“It boils down to visibility in the end”: We talk to Marcus Morgan about CaBiRet


Following the success of CaBiRet in October, and with whispers on the wind of another event in the new year, we caught up with Marcus Morgan of the Bisexual Index to find out how CaBiRet came about – and what we can hope for in the future. 

Hello Marcus. Let’s get right down to business. How did the idea for CaBiRet come about?

As August progressed I found myself looking ahead to Bisexual Visibility Day. Looking ahead but not so much looking forward. I realised that although there were things planned for the launch of the book I’d been involved with, Purple Prose, I didn’t have any bisexual events I could go to for Bi Visibility Day itself.

There wasn’t anything in London on the day?

That’s right. And not just geographically – the sort of event I would want to go to wasn’t happening. I have very fond memories of the FenceSitters Ball which was organised in the 1990s by people from the London Bisexual Group, and I wanted something that had that kind of feel. I wasn’t seeing it.

The 1990s feels a long time ago. Tell us about the FenceSitters Ball – what was that?

I wasn’t involved with the running of it, but to my recollection it was an attempt, mostly successful, to create the kind of evening that the gay community has all the time. Music, DJs, alcohol, dancing. It was a club night. There’s a time and place for sitting about and all sharing personal stories, don’t get me wrong, but Mark wanted something that was a counterpoint. And so it was a night with bisexual DJs playing music, bisexual people dancing.

That sounds a lot like a BiCon Ball?

Yes, very much so. There’s two sides of BiCon – day and night. The daytime is a chance to look at our details. We go to workshops and find out we’re not the only person who is bisexual and …into tea …learning ballroom dancing …working in a trade union. All that stuff. It’s about individuality and the things that make us different. It’s empowering to know there’s even one other person in the same situation as us when the situation is very specific. But the other half is the nights. That’s our chance to see how many of us there are in total. How we can be, for some of us for the first time, in a room where the majority of people are bisexual. Too many to count. To look across a crowded room and see people smiling, and laughing, dancing, not stressing about being discovered or outed.

Do you think that’s lacking in the bisexual community these days?

Perhaps to some extent, yes. We recreate BiCon daytimes with coffee mornings and support groups, and message boards, mailing lists. But we don’t as often try to have that nightlife aspect of a community that we can see the wider LGBT community has. I think they use it very much as a metric too – people think there is no bi community because they don’t see ‘gay’ nightclubs putting on ‘bi’ nights.

Do people ask about this when you’re talking about bisexuality?

Very much so. They say they don’t know of a bi community in their area, and what they’re talking about is invariably gay pubs.

But CaBiRet wasn’t a dance club, why’s that?

Because I’m old now. *laughs*

When I decided I was going to do something about the gap I was perceiving I had about five weeks until Bi Visibility Day and so I wanted to put something together that if necessary I could do most of the work on alone. I don’t know how to DJ, and I do know about performance instead. A friend of mine, outside the bi community, had just posted to Facebook about organising a memorial night for someone. He’d found a pub that was offering free hire for community groups on Sundays in September. That was the missing piece of the jigsaw so I emailed them straight away. Turned out the Sunday of the Bi Visibility Day weekend they had a booking already, but they were keen to host us, so we agreed on early October.

Magic Marcus

Venue in ‘keen to host bisexuals’ shock! That’s not how it used to be, is it?

Very much no. I can remember when we were looking at venues for BiCons previously and when we said the event was going to be for bisexual people that was when the emails started to go unanswered. I think it’s a sign of how much LGBT issues have pushed into the mainstream that when we say “it’s for an LGBT event” we don’t get as much instant dismissal nowadays. Or at least that’s my experience, others may have had others.

Going back to the question of dancing versus watching – it could have been a mix?

Yes, and events during BiCon usually are. But there was a cabaret section at BiCon this year that hadn’t gone very well and part of me wanted to see if that was a precedent. People come to BiCon evening events with all sorts of different expectations, and that’s natural. Some people want to chat to friends, others to meet new people, others to play board games, some to drink, some to dance. So when an activity takes over the entire room the way that mics and loudspeakers tend to do, it forces people into the activity. They’re can be participating in it or ignoring it, but they have some interaction with it. But if an event is outside BiCon then it’s attractive primarily to the people who want to interact with its primary purpose. You might bring a card game to pay in the bar at CaBiRet, but you’re fully expecting the bar to empty when the show starts.

It wasn’t a one-man show though, was it?

Oh thankfully, no! It would have been a lot shorter if no-one else had come forward. I’m very pleased with the final line up. We had music, comedy, poetry, magic, and a very powerful reading from one of the classic bisexual books. As it was a succession of people volunteered to do a turn each when I initially announced the event and subsequently had to drop out nearer the time.

That sounds frightening!

Yes, indeed. There was no point where it was going to be just me, as Jacq Applebee remained steadfast throughout – but every other slot was occupied by at least one other person before the final line up was set. Set with about a week to go! We did at one point have a Freddie Mercury tribute act, but I think that was the first to go. Not that he told me – the guy who said he’d bring his act along was, I think, all enthusiastic about it being a “bisexually themed night” without initially thinking through who the audience would be. My emails to him about what he needed for his set were quickly blanked, and I eventually IM’d him and he was all “what cabaret night?”

In the end we had your editor Libby reading from Bi Any Other Name, Jacq reading poetry, Sally Wyatt performing stand-up, Lucy Kennedy with some fabulous songs about bisexuality, and me knitting it together with magic and silliness.

And a lot of people watching, I remember!

There was! I was, as is traditional, worried no-one would come. Then people started arriving and I switched to worrying the other acts wouldn’t make it. Then I found out there were tube problems, and people had to get there by bus. But get there they did, we had over 80 people and our collection for the Bisexual Index and Bis Of Colour raised over a hundred pounds.

So, Marcus, same time next year?

Before then, I hope. I’m looking at March for the next one. I wouldn’t want to pull it together in such a short period of time again – it was good to have a deadline and the pace was exhilarating but maybe slightly more sedate.

What’s the philosophy of it all? What’s the mission?

Oh gosh. Mission statements are terrifying things but what I really wanted to showcase was the breadth of our community regarding performance. We don’t have a chance to show off our skills otherwise – the wider LGBT cabaret scene isn’t very welcoming to bi performers (with some notable exceptions like Wotever), and wouldn’t understand a lot of the references. I really like the tagline we used “an evening of the bisexual variety” and having the performances all reference bi in some way. I guess it boils down to visibility in the end. We’re here. We’re visible. We’re having fun talking/singing about being bi.

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