A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000


Looking backwards
(to look beyond)

More like Unforgivable. A "history" of the gay press rewrites history.

More egregious than any of the author's prissy adjectives is his use of the word "journalist."

Gay publishing pioneers were not "journalists." They were activists, working for social change.

For Ed Jackson's review of Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay & Lesbian Press in America, see Spotlighting the Queer Press in the CLGA site.

Beepers as "journalists" -- not

In 1995 a US journalism prof named Rodger Streitmatter wrote a big history of homo media. He called it Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America -- a weighty tome, if one rather odd.

For one thing, as hinted by that title, it was a surprisingly prissy piece of work. Even amusingly so: in my copy I took to marking Streitmatter's repeated adjectives of the unspeakable: titillating; suggestive; shocking; vulgar; racy; explicit; coarse; crude -- and that's just up to page 103 of nearly 400 (notes included).

But, telling as that may be, the book had more serious problems. With history.

Tracing the origins of gay periodicals, Streitmatter could do no more than note in his intro what was probably America's first: Friendship and Freedom, done by the Chicago Society for Human Rights, founded by activist Henry Gerber and six others in 1924. That was, as Jonathan Katz told us in his 1977 Gay American History, "the earliest documented homosexual emancipation organization in the United States." But its little paper ran just two issues, no copies now known to exist.

Katz did show one in a photo, amidst "a collection of early, mostly German, homosexual emancipation periodicals." Very early, some of them: Der Eigene: Ein Blatt für Mannliche Kultur, 1896 to 1931; Der Freund, 1920; Freundschaft und Freiheit -- friendship and freedom -- 1920 to 1927.

But then, those weren't American.

I got dates for those from Alan Miller's Our Own Voices: A Directory of Lesbian and Gay Periodicals, 1890s to 1990s. It's on the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives website, listing more than 7,200 titles worldwide.

Streitmatter cited an earlier print version of Our Own Voices (noting its creator and Canadian provenance only in a footnote at the back), usually for statistics on how many gay / lesbian papers there were at various times -- in the US, of course.

As if the explosion of gay media since the early 1970s were not an international and often interlinked phenomenon -- which it most certainly was. But then again, that's not about America. (And, it's true, US gay mags were and are among the least internationally linked in the world, apart from promoting "exotic" tourist destinations).

Okay, the title does say in America. But Streitmatter missed even other media there. Staring off my computer screen just now as I went to check Our Own Voices was a coyly handsome young man, in a painting on the cover of Bachelor, published in New York in 1937.

As Unspeakable has it, the birth of US homo promo came ten years later and in Los Angeles: Vice Versa, typed, carbon copied and personally distributed by Lisa Ben (her pseudonym a spoonerism of "lesbian"). She, Streitmatter says, was "the mother of the lesbian and gay press in America."

Oh well.


Streitmatter counted in the American gay press one and only one foreign publication: The Body Politic. Nice that, and he was right: The Beep was in the States, a quarter of its copies read there, a tenth elsewhere beyond our home and native land.

In America, Canada's "national" gay news journal shared with just a few US mags a much more limited niche: one on the left -- radical, analytical, clearly political, often a bit literary and, most rare, international in outlook. But, as Ed Jackson said in a 1996 review of Unspeakable, Streitmatter

treats TBP primarily as an American paper that just happened to be published in another country. ... He fails completely to analyze the way in which the Canadian context might have contributed to TBP's political perspective and its unique role among the gay magazines of the time.

Nothing new in that: Canadians ever get to lick American inflicted wounds.

But none of this bothered me much. What did was Streitmatter's constant use of a term more egregious than any of his adjectives: "journalist."

Don Slater and Jim Kepner of One; Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Barbara Gittings and Barbara Grier of The Ladder; Winston Leyland of Gay Sunshine; even Charley Shively of Fag Rag (famous for "Cocksucking as an Act of Revolution") -- he called them all "journalists."

He called the people who worked with them "staff." He chided some for being "particularly prone to editorializing"; he tweaked Barbara Gittings for having "had her own agenda" -- surely crimes among "journalists."


This is historical revisionism of the highest order. Shocking, shall we say? Vulgar? Not at all titillating but certainly suggestive -- of a world Streitmatter constructed in retrospect, a world that did not exist at the dawn of the lesbian and gay press in America or anywhere else.

Those pioneers weren't "journalists." They were activists working for social change. The whole point was to "editorialize," to have one's "own agenda." Their fellow workers weren't "staff" but comrades in arms, working for passion, not pay.

(Streitmatter did confess that some women went without pay, working in "collectives." Lesbians did that sort of thing early on, he implies, never mentioning women -- and men -- who stayed collectivists for years).

In short he cast all this as the birth of a profession -- gay and lesbian journalism -- apparently disconnected from its source (except perhaps for being obliged to "cover" it): early homophile activism and later the gay and lesbian liberation movement.

In a book about what was in fact the rising roar of "our own voices" in print, produced by and for people with a vital and urgent sense of politics -- there is almost no politics. Scandalous, I'd say; a huge disservice to our history.

But again: Oh well. What else might we expect from a carefully apolitical and "objective" American professor of "journalism"?

I have to tell you: I was going to call this chapter "Journalism." But I'd had to have kept those quotation marks -- to bracket that term; to disown it as one I might use with any sense of neutrality, let alone respect.

I've come to see "journalist" as one of the most self aggrandizing, self absolving, self "professionalizing" and irresponsibly claimed weasel words in the entire English language. (So there.)


BP #1
The means:
Not the end.

Their purpose was not to start a paper. It was to create a way to refine, broadcast & advance political aims.

The means they chose, ink on newsprint, was of venerable activist repute. But that's not why they chose it. It was all they could afford.

It was a political project casting itself as a "newspaper" -- "news looking, news acting," but rejecting the news media's biggest lie: "objectivity."

For founding tales, see
On the Origin of The Body Politic.

Of the 15 founding members of the collective that birthed The Body Politic in 1971, only two had ever been connected with a newspaper.

Charlie Dobie was at The Toronto Star -- as a printer. Paul Macdonald had worked in England on Come Together, organ of London's Gay Liberation Front. Ken Popert, around by 1973, did later work for another magazine, Content, its prime purpose to critique the media.

No one, not even they, no one there for years, thought of him- or herself as a "journalist." They were political activists, caught up in a movement for sexual and even broader social liberation.

Their founding purpose was not to start a publication. It was to give themselves a means by which to refine, broadcast, and advance their political aims -- and to get others in on that work.

The means they chose, ink on newsprint, was one of venerable activist repute. But that's not why they chose it. It was quite simply the only medium they could afford -- and that just barely. Maybe now that crew would go on the Internet (in fact some have). But there was no Internet in 1971, no personal computers, not even fax machines.

So they started a paper -- as a means, not an end.

They didn't even name it until they had to, the first issue done but for the cover -- where it must say something. They tossed around everything from the obvious (Dyke & Faggot) to the blatant (Cock & Cunt Sucker) to the mystical (Mandala).

"Then," as Peter Zorzi who was there later told it: "Tony Metie started talking about names that had something to do with the body. He fiddled around a bit with body and bawdy, then body politics and bawdy politics and finally it came to The Body Politic."

That phrase too has a venerable heritage, though few knew much about it then. Still, as Herb Spiers later said, "It just resonated with significance." Jearld Moldenhauer (who, Peter said, had first favoured Mandala) agreed: "It seemed to have meaning on so many levels."


The first issue of The Body Politic was flagged: "gay liberation newspaper." But it carried less news than a favoured activist genre of the the day: manifestos.

Some were personal. Jude, Radical Pervert, called for the destruction of "sexual duality" (she the one who said we must ditch gender based identities; later she'd be arrested for storming the stage of the Miss Canada Pageant).

Vancouver's Ephemerals reported the departure of Twilight Rose (John Forbes) to Toronto, to discuss plans for hammers that would "effectively smash sexism."

Artist and Pervert Bart Moncq touted zaps; a few pages later, as we've seen, Brian Waite trashed them. Jearld Moldenhauer gave us "Sweeping Statements, or The Ambivalence of the Universe, Part I." Later we'd get Part II, both dense with Herbert Marcuse and Norman O Brown.

The biggest and most important manifesto (four full pages out of just 20) was "We Demand," the first major statement of Canada's national gay movement, read out in its first major demo, August 28, 1971 on Parliament Hill.

Talk about having an agenda. Or rather many agendas, quite varied ones too.

In time The Body Politic did get down to reporting gay news. It had to: no other medium in Canada would -- beyond a few tiny group newsletters and the mass media's usual scandal mongering.

What's more, TBP was expected to carry news -- by that national movement scattered across this vast land, desperate to know what its various parts were going on about and getting up to.

The Body Politic became -- for a time, sometimes despite itself and never to everyone's satisfaction -- practically the house organ of Canada's gay liberation movement. That's why it never went off in directions some less encumbered US gay papers could, covering just local concerns or airy literary ones, or items of interest only to urban gay men.

TBP could not: it had to be -- as the movement was -- national, practical, and about gay men and lesbians both.


It was a political project -- if one portraying itself as a "newspaper." To be credible it had to be (varying a line common in the classifieds) "news looking, news acting." Its news had to read like what people were used to as "news."

So, once wiffy stories got spiffed. They got place name datelines (wherever a story was actually written); got bylines (a reporter person wrote this, not some faceless all knowing collective), got serious about dates themselves. (Using TBP as a source for history I found to my frustration how vague it was early on about when things happened; perhaps the movement seemed timeless.)

People learned to write news in classic pyramid style, learned to cover all the "who what when where why" basics. They got very good at it too, becoming great investigative reporters: scrupulously accurate, analytical, balanced and, we hoped, fair.


Our image in the world
(And Our Image in The Beep)

For more on our "image" (& Our Image), ever shifting as we evolved from being portrayed to portraying ourselves,
see Gay "Journalism": What for?

But never, never, "objective." The Body Politic was entirely wrapped up in what it "covered," too often having to cover even itself.

We were players, not just "reporters"; actors and agents, not passive observers. We cared about effects, outcomes, results -- because we had a stake in them.

Even more so because that was precisely what all our work was for: to have effects; to reshape the world to our vision.

We never hesitated to say so, our agenda never a secret, the paper itself an admitted means to our ends. "Objectivity" -- even the pretense of it -- would have meant the end of The Body Politic's founding purpose.

Later TBP would be a cultural project as well, if still politically, still with an agenda, the seeds sown even in Issue 1 with reviews of books and films -- most early on about us, even portraying us, but rarely by us. It's no coincidence that the review section was first named for a pressing concern of the day: "our image" in the eyes of the world.

Only later would there be enough gay and lesbian artists and writers to let us see ourselves as ourselves, for ourselves -- even for ourselves alone: if hets didn't get it, so what?

It was then that The Body Politic truly became one of the world's leading vehicles of gay cultural commentary, one might even say (well okay, I do say) distinct and vital gay thought.


The audience was us. Only when there seemed too few of us did we worry about "readers."

There came to be just one (or two, counting dykes): The Mass Reader -- not a real person but a statistical construct -- to whom we pandered shamelessly. Without success.

Prescription is not engagement. It is a means of oppression.

In none of this, for a very long time, did anyone consider the paper's "audience" -- apart from worries about balance across various political spectra: men and women; young and old; Toronto and the rest of Canada (in time the world); urban and rural (if the last rarely).

But, in all that, the audience was essentially us. People like us: activists actual and potential.

It was when we saw that "potential" slipping that we began to ponder people we were not reaching -- but wanted to. That's when the phrase "the real, daily lives of real lesbians and gay men" came to so many lips; when we'd ask of every piece, "how is this grounded in actual lived experience?"

By 1979 those questions led to thoughts that in 1981 would sprout as Out in the City, the gay commercial scene long dissed by the movement very much part of actual daily and nightly gay (if less so lesbian) life.

Just before its launch we got a sudden new take on "real lesbians and gay men" -- out on the streets in their thousands in screaming rage at the bath raids. (Our people! We must follow them!)

And thus, also in 1981, came "obscurantist" Alex Wilson's purge from the paper.


Something else came in 1981: research that would in time be used to reify "the reader."

In that year's February issue we launched a survey titled "True Confessions." It addressed potential respondents not as subjects or consumers but as participants -- asking how they got TBP, what they read, what they thought of it, what it did for them and what else they might want it to do.

We asked about their involvement in community groups, in party politics; asked what other gay mags they read. Of its 10 sections only two, "Advertising" and "Now about you," sought data of the sort standard in consumer surveys.

More than 500 people responded with everything from passion to boredom, anger to joy, and no little irreverent wit ("I could go on," one wrote at the end, "but I've got to go change the ball joints on the Valiant -- it's not holding an alignment").

We gave them back the results in three reports over the year, four pages' worth in all, the last in the 10th anniversary issue, titled "Looking Ahead."

We'd already been looking ahead. Many people said they wanted to see something like what they would get just two issues after the survey appeared: Out in the City.

Ken Popert would look well beyond that to a medium (TBP or not) with even wider appeal. Using the survey's demographic data he even defined its readers.

Or rather, reader: "The Mass Reader." In 1982, on Ken's lead, we wrote a series of subscription ads telling "The Homosexual" -- "The Gay Man" and "The Lesbian," both Mass Reader brand -- who he or she was. "Someone you like," the Gay Man version was headed. "Someone like you."

He's about your age, well educated, likes life in the city. Like you he sees that the world needs some changes, wants to make those changes happen. Like you, he gives some of his time or money to a gay organization. Unlike you, he doesn't read The Body Politic. He may have seen the magazine at your place but he hasn't really looked it over. We want to reach him -- and you can help us.

The ads asked for friends' names. To those friends we'd send a free six issue subscription. The Lesbian version was much the same, slightly amended to allow that she "works in the city and lives with a lover or a bunch of friends." Its heading, however, left something to be desired, a slip so Freudian I'm amazed we let it go by: "You know what she's missing."

Anyway, there you have it: The Mass Reader.


Not urban? Not mass. Not well educated? You don't qualify. Not 20 or 30 something? Too bad: too young; too old. Isolated from community life? Hopeless. Friendless? Give up.

We were the marketers then, those our criteria. Our ostensible product: "liberation."

In his obit for "the one and only Chuck" Grochmal in 1990, Ken evoked what he called Chuck's "tribute to human individuality," saying: "Too many activists tend the lawn but trample the blade. Chuck prized every life."

I was touched by that coming from Ken -- if just a bit surprised. Our Mr Popert might have been the model for that old line about leftists who want to save humanity but don't much like people. His "Mass Reader" was not a person but a logical construct -- logic Ken's favourite means of apprehending the world and its "masses."

The Mass He or She (or It) was not a distinct human individual but a statistical average of the kind so loved by marketers. Not urban? Not mass. Not well educated? You don't qualify. Not 20 or 30 something? Too bad: too young; too old. Isolated from community life? Hopeless. Friendless? Give up.

We were the marketers then, those our criteria. Our ostensible product: "liberation."

Xtra has since done unabashed market research -- more than once, its biggest survey conducted by a major corporate polling firm (for professional credibility, of course).

The few questions about readers' relationships with Xtra were no more than token involvement devices, an old marketing trick to suck people in and then dig out of them the real pay dirt: their relationship to the commercial world as consumers.

In fact -- save (often angry) letters to the editor -- few readers have any relationship whatsoever with Xtra. Most are mere "audience," "market" -- the mythical "gay" one much touted. Some are "subjects," "stories."

At best some stand as targets for some possible future "strategy" they'll be expected to buy unexamined, its true goals -- should it have any -- too sweeping for the "mass" mind to comprehend.


In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire had no little to say about this approach, not only the research but the reifying (literally, from Latin: turning varied and nebulous phenomena into concrete things) of its subject population.

He cited fellow Brazilian educator Maria Edy Ferriera:

[T]hematic investigation is justified only to the extent that it returns to the people what truly belongs to them; to the extent that it represents, not an attempt to learn about the people, but to come to know with them the reality which challenges them.

Freire himself said:

One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one man's choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the man prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber's consciousness.

Even before The Mass Reader and "gay market" surveys, we'd seen the (male middle class) homo consumer prescribed: George Stavrinos's polished gods; later all those grim butch studs David Vereschagin so disliked in 1984, and in gay glossies ever since.

Freire also said this:

Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate men from their own decision making is to change them into objects.

Freire wrote that in 1970. We have now learned not to say "men" when we mean men and women, maybe even boys and girls. But too many of us, still, have not learned his intended lesson.


TBP trying to get "pop" came off like a rigidly disciplined Soviet ice dance pair trying to "get into" The Sex Pistols.

Beepers, one of them said, "were not part of what they were pandering to."

In 1995 I got to talk out all this with old Beepers. Ed Jackson reminded me that quandaries about the paper's "audience" had gripped the extended BP family before the late '70s.

He recalled talking about it with David Mole, around from 1976, one of the group menage at 188 1/2 Seaton Street (Tim McCaskell, Richard Fung, David Gibson, David Roche, later George Smith among others, also there). David had said -- the words staying long in Ed's mind: "You can take a few people a long way, or a lot of people a short way."

Or: TBP could be either a vanguard medium or a popular one.

Leftists do so love Cartesian duality, the inevitable "either / or." Ken Popert once said I'd always been "the office Hegelian." I had to ask what he meant. "You know: when someone said it's A or B, you'd say: well maybe its A and B, therefore C." Ah! The dialectic! -- more or less. You'd think it would come naturally to veteran Marxists, but very often it didn't.

In fact it was not "either / or": we did both, or tried to (as Ed Jackson said, "We wanted it all!"). But if the pop strategy had some appeal, its tactics often did not. Craig Patterson in 1995 talked about "this single homo we were desperate to capture, pandering shamelessly" to make the grab but never getting it right -- not knowing how to, really. As Craig said, "the people at TBP were not part of what they were pandering to."

A prime example showed up in 1982, an ad soliciting people to write about TV. Its draw: "Admit it. You watch television." Some admission -- but many Beepers did not. That gaffe was my own.

Later ones not mine we'd see in Xtra. One was a cover with a guy in cheek exposing gym shorts of a sort raising eyebrows at his (and Ken Popert's) gym -- but bent over, awkward, the shot grainy, forced -- finally unsexy.

Then a perspective map of the nabe heading bar and club listings, showing streets but no buildings: a bleak, Cartesian gridded desert -- relieved by a few cute cartoon characters.

A bid to rechristen the ghetto "Molly Wood's Bush" -- a 19th century poke at its original homo owner, Alexander Wood, his name(s) known to most modern homos as no more than local streets.


It was like watching a rigidly disciplined Soviet ice dance pair try to "get into" a score by The Sex Pistols.

Or lately like watching CBC TV trying to "get with it": cute 20 somethings hosting shows like Hot Type (books) and Counterspin (hot issues; a yak panel popping off soundbites, the limit of depth allowed by commercial breaks); Big Life, aging hippie Daniel Richler still finding dope the height of radical chic.

Their intended "audience" just smirks -- or gags, the reek of condescension so strong -- and clicks over to MuchMusic (from whence one of those CBC 20 somethings was lured). The old Mother Corp should know better.

We should have, too.

Sue Golding said in 1995: "It was too easy to cater to this mythical beast -- the 'reader.' We were the reader. The interesting problem was to decide who this 'we' thing was. To think that we didn't have something to say was an error."

"There's a veiled form of arrogance," Sue said, "in trying to be simply the medium, the sieve. One always has to invent the 'readership.' We should have concentrated on what we were saying. We should have stuck with it."


Sue Golding
Letters, that is. Born post modernist Sue Golding. Photo: Tony Fong, 1990.

TBP was, Sue said, "very playful, & very serious about playing."

In the office, maybe. In print, any playful irony was "nervous making." We were ever looking over our shoulders.

I had a great time in that talk with Sue. I haven't told you much about her beyond her penchant for tying people up. She could do it not just with rope but with words.

Her copy was always full of words Significantly Capitalized, mere terms made Big Concepts. Edna Barker, while still a novice Beeper, was once asked to edit Sue. She sent me a nervous note: What to Do with all those Odd Caps? I said leave 'em: it's Sue's voice; if a confusing one at first, well -- what was it Neil Bartlett later said about confusion sometimes making people think?

(An ironic aside here: Capitalization is rigorously controlled at Xtra -- demanded for anyone's name: even k d lang is forced to be K D Lang; competing rag fab is Fab -- even in letters from fab. They crabbed and got in reply: "house style" my dears (so piss off). Trained linguist Ken once scoffed at such lower case piffle, calling it not just confusing but pushy, pretentious -- even when done with conscious political point. Gee: sounds like The Toronto Star long refusing to condescend to pushy pervert loonies who insisted on being called "gay.")

Sue loves "impossible categories," things that "exist but at the same time don't exist." For instance: that instant in time we call "the present" -- the future by the nanosecond becoming the past. (So when's "the present"? Well right now, of course. Really?...)

Like many post modernists she loves word play that, while it might not stand up to strict etymological scrutiny, can have a certain resonance. A related example: "represent" -- "re- present" -- "re- present."

To many (even sometimes to me) it can be irritating, too clever by half. But then I think: well, maybe half again more. And why not have some fun?

Sue's upbringing well suited a budding post modern mind. She was a US military kid, like those Army brats I grew up knowing: moving around all the time, having to find their feet fast. I once asked Sue where she was from. "New York, originally. But really, well... wherever."

Jane Rule grew up like that too, carted from New Jersey to Illinois to California to Missouri. In Fiction and Other Truths she talked about that: going to school in California with Black and Asian kids, then in St Louis, completely segregated. It taught her, she said, that it was vital to learn the rules -- but also to know they were not The Truth.

Sue -- like many queers -- has much the same grasp on the relativity of too easily received Truth. She nearly left The Body Politic in 1981, ready to follow the purged Alex Wilson right out the door. It was Alex who said she should stay.

In our 1995 talk she called TBP "a newspaper, a kind of political party, a movement, and a kind of aesthetic voice."

As a feminist S/M dyke, veteran of the Sex Wars -- accused in them by more traditional feminists of being not a woman at all but a man, a faggot trapped in a dyke's body (she could look like a boy, if a gorgeously butch glam one) -- Sue found The Beep "the only place that allowed that kind of fluid, angry, playful mix to be played out on one's body."

TBP was "very playful, and very serious about playing," Sue said, a point often echoed by other old hands -- if always with a codicil: The Body Politic was more fun as a place to be than as a paper to read. The office was full of silliness, wit, much of it campy -- but little of it was allowed into print.

In early issues Hugh Brewster could get away with "Counternotes on Camp," a look back at Susan Sontag's famous 1966 essay; he and "Twilight Rose" John Forbes had great fun with their annual "Golden Goodie Awards" bestowed in print on noted turkeys. But that kind of stuff the collective's less light hearted leftists found "toe curling," "nervous making" (both phrases office favourites).

As Ed Jackson said in 1995: "You could be playful behind the scenes but in print you knew it would be misunderstood. The fear of irony in print we learned early."


Beep's bastard:
If maybe true heir; the medium not ink on paper but action on stage.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Founded in 1979 by Sky Gilbert, playwright, actor, director (& occasional drag queen "Jane"), Buddies is another brainstorm that became an institution. In 1994 it moved from a garage on George St to 12 Alexander St, once Toronto Workshop Productions but long derelict. With city support the place became the world's biggest ongoing queer theatre site.

Buddies, like Sky, has always been more queer than "gay," passing on mainstream homo productions to feature (& foster) new stuff, often on the edge of acceptability -- even among homos less "queer."

With that edge often political, it can seem, as Sue Golding hoped, "The Body Politic reinvented in the name of aesthetics" -- its medium not print but performance. Of all the city's gay institutions it's the hottest bed of activism: cultural, political, even educational -- as you'll see in 2000.

For lots on Sky Gilbert, Buddies in Bad Times (Sue Golding as its "savior") -- & the tired "journalism" of TBP's offspring Xtra -- see Diva Diaries here online, reflecting on Sky's 2000 memoir, Ejaculations from the Charm Factory.

Another glance over the shoulder; another sop to those who might not "get it."

The irony of banning irony from TBP's pages was that irony was at the heart of gay humour, even (often doubted) "gay sensibility" -- urban gay male sensibility, that is, and that was then seen as, well... problematic.

Serious leftists would later be among the first to call for a bit of comic relief on the page -- for "popular appeal." But a bit was all they wanted, not a sensibility that might infuse -- or infect -- their own sober texts (though some, if not many, could be quite engaging writers).

With the exception of Gary Ostrom's work and little else, most things in The Body Politic that were meant to be funny fell with a lead balloon thud.

But back to Sue. For her The Body Politic at its best was "a living principle"; "a place where we could fight to be -- to be... whatever the end of that sentence might be. We want to fuck. What does that mean?"

The Body Politic was, she said looking back from 1995, "the first concrete version of a post modern vision, but doing politics using the tools of its time."

Well perhaps not the first: the early gay movement had a vision well beyond the "modern" world. But the "tools of its time" could cloud that vision -- key among them the strategically useful if largely false construct of "gay men and lesbians" reified as a distinct minority.

Even Sue, our most avid Foucaldian, admitted that politics at the time "demanded essence" -- even as we (or most of us) did not believe in any essentialist Truth.


Sue saw the end coming by 1983, likely reading tea leaves scattered about by the great Red Hot and race flap.

She was asked then to become president of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre -- a place where, as she said, she hoped to "reinvent The Body Politic in the name of aesthetics."

She told its founder and long time (until then only) artistic director Sky Gilbert: "Give me five years, so that when TBP goes down Toronto will have another thing that is alive, that is intellectually challenging, provoking new ideas."

She got many more than five years, even years spent mostly away in England. The day before our talk on September 1, 1995, Sue stepped down as president of Buddies, honoured with a new title: Founding President and International Associate Artist. Ed Jackson later joined Buddies' board of directors.

Twenty years old now, Buddies has seen, like any organization of that age, its share of atherosclerosis and messy internecine strife.

Since its 1994 move 12 Alexander Street -- the biggest ongoing lesbian and gay theatre space in the world -- it has also seen renewed crises of identity (smack in the ghetto now, is it a "gay" theatre? A "queer" one? What does that mean?) and of money -- that big space also a big financial drain.


But Buddies remains vital, provoking -- still able (to borrow a phrase) "to entice and incite, to challenge and to lead"; its purpose still politics, its medium theatre.

It may stand as a descendant of The Body Politic more true, if bastard, than the paper's legitimate if often lazy "journalistic" offspring.

Go on to Media: Journalistic "ethics" vs real ones
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This page:
January 2000 / Last corrected: February 10, 2007
Rick Bébout © 2001 /