Essay

NOT SO QUEER AS FOLK

Who took the fun, and the fire, out of being homosexual?

VICTOR DWYER June 23 2003
Essay

NOT SO QUEER AS FOLK

Who took the fun, and the fire, out of being homosexual?

VICTOR DWYER June 23 2003

NOT SO QUEER AS FOLK

Essay

VICTOR DWYER

Who took the fun, and the fire, out of being homosexual?

OSCAR WILDE famously called it “the love that dare not speak its name.” Today, you might say the same applies, but only out of a legitimate fear that the speaker will bore you to death—with talk about how the people at his church have been hoping for the right to marry, and how three couples just adopted. About how the boss took him to lunch last week with a lesbian he wants to hire, so she’d know how gay-positive the company is. About how great it was that one of the contenders in the Progressive Conservative leadership race is out and proud. About how friends just moved to suburbs and love it.

And, maybe, just maybe, about how he fell asleep in the middle of one of the most radical social movements of the past half-century, and woke up a middle manager with a 14-year relationship, in-laws he sees on a regular basis, a godson, never-ending kitchen renos and a mortgage. “Wait a second,” he might ask when he takes a good, hard look at what he’s just told you, “who took the fun, and the fire, out of being gay?”

After all, wasn’t the plan of gay liberation, as it was called not so long ago, to forge an exciting new world different from the world of straights? A world that bore the stamp of those brave queers, transvestites and street kids who pelted raiding police with rocks and high heels at New York’s Stonewall Inn in 1969, launching the modern gay-rights movement? Aren’t we the ones who, in 1981, marched hundreds strong through the streets of Toronto following raids on the city’s gay bathhouses—and the largest mass arrests in Canada since the FLQ crisis—demanding our right to have anonymous sex when and where we felt like it? Weren’t we the ones who, not a decade ago, staged massive sit-downs at science conferences around the world to force new research into anti-AIDS drugs?

If nothing else, aren’t lesbians and gays the ones who brought you dildo parties (women only need apply) and men’s earrings

(when they were still outrageous); who stood proudly by Madonna when Pepsi dumped her after she feigned sex with Jesus in her Like a Prayer video; and who invented the whole notion of annual marches to declare our pride, making it a matter of principle that they be headed by Harleydriving Dykes on Bikes?

I didn’t even bother going to the last two Pride parades in Toronto. To my mind, the march had become like some tired old queen squinting into the footlights at three in the morning, her makeup smudged and her message unclear—or perhaps too clear, as she lip-synched not to Liza or Charo but to the latest jingles of her lengthy list of corporate sponsors. Curious (and, frankly, badly dressed) onlookers 10 deep had taken to lining the parade route. Last year, revellers “radical” enough to take off their clothes in the hot July sun were promptly arrested by police for public indecency.

And while I’m thinking of going to this year’s parade (on June 29, capping Pride Week), the advance word doesn’t exactly

ONE REASON GAYS seem so damn normal these days is that straights have become so...gay, from men’s colognes to pectoral implants

promise a day filled with rebel cries for sexual liberation. The biggest debate leading up to it concerns whether Ontario should have kicked in to make up for the corporate sponsors bailing, ostensibly because SARS fears mean fewer tourist eyeballs. Meanwhile, downtown’s 52 Division (that would be the same one that raided those bathhouses in 1981) has announced it is setting up a recruiting table on the parade route for the first time ever, presumably hoping to turn some of us nice, festive, law-abiding

homosexuals into law-enforcing ones.

Of course it’s not just the parade, but gay life itself, that seems to have become so proactively normal, so afraid of the outrageous in recent years, as gay men and women rush to be included in a straight world that once made us roll our eyes and wince. The most obvious example, of course, is our newfound embrace of wedded bliss. I’ve always joked that the act of sex itself accounted for only about 10 per cent of the reason I’m gay (okay, maybe 25), and that my real motivation was a more primal desire: to avoid having to get married, settle down and raise kids. Now, every province in which a gay couple has asked to adopt has either altered its legislation to allow that, or has been forced by its courts to do so. And last week the Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights voted in favour of a nonbinding motion that Ottawa let stand an Ontario court decision making it legitimate for us to walk down the aisle.

Not that our leaders in Ottawa seem to mind. Late last month, all three Liberal leadership candidates—Paul Martin, John Manley and Sheila Copps—the leaders of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, and Joe Clark, the then-leader of the Conservatives, expressed their support for gay marriage at a joint press conference. As if to steal his fellow politicians’ fire, Manley posed for a photo a few weeks earlier, at a fundraiser for his leadership bid in Toronto’s gay village, with a clearly pleased bear (that would be a heavy-set, bearded gay man) decked out in his finest leather outfit.

And it’s not just a bunch of out-of-touch political elites that are ushering us into the straight fold. When I go to family reunions in rural Ontario, my dozens of relatives extend open arms to both me and my partner of 21 years. When we moved into our Toronto neighbourhood, where working-class, hyphenated Canadians in extended families are the norm, not a single neighbour batted an eyelash. It wasn’t long before they were

bringing us tomatoes from their gardens and passing homemade wine over the fence. How can we stay radical and fire-breathing when you treat us like that?

Of course, one reason gays seem so damn normal these days is that you straights have become so... gay. From men’s colognes to pectoral implants, from the use ofViagra as a recreational drug to the philosophy that agitation brings better health care, you’ve so faithfully mimicked many of the trends we’ve set that the lines between our world and yours have become fuzzier. The point was brought home to me with gleeful force when my partner decided to buy an Earring Magic Ken doll for a garden ornament a few years back. “I’d like to buy a gay Ken,” he told the clerk. “He’s not gay,” she shot back sternly—before handing over a version of Barbie’s long-time boyfriend dressed in a lavender mesh T-shirt and faux-leather vest,

Chinese slippers, two-toned dyed hair and what looked to be a pair of handcuffs. If that’s straight, perhaps becoming straighter isn’t such a bad thing.

But truth be told, no matter how straight(laced) we’ve become or how gay you’re getting, I know in my heart that our two worlds will never totally converge: we’ll always be us, and you’ll always be you, no matter how politically incorrect that idea may be. We tip better. We dance better. A greater percentage of lesbians than straight women will always know how to install a subfloor; a smaller percentage of gay men than straight ones will be capable of the same thing. Just the other day, stopping in for a drink at the Black Eagle, a nicely dark, dank bar on the gay strip, I overheard one patron say to another, “I’ve just bought the sweetest new Depression glass—totally excited about it.” Maybe I’m in denial, but there aren’t many

straight guys I can picture uttering that sentence, not in a million years.

Besides, there are still lots of struggles to be won, which will probably ensure that gays continue to forge a distinct and (comparatively) outrageous community, no matter how many of us marry or adopt or just generally settle down and get on with life. In fact, some of the biggest fight-backs in recent times have echoed our early battles to enjoy victimless sex free of harassment. At the same time as the cops were arresting those nudists at last year’s Pride day, the march itself was being officially marshalled by representatives of the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee, who have since successfully had charges against their Pussy Palace thrown out of court.

In recent months, police have raided a gay sauna in Calgary and a gay strip bar in Montreal. The result: new legal campaigns

and the launch of a petition drive by the Xtra! chain of gay newspapers. The stated goal: to fully and finally rescind Canada’s outdated sex laws, which continue to prohibit some kinds of sex—including, for instance, anal sex when more than two people are in the room—behind closed doors and between consenting adults. Another important battle remains Canada Customs’ seizure of gay and lesbian literature at our borders.

And even on the marriage front, it’s clear that what I might characterize as bending to the mainstream is, in the eyes of many, not a capitulation to “normalcy,” but as radical an assault upon it as we could have mustered. “They do not see us getting up on floats to say we are husband and wife,” shrieked Elsie Wayne in the Commons last month, the same day Alliance justice critic Vic Toews introduced a motion to define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” Sputtered Wayne: “If [gays] are going to live together, they can go live together and shut up about it.” Now that we’re winning our quiet revolution, Ms. Wayne, you’re the one who’s making all the noise.

So yeah, it’s a bit of a drag, if you’ll pardon the expression, that we’ve come to depend on multinational corporations to support our biggest annual event. And yeah, there’s something a bit creepy about cops recruiting us rather than arresting us. On the other hand, it wasn’t so long ago there were no Pride parades at all—as late as 1969, after all, it was illegal for homosexuals to have sex in the bedrooms of this nation. And given the choice, I suppose I prefer a cop asking nicely for my resumé to him kicking the door down on my bathhouse cubicle, beating me senseless and saying what a shame it is that the showers here don’t have gas (all of which reportedly happened to gay men that February night in 1981).

It may be that, in a time of relative acceptance, many gay men and women don’t always lead especially brave lives (although there are still plenty of those). But at least now those lives are more visible—and so, by definition—prouder ones. From the misery and shame of the closet, we’ve loudly rattled and rallied our way out into the world so successfully that we may be approaching a new invisibility: just existing, on equal and unremarkable footing, with all you straights. That might seem a little boring some days. But maybe boring’s not so bad when you consider the alternatives. Iffl