Let’s choose hope over fear in 2016

Originally published on DailyXtra

I’m feeling a lot of hope as I look forward to 2016. Some amazing changes have happened over the past year and their momentum is promising.

Obviously the most exciting change of the last year is that we have a new prime minister and he knows that Smokey Sussex is his drag name (or his porn name – I fully support both).

In all seriousness, this change in federal government has the potential to be massive. In December, my new member of parliament, Jody Wilson-Raybould, announced the first phase of a long-awaited national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. For this announcement to come at all is important, but for it to be delivered by an Indigenous woman who is the new Minister of Justice shows a fundamental shift towards a government that actually represents and supports all Canadians.

This new ethos is reflected in the many scenes of Syrian refugees being welcomed to Canada with open arms. From children saying “see you in school!” to Trudeau saying “welcome home,” along with the outpouring of donations, these heartwarming displays are enough to make even an anti-colonial Cascadian like myself feel pangs of what I assume is patriotism.

So I’m feeling hopeful, and very much enjoying the feeling.

But then a headline about Trump snakes its way across my screen.

I’m not going to give him credit for everything bad in the world because I don’t think he deserves that kind of recognition. But at this point in history he could definitely be seen as the avatar of hate. A corporeal manifestation of so much of what challenges my hope.

It would be easy to dismiss Trump as a reflection of US racism, but the Islamophobia that he promotes is very much alive in Canada as well.

In stark contrast to how we have been welcoming refugees, we have also been attacking mosques and Muslim women walking on the street in niqabs.

That a woman’s right to wear a niqab was even in question — let alone a controversial and polarizing part of our last election — shows that we have more work to do around racism here too.

On both sides of the border, I see a pattern of highlighting differences between people, tangling them up in fears and scarcity, and then using this to disconnect us from one another.

Unfortunately, I see this type of disconnection happening within our queer communities as well.

Most blatant this year was a petition circulated by a group of gay and bisexual men and women to several prominent queer organizations to “Drop the T” from LGBT. The petition tried to sever sexual orientation from gender identity and claim the trans community is hostile to the needs of the LGB community. The petition then took these supposedly irreconcilable differences and tangled them up in a laundry list of cliched transphobic scare tactics that deserve no respect of repetition here. All leading to the notion that the LGBT community would somehow be improved by deliberately practicing the same type of exclusion within our community that we experience from the broader community.

Vancouver was plunged into controversy and disconnection of its own this year, when a nightclub owner hired investigators to document private queer space at a rival party, deliberately gave the documentation to media, considered using political influence to encourage stricter enforcement of bylaws on such events, and had the gall to say the motivating factor was safety. A marginalized community with limited social spaces should be supporting alternative, sex-positive events, not systematically trying to knock them down.

The worst part is that we can’t even blame Trump. These last two examples came from members of our own community promoting disconnection.

Fortunately, there is an antidote to be found in the hope.

In all those hopeful examples of positive change, we can see people embracing their differences and finding connections across them. That is what builds healthy and resilient communities.

Despite the less-than-shining examples above, embracing differences and forging connection is one of the gifts the queer community has to offer. We know what exclusion feels like. We should, and often do, promote inclusion and dignity for all.

In 2016, let’s take all that we’ve learned about loving difference in ourselves and others to help Canadians build community across difference. Let’s choose connection and hope.

It’s time for a new queer acronym

Originally published on DailyXtra

Pride Toronto’s release of a strategic plan with no explicit mention of lesbians, gays or bisexuals (and only the briefest mention of trans folks) seemed almost satirical when I first heard about it.

“Members of the queer and trans* community” appears once at the end of a list touting who the executive director consulted, and the trans community is mentioned once more for having its relationship with Pride Toronto enhanced.

Other than these two mentions of queer and trans, the only description of the community served by Pride Toronto is the vague yet encompassing phrase: “people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”

I get it. I’ve sat through agonizing meetings where we wrestle with how to express who the event/organization represents without offending or excluding anyone.

But I’m not convinced that the entire identity of this community-that-shall-not-be-named can be adequately represented in a single name that isn’t an unruly mouthful or vague to the point of meaninglessness.

So I think we should focus instead on a key part of our experiences.

Sort of like Canada, the community formerly known as LGBT is extremely diverse, and it often seems like we don’t have that much in common. But one unifying experience we do share is our deviance.

Of course, what’s considered deviant has changed over the years. Women wearing pants and gay people simply existing are no longer extraordinary things. Parts of the LGBT narrative are even becoming accepted as normal, leading to increased inclusion in broader culture for some of us.

Those of us closer to power in other parts of our identities (like being white, wealthy and able-bodied) and more normative in our gender and sexual expressions (like being outwardly monogamous and fitting neatly into the gender binary) have been able to take advantage of these changes to lead safer and more comfortable lives.

This shift has deepened a divide that has always existed in our community has grown. On one side are those who can downplay their deviance and can participate in the institutions of mainstream culture. On the other side are those who live their deviance every day, celebrate it, and challenge dominant culture simply by existing.

These categories are not mutually exclusive. Many of us find ourselves between the two poles, and move between different points day to day or throughout our lives. I definitely find myself in this position and consider it both a frustration and a privilege.

However, some of us are never able to leave the deviant category. These are almost always the members of our community who most need our support because they experience the worst of society’s discrimination and oppression. And while I may be able to access many of the institutions of dominant culture, they do nothing to support the deviant parts of me.

Which is why I want the focus of our community to celebrate and support those who stand further from the societal norms of gender and sexuality.

I’ve even got a new acronym ready to go: DTFSB. Dykes, Trannies, Faggots, and Slutty Bisexuals. (It’s easy to remember with the handy phrase: “Down To Fuck Sexy Babes.”)

These are the people in my community:

Outrageous dykes. Butch dykes with shaved heads, sturdy union values, and rock solid feminist critiques. Femme dykes with big hair and bigger personalities, power clashing neon animal prints while crushing the patriarchy under their six-inch heels.

Multidimensional trannies. Tranny cyborgs, tranny witches, genderfucking genderqueer transfabulous beings who know that life isn’t an either/or but a yes and — and then some! In between and completely outside and all of the above, sometimes all at once.

Ferocious faggots. A blur of glitter and leather, soft and hard simultaneously. Faggots with all the feelings that men say they don’t have, who love each other, love themselves, love their virus, love the beauty of fine art just as much as the beauty of messy drag.

Slutty bisexuals who will sleep with your husband and your wife. Sexually empowered ethical sluts who want all the babes and don’t care if that makes you feel insecure. Slutty bisexuals who have twice the options and twice the game to back it up with. Who aren’t there just to be your unicorn, even though they are fantastic creatures.

The idea for DTFSB comes from the question: “What are the deviant parts of L, G, B, and T?” — and the knowledge that there’s more to our community than just those four letters. My vision of community doesn’t exclude the other letters often connected or appended to LGBT; on the contrary, it warmly welcomes people from all parts of the LGBT-plus community who choose to emphasize our shared celebration of deviance.

My community includes asexual faggots, non-binary dykes, slutty intersex bisexuals. Not to mention people often relegated to the edges of our LGBT community, like hijab trannies, deaf faggots, Métis dykes, and slutty working-class bisexuals.

I’d be proud to thrive in a community focused on celebrating our deviance and centring those on the edges.

Now, I don’t expect everyone to rush out and change their organizational letterheads from LGBT to DTFSB overnight. I can’t imagine that learning yet another acronym is particularly high on anyone’s list of things they want to do.

Fortunately, we may not have to. There is another option. Many of us have already adopted another term, one that proudly boasts our deviance in its roots.


The word queer is often used simply as a convenient synonym for LGBT, but it’s much more than that.

Mainstream society once called us queer as it recoiled from our beautiful genders and sexualities, calling us odd, unnatural and deviant. Over time, the association with deviance has waned but we can reinfuse it with the meaning we already once reclaimed. Deviant, beautiful and proud.

You don’t need DTFSB if you can say “queer” and really mean it.

What we need to ask ourselves about Jim Deva Plaza

Originally published on DailyXtra

Read Part 1: Why Jim Deva Plaza will be a welcome addition to Davie Village

Last week I explored the importance of the proposed Jim Deva plaza.

A public space dedicated to the queer community would be a powerful symbol of acceptance, as well as a functional space that could be accessible to our whole community. Memorializing the life and work of Deva would further build on this symbol by inscribing his work of community building and challenging censorship and shame into the built environment for generations to come.

But I have some questions about our new space: Who will be welcome, and how will we be allowed to express ourselves there?

A public space is for the public, which to me means the people in a community as a whole. In contrast, a private space would only be for a specific selection of the whole community. However, there are restrictions on our public spaces. While they don’t explicitly exclude certain groups of people, the limitations on use of the space show for whom it is intended.

Most parks in Vancouver formally close at 10pm. This assumes that by this hour, the public have satisfied their needs to be outside and have returned to their private homes to sleep. But for  some parts of our community, 10pm is when the Davie Village starts to wake up!

When I lived in the Davie Village, I loved how there would be people awake and out at any given hour of the day. I haven’t experienced this 24-hour cycle anywhere else I’ve lived in the city.

I think it highly unlikely that anyone would expect our new plaza to empty, even if it formally “closed” that early in the night. However, I would be surprised if there wasn’t some later hour where at least from a policy perspective the plaza was no longer “open.”

One group I could see impacted by time restrictions on the space is queer youth. I’m pretty sure everyone’s on board with wanting the plaza to be a youth-friendly space, especially for those under 19.

But what happens when the plaza “closes?” Do they get sent home? What if they don’t have homes?

If queer youth are wanted in the space, what about queer homeless youth? Some of the design choices in the presentation boards show a bias against these members of our community.

For example, the illustration of benches for the plaza features central armrests to prevent someone from lying down on it. This type of bench is deliberately designed to prevent people from sleeping on it.

Embedded in a design choice like this is the assumption that the act of sleeping in a public space needs to be discouraged or prevented. As a result, homeless queer youth and other members of our community who may want to use the space in this way are similarly discouraged or prevented from being in the space.

I’m not interested in a community space that deliberately excludes some of the most marginalized members of our community.

Another piece I wonder about is how having community space “legitimized” by the city will shape its uses and the ways in which we’ll be able to express ourselves in it.

Coming of age in Victoria in the late 2000s there was no semblance of a gay village. There were few explicit or exclusively queer public spaces; definitely no rainbow banners or crosswalks. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t find each other.

The subversive use of public space, the queering of otherwise “normative” public space, was a powerful tool that allowed us to be simultaneously visible and hidden in plain sight.

I found my community in Beacon Hill park. I found them in mall bathrooms. I even found them in tearooms in Oak Bay.

Sexuality is a huge part of why we have been marginalized and also why we gather as a community. That means it’s going to be an important part of how we create space together.

So will Jim Deva Plaza be a space for cruising? Or will we be more concerned with “decency?”

I think Barb Snelgrove put it beautifully:

“This place needs to be a space inspired by Jim’s lifelong passion for freedom of sexuality and freedom from censorship.”

The kind of space we produce deeply influences the kind of society we have. If we create a public space that excludes our most marginalized members and sanitizes our sexuality, that will be the society we are creating.

Is that the society we want?

How to survive mainstream rom coms while queer

Originally published on DailyXtra

A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t stop telling anyone who would listen about the most amazing film I had just seen.

The Way He Looks, a 2014 Brazilian coming-of-age romantic drama, was extraordinary to me because:

a) it had realistic and complex queer main characters
b) it was well written, acted, and filmed
c) it was not depressing and no one died

This seems like it should be a low bar to reach. But unless there’s some hidden section on Netflix that no one’s told me about — “suggestions for you based on your interests in LGBT Film and Not Crying Right Now” — then finding media that meets this criteria is noteworthy.

Vancouver poets Daniel Zomparelli and Dina Del Bucchia explore some of these themes of representation in their new book of poetry Rom Com.

As a less than poetic person myself, I found the book engaging and surprisingly accessible. The poems range from a series written about Jennifers (Aniston, Lopez, Lawrence) to quizzes that measure “If You Might Be the Best Friend of a Romantic Lead” (one criteria: “you tell everyone you are married to one-liners.”)

Rom Com also delves into more complex matter. A pair of poems to Adam Sandler contrast feelings of having a crush on his charming, silly, immature persona to feelings of being crushed by the homophobia, transphobia, and racism of his films, not to mention the audience laugher at those “jokes.” (“The movie came at me with fists, it closed around my neck.”)

I asked Zomparelli what movie he would recommend to someone who had never seen a rom com before. Funny thing is, I couldn’t stand his suggestion.

Though he’s quick to acknowledge that a favourite rom com can be shaped as much by the moment we first watch it (just-post-break-up?) as the quality of the film, his go-to left me cold. (It’s called *Forgetting Sarah Marshall* and, for Zomparelli, it’s about reconnecting to self and art as the lead character moves through a break-up. For me, had the movie been a sandwich, the mayonnaise of misogyny would have completely overpowered any chance of me tasting the plot.)

Like so many other mainstream rom coms, Forgetting Sarah Marshall also has another fatal flaw: no queer characters.

I’d like to exist. And not just in a throw-away character, either. Representation isn’t just about the characters existing, but also the quality of the characters and how they’re treated.

Queer and trans people, people of colour, even women, do not yet consistently receive this kind of quality representation in media. While casts have begun to move away from being composed of exclusively straight white men, “diverse” characters are still often singular, one-dimensional, and stereotypical. We deserve better than the sassy desexualized sidekick, the exoticized other, or the one-dimensional love interest.

Overcoming this is certainly not impossible. The recent series Sense8 was extraordinary because its cast was so diverse that no one character was the “diverse” character, and each character’s personality was more than just the marginalized parts of their identities.

I look forward to this becoming the norm in media.

Until then, if your relationship with mainstream rom coms remains, like mine, love/hate, on-again/off-again, or just “it’s complicated,” then Rom Com might be a great place to share a laugh and maybe some tears of disappointment in mainstream media representation.

I not only felt represented in these poems, but also seen and validated. Plus, with many of the poems’ gender-ambiguity, I could easily see my own romantic life woven through their imagery.

Rom Com doesn’t shy away from being critical of mainstream romantic comedies, even as it unabashedly expresses its love for the genre.

Why Jim Deva Plaza will be a welcome addition to Davie Village

Originally published on DailyXtra

Henri Lefebvre was a French 20th century philosopher who understood that the kind of space we produce deeply influences the kind of society we have. In order to change our culture and the ways we relate to each other, we have to change the spaces where we live and interact.

The new Jim Deva plaza proposed for the heart of Vancouver’s traditionally gay village is a powerful example of this type of change.

North American culture privileges heteronormativity and the automobile. To reclaim road space for pedestrians and to then dedicate it to queer community shows a deliberate desire to change that culture.

The rainbow crosswalk, painted by city officials in 2013 at the intersection of Davie and Bute streets, adjacent to where the new plaza will hopefully sit by Pride 2016, was a symbol of what was to become a focal point for the neighbourhood. Not that symbols aren’t important, but it was just a symbol. It felt kind of like a greeting card: a kind gesture.

The proposed plaza is an actual gift to go along with the greeting card.

Public space is something our community can actually use. (I like practical gifts.) People will meet, become friends, fall in love. There will be first dates and breakups, there will be community celebrations and community memorials. There will be new opportunities to have new interactions in a public space explicitly designated for the queer community.

Currently the Davie Village has many spaces open to segments of the queer community, but none open to all. The bars and clubs provide social spaces but due to the focus on alcohol these spaces are not accessible to all ages or members of our community in recovery. Qmunity provides an inclusive and all ages space, but their main space is not physically accessible due to the staircase (which they are excited to address with their new space). Restaurants and cafes can solve some of these issues, but as businesses there is always some level of financial barrier to accessing their spaces.

As a public space, the proposed plaza will be all ages, physically accessible, and not requiring purchase to participate.

A space for our entire community.

The name is also a gift to future generations because it connects us to our history. It begs the questions “who was this Jim Deva guy?” and “what’d he do to get his name on something?” Deva’s work of community building and challenging censorship and shame undoubtably created a healthier and safer community for myself and future generations to come out into.

In 50 years, young queer people (or whatever we’re called then) will stumble across a plaque and get to read some of his story.

Maybe they’ll have already learned about him in school in their History of Social Change in the late 20th century class. But if they haven’t, this can still connect them.

When I imagine myself in this future plaza, I can feel a sense of celebration and of pride. A permanent public space is a constant affirmation that our community exists and is deserving of recognition.

Not just once a year, but every day.

Read Part 2: What we need to ask ourselves about Jim Deva Plaza

Cock pressures main character to choose: gay or straight?

Originally published on DailyXtra

Maybe I’m biased because my best friend is bisexual and polyamorous, but when a gay man with a long-term boyfriend falls in love with a woman my response is basically, “So?”

Or maybe my bias comes from my belief that love is not a finite resource. That my gain doesn’t have to come at someone else’s loss.

Wherever it comes from, this bias made the plot of Rumble Theatre’s new production of Cock rather perplexing to me.

Keep Calm Because Bisexuals Exist

I want to affirm that bisexuals exist. The B in LGBT doesn’t stand for bacon.

Unfortunately, many people seem to think that bisexual is just a euphemism for someone’s who’s actually gay or straight but in denial. Or it’s a masc / str8 acting way to say gay, or simply a stepping stone on the yellow brick road of coming out. I want to tell you that there are also honest-to-goddess people who are bisexuals all the time. I’m friends with them, I’ve had sex with them, I’ve even dated them.

So when Cock’s main character John is trying to figure out if he actually loves his boyfriend (and is thus gay), or if his new feelings for the woman are real (presumably making him straight), I just want to shout: “Why not both?!”

Why don't we have both?
To this, the characters in Cock respond: “Of course it’s okay to like both, but not at the same time!”

There’s huge pressure put on John to choose not just who he wants to be with, but ultimately to figure out what that makes him. To choose a side.

At least I've chosen a side

This kind of us-versus-them zero-sum thinking frustrates me to no end.

We live in a culture where we have way more food, shelter, clothing, gadgets and media than we could ever need. Yet we’re so scared we might personally not get enough that we hoard and control access to the point where many members of our society go without even the basics.

And then we turn around and apply this same thinking to our relationships.

We essentially tell the people we care most about that “I need to have 100 percent of your love and sex, and I will defend this from anyone who might threaten it!”

We don’t (usually) have this kind of thinking for other relationships. “You have another friend? How could you betray me like this?!” or “Sorry second child, I used up all my love on your older sibling,” are not generally acceptable ways of treating our friends or children.

One of the great gifts of the queer community is our opportunity to do things differently and evolve culture.

To challenge an either-or binary and say both instead.

To be vulnerable and intimate with more people in new ways.

To follow the lead of our heart with wild abandon, instead of letting ourselves love in only societally approved ways.

And to love our deviance wholeheartedly.