A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000


And now?

Virginia Woolf's bedroom
"Such feeble twaddle -- such
twilight gossip... a show up of my own decrepitude."

Virginia Woolf's take on her novel, The Years. But in that, she was wrong. Above: her bedroom at Monks House, Rodmell. Courtesy of The
National Trust.

The novel's final section is a brilliant portrayal of quandariness -- not Woolf's failure but her triumph: in 1936 it was her quandary too.

"We here, she thought, are only sheltering under a leaf, which will be destroyed."


In 1931, Virginia Woolf began writing the last novel she would see published (the very last appearing only after her death), a vast family saga sweeping through more than 50 years, from 1880 to what was then the present.

Such works were in the Victorian tradition, hardly Woolf's own: The Waves, her previous novel (with a lark in between, Flush: A Biography -- of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog), had been a fantastic prose poem, its language and rhythms soaring in the air.

But for The Pargiters, as she first called this saga, she came down to walk the earth again, this time rather ploddingly. She rewrote endlessly, taking more than five years to finish what, by then, she called "Such feeble twaddle -- such twilight gossip it seemed; such a show up of my own decrepitude, & at such huge length."

It was published in 1937, as The Years. Leonard Woolf assured her he liked it but years later, Virginia gone, he would rank it among her rare failures. The public didn't agree, glad for an easy read from a writer famously difficult.

Most critics shared Leonard's (later) view: having followed a big, sprawling family though more than half a century, Woolf seemed unsure where they might -- or should -- end up.


The book's last section, "Present Day," has been cited as a model of indecision: nebulous quandaries; starts that stop; conclusions just out of reach. The last scene is a party, nearly all the surviving cast there. A man tries to make a speech -- but never does. "Look here," another says -- but the music comes up, the moment lost. "I was hoping you'd be able to explain to me --" says another. "Explain what?" "Oh, nothing."

It is here that Peggy Pargiter confronts her brother North, her words later returning to him: "to live differently -- differently. He paused. This is what needs courage, he said to himself; to speak the truth."

He offers a grand gentleman a seat beside his lady: " 'Chew, chew, chew' he said as he sat down. And Milly said 'Tut tut tut,' North observed. That was what it came to -- thirty years of being husband and wife -- tut tut tut -- and chew chew chew."

A caretaker's children come in and sing: "so shrill, so discordant, so meaningless" -- "Cockney accent, I suppose," one ancient offers, "What they teach 'em at school, you know." Scraps of conversation fly past: "Roses are cheap today, twopence a bunch off a barrow in Oxford Street ... No! He still alive? That old white walrus with the whiskers? ... flats in Highgate have bathrooms."


It is a brilliant portrayal of quandariness, not Woolf's failure but her success: in 1936, when she wrote that last scene, it was her quandary too. She speaks it in the mind of Peggy Pargiter after her aunt Eleanor says she is "happy in this world, happy with living people."

But how can one be "happy"? [Peggy] asked herself, in a world bursting with misery. At every placard on every street corner was Death; or worse -- tyranny; brutality; torture; the fall of civilization; the end of freedom. We here, she thought, are only sheltering under a leaf, which will be destroyed.

In 1940, German invasion imminent, Woolf wrote in her diary: "Capitulation will mean all Jews to be given up. Concentration camps. So to our garage." Leonard was a Jew -- "We are Jews," she once said; they kept enough petrol to asphyxiate themselves. On June 27 she wrote: "We pour to the edge of a precipice ... & then? I can't conceive that there will be a 27th June 1941."

For her, there was not. On March 28, 1941, the war pressing in and, for the first time in decades, her mind escaping her control, she stuffed stones in her pockets and walked into the River Ouse. She has been cast as a madwoman, a suicide, a failure. But her life was a triumph, her death too: a final act of sane self possession.

The quandariness in The Years was Virginia Woolf's, but the book's resolution was also very much her own.

Aunt Eleanor -- "happy in this world, happy with living people" -- stands looking out a window. It is dawn. Out in the square she sees a perfectly ordinary scene: a young man escorting a young woman out of a cab, paying the driver, the two of them walking up to a door. He unlocks it.

"There," Eleanor murmured, as he opened the door and they stood for a moment on the threshold. "There!" she repeated, as the door shut with a little thud behind them.

Then she turned round into the room. "And now?" she said, looking at [her brother] Morris, who was drinking the last drops of a glass of wine. "And now?" she asked, holding out her hands to him.

The sun had risen, and the sky above the houses wore an air of extraordinary beauty, simplicity and peace.


I must confess a minor critique of those last lines of The Years. I rather wish Virginia Woolf had left it at: "And now?"

All was not "of extraordinary beauty, simplicity and peace" in 1936, nor is it in The Year 2000. Nazi horrors don't pend (if other kinds); we may not (may not) be sheltering under a leaf.

Yet, having come some decades to get here, I can feel surrounded by chew chew chew and tut tut tut -- the chattering classes and the rest of us too going on endlessly but never quite getting down to things. Or even quite knowing what there might be to get down to.

Who, indeed, do we hope to be?


Things labelled "gay" now are all too likely to prove predictable, unimaginative, finally flat out tedious; having only one subject, dealt with in only the most facile way. The very definition -- & its safe handling -- demand it.

We have become self centred, smug & -- maybe worst of all -- boring.

We face now not Nazi evil but what Hannah Ahrendt identified as its attendant -- perhaps even causitive -- style: sheer banality; and a blithe disdain for the fate of the world so long as our little piece of it is well under control.

As gay people, we are heirs to a movement born in resistance to repressive institutions (Marriage and Family, for instance), in celebration of "the polymorphous whole," and in the hope of liberation for everyone. We now clamour for admittance to those institutions, in the name of "equal rights" for a "minority" -- a subspecies even, happily defined by some as genetic. We have settled into the comfortable parochialism of "identity," any concern we can't peg as obviously "gay" deemed "not a gay issue."

The ideas that shaped gay liberation are still out there. Or rather in there, in the academy. Queer theory is replete with critiques of rigid identity rooted in sexual orientation or even gender. It plays with polymorphous "performativity," scathing of "the normal" -- and of "spousal rights." But we hear almost none of it.

At the Sex and the State conference in 1985, Jeffrey Weeks could say of queer studies: "The academic feeds the popular, and the popular feeds the academic. They're not really in tension at all." Today they are absolutely not in tension: creative tension requires some connection -- and there is almost no connection at all.


Queer "thought" is now confined to the academy, locked up by the force of language made impenetrable to the uninitiated. Much queer theory reads as no more than an academic circle jerk (if that term can be used with women involved): arcane formulas flashed around solely to impress other academics (yes, I can say "always already existing heteronormativity"), in utter disregard for the unenlightened rabble.

"Professional" jargon -- medical, legal, theoretical -- is a weapon, meant to reinforce the power of specialist elites and make everyone else feel stupid. It is particularly ironic, even contemptible, among "deconstructionists" claiming to expose the discourses of power.

It is also self defeating, if theorists expect their ideas to have any effect in the real world. Those ideas are often good ones (if, I've found slogging through the verbiage, rarely original) -- but so what? Few of us are likely to hear them.

The "popular" gay press pays the academy no heed. A few fags and dykes not doing graduate work in social theory may, out of curiosity, browse some fat tome, likely to find it saying, firmly if not clearly: This is not for you. It's for theorists making their careers, showing off how smart they are -- a hell of a lot smarter than you. Too much of what passes for queer theory gives new meaning to that old phrase, "the treason of the intellectuals."

We're left with "popular" media. Any labelled "gay" -- a mass market book, a magazine, a TV show, even a comedy routine -- is nearly guaranteed to be predictable, unimaginative, earnest even in attempted fun; finally flat out tedious. It can have only one subject, likely dealt with in only the most facile way. The very definition -- and its safe handling -- demand it.

We have become increasingly self centred, conventional, smug and -- perhaps most damning of all -- boring.

But rescue from tedium may be at hand.


The End of Gay From glib anecdote,
sweeping conclusions.

Well, in part, but there's more to it than that. Bert Archer's The End of Gay (& the death of hetereosexuality), Doubleday Canada, 1999.

Archer could come off as a facile twerp safely ignored, his 15 minutes of fame due to expire long before Gay does.

But Bert is no twerp.

The End of Gay was announced (not for the first time) in late 1999, by Bert Archer in his book by that very name, its subtitle -- parentheses in the original: (and the death of heterosexuality). It caused rather a stir.

Bert, pundit about town and frequent TV yakfester, was seen by some (I one of them at first) as furthering his career among the chattering classes by that device so vital to trendoid media gobs for hire: sweeping -- if facile -- generalizations on some phenomenon of the moment.

Gay? Oh, that was sooo five minutes ago....

Some reviewers did accuse him of that crime: extrapolating from a few bits of pop culture and very particular personal experiences that Gay was going (and while we're at it, "despite some noisy holdouts," God already had).

Madonna, Prince, Sandra Bernhard -- they'd all "jumped over" Gay into overt if nebulous eroticism without so much as a by your leave from those below demanding declarations of orientation. "It's a lot more sophisticated and intereresting," Sandra said, "not to be dead on. It's not really an issue anymore in my circles."

To circles still very much on about the issue, this sophistication was sophistry, its willful ambiguity the same trendy closet some said kids were hiding in on Queen Street West in 1978. We'd seen "stars" play the line for years.

But worse to some gay critics were Archer's personal revelations, or the conclusions he drew from them. Seems Bert, once glaringly gay, had found he liked bedding girls too.

What's more, in a moment he marks as pivotal, he once heard a resolutely het Catholic college Gino, turned on by Madonna's video "Justify My Love," say: "Y'know, I could see myself doin' a guy. I mean I'm not a fag or nuthin', but y'know, if I was totally horned up, sure."

To those who'd seen years of struggle to build the Gay Edifice and defend it from assault, this was pretty thin ground on which Bert not only walked away from it himself, but declared it a ruin due to crumble around their rainbow festooned heads.

It didn't help that most reviews, the book's PR and Bert himself, yet again on TV, cited such glib anecdote to back his sweeping statements. He could seem a fatuous twerp easily dismissed, his requisite 15 minutes of fame soon to expire -- as Gay, dammit, was not.


Misreading Kinsey

It is from Alfred Kinsey's 1948 study, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, that we get the oft touted figure that 10% of the population is gay. But that's not what he said. Depending on how "homosexual" is defined, he offered figures anywhere from 4% to 37%. This covered only men, all but that 4% with some heterosexual experience.

But, more significantly, Kinsey wasn't counting "homosexuals" at all, but homosexual desires, even if unrealized, & homosexual acts. As Bert Archer writes in The End of Gay:

"[Kinsey] did not say that 10 percent of the male population was homosexual. He said there was no such thing as a homosexual. He was quite explicit on the subject:

'Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual & homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep & goats. Not all things are black nor all things white.

'It is a fundamental law of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories & tries to force facts into separate pigeon holes. The living world is a continuum in each & every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.' "

So far, we have not.

Instead we've contented ourselves with the concept of "gay" & "straight" as fixed & distinct categories -- politically useful, but hardly encompassing the "realities of sex."

Bert Archer is no twerp -- if maybe too inured to soundbite vacuity, of which he is a critic even in this very book. Having just read it, I suspect his critics didn't get much past that book's first part. Its second and most substantial might have been called The Beginning, the Middle, and the Apotheosis of Gay.

Having done his homework -- as most media gobs do not -- Bert traced a tale oft told (his list of references extensive) if generally ignored by modern gay rights mavens, too bedazzled by their moment in the sun to pay much attention to history.

He follows "homosexual" from adjective to noun: from homsexual acts anyone might do, to "the homosexual." As Foucault put it: "The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species" -- as, consequently, was "the heterosexual."

He shows how that species was defined, and how the US military in World War Two, screening against it, inadvertently suggested to thousands of young men and women that they were part of it.

He follows Allan Bérubé's pioneering work, Coming Out Under Fire, showing how that war brought them together, dumping them demobilized into ports like San Francisco and New York; how they came to claim their distinct (and often marked) status as a common identity in the '50s and '60s -- encouraged by Alfred Kinsey's evidence (or so it was taken) that they had not just a few fellow "deviants," but millions.

And how polite homophile organizing, and much else, exploded into the social revolutions of the late '60s that gave us Stonewall. (And earlier risings, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, even New Orleans and Columbus, Ohio, now lost to modern gay mythology. A revolution, particularly an American one, needs its symbolic, singular "shot heard 'round the world.")


All that in some detail. Bert has less to say on how we got from Stonewall to what he now sees as the stonewalled (dead) End of Gay, himself "jumping over" the last 30 years of history.

He does know he is not the first to predict the demise of rigidly defined sexual orientations.

I can hear people who've been around the block a couple of times -- people who remember Dennis Altman's 1971 essay "The End of the Homosexual?" for example -- saying to themselves, "I've heard this before. Everyone's gay, there's a dyke lurking inside all of us, a gay man waiting to get out. We're all really bisexual. Yadda yadda yadda."

That was the cant of the late sixties and early seventies sex radicals, many in the then young modern gay rights movement. And it sounded good for about ten minutes and that was that.

Here a bit more homework might have been in order. It was more than "cant," more than smug "scratch a straight and you'll find a fruit" self righteousness. It was a well grounded set of concepts on human (all human) sexuality, and a vision of its liberation -- not mere "gay rights."

How we got from "the polymorphous whole" to (in fact, back to) "Gay" as a species; how from Kinsey's no homosexuals to only homosexuals and heterosexual -- categories so fixed we had to allow another for those oddballs who didn't fit, bisexuals as one more distinct "type" -- this is a tale worth telling, too.

As far as I know, few have. Because, I suspect, history is written by the victors: in this case (so far) those who see our reification as a discrete, quasi ethnic -- if entirely specious -- "minority" seeking "rights" as the inevitable march of "progress." It was a natural force -- and a great success. Just look where it's got us!

It's true: in a mere historical nanosecond, as Gerald Hannon said, we have achieved victories likely unprecedented by any other oppressed group in history. What concerns Bert, as it does me, is that we have won some of our "victories" by strategic retreat -- not to high ground but low; to turf where once we'd have been ashamed to stand.

In our endless and increasingly successful touting of "spousal rights," in time maybe even gay marriage, we have, he says, hitched our wagon to a star fast fading. (CNN recently told me there are now more US household made up of unmarried couples than of Mom, Dad and the kid(s).)

Those of us happy to embrace a "gay gene" or a "gay brain" as absolution of our sins forget what "biology is destiny" has meant to women, native people, Blacks, Jews -- and could easily mean again to a "race" of homosexuals "biologically" defined.

Bert explains how a few scientifically dubious bits of research in putative "gay" biology have been constructed as "fact" by the media. The scientist behind the "gay gene" insists he's discovered no such thing; Simon LeVay of homo hypothalamus fame that his work is no more than "suggestive" -- how slimly suggestive Bert clearly details. Yet there they are in headlines too many of us lap up like starved puppies.

Dismissive as he seems of gay liberation's early "cant" (yadda yadda yadda; cute, Bert), its visions of sexuality are much the ones he sees coming to the fore now -- not as "Gay," if partly a result of it, but growing from more pervasive social forces. In 1971, he suggests, it was just too early.

People simply had to get used to the notion of publicly expressed same sex sexuality before they could be expected to consider the various possibilities of its more extended meanings. Which we are now just on the cusp of having enough time to do.


So: many thanks to all you old, relentlessly Gay / Lesbian vets! You got us this far but your day is done, your ideas worn out (and now, sorry dears, sooo tired). We're moving on, with new ideas, to new places -- if exactly where, well, we're not quite sure. But hey, in a way that's the whole point, right?

Not a thing many old vets are happy to hear. I am (mostly). And Bert does, kindly and on his very last page, leave us a role to play.

[T]here is still one more thing required of our martial elders before they fade away into the mists of reverend heroism.

They must free succeeding generations from the chains they took up to pull us into the modern age. They must realize that whatever concrete notions of sexual identity they hold dear for themselves, they must, to paraphrase Anita Bryant, think of the children.

They must, in their mentoring ways, let them know (though they may not be sure about the whole thing themselves) that there may not in fact be such an immutable thing as sexual identity, that these kids should spend a little time thinking, probing around inside their brains, their hearts, their pants -- discerning, as the Catholics might say -- and then just following wherever their little souls and loins lead them, feeling free to enter into relationships, casual, life long, or anything in between, based on personal and purely anecdotal attraction in all its forms, rather than be guided by scripts written for a different age.

Okay Bert, it's a deal -- Anita Bryant and even the most discerning Catholics aside: I doubt I "think of the children" quite as they do, much as I incline to mentoring ways. But I don't imagine I'll need "let them know" any of what you advise for their brains, hearts, loins, or souls. From what I've seen, they know it already.


The kids of Summer
(And hope for the future)

Xtra #387 Dont' lie!
Four (of 11) from Buddies in Bad Times' Summer '99 Project make the cover of Xtra, Aug 26, '99: clockwise from the top: Fania Schwebel, Jefferson Guzman, Matt Nye & Joanne Murray Ormandy.

Queer kids digging in history, they came up not with dry facts but living theatre, "what we've made of these stories for ourselves."

No surprise, really. Their guiding light was a theatre: Buddies in Bad Times.

I Don't Have Time
is the Biggest Lie

The kids recruited by the Summer '99 project were first split into teams of two, given a question & 8 weeks to answer it. For the two first in touch with me it was: What does TBP stand for?

For others it was: What was "We Demand"? Who were The Brunswick Four? What was LOOT? They flocked to the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives -- & to its website -- to find out. Then they talked to old hands like me.

Out of all this they made theatre. Here's the program, as performed Aug 27 & 28, 1999. They called it I Don't Have Time is the Biggest Lie.

Red Rain. A dance piece, the full ensemble outside Buddies.

Saving the Sinners. Jefferson Guzman ("The biggest lie I ever told myself what that I had to choose between acting, directing or writing") on the steps of 457 Church, playing a preacher often there at the mid '60s Melody Room, his attraction to sinners clearly more than pastoral.

We Demand. The Church St Public School playground plays Parliament Hill, host of Canada's 1st major gay demo -- exactly 28 years before.

Operation Soap. At The Club, the 1981 bath raids again, in tableau.

I Enjoy Being a Dyke. Rousing rendition (boys included) at 342 Jarvis, once LOOT.

Politics of the Body. Carolyn Czegel ("The biggest lie, perhaps, lies like a full bedpan sunken & stuck in the skins of my stomach -- that I can't do anything, that I don't deserve to be"). Finding the history of The Body Politic too vast to encompass, she does on the stairwell at Xtra a monologue on the politics of her own body. That, in fact, encompasses it very well.

Ghost Story. Michelle Chowns, 7 months out of Simcoe, Ont ("The biggest lie is that I will sit back & watch my life go by"), tells a tale outside the Devon, of the 519 Community Centre across the street.

Dinner in Drag. In the Devon: Matt Nye ("The biggest lie I ever heard was that elephants could fly; I'd jump off a planter & honestly thought I was flying. I was a delusional kid") waits on Richard MacDonagh ("The biggest lie is no more damaging than the smallest. Ignorance is the heaviest burden imaginable") & Chrystal Donbrath- Zinga ("The biggest lie is that history is in the past"), both in drag: he as she; she as he.

CLIT! Sam Sarra ("The biggest lie is that abuse doesn't happen in same sex relationships") recruits at Church & Wellesley.

Censored. On the stairway of Glad Day Books (which often was): Joanne Murray- Ormandy ("The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves") & Tara-Michele Ziniuk ("The biggest lie is that you have to decide. Gay, bi, straight... Boxing myself in isn't my thing").

Cruise Your Partner. A square dance beside 530 Yonge, once The Parkside.

A Man About Town. Behind what was The St Charles, Fania Schwebel ("The biggest lie was that I told myself this summer would never end. These have been the most beautiful two months I've ever lived") plays a man who gets a blowjob from a "hot babe." Her tit comes off in his hand.

As a Queer I Must... Each kid finishing that statement for him- or herself, at the AIDS Memorial.

There was also visual art, two sets. One was a dozen placemats covering everything from Fortune & Men's Eyes to raids on TBP & the baths, to Glad Day & Pride Day. Fortune playwright John Herbert was often at the Devon, from 1948; the placemats were to be for a week but the Devon got nervous: too many hot naked bods. They ended up under weekend brunches at Woody's.

The other, at the 519, were "We Demand" placards, with the kids' own modern demands.

I sent the program 'zine to Jane Rule, the placemats, too. I'd hoped to send her scripts, eager to preserve them, but never got any. Jane appreciated my archival impulse but said: maybe, for the kids, process was more important than product.

Likely true: through their 8 weeks together, they called themselves a collective.

Florencia Berinstein & Franco Boni thanked me for being involved in the project. I said I should thank them -- this was exactly what I should be doing -- & I did, in a testimonial meant to help get funding for Summer Project 2000:

"Kids who might have felt rootless, adrift, insecure, found a dynamic, diverse heritage -- not relics but living legacies -- that they themselves will go on to shape. It was a privilege to work with them. I know now that I've met the artists, activists & citizens not just of today but of the future.

"And that future looks great."

I have since had the pleasure of working on a June 17, 2000 SOY youth activism event, "Queers Making Trouble," involving some of the kids of Summer '99; & with a whole new crew in Buddies's Summer Project 2000 & 2001-- inspired by history to more smart, sharp, & wild invention, making it even more their own.

The future looks brighter than ever.

For more on Supporting Our Youth, see their website at: or send e-mail to:

The kids may make a world beyond our imagination.

I hope so. I hope they shun easy labels, refuse to seek validation in any eyes but their own. I hope they'll be brave, bold, brazen.

Staying alive to do it

Suicide rates among queer kids have long been known to be above the average for other people their age. It's been estimated that up to half the teenage boys & young men who take their own lives have been troubled by (or simply unsure of) their sexual orientation, or -- likely more often -- by a world that rarely wants to know about such quandaries & can react brutally when it does.

See online Pierre Tremblay's Youth Suicide Problems: Gay / Bisexual Male Focus (

Gay liberation was made by kids. If not quite a childrens' crusade and not excluding people quite grown up, it was mostly a movement of the young.

Digging back in the history of The Body Politic, charting new faces as they came along, I realized that almost all arrived in their 20s, a few not yet out of their teens. It was true across the gay movement, as it often is in any movement seeking social change.

Older hands like George Hislop and Pat Murphy could bring people together, guide them for a time. But much of the energy, drive, and fresh insight came from kids. As, I now know, it will again.

In June 1999 I was asked to get involved with kids who wanted to dig in history. Much that they sought I had lived. They had not. The oldest had been 10 when The Body Politic died, one born just a year before the big bath raids, the youngest two years later. But they wanted to know about all of it, and more.

These kids were brought together not by a school, a gay social group or a gay news medium, but by a queer theatre: Buddies in Bad Times. Their work was meant to become theatre. Putting together the Summer '99 Project, as it was called, were Franco Boni, initiator of Buddies' Under 21 series supporting young playwrights; Florencia Berinstein, with the community group Art in Action; and Andrea Ridgley, with SOY, Supporting Our Youth. They're all pretty young themselves.

On Pride weekend 1999, I'd spent most of my time in the parkette beside Buddies in Bad Times, to be with kids. As I told Jane:

That space was set aside for "Fruit Loopz," exhibiting works inside the theatre and performances in the park of lesbian / gay / bisexual / transgendered (etc, etc) youth. It had been arranged by Supporting Our Youth (a cause I like if a name I do not: what's with this "Our" stuff?). It was mostly young women, many comfortable with young men of the sort you know I like: gangly and unpumped, their bodies easy under baggy T shirts and jeans. [The girls too, boys and girls often hard to tell apart.]

I did wander over to Church Street after that and found the usual buff beef, naked but for tight shorts. It seemed almost old fashioned -- if, of course, not entirely unpleasant.


I got to meet the kids of Summer '99 on July 12. They had all been put in touch with older community types to help them in their research, and on that day we all got together, sitting in a circle under the high steel trusses of Buddies' vast roof.

George Hislop was there, Gerald Hannon, Robert Trow, Susan Cole once of LOOT; Sky Gilbert and his senior playwright John Herbert, 73 -- between him and Matthew Nye, youngest of the 11 kids there eager to pick our brains, some 57 years.

Those kids had done a lot of homework already. The date picked for their performances was August 28 -- 28th anniversary of the first big gay demo in Canada, and its manifesto "We Demand." They -- unlike most of their elders -- knew of "We Demand," even what its demands had been: they'd got it off the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives website. I was very glad I'd put it there; glad for the Archives itself: Alan Miller said they had streamed in, lighting up the place.

What they made of what they found was presented twice, on the Friday eve of August 28, on that Saturday -- and all around the neighbourhood (the full itinerary is offered at the left). Sarah Stanley, artistic director of Buddies, succeeding its founder Sky Gilbert, led the Friday tour, nearly 200 people in tow. I got to lead on Saturday, with a bullhorn -- feeling like Tim McCaskell on a demo, Tim himself there.

Some of it felt like a demo. A piece on the steps of 457 Church ended with chants, the kids roaring off to Church Street Public School where a play fort stood in for the steps of Parliament, the 1971 demo reinterpreted there -- with, as I told Sarah Stanley on Friday night, more people than had been there then.

On the stoop of The Club Baths: a tableau scripted from TBP's reports of the 1981 raids, then more chants -- surprising The Club's manager, not forewarned. At 342 Jarvis, once home to LOOT, they climber another stoop to sing "I Enjoy Being a Dyke," having got the lyrics from Brunswick Four veteran Pat Murphy -- who was there to hear them.

Right at the corner of Church & Wellesley, a young woman in a frizzy blue wig climbed up on a planter to recruit for Certified Lesbians in Training -- CLIT. "You can all be lesbians!" she cried, waving a pointer over the crowd. "We have lesbians with pets -- whom they treat like children; lesbians allergic to peanut oil; husbands of lesbians -- after all, they must be lesbians; lipstick lesbians -- I know, you may not like them but we must be inclusive!

"But please, please, I must remind you: Nooo bisexuals!"

Recruiter Sam Sarra had written the piece. She's in film studies, never thought she could write. As I told her, she had brilliantly captured the contradictions of '70s lesbian feminism, a fading force by the time she was born. She had done her homework. (Sam herself would not have met CLIT's criteria: she likes boys and girls both.)

In the lane behind what was The St Charles, Fania Schwebel did drag -- as a man who'd once beaten a queen in that very lane, the story she portrayed a true one. Pat Murphy said there: "People were killed in this lane."

It all ended at the AIDS Memorial, where they sang. I told them there about Michael Lynch, the place his idea, and how I'd been able to show it to him on Pride Day 1991, a model set in his lap as he sat in his wheelchair.

I surprised myself there, choking on my intended last line, barely able to get it out: "He died 10 days later." Grief can be put away but it doesn't go away, often rising again mixed with love. And I did love those kids.


They went back to Buddies after it all. I tagged along with them, but there, as I told Jane:

I had no place to go, the kids inside clearing up, getting ready to part: their moment; I'd be in the way. So I sat on a bench, read the 'zine [a small 24 page program they'd done, with their bios, their faces, their words]. Read the 'zine for the first time, really, but to guide my tour.

"Identity is fluid," I find. "The biggest lie is that you have to decide. Gay, straight, butch, femme, top, bottom, because, well, then you can get a tattoo of it & it'll change your life." "Are you a boy or a girl? ... Am I a boy or a girl? Which one? Either or. One or the other. But that's not a fair question: I am both."

"Why is there discrimination within a group that was discriminated against?" "What does equality mean?"

These words might have come from the '70s, from the founding days of gay liberation. But they had not, hadn't been learned by rote as these kids did their digging. They had come from their own lives.

As had their performances. They were not presenting "history." One of them said to me just before "I Enjoy Being A Dyke" at 342 Jarvis: "Please don't call it a 're- enactment.' It's not. It's what we've made of this story for ourselves, now."

At one performance, outside the ancient Devon Restaurant, that point was made, if unintentionally, by a veteran gay activist who suddenly came on the scene. (Out of politesse I won't say who; let's just say he was there at the creation, he very much a creator.) "This isn't history!" he cried. "Why does it have to be theatre? That's not history!"

Why not? Not boring enough? Not dull as a conference plenary? Too playful? I did say: "Well, this is organized by a theatre." And thankfully: free of the dead hand of others' definitions and dry facts, these kids had made history a fresh, living force.

I went on to Jane:

I think back on what gay liberation once meant (having lately gone back to see); what it should always have meant. And may yet. These kids will let me end my tales with more joy than once looked likely. And now? Okay -- and Now.

Of course I have no idea What Now. But I suspect these kids may, or will for their own lives and time, maybe figuring it out better than what we call our "communty" has so far. (Not that we've done all that bad; in some ways maybe too well.) Ah well, I live in hope. Always have, I suppose, but now it's better hope.

Fania came out as I sat in the park, leaned on a rail by the box office door. I went up to talk with her, said her piece behind the St Charles was the most gripping of them all. She smiled. "You have to keep the script," I said. She had. She's still writing. And I said (as I've said more than once to Neil Bartlett): "Never stop."

I wish Sue Golding had been there, her vision of Buddies as "The Body Politic reinvented in the name of aesthetics" realized in a wondrous, even surprising way.


I'd get more kids later, Tim McCaskell suggesting me to lead another tour, for students in the Toronto school board's Triangle Program. Set up for queer kids who'd been given a rough time in regular high schools, the program, I'd find, attracted a diverse lot. They were much more scattered than the Buddies gang; they'd had just a few days, not an eight week summer program, in which to do their homework.

I suspected the proposed tour of Church & Wellesley would be too pat: what would make it not just mine -- some aging fart telling tales of old -- but their own? I wondered what the neighbourhood might mean to them.

For some it meant where they lived: two of them, Caroline and Joe, sharing a ratty one bedroom on Wellesley -- with others, a baby included -- at $1,000 a month. At The Club I pointed out 90 Carlton across the way, where I'd lived in 1970. Caroline had lived there too, more recently -- as a squatter soon turfed out.

At the City Park Apartments I noted that the neighbourhood had been built on cheap rent. One of them shot back: "Then why is it so expensive to live here?" They didn't need my potted lecture on the demise of affordable housing.

They were savvy kids, needing no lectures at all. Of all I showed them they were most impressed with ACT's Access Centre, none having ever set foot in the building, and with the building across the street: The Barn. Some knew it well; none knew it had been The Barn since before they were born.

One was familiar with another, newer, local spot: The Red Spot. He did drag there.


In that July 12 meeting, the kids at Buddies had been perhaps too polite to aging (and too yakky) activists, thanking us nearly to embarrassment. I said at the end: Thanks for your thanks -- but the point isn't so much to thank us as to pick up what we were able to make and make it something of your own. I imagine they will.

And, I imagine, what they make will be beyond my imagination: a world unrecognizable not only to tourists on Church Street but to aging activists like me. I hope so. I hope -- and it seems a fair hope, given their words -- that they'll be less attached to fixed identities, easy labels claimed as liberatory but in the end prescriptive, breaking some bounds only to impose others.

I hope they get past a notion we perpetuated out of strategy even as we knew it wasn't really true: that we are a "minority" like any other, with an easy, encompassing name. Reality has long strained that name, so we stretched it: gay; lesbian; bisexual; transsexual; transgendered -- amending our "minority" by tacking on others, perhaps just as limited in definition. We reined in polymorphous diversity like Victorian taxonomists, who imposed order on messy nature by inventing fixed categories: species, breed, race.

None of this challenged the notion of "minority" itself. None of it acknowledged that what we fight for may be for everyone. I hope they do (or they'll risk running out of room on future letterhead).

I hope they get past -- perhaps even scorn -- our pathetic bleat for "acceptance," hope they never seek validation in anyone's eyes but their own. I hope they never look over their shoulders.

I hope they'll be brave, bold, even brazen. They may have to be. Given what I've seen, I think they will be.


He isn't proposing a text "about" gayness -- a text which requires that gayness be a limited subject, a problem to be treated and fictionally resolved, a malady to be chronicled, a case history to be detailed.

What we have instead is a gay geography of the whole city. White is simply making the assumption that the gay version of the world is a true one; oblique maybe, but precisely because of that informed, revealing, powerful.

-- Neil Bartlett
on Edmund White's Caracole,
in The Body Politic, 1986.

Our perspective -- oblique; because of that "informed, revealing, powerful" -- is a gift: ours to each other; even ours to the world.

I hope the kids who come after us never become so "normal" as to lose it.

Back in 1973, I wrote I'd not yet got in with the gay movement because it seemed so little concerned with "what I think is the most important aspect of being gay: consciousness, gay culture, not a subculture so much as a way of thinking, of reflecting the whole world."

Gay consciousness, or as more often put "gay sensibility," was much disputed by the gay movement, claimed by many not to exist. The only model on offer, limited mostly to urban gay men, seemed caught up in camp, bitchery, and mad fascination with glamorous, gutsy, and often tragic Hollywood divas. (Not for nothing was Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" perhaps the greatest disco anthem of them all.)

It was the culture of an oppressed people; frivolous, compensatory -- not a fit vehicle to carry us toward liberation; not the image we wanted. (We seem less bothered now to be cast as the world's leading experts in shop 'til you drop.)

In our denigration of the old homo Stepin' Fetchit routine, we failed to appreciate its strengths: its intelligence beyond mere wit; its perceptiveness (as Neil Bartlett said of Ed White's sentences, that "avidly cruise the material world and bring to light such unexpected details.")

It was a culture intensely observant, of the human as well as the material world. It was sometimes brave, and often very funny. Most of all, it was replete with -- in fact rooted in -- a sense of irony, a certain detachment, a view of the world from a place oddly and usefully positioned: on the margins.

It was only because we lived to one side of "the normal" that we could see so well just how the supposedly normal world works. We stood outside, sometimes painfully, but we stood unblinkered. We could see.


This distinct perspective -- "oblique maybe, but precisely because of that informed, revealing, powerful" -- is a gift: ours to each other; even ours to the world. It's a gift I hope the kids who come after us never lose.

They may not -- surely will not -- be "gay" in either that old camp sense or our more sober modern one; they may not know Ellen from Judy Garland, maybe not even Will from Grace, and they won't care. Nor should they. But I hope, and imagine, that they'll never be entirely "normal," that they'll still have a perspective others might not, quite, have. It's a huge privilege.

I hope they use that privilege well, casting their uniquely clear eyes not, as their elders too often have, on themselves (whoever "they" might be by then), but out on the wider world, a world that they know and claim as their own. And care for.


Liberation as we first envisioned it is likely less served by the consolidation of "Gay" than by expansion of the physical, social, & psychic spaces we created -- however those spaces may be defined. (Or not.)

Just before he sends his martial elders into "the mists of reverend heroism," Bert Archer identifies their greatest gift to their spawn.

The most fundamental, the most valuable victory won by our warrior class has been the space -- political, personal, economic -- to do as we please....

That space -- we've called it our "community" -- has been, when you look closely, distinguished less by being "gay" than in being free of what Adrienne Rich called "compulsory heterosexuality."

Even as our definintions of "gay" and "lesbian" (etc, etc) hardened to near sclerosis, the spaces we made were more congenial than much of the world for those who didn't quite fit: the odd, the kinky, the poor and "uncultured"; the queer of whatever sexual orientation.

Liberation, as we first envisioned it, is likely less served by the consolidation of "Gay" than by the expansion, the multiplication, of that space -- liberated space, however it may be defined (or not). In effect, that's what Bert sees happening.

We can do better than stand and watch, old farts in shocked scorn; kids, perhaps unconsciously, taking it for granted. Our task might best be to see it, understand it, and help make it happen. And -- for some time still, no doubt -- to defend the spaces we create.

That's a job not just for the kids, but the old vets too.

What we think of as "community" -- particularly as "ghetto" -- may not survive in the forms we've known. But I think that space, many spaces, will, may even thrive. Physical spaces, not just cyber ones: the Internet may connect people, may even give them cybersex -- but it doesn't bring them together in body, real bodies -- and it's our bodies together that erotic life is about.

Long before the ghetto, even before "community," we found such spaces and made them our own. We will again, in myriad ways I'm sure, creating places to go, to meet, to talk, to find sex and love and connection.

And they will be places where, as Neil Bartlett said of The Bar, the whole point will be that when you walk in the door, you'll know you don't have to explain anything to anyone there, not anyone.


I don't have a bar that's The Bar anymore. But, I realize, only because I haven't really looked. "You only have to look," I once said, "to pay true, generous attention, and you'll find it." I have looked a bit, if without the patience it takes to really know a place. I have found magic and wonder still -- once at Sneakers in the form of a boy skinny, a bit scruffy, hair to his shoulders.

All his moves -- his glance a quick study of me even before I'd settled in; his hand out right away in introduction; his attendance on me between pool shots, coming to stand, lean on his cue, talk -- suggested he was working. And that I could have him.

I wondered what he might cost. I wondered, too: Could I like this boy? Could I want him? I found I did. His drink done, I offered another; he accepted, a Seabreeze. That done, or nearly, I said: "So, can I take you home?"

"Well," he said, "I don't do that anymore." Hustling, I thought he meant; he had, he'd told me so, we'd talked about it. "Oh," I said. "Can I take you home anyway? I really like you."

"No. What I mean," he said, "is that I don't have sex with guys anymore."

But we didn't part, not then. We kept talking: about his girlfriend, the baby on the way; their plans to settle in a small town just north where he hoped to go into business, painting houses. About, of all things, medieval history. He knew his Knights Templar: "Pope Innocent III didn't much like them."

I very much liked him, a boy smart and strong, a person worth more than a night. I didn't have him, not even for the night. But of course, as so often before, I'd had him nonetheless.

His name was Lyle.


It's January 2000. It's cold. I'm 50. I don't have quite the stamina I once did. But I'm not done with life, far from it, if lately having spent most of my time looking back on it.

It's out there still, I know. So soon (not tonight, it's freezing; but soon enough) I'll go out, see who's there, see who they might be.

Maybe I'll find The Bar.

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January 2000 / Last revised: October 8, 2001
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