A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000
Rick Bébout
2000 & 2003

The Bar(n)

"The very word 'bar' means something to gay people, gay men in particular, that it does not mean in the wider world. It is much more than a place to have a drink.

"They were places of wondrous life, places to be celebrated."

From the Foreword

Treasury of celebration
(& much more -- online)

Founded by The Body Politic in 1973 & located in Toronto, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives is now one of the biggest queer research resources in the world. Its website address:

Links to it appear elsewhere in this work, shown as CLGA site. That will take you to the Archives Home Page -- leading to lots of history, some key documents available online. The site also has a built-in search function.

Gift culture

Mark Osteen (ed):  The Question of The Gift: Essays Across Disciplines.
Routledge, 2002.

Lewis Hyde:  The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.
Vintage Books, 1979-1983.

Hyde's book -- on cultures where status grows not from how much one can get but how much one gives away (not out of "charity," but an ethic of everyone giving to everyone) -- has helped me understand much of my own life and work. A piece on The Body Politic as gift culture, called "Giving it away," is due soon on this site.

For further comments on The Gift, see a review by Margaret Atwood of Lewis Hyde's later book:
Trickster Makes This World:
Mischief, Myth and Art.

to this work online

"How does thinking of each other as gift-givers and -receivers invite new ways of conceiving ourselves and our choices? If we revise the stories we tell about social interactions, might we also revise the interactions? ...

"Understanding the gift may encourage us to rethink our notions of personhood -- to define selves as nexuses of social connectionship, rather than as allegedly autonomous self-interested actors."

Those words are from The Question of The Gift, exploring the worlds we can make when we give the best of ourselves away. As I have said, this work is a gift -- given not "in return" for the many gifts life has bestowed on me, but as those gifts themselves: celebrated, passed along, their meaning enhanced as they move from person to person, coming back to the giver transformed.

That's what gifts do. They're magic.

Like any recounting of history (though what's here is not formally "history"), this is also an intervention in history. Stories make thing happen -- whether we mean them too or not. As Neil Bartlett (whom you'll meet in the Foreword) has said: "I wonder if just once, just once we tell each other what our lives have been like, what would happen?"

What I hope to make happen, or at least encourage, is a fresh look at who we are and have been as gay people. Whatever "gay" may mean. I've lately come to use the term only in quotations marks -- to disown meanings too common these days: Will (and Grace?). Brian and Justin (self-centred cynics on Queer as Folk, that relentlessly banal American rip-off of true North of England grit).

Or, nearly an "ethnic minority" -- most famed for frantic shopping, fabulous parties, and pathetic "poor me" complaint. (Why can't we get married? Now that some of us can, they'll likely whine over their taxes.)

In truth, we have much better things to offer the world than complaint. Or even great parties. At least some of us do, if not everyone "gay." In the mad rush to "equality" with everyone else we have leaned on claims that we are "just like everyone else."

But many of us, thankfully, are not. We are truly queer -- our lives and our values distinct, not "normal." Maybe even (though we rarely dare say it these days) better than normal: more open, generous, and humane.

Many of us are true magic. At our best we are tricksters: tweaking convention, upsetting presumption, peering behind masks, casting light. We let on that there's more than one way to see the world; more than one way to live. And many more ways to love.

That particular magic, that distinct perspective -- "oblique maybe," Neil Bartlett once said, "but precisely because of that informed, revealing, powerful" -- has long been our most precious gift.

The Foreword here has a bit more to say about these tales and their inspirations. The Contents page tells in (immense) detail what I wrote. But let me touch briefly on some themes that run through the whole thing.

Cultures and communities. Neil Bartlett has said that as gay people we don't so much "come out" as "go in" -- to cultures that came before us. But we don't just adapt to them: each of us helps shape and transform them.

You'll see here the shaping of gay life over more than three decades -- if from my own perspective and mostly one place: Toronto. You'll find many key shapers, in particular those involved with one of the most influential gay papers of the time, The Body Politic.

You'll also find community as neighbourhoods, four paid some attention here: Spadina Avenue in the early 1970s; Queen West later; Parliament Street in the early '80s; and Church & Wellesley. All, in their own distinct ways, were queer -- if only the last "gay" in name.

Sexuality. There's sex here, but more everyday eroticism: diverse, serendipitous, random -- and resistant to rigid either / or dichotomies (public / private; casual / meaningful; even gay / straight). The life I found in The Bar was also life out in the world.

Connected to this (inevitably after 1981) is AIDS -- less as a disease than a challenge to our senses of sexuality, community, life, death, even each other. I trace various responses to AIDS, individual and communal, particularly the work of the AIDS Committee of Toronto (where I was from late 1986 to 1993), and changing perceptions of what sex may mean in our lives.

Citizenship. We are agents in the world, citizens -- not mere observers, tourists, or consumers. Much of this tale is about people taking power as citizens, not just in the state sense but as true engagement: in life, in community, at work, even on the street. There's politics here well beyond (if including) "gay rights."

While most chapters here are named for years, between 1995 and 2000 you'll find four titled and elaborating on themes: History; Media; Sex; and Citizenship.

This memoir began on paper in 1998, with no hope of publication but for a few copies made for friends. Beyond that I left it to history and hope: it would end up in archives where, someday, others might find it.

Alan Miller, a friend long with the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, later changed my mind. "There are lots of books online," he said, meeting in various ways the challenge of long texts on small screens. I've tried to address those challenges here -- in the hope (I hope not futile) that more than a quarter million words can be made more or less Web-friendly.

There are two columns on each page: year-by-year narrative on the right; on the left photos (more than 460), quotations, and background bits, some with links to related material on this site and beyond. If you're seeking historical info the left column, and the detailed Contents page, may prove most useful.

I have made some revisions since January 2000: few on bars (this is not a tour guide, so isn't meant to be kept "up-to-date") but many on people. If, too often, to say that some are no longer living among us.

I have also been cleaning things up for easier reading on screen. That's not yet finished (so don't be surprised if pages change colour on you). You are free to print or download pages (one at a time; there's no full text version).

Comments are not just welcome: they're avidly sought. My e-mail link appears at the bottom of each page.

Rick Bébout, January 2000 / June 2003

Go to the Contents

Go back to my Home Page

No permission is required to quote from, print or distribute anything here that was produced by me, so long as the source is acknowledged. Reproduction of credited photos or quotations may require permission from the original source. Uncredited photos are by me, also free to use. Colour shots were taken from July to December, 1999. Many thanks to the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives for use of their scanner.

Thanks also, for comments on & corrections to this work in progress, to Jane Rule, Gerald Hannon, Craig Patterson, Don McLeod, Dean Odorico & Steve Clegg. For revisions made since Jan 11, 2000, when all this first went online, thanks to Peter Zorzi (Perth, Ontario), Terry Farley (Vancouver), Pierre Tremblay (Calgary), David Decoste (Ayer, Mass), & Flav.

This page:
January 2000 / Last revised: July 15, 2003
Minor corrections: April 30, 2007
Rick Bébout © 2000-2003 /