On the Origins of

Chapter 3


The right moment
(& the right medium
-- almost despite itself)

BP #1

Issue 1, dated Nov / Dec 1971:
They had done it.
But what exactly had they done?

The people who began The Body Politic didn't know what it takes to run a paper. But it didn't matter. What they did know was this: they had things to say & a burning desire to say them.

What matters is that
they did it.

Coming out
October 28, 1971

One place they hawked was on Yonge Street, on Halloween, held that year on the 30th, a Saturday, Sunday off limits for such mad spectacle in Toronto. For some years the festivities had featured a flight of drag queens from The St Charles (one of the other very few gay bars) to The Parkside, egged on -- literally -- by largely hostile crowds.

I was out there that night. I saw Tony Metie and Charlie Hill, done up in genderfuck radical drag and passing out a flyer. "Take off your masks," it said. (I couldn't: I was in whiteface done as a skull, wearing a top hat and a big black cape.)

It was just a flyer, I'm sure, not The Body Politic -- but it was out there, its lead feature striking the same theme and meant for that very moment.

Just two days later, on Monday, November 1, 1971, we would witness the birth of another paper: The Toronto Sun, rising from the ashes of the defunct Toronto Telegram, dragging up the Tely's most right wing hacks with it. The Sun would come to call itself "the little paper that grew." It would not be the only one.

So they had done it. Within two months of their initial inspiration they'd got a paper out on the streets, a 20 page newsprint tabloid. But what had they done, exactly? What was in those 20 pages? As Herb Spiers later said, mostly "pages and pages of political harrangue."

It said "gay liberation newspaper" on the front, but nothing in it was called "news," the few reports of recent goings on reading more like press releases (by people who didn't know how to write press releases) than anything fitting the frame of "news" as we've been taught to expect it.

GATE, the Gay Alliance Toward Equality in Vancouver, got most of page 2 for its own PR, saying how much smarter they were, tactically speaking, than their slightly older antecedents -- those wiffy "lifestyle radicals" and Vietcong symps in the city's Gay Liberation Front.

Vancouver's Ephemerals (they signed as "The Rosy Hole Society -- In God We Thrust") reported "a lavish farewell" for Twilight Rose, heading home to Toronto "to confer with city planners on designs for a new downtown erection." (The CN Tower, perhaps? They were just then trying to get it up.)

John Forbes brought back with him a piece on "The Gay Ghetto." Slamming it: "It will never change and MUST be eliminated." We should work instead for places where "conversation and feeling flows as easily as the sexual acts. Balling with FRIENDS, can you dig it?"

Herb Spiers wrote on E M Forster's Maurice (written in 1915, not published until 1971, Forster safely dead). He opened with "This is supposed to be a review" but, beginning an honourable tradition, used the form to go on about things more current: "Many of us, as gays have been in the same headspace as Maurice: longing, lonely and scared."

Tony Metie reviewed Sunday, Bloody Sunday -- "the best film treatment of homosexuality we're likely to see for some time." (With few exceptions, most notably Cabaret in 1972, he was right.)

Bits of Beep #1
(Eclectic, eccentric, mouthy)



Community page boy


Halloween debutants:
Tony Metie Unmasks; "Radical Pervert" Bart Moncq Zaps; The Community Page a smash (if thin) -- and the last just to be silly.

It was less a newspaper than a set of manifestos -- not ignobly; the manifesto was a leading genre of the day. But many found it mere harangue.

"You'd hear it in the bars all the time," John Forbes recalled, "Those fucking radicals, they're just making it hard for all of us. Who do they think they are?"

Tony took page 1 for "Unmasquerade" -- meant to coincide with the mad occassion of The Body Politic's début.
I've discovered the paradox of Hallowe'en: that it's not the drag queens who are in disguise; the ones who are hiding behind masks are the many gays on the other side of the street who are trying to pass themselves off as straights, and the straights themselves.

...on Hallowe'en drag queens proclaim themselves publicly as drag queens, neither men nor women. They flaunt our sexual roles at us, we straights and gays on the other side of the street, they shout at us, "See how silly your disguises are, we can see through them."

Jude, Radical Pervert, seconded him, calling for an end to "sexual duality" -- "the fucked up ideals of fucked up minds." Peter Zorzi, in his "Initiation Rights," said: "Those who engage in sexual acts not performed 'penis- vagina' are quite willing to submit to the claim that their acts are unnatural, a perversion of the 'one, true act.' "

In "Sweeping Statements, or The Ambivalence of the Universe," Jearld Moldenhauer followed Herbert Marcuse and Norman O Brown deep into the psyche, a full page plus -- and that was just Part I. In Issue 5 we'd get Part II, more Eros and Civilization (Marcuse), Love's Body and Life Against Death (Brown), Jearld pictured literally sweeping away bits of detritus variously labelled: Sexism, Repression, Competition, Power Seeking, Materialism, among a few choice others.

In between Jearld would review an anthology of articles from The Radical Therapist. The piece was headed "People not psychiatry"; in a box on the page, in big type: "Fear of Love is the Source of All Oppression."

Psychiatry, or rather antipsychiatry, preoccupied the early gay movement in a way many might now find surprising.

Shrinks still saw homosexuality as a "mental defect," duly listed in their diagnostic manuals. The psycho lingo they deployed to defend that view we would toss back to defend our lives -- in fact speaking their language, letting our opponents set the agenda. The profession would give in, officially if with reservations, by December 1973; until then we'd fight on their turf, in their terms. (Gay people would do it too often, especially with the Religious Right, tossing scripture tit for tat.)

In Issue 3 Herb Spiers would write about "Male Homosexuality in Toronto," a study done at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, "well intended" if yielding "little in the way of interesting, let alone concrete, material" -- yet worth a full page. He'd later take four pages for "Psychiatric Neutrality: An Autopsy."

It was a preoccupation soon to be swamped by another, less intellectually gripping but more pragmatic: the struggle for "gay rights" in law. In that late 1972 issue with Herb's autopsy we'd also get a full page on the birth of the National Gay Election Coalition, precursor of a nationwide alliance that would last until 1980, its focus for all those years legislated rights.

In time the psyche would drift out of sight, our bodies as bodies the object of external oppression, whatever we might think of them ourselves. (So stop fucking with my head and get me some rights, okay?)

Other statements in Issue 1 were less sweeping, more concrete, and more clearly concerned with rights. "We Demand," read out at the August 28 Ottawa demo, covered four full pages -- counting photos of drenched demonstrators.

Brain Waite -- echoing GATE; in fact sharing their Trotskyist politics -- took a page and a half to propose "A Program for Gay Liberation." Two issues later it would be "A Strategy": No more "liberating our heads"; as an oppressed minority we "must organize the struggle around" amending human rights codes.

But just six pages back Bart Moncq defined "genuine action" by less sober means: brave (if small) gangs of outrageous fags and dykes "zapping" straight bars. The back cover shot showed Pat Murphy and Linda Jain -- kissing in front of city hall.

The centrespread was headed "Community Page," two pages actually, plenty of room to list all of 31 groups in six cities across Canada. It showed nine in Toronto, just four nominally gay, the list padded with the likes of Guerilla, Toronto Women's Liberation, the Vietnam Mobilization Committee, and a free clinic at the alternative (and later notorious) Rochdale College.

Across the top was a drawing of two arms clasped in solidarity, "Come" written on one, "Together" on the other. In the midst of it all a man stood on the shoulders of Edward VII (in bronze, at Queen's Park) with a clenched fist rigid in the air, beside him run up in Letraset: "smash heterosexual imperialism."

This listing was Paul Macdonald's idea, and would be his baby until he left the paper in 1974. The concept survived his role: various versions ran in almost every issue of The Body Politic to the end of its life 15 years later, by then more than 400 groups listed across Canada.

"It wasn't all going to happen overnight, but it was gay people talking with gay people, that was the meaning of it & the glory of it.

"It was the taking into our own hands of our destiny."

Peter Zorzi
looking back from
many years later.

Destiny (& beyond)

For more on "the meaning of it" in 1971, and how means (even meaning) changed over time, see in Promiscuous Affections: Media: Beepers as "journalists" -- not.

For all that we've seen in The Body Politic's first issue, consider what we did not see.

There was no contents page, no editorial, only a suggestion of a masthead saying who did what. There were no drawlines on the cover saying what might be inside. There was no commercial advertising, no classifieds, and no call for any. There was a call for contributions: "personal accounts, letters, philosophical meanderings" among them -- but, search as one might, nothing saying how to subscribe.

All these would come in time. But Issue 1 lacked much one might expect in a periodical publication -- not least, any visible means to support publishing periodically. The Body Politic seemed less a newspaper than a collection of manifestos -- which it was and not ignobly, the manifesto a leading genre of the day.

Many people would, as Herb later said, find it no more than a harangue. "You'd hear it in the bars all the time," John Forbes recalled, " -- those fucking radicals, they're just making it hard for all of us. Who do they think they are?"

But others out in the bars selling the paper (and often getting tossed out for it) heard things more positive. Paul Macdonald found "a lot of people who were really supportive -- they were in the closet but seemed happy that they could relate to something in a paper. I remember somebody gave me a five dollar bill for a 25 cent issue."

"It wasn't hard to part with a quarter, the price of a draft," Peter Zorzi said. "Comments were often 'it's about time' or 'I've got to have one of these.' Many people would let me know after they'd read it and ask when the next issue would be out. The moment was obviously right."

The moment was right. And -- almost despite itself -- the medium was too. The people who began The Body Politic clearly didn't know what it takes to run a paper. But it didn't matter: they would learn; there would be a next issue, and 133 issues after that.

What they did know was this: they had things to say and a burning desire to say them.

What mattered is that they did it, creating a medium where they could speak in their own voices, and where others might speak too. As Peter Zorzi would say years later:

"The important thing was to reach other gay people. There was a ferment of ideas about the personal and the political and their intersection, and if we could just spread them among our own people then gay life would begin to open up and life itself would start to change for us.

"It wasn't all going to happen overnight, but it was gay people talking with gay people, that was the meaning of it and the glory of it. It was the taking into our own hands of our destiny."

Go on to Baby steps

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January 2000 / Last revised: June 20, 2003
Rick Bébout © 2000-2003