We recently interviewed Katie Sly of Too Queer: A Visibility Cabaret which will be at The Fox Cabaret on Friday, July 7
LMM: Can you give us a brief but fascinating history of how Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret came to be?
KS: Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret is an arts-based community engagement project I created in Toronto in 2014, in response to an absence of community events organized for and about bisexuality and pansexuality. Back in 2014, I knew only a handful of other bi/pan folks. On a message thread with the small group of bisexuals, I did know, we were sharing and complaining about perceptions of bisexuality. On that thread a friend of mine mentioned that someone should throw a performance event about bisexuality– and I immediately realized I had the requisite amount of know-how, rage, and connections, to actually make that happen. I contacted my friends William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill, who were running a storefront, independent performance venue called Videofag, told them I had no budget but a lot of passion to curate a performance night celebrating bisexuality and pansexuality, and luckily for what would become the Too Queer cabaret series, William and Jordan understood the bi and pan community’s need, and donated us their space.
In 2014 when all of this started, I felt completely disconnected from a bisexual community and wondered if one even existed. At the same time, I encountered biphobia in my day-to-day life and in designated queer spaces, where I often saw that the B in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) was only welcome if it was silent. So in curating the first Too Queer event, I only expected a handful of people to show up. What happened instead was that the performance space was so packed, it was standing-room only about an hour before performances even began. I was shocked by just how many bisexuals, pansexuals, and our allies had been waiting for an event like this– had been waiting for a space where we felt welcome. There were people standing 4-deep outside the windows of Videofag’s storefront, trying to see the performances. For the first time in my life, I saw how large our community actually is. Immediately after that first event, the bi and pan community I had just discovered asked me, “When’s the next one?”
That’s how this bi visibility cabaret series was born.
Since 2014, Too Queer has held four widely-attended multimedia performance events in Toronto, showcasing photography, illustration, storytelling, dance, burlesque, spoken word poetry, and music, among other artistic disciplines. In 2016 Too Queer held a day of free-to-the-public arts workshops, all led by artists who identify as bi or pan, working around the question, “How do we make bisexual art?” That day of workshops was followed a week later by another hugely successful performance event at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (the world’s oldest and largest queer theatre). In the words of Buddies’ Artistic Director Evelyn Parry, “There’s no project like Too Queer in Toronto. It’s time to expand the definition of what we think of as queer.”
Now, with Too Queer’s first Vancouver event coming up this Friday, July 7 at 8 pm at the Fox Cabaret, Too Queer is the first and only bi-coastal (pun intended) bi and pan performance series.
LMM: What are your goals with this event?
KS: Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret has three goals: combat biphobia, create a safe container in which bi and pan culture can develop and evolve, and serve as a cultural focal point around which bisexual folks, pansexual folks, and our allies can meet each other and form friendships, relationships, and community.
Biphobia, a form of discrimination distinct from homophobia and transphobia, takes many different forms. For example, a frequent form of discrimination bisexual people face is the assertion that bisexuality (physical, sexual, and/or emotional attraction to people of the same gender and of other genders) simply doesn’t exist, and is either an expression of confusion over sexual orientation or greed. Another form biphobia takes is the stigma that bisexuals spread HIV to the straight community. Biphobia also manifests in violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bisexual women experience a significantly higher rate of being stalked, attacked, or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner than women of other sexual orientations.
The denial of the existence of bisexuality manifests in the media through an absence of portrayals of bisexual characters and narratives, which in turn enforces the belief that bisexual people don’t exist. Through art, Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret attempts to combat biphobia by increasing the visibility of bisexuality, pansexuality, and polysexuality, and by creating an opportunity for art that addresses the bi spectrum to develop.
LMM: Can you give us a rundown of the artist you are working with and why they are in the show?
KS: Vancouver’s first instalment of Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret has a tremendously diverse line-up. We have, from Vancouver:
Video art about what it means to wear a Cochlear implant and thus, be a human cyborg, from bad ass deaf Asian warrior Jessica Leung.
Poet and virtual reality investigator Doctor Ray is looking at the intersection of art and technology, bringing us an art piece he will (literally) attempt to control with his mind.
Ruthe Ordare, Manda Stroyer, and Shane Sable of Virago Nation will be performing with us. Virago Nation is an all-Indigenous collective of burlesque performers on a mission to reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization.
Keyboard virtuoso and avant-garde muse, bi pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa will be performing compositions by a bi composer, and in so doing explore an awareness of global bi+ culture.
Dominique Wakeland, Alexa Fraser, and Matt Winter of Devil’s Threesome, a devised theatre performance ensemble emerging out of Simon Fraser University, will be sharing a hilarious and strangely sexy performance examining objects of desire.
Queer and trans solo multi-instrumentalist Rory Jade Grey will be sharing their storytelling musical work on guitar and loop pedal. Rory has been a fan-favourite of Too Queer in Toronto.
We’ll be projecting visual art by Caitlynn Fairbarns. For our show on July 7, Caitlynn has taken stills from film and TV, of queer and bi characters, and has used paint to edit out their surroundings, so that the focus is brought to these queer and bi characters, whose identities are so often erased.
And last but certainly not least, joining us from across the border:
Los Angeles’s multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and LGBTQ activist Monique “Honeybird” Mizrahi will be performing. Honeybird has toured Europe, and her previous performance bookings have included Obama’s White House. Honeybird was part of the Obama administration’s summit on health and policy issues related to bisexuality. (The Obama administration is the only government in the world that has held such a summit). This will be Honeybird’s first time performing in Vancouver, and Honeybird’s music often explores themes of bisexuality. She is an important international advocate for our community, and will not only share her music but her stories as a bi activist.
The artists I’ve programmed for this event, I’ve selected because they are extraordinarily talented and daring artists who either self-identity on the bi+ spectrum or their work addresses themes relevant to the bi+ community.
LMM: Do you have a mission statement or commitment to the community that you would like to share?
KS: Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret is an arts-based community engagement project, which has been making and holding space for art addressing bisexuality, pansexuality, and polysexuality since 2014. For the purposes of this project, bisexuality, pansexuality, and/or polysexuality are sexual orientations that describe attraction to persons of more than one gender.
Too Queer stands in solidarity with trans communities, and believes that, to paraphrase bi poet and activist Lani Ka’ahumanu: bi folk, pan folk, genderqueer folk, trans folk, and non-binary folk– we are the sex and gender border bandits, and we need to have each other’s back.
Too Queer gives the middle finger to viewing gender and attraction as an either-or. Every washroom at Too Queer is open to everyone.
Regardless of one’s sexual orientation, everyone is welcome to attend Too Queer. Too Queer is a space where you can be who you are, and be loved as you are.
LMM: Do you have any more events planned in the future?
KS: In September 2017, there is a weekend-long Bi Arts Festival being organized by, among others, my colleague, bi activist Catherine Jones. Catherine and I are looking at putting together an edition of Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret for the Bi Arts Festival in Toronto in September. https://www.facebook.com/biartsfestivalTO/
LMM: Name a famous bi/pan performer that you would love to have as a guest performer in the show.
KS: It’s a real thrill to have an international artist like Honeybird joining us. Honeybird is an artist I’ve been trying involve in the Too Queer project for a year now.
Next on my list of artists to have work with Too Queer is a music act called Witch Prophet, who I almost managed to snag for this first Too Queer event here in Vancouver, before Witch Prophet got booked for a gig in Tokyo. So my chase of Witch Prophet continues.
One day, I’d love to have columnist and speaker Eliel Cruz be part of a Too Queer event. Eliel is one most vocal bisexual activists I can think of, and his work has been published in the Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, GQ, and Rolling Stone, to name a few media heavy-hitters.
And then, I’d like to have Anna Paquin perform at Too Queer.