer community. It would really help tackle the invisibility thing.
    • Partnerships: The thing about bisexuals is we fit into so many categories, so we need to show people that. Partnering bi groups with other groups could also really cut down on the stereotypes. Bisexuals are labelled as STD transmitters, well, partner with [a local AIDS awareness group such as Toronto’s] AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and work together to promote safe-sex.
    • Get more issues!: This may sound like asking for stress, but it's time for the next step. The LG communities fought to break down walls and stereotypes and have now moved on other issues, like safe sex, sex trade workers, etc. I believe we share these issues and need to show our presence there as well.
    Of course, all of this sounds wonderful and productive, but it also sounds like a lot of hard work. And not just hard work in terms of hours spent, energies expended and noses worn by the social grindstone. All of this activism can take it out emotionally of even the most enthusiastic rabble-rouser. Therefore, perhaps one of the most vital forms of activism that we can organize and participate in are social events, gatherings or networking opportunities. These events should be fun, and not based on group discussion or overt political action (although any gathering of an underrepresented group is necessarily a political action!). These events should be accessible so that newcomers to the scene will feel comfortable enough to be in such a space.

    Last fall, to commemorate Celebrate Bisexuality Day, a group of volunteers in Toronto organized the first “Anything That Grooves.” This big bi bash featured a can-can performance, roaming kissers and a little stand up comedy. But, more than the entertainment or good times that were shared by all, the event was a big bi statement. Here were a big group of bi folks coming together—in a venue far removed from the ‘safe’ confines of Toronto’s gaybourhood—actively attending an event that was organized by bi folks, for bi folks. The community-building atmosphere was tremendous, the networking (and cruising!) was fun and flirtatious and the event was a great success. So much so that this past February saw the second “Anything That Grooves”!

    It cannot be argued that the social and political situation that exists for bisexual people is still a work in progress. Whether bi folks face exclusion or personal restriction, much still needs to be fought for and won. However, despite the seemingly small numbers at times, there are dedicated people across the country working to create safe spaces, open discussion and easy networking for bisexual Canadians.

    Jon Pressick is the new feature article editor for Bisexual.com. He is also the publisher of TRADE: Queer Things and a past contributor to Xtra!, Gaiety, Broken Pencil, Women’s Post and Quill and Quire.
    Last edited by Drew; Mar 5, 2005 at 11:43 PM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    Great article Jon - thanks for putting together a piece on the topic of bi activism. It is near and dear to my heart

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    Thumbs up CONGRATS!!!

    I love the site AND the article!!! Way to go Jon (& the other fabulous folks involved).
    Pam

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    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    Hey Jon;

    Thanks for the great article! Keep up the good work!

    Nancy in Montreal

  5. #5

    Post Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    "we should wait our turn. "

    The first thing I encountered when discovering myself was that bisexuals are both reviled and in demand. All married couples seem to want a bi-female to toy with and dispose of as needed. Both men and women are often viewed as either closeted gays, sluts, or of other questionable characteristics.

    The first thing that this told me was that Bisexuals are NOT a member of the LBG community. Rather, we've become a casualty of them, either we're with them, supporting lesbian and gay causes, or we're against them.

    I refuse to join gay alliances, and I've formed small local bisexual groups in the past, but these days I'm looking for what is happening to bisexuals on the internet and internationally. UW in Seattle paints bisexual men as the carrier of all disease, publishing highly manipulated statistics indicating everything from the spread of the flu to LESBIANS getting aids "from bisexual men." Yes, that's a quote. I'm shocked, given the relatively few lesbians who like to sleep with MEN.

    I'm tired of the bullshit in the United States. I'd become Canadian, but the great white north has its own serious problems with freedom and human rights. Ironically, I'm probably going to wind up living in China someday, as that country is progressing towards more civility and social freedoms since the USA started trying to rule the world.

  6. #6

    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    Oh, have no fear. There is definitely going to be an article here on biphobia in the queer community in the near future. Seems everyone I talk to has some story about being shunned, ridiculed, mocked by the LG community, and that needs to start being addressed.
    thanks for commenting,
    jon

  7. #7

    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    i know Canada all over,and i will only say that in comparing with Europe it is too "brutal" treatments on many steps.Not so real liberal like i did get used to see in even east Europe.
    DET NYE ELSKER RIKET

  8. #8
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    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    ok where to start.
    i would love to start a bi program in my town.
    but its a town of 2500 ppl. and i need to work here.
    so unless i can (convert) the whole town im screwed.
    #2 there are lots of gays here but ( 50%)are married guys
    so are they bi?
    #3in all my dealings with they gay community i have had no bad feedback.
    however 1 lesbian did not believe that someone could be bi
    #4 so its true its like hearding cats! only harder....
    bigregory
    BIGREGORY
    BI and loving it

  9. #9

    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    I actually wrote an article about this in Robyn Ochs' upcoming book "Getting Bi" which basically says that there are a lot of factors, not the least of which are geographical, that make it hard to create a national bi network.
    Dana Shaw (aka Black Orchid)
    ---------------------------------------
    Living a both/and life in an and/or world.

  10. #10

    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    ooooo, I can't wait to read Robyn's new book! Can I get you to autograph your piece?

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    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    Very nice article...thank you.

    Andy, Montreal

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    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    Hi Jon Great article. You talk aboutTBN, BiWOT and Bi unite Montreal but is there anything in ottawa. I'd like to hear more if you have the time....trip1

  13. #13

    Re: Like Herding Cats? - Bisexual Activism in Canada

    Quote Originally Posted by trip1
    Hi Jon Great article. You talk aboutTBN, BiWOT and Bi unite Montreal but is there anything in ottawa. I'd like to hear more if you have the time....trip1
    You know, I don't know specifically, but I did find this with a google search:
    The Ottawa Bi/Poly Group gets together the LAST SUNDAY of every month for a social dinner. Come join us for dinner and conversation where you can feel comfortable to discuss polyamory, bisexuality, and even Babylon 5, in a fun, social setting. Newcomers are welcome - regardless of current relationship status.

    Please respect that the Ottawa Bi/Poly group is NOT a contact organization for swingers.

    We meet at Maxwell's, 340 Elgin St. (NOT the one in the Market!). Maxwell's has interesting appetizers, dinner specials and a varied cuisine, as well as decently priced "happy hour" appetizers on Sundays. In addition, they have a deliriously good "death-by-chocolate" cheesecake....

    Join us in the bar (downstairs) at 6:00pm. We tend to move into the restaurant sometime after 6:30 for dinner... There is street parking on Elgin, and on most of the side streets. Beware of many one-way streets around there, it can be a bit confusing. On a finer grid, it's between Waverly and Lewis cross-streets. On a coarser grid, between Somerset and Gladstone cross-streets.

    In addition, the group maintains a distribution list for notifications of upcoming events (including monthly poly discussion forums), and discussion of bi/poly topics at Yahoo Groups.

    Contact Luc for more info.
    lucbelanger@home.com

    AND this

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Bi-Polyamory-Ottawa/

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    Re: BiPoly -- What about UW Seattle?

    Hi,

    I read a comment from BiPoly about UW Seattle's apparent blaming of bisexual men for AIDs? Can you tell me more about that? I've been active on an STD forum for a while, run by one of the leading researchers of UW Seattle's STD clinic, and I was shocked to read the comment about UW's bias. The researcher has always been respectful toward me in the forum and I'm very open about being bisexual on it. On the other hand, I have often found it frustrating that he constantly tells straight men that their chances of getting HIV are "less than being struck by lightning" and tells women who've had unprotected sex not to worry about HIV "unless you have reason to believe that your male partner has had sex with men or uses IV drugs." Other than a few minor things like that, I've always found the UW Seattle doctor quite fair to gay and bi men.

    I'm curious and hope that BiPoly can tell me more. Especially because UW Seattle is one of the most respected STD research centers and has close ties to the CDC.

    .....

    About the other issue, involving how bisexuals are received by the gay and lesbian world, I have to plead the fifth (or maybe the sixth? seventh? not sure). I was immersed in a purely gay lifestyle, briefly in the 90s, and then decided I preferred women but still had a soft spot for guys once in a while. My gay friends were a little hesitant but came to support me on it. They remain close confidants even now, 13 years later, as I'm married and about to become a father. Gay organizations don't exactly throw out a welcome mat to me, but they've never kicked me out on my ear either. I'm pretty active on www.gay.com and the folks on that website don't seem to reject me.

    If anything, I've found the gay male community to be uncomfortably over-interested in me because I'm bi. A lot of gay men find that attractive and desire me, even though they probably wouldn't look twice at me if I didn't have a wedding ring on. If ever I feel that gays are a little harsh to bi men, I just have to remind myself how utterly dreadful straight people are about bisexuality, and I feel forgiving quickly.

    Having said all that, I am delighted that there are moves toward a bi movement!

    J
    If sex is a pain in the ass, you're doing it wrong.

 

 

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