Friday, 13 January 2017

What About Gay Washrooms?

There has been a lot of talk lately about transgender washrooms.  
What about gay washrooms?
I know you might think I’m kidding. But most decidedly, I’m not.
I understand the importance of transgender washrooms in schools -- young people who self-identify as being of a different gender than the gender assigned them at birth need a safe place to go to the bathroom without being bullied.
But the same can be said about young gay men.
Let me tell you a story. I was having lunch the other day at the Nations grocery store. I sat down beside three high school age young men who were working there, and obviously on a break. I don’t know whether it was my proximity to them (I do tend to be paranoid about these things!) or just well, something in the air, but soon after I sat down they proceeded to have a pretty homophobic chat. One of them was talking about eating a popsicle and that set it off. “That’s such a gay thing to eat man!” Much hilarity. “That’s so gay man!” “You are gay!” etc.
Now despite the earnest efforts of many --  even people who are gay -- to claim that when kids use the word ‘gay’ in high school it doesn’t mean ‘gay’ (the usual excuse is -- “‘Gay’ is just another way of saying ‘stupid;’ it’s totally innocent!”) the truth is that when kids in high school use the word ‘gay’ it is usually in a homophobic way.
Young gays and lesbians in high schools are still afraid of coming out despite Will and Grace and Ellen DeGeneres. Hence the ‘Rainbow Program’ in Toronto -- a Toronto high school to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students who don’t feel safe in regular schools. The Rainbow program is still going strong.
But gay washrooms should not be merely safe spaces. It should be okay for young gay students to cruise them without policing, and a bulletin board should offer information on condom-less sex and PrEP. Gay high school students often have no outlets for their sexuality except meeting strangers online. Wouldn’t it be great if the authorities at school gave them a safe  space to explore their sexuality that offered lots of information related to their health and safety? PrEP is a new drug that prevents AIDS if you are not HIV positive. And these days, if you are HIV positive you can be arrested and put in jail if you do not disclose. Young gay men in high schools need to know about these things.
Okay, did the last paragraph shock you? Did you think ‘Hey, I was with this guy until he said that high school washrooms should be safe spaces for gay students to cruise?’
I hate to say it, but -- gay or straight -- if you find that offensive, that’s homophobic. Hello! Young people, gay and straight alike, want sex and they will get it, one way or the other. And sex is a good thing! Gay high school boys will end up hooking up with some older guy online if they don’t have a gay washroom where they can be as gay as they want. And these days when HIV is now a chronic illness and HIV positive people are regularly put in jail, they need as much information as possible about health and safety.
I know my idea may not be popular, and is unlikely to be instituted in any high school soon. 
Instead, we prefer to watch as young gay men continue to be bullied and beaten up.
What does that say about us?

Saturday, 31 December 2016

David Bowie was a Poseur; George Michael was the Real Thing

I am not speaking here about music. What I know about pop music you could fit into a thimble; my favourite pop composer is Donizetti. 
No, Im talking about sexual politics. David Bowie and Prince may have been great musicians -- and in terms of output and originality they may have towered far above lesser mortals (as I say, I am not one to judge these things!). But when it comes to the representation of their sexuality, Prince and Bowie had no courage -- they merely flirted with gender irregularities and bisexuality from a position of heterosexual privilege to make money. George Michael was the real thing: a slutty fag who -- in later years -- was also relentessly proud of his sexual exploits. 
Im not saying that Bowie and Prince didnt stretch certain borders and boundaries by wearing makeup and acting girly. But straight men are allowed to do that as long as their fans are assured they are straight. No matter what the antics of these girly heterosexuals they kept their careers; a real gay man cant do that.  The gender irregularities of straight poseurs are just an alluring kink or  fascinating blip on the sexuality radar screen -- nothing to be fundamentally bothered about. And the credit that we give them for being brave is largely unjustified. However, even more unjustified is the credit we give ourselves for embracing them.  It takes no courage to be a diehard David Bowie fan -- but it takes a huge amount of courage to be a fan of George Michael.
I have to admit that for years I too was influenced by the homophobia surrounding George Michael. And when he died, I was so sad about Carrie Fisher that I didnt have time to think about him. In fact, I would posit that at this moment there are probably more gay men mourning the death of Debbie Reynolds than the death of George Michael!
I know whats like, because I was saying Whats the big deal?  George Michael had to be dragged out of the closet, didnt he? And when they finally dragged him out, wasnt he kind of ashamed of being sexual guy who cruised toilets? I mean he never really embraced his promiscuity after they caught him in that washroom, did he?
Well he did.
In 2006 he spoke in The Guardian of the representation of gay people in pop culture: Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable and automatically, my response to that is to say I'm a dirty filthy fucker and you can't deal with that, you can't deal with it.He was tired of the chatty menand loving gay couplesthat dominate television shows. When the police and tabloids followed him into Hampstead Heath he was arrested for a second time for having sex in public. He promptly admitted to lifetime love of cruising, saying The handful of times a year it's bloody warm enough, I'll do it. I'll do it on a nice summer evening.He was even honest about having an open relationship with his lover.
When I realized I had been duped into ignoring George Michael by a homophobic media, I finally watched his fabulous video Outside. Outside is an unabashed tribute to non-denominational public sex. George Michael made it soon after his first arrest.  The video ends with two male cops sharing a passionate kiss. Nothing could be more honest, more sexual, and more queer than that!
But I dont remember anyone, anywhere -- in the straight or the gay communities -- praising that video or congratulating George Michael for the courage of his statement at the time. Though the song was somewhat of a hit, it was not featured on any album except a best ofGeorge Michael. And as far as I can tell, it was not reviewed or spoken of at any length in music magazines in English.

George Michael was the real thing: an out gay sexual man and consummate musician. But he paid a real price. A real man like George Michael can never really make it as a luminous celebrity in the commercial music star system. Only poseurs like Prince and Bowie can achieve the status of pop icons.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

What I Hated Most About 2016

Really, I don’t know what else to call them. They are….hard to describe. They are very long shirts and guys wear them, but they are like….very very long. Not many guys look good in them. I mean I saw this one guy who had huge muscles wearing a skin-tight sort of sweater-shirt that went down to his knees and he sort of looked sexy — but he would have looked good in anything. I mean if you’re going to do it, do it okay?  Put on some makeup and go out in drag. In fact, I highly recommend it. But please don’t wear a skirt-shirt.

2. Donald Trump
Need I say more? What’s appalling right now is the way America tries to pretend that Trump’s not so bad, saying ‘We have to respect the election results’ and ‘Let’s give him a chance.’ Well don’t. Just admit: ‘We elected a lecherous, lying, cheating, con man to be the President of the United States. He is going to destroy the country and perhaps the rest of the world.’

3. Truvada Whores
Okay: news flash. There is now a pill that prevents AIDS called PrEP. Except straight people have never heard of it, and gay men hate themselves so much that instead of celebrating, they are calling guys who use the new pill ‘Truvada Whores.’ Crucify me for mentioning the unmentionable, but could it be that some of us don’t want AIDS to go away?

4. Kelly Anne Conway 
She is Trump’s new White House Conselor.  This Catholic pro-lifer who makes a living apologizing and obfuscating the unforgivable actions of the lecherous, lying cheating con man who is now President makes me want to bring back the word bitch. Are you with me?

5. Screaming Girls
Basically I have no problem with screaming girls, unless they scream in gay bars.  It’s not their fault, they’re dragged in by young gay men who scream just as much as they do. Really, do you guys have to scream? Is it that much fun being in a gay bar?

6. Bad movies 
I used to like going to the movies but there just are no good movies anymore. Oh Gosh — Harry Potter and the Dreadful Dustbin sold more tickets last weekend than the screen adaptation of Sartre’s No Exit starring Marianne Cotillard and John Malkovitch? Uh….Duh.  How tough is that to understand that?

7. Trans Politics
Trans politics has turned into a pompous, politically correct, finger pointing, no fun shitshow. Yes I know your pain is much more than mine and I’m not calling you the right thing.  But shut up already!  Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are trans people and they agree with me! And besides I’m a drag queen, which means I’m trans too!

8. The Modern Digital World
Arizona is licensing driverless Uber cars, and certain bars have managed to figure out how to serve drinks without a bartender, and you might as well do all your shopping online. But what about us lonely people? The best friends I ever had were taxi drivers, bartenders, and store clerks. Does that mean now I have to make real friends? Ugh.

9. Donald Trump
President Obama seemed pleased to discover that Trump was ‘not an ideologue.’ But believe me this is not a good thing. Trump is capitalism!  This means he is simply amoral. Like capitalism, Trump approves of anything that you do or say that makes money. Period. A president who is capitalism is much more dangerous than an ideologue! Watch out!

10. The Continued Lack of Recognition for the Pursuit of Brilliance
They’ve officially ignored this song since 1949 when it was cut from In The Good Old Summertime. If the fact that I ponder this means that I’m a sad old faggot; so be it. It’s Judy at her best, and even now, 67 years later, nobody cares.

Friday, 2 December 2016

A Clean Well-Lighted Place

There are no more bars in Toronto.
I know this might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but let me tell my story.
I was trudging up Yonge Street with a friend. Because her car was parked near Yonge and Wellesley, and we were down by College, we were looking for a bar there.
We couldn’t find a single one.
Pardon me - there was an establishment that featuring a flashing light that said LCBO in the window, but the place was called, I think, Fry. 
The name suggested it was something more of a restaurant than purely a drinking establishment.
You see, I remember a day when if you walked up Yonge Street from College to Wellesley you would find a number of bars.
Now. Nothing.
Let me make it clear; I am not including in my category of bar a licensed restaurant. A licensed restaurant is something else entirely. I do not wish to go out for a drink and find myself surrounded with parties of any kind. I use the term party in both senses; quite literally a celebration, as well as a large group of people. Families, for instance. All celebrating Aunt Maisie’s birthday and eating chicken wings. Or a bunch of guys pinching waitresses and watching a ball game. That is not what I consider to be a bar.
Where have all the bars gone? 
My suspicion is that it is a sign of the times. First of all, nobody goes out anymore, now that there’s Netflix. And secondly, condos are not conducive to bars. They are considered noisy by condo dwellers who also suspect that they have the capacity to attract the ‘wrong’ crowd.
The concept of a bar— for those young-un’s who may never experienced one - is most cannily described by Ernest Hemingway in his short story A Clean, Well Lighted Place. This story offers a great way to get a down and dirty introduction to Ernest Hemingway’s oeuvre — if you would rather skip his more ponderous macho masterpieces.
In A Clean Well-Lighted Place a lonely man explains his reason for looking for a bar: he quite simply needs a refuge from the overwhelming ‘nothingness’ of life.
This is exactly what I imagine a bar to be. 
In my imagination, this is a bar.
There is a woman on a barstool, a bit frowzy — she’s certainly been around the block. She’s easy — or was easy — in better days. The bartender — there’s something welcoming about him; you long to tell him your problems. There is a man sitting at the other end of the bar, all by himself. He is talking very obsessively and semi-philosophically with the bartender about something — the bartender is only half listening. The man appears to be quite thoughtful but perhaps also somewhere on the autism scale. (I sat next to a man like this in a bar in Hamilton the other day —yes, they still have bars in Hamilton — and he kept talking about his dog — ‘I loved that dog,” he would say and then, after a short pause “I mean I really loved that dog.”) Off in  the corner somewhere would be a young man, with a guitar, rolling a cigarette. He would have long hair and be darkly handsome. He would be lonely, and be looking for someone to talk to or— (best case scenario) whatever.
That’s my idea of a bar.
And nobody would ever ask you  —“Would you like some wings with that?”

Monday, 28 November 2016


Conflict Is Not Abuse is the simple, eloquent title of a fascinating and controversial new book by Sarah Schulman. Schulman’s thesis is that conflict and abuse are very different things. However, in contemporary culture they are taken to be synonyms. Though Schulman is an American, she recently spent some time in Canada, and her observations are particularly relevant to Canadian culture.
Schulman is very careful to explain that she certainly understands people are abused, and that abuse is a significant, often tragic issue.  But she dares to challenge what I would call modern ‘victim culture’. Schulman uses case studies referencing social work, Israeli/Palestinian relations— as well as HIV criminalization — to make her points. 
Schulman’s argument concerning HIV criminalization is especially relevant to Canada, where an inordinately large percentage of black heterosexual men (along with some white men and women, both straight and gay) have been charged with assault and/or murder for not disclosing to their sexual partners their HIV status. Emotionally volatile reactions to this sexually transmitted disease cloud the issue. However Schulman asserts that those who charge their sexual partners with assault or murder for not disclosing their HIV status should instead themselves be responsible for protecting their own health. These so-called ‘victims’ should demand their partners use condoms. And now of course — in addition to condoms — we have access (for those who can afford it!) to the enormously effective HIV preventative drug PREP. Schulman reminds us that HIV education traditionally recommends  that everyone take responsibility for their own health. This philosophy has done much to prevent the spread of HIV. Why should we abandon it now? The non-disclosure issue is conflict — says Schulman — not criminal abuse.
But, possibly because Canadian culture is essentially kinder and gentler than American culture, we are particularly prone to confusing the two notions. This is particularly true where it comes to hate speech. I have always opposed this legal concept — not because I don’t think that some speech is regrettable and hateful — but because as a writer I would not wish to see language criminalized. My most recent novel is Sad Old Faggot. This title might seem offensive or even abusive to some. I think it should be my right to use these words.
Schulman’s thesis sheds light on two recent contemporary Canadian issues. First there is the case of Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto who has refused to call his transgender students by their preferred pronouns. This is conflict, not abuse. It should not come under the criminal or human rights code. However Peterson’s actions are beyond insensitive and the university should discipline him for not treating his students with respect, as this is a primary responsibility for any teacher.
Similarly, there is much discussed Steven Galloway case. It’s important to remember that Steven Galloway, formerly a professor at UBC, was (rightly or wrongly) accused of abuse. Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, is not an abuser and should not be accused of it when she defends him. It is deplorable that the defense letter which she signed felt it necessary to shed skepticism on the claims of the victims in the Steven Galloway case. But this is conflict, not abuse.

It’s about time that we begin to ponder the difference.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Brent Hawkes’ Trailer Party

Brent Hawkes —Toronto’s beloved gay pastor — is on trial for molesting a 16 year old boy in Nova Scotia. I must say, this animates my animus towards him. For years, I have hated Brent Hawkes. There, I said it.
If you are part of the Brent Hawkes fan club, perhaps you should not read on.
I will disclose. I’ve been watching Brent Hawkes from the time that Buddies in Bad Times Theatre was having trouble with the City of Toronto (and Rob Ford — at that time a rookie on city council). We were in trouble because we wanted to take over the 12 Alexander Street building (which Buddies presently calls home). We had a lot of opposition from Christian Right homophobes (and the Toronto Sun) who were trying to block our bid for the building.
At that time we were looking for support from well respected members of the gay community — in fact we needed that support to survive. And we couldn’t get Brent Hawkes to make a statement in support of us. We didn’t know why. Finally I enlisted a spy — a young man who was going door to door to raise money for the Buddies’ cause. He went to Brent Hawkes door to ask Brent for a donation,  and this very attractive young person was somehow able to pry loose Brent Hawkes tongue — for Hawkes confessed to him that he would never publicly support Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
I will never forgive Brent Hawkes for that betrayal. 
This incident is at the heart of my anger at Brent Hawkes; but I also feel it’s relevant to the present trial.
I believe the Reverend Hawkes was unwilling to get behind Buddies in Bad Times Theatre so many years ago because Buddies philosophy has always been pro-sex. This means we always thought that sex is fine, in fact joyful — even when it is not part of marriage or a loving relationship. I personally believe that any consensual act of sex is, in fact, love — and that people who are promiscuous are not bad or sick — just joyful — and they should not be judged but prized. To quote Hannah Jelkes in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana: “Nothing human disgusts me, Mr. Shannon, unless it's unkind, violent.” 
Apparently this philosophy was a bit foo dangerous for Brent Hawkes to be associated with.
Now I am not going to suggest that Brent Hawkes is guilty of molestation. I really don’t know.
But I will make one small — but I think important observation — that comes from all this. 
Unfortunately Christianity has become a very good place for molesters to hide.
Consider Donald Trump who, as we all know, likes to grab women in the ‘you-know-what’ — without consent. And yet, the Christian Right in American is supporting him, many whole heartedly. Then there are the molestation scandals that were carefully hidden by the Catholic church for so many years. 
If you ally yourself with Christianity, some will think you are respectable. But nowadays being Christian is no guarantee of respectability. Christianity has become a religion that -- though it may boast some kind, caring, understanding believers -- also welcomes a significant constituency who have lost their heart, their love, and their tolerance, and replaced those (once considered Christian) virtues with ‘unkindness and violence.’
Welcome to ‘Brent Hawkes Trailer Party!’

For me, this invitation is a symbol of the lies, hate, and molestation that have infected Christianity, and now, with the election of Donald Trump, threaten to infect us all.

Friday, 11 November 2016

No Intermission

I’ve been complaining about this for a long time, but what is actually going on here?
Try and find me a play with an intermission; they no longer exist. 
Last night I went to see Breathing Corpses at Coal Mine Theatre. They lady at the door said the play would last one hour and and half.
I timed it; Breathing Corpses clocked in at a cool one hour and forty five minutes. 
Nothing against Coalmine, it’s happening all over; and this was the latest hit from The Royal Court Theatre. Well obviously they will have no truck with intermissions in London, England, either. 
Dare I ask; what does ‘intermission’ mean
You might say; well people just had shorter attention spans back in the day.
Is that really true?
We know that years and years ago (like in the late 19th century) plays had three acts, and each act was a half hour long, and there were two fifteen minute intermissions between each.
Sure — you might say — time to have tea, have a drink, socialize.
I think it’s something more.
It all has to do with our relationship to reality.
Nowadays you can you can’t see a movie without these words popping up before the title:
“Based on a true story.”
Yes, from Ravi Jain chatting up his Mum to a couple of guys trying to figure out whether they are winners or losers, we live in the era of reality theatre, reality TV, reality everything. Hey, we’re not interested in anything that’s fiction, anything that’s made up.
The ‘no intermission’ thing started way back with Strindberg (incidentally, the founder of naturalism). You see, intermissions are too ‘metatheatrical’ too ‘suspension of disbelief’ — for those obsessed with truth. After all, what do you do at intermission? You turn to your friend or lover, and say “Here we are at the play, and you ask them ‘What is the theme of the play?" And they ask you — who is the best actor in the play, that is, who is the most convincing at pretending to be someone else?
But nowadays we don’t want to be reminded that we are watching a play. We do not wish to remember that what we are seeing is fiction.
After all, the new theatre buzzword is ‘immersive.’
But along with our insatiable hunger for reality, we may have forgotten something…….
theatre is not real; it’s unabashedly, perversely and deliciously, fake.
And though we like too imagine that some of us are more truthful than others, that some of us speak the truth and value the truth, more than others — could it be that we are all quite happy to live in our own separate fictions?
I dare you.
Come out into the lobby. 
We can share a cigarette and a drink, and gossip a little bit about who this actor is sleeping with or this actress is flirting with, about what’s going on behind the scenes.
Because after all it’s just a play.
Remember what it was like — long ago and far away?

When there was ‘make believe’?