In the Blog
Cheryl Dobinson: Happily on the Fence
Every Thursday I profile a new incredible woman, each from a different walk of life. Different professions, causes, backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations, and anything/everything else!
So without further delay, let me introduce the fabulous Cheryl Dobinson…
Cheryl Dobinson is a bisexual writer, activist and zine-maker. Along with publishing the bi women’s zine The Fence since 2002, she also facilitates support groups, leads workshops and teaches community courses on bisexuality. Among her favourite projects is coordinating a youth group called Fluid for bisexual, pansexual, bi-curious, omnisexual and questioning folks aged 29 and under. Cheryl is very involved in her local bisexual community, lives in Toronto’s queer village, and wants to start wearing a t-shirt that says “This is what a bisexual feminist looks like.”
What drives you to do what you do?
A lot of what I do is related to bisexuality, which is currently the issue that I’m most involved in and passionate about. So you could say that I’m driven by the desire to make the world a better place for bisexuals, myself included.
As a bisexual woman who has had the privilege of being part of an organized bi community in Toronto and of being paid to do research on bisexual health, I’ve both personally experienced and heard from a lot of other people about needs and desires for services, resources, community events and so forth. A lot of these have been things that I really thought should exist but didn’t, like a bi youth group, more research on bisexual health, celebratory bi events, and a bisexual-focused zine. In the past five or so years I’ve worked with other people to make all of these happen because I want them to be available.
Rather than waiting for someone else to take action, when something is important to me I have a tendency to try to figure out what I can do about it, who I’ll need to work with, what it will take to make it a reality etc. I guess I apply the DIY mentality on a broader scale to include things like organizing support groups and events, as well as to crafty things like my bi women’s zine The Fence. I feel like it’s as much my responsibility as anyone else’s to make these sorts of things happen, so I try to step up to the plate as much as I can.
How does being a woman empower / challenge you?
I think that being a woman empowers me largely because of the wealth of feminist literature, ideas and knowledge that exists for me to draw on. Women who came before me have laid a strong foundation for me and my contemporaries to stand on, specifically as women. And in the present, the women who are my friends, my community and my family are also a great source of empowerment for me.
I find that the challenges of being a woman are related to the ongoing reality of sexism and living in a patriarchal society. There are still specific norms, informal rules and double standards that are applied to women, assumptions that are made, opportunities that are not granted, and power that is asserted to try to keep women in ‘our place.’ I struggle with the sexualization of women generally, and of bisexual women in particular, and the ways in which my sexuality as a bi women is exoticized, eroticized and/or trivialized for the benefit of heterosexual men. It can be a challenge to be a sexual, sex-positive bi woman on my own terms when there are external forces that push to sexualize me in ways that are not at all about my autonomy or my pleasure and that don’t take my queerness seriously.
What advice would you give to young women who want to follow in your footsteps?
I’m not a big fan of advice per se, as I think that it’s important for people to decide for themselves what to do in their own lives. But I can offer some general suggestions drawing from my own life experience that young women might want to consider and then take or leave as they choose: 1. Allow for the possibility of change, in yourself, in others and in situations. 2. Open yourself up to new possibilities and experiences. 3. Take action when there’s something you want to see change or happen. 4. Build a strong support system of friends and loved ones, and be part of their support system in return. 5. Know that it is okay not to succeed at everything you try - failure can be an opportunity to learn and grow, plus it often means that you’re challenging yourself (which I think is a good thing.) 6. Try to be realistic about how much you can do and how much time and energy you have to commit. 7. Listen to yourself first - only you can know what is right for you, what will work for you, what you aspire to or dream of for yourself.
Name one person, place, or thing every young woman should know about?
I’d want young women to know about the absolute awesomeness of Canadian women’s literature. It wasn’t until I was 20 years old and took a course specifically in women’s literature that I had my eyes opened to the vast world of women’s writing, and to Canadian women’s writing in particular.
There is so much great writing by Canadian women that I hope young women will explore. Some of the authors that I enjoy are Margaret Atwood, Nalo Hopkinson, Elizabeth Ruth, Shani Mootoo, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Susan Swan, Larissa Lai, Alice Munro, Margaret Lawrence and Barbara Gowdy. (And that’s just who I can think of right now, so it’s far from an exhaustive list.) I’ve also got books on the go right now by Kristyn Dunnion and Farzana Doctor.
What is the most important thing we can do in order to change the world?
Make sure to check out The Fence for some kick-ass bi-empowerment - get ready to feel awesome about your bi self! And if you’re someone who’s 29 or under and feel that you “don’t fit neatly into categories around sexuality”, check out Fluid here.