A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000


Looking backwards
(to look beyond)

Years by the yard

History Wall

History Wall

History Wall
Beep, its babies, & their mission:
On the "History Wall" of Xtra / PTP's new office, Oct 1994.
Gone 15 months later, the Mission Statement gone with it.

History by fits & starts
From The Beep to The Bar & beyond

Lots of digging -- & many false starts -- led to what you're reading now. Most of my digging was in The Body Politic, for data (so empirical!) to confirm or confute my sense of the thing as I knew it. I counted ads (few from openly gay businesses 'til well into the '80s), entries in the Community Page, Network & Out in the City (from 30 nation- wide to more than 400), & people -- most of all people.

I listed everyone who'd offered anything, from a single letter to years of unpaid labour, finding more than 2,000. I noted where they lived (by the late '70s about 40% not in Toronto) & who worked on each issue. More than 500 were on board a few months at least, many much longer.

I graphed how many contributed to each issue, how many for the first time, looking for periods in the paper's human capital. I found them. The total poked past 30 per issue just four times before '76, hit 80 with #39 (the end of '77), bounced between 70 & 90 until the 1981 bath raids, jumping over 100 just after.

From mid '82 to '87 only seven issues involved fewer than 100 people; for Jul / Aug '83 over 180 (counting Red Hot & race letters; even without them 120). Not bad for a radical rag often seen as the work of a handful of hot heads. All of it for the first few years, most of it later -- a gift.

From mid 1995 I taped tales from a few who'd shared their gifts, some then rarely in town (Gillian Rodgerson, Kevin Orr, Sue Golding, Robin Metcalfe) & some still here (Craig Patterson, Ed Jackson, Danny Cockerline). I started brief bios of other key players, beginning with Issue 1. There'd been lots of them -- too many: I pooped out at Issue 15.

I saw all this as material for a history -- if one I didn't plan to write myself; just raw data useful to someone, some day. I hoped. By Nov 1995 I decided that that someone might as well be me.

I'd done a bit on TBP for a "Queer Exchange" course, put on by the Toronto Centre for Lesbian & Gay Studies -- another creation of Michael Lynch, Ed Jackson a key player. It was a history of the gay movement in Canada, taught by Tom Warner. He'd come to Toronto in '73, briefly a Beeper but ever an activist: he'd be the first out gay man on the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

For that I did "The Body Politic & Visions of Community" -- shifting visions: the early gay movement, skeptical of the ghetto; the explosion of social groups even before the 1981 bath raids; the growing attention to bars, baths & discos as vital parts of gay life; & Xtra, entirely dependent on the scene, all its revenue from ads.

I did scads of research on the time & place of TBP's birth: Toronto, 1971. I had in mind a standard sort of history. I wrote two chapters: "The Times" & "The Place" -- & that's as far as I got.

Later I put stuff into "thematic narratives" -- from collectivity to the ghetto; office design to graphic design; our take on language (very picky) to porn pics in print (often forced) -- all grouped in eight categories: Purpose & Style; Means; Community; Culture; Issues & Action; People (all those bios, too many obits); Men & Women (together & apart); Sexuality (& its discontents). All very grand, great for a website (I was newly Net literate): set up the frame, fill it in over time; a vast online resource. Nice idea; never webbed. Its fragments survive in files -- paper ones.

Then I dug deep in one theme, the domestic politics behind The Body Politic: gay group households; some rigorously communal, some more casual; all of more than a couple. It was a slap at "spousal" rights: less conventional set ups had been vital to our education & strength. It's how we'd raised our kids.

I made a list, about 50 menages; sent it around to those involved asking for details & any others they might know. But on that, a sociology at once too grand (in theme) & too limited (in range), I pooped out too.

In late '97, efforts abandoned, I saw a MuchMusic show on early '80s pop. Great music, great times full of energy, my favourite times really. Well: why not tell the story of TBP just in those times? Just one year, a pivotal one. For obvious reasons '81 loomed large but I picked '82 (you've seen why in the 1982 chapter here). Then: why not make it a sort of documentary? Actual material of the time: memos, minutes, diaries, journals, letters.

Again I dug -- in the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives. I wrote vast chapters -- just to March. But then: surely people will want to know how we got to 1982. So I went back to '71. Again. I got nearly through 1974. I did seem to have this problem....

In 1998 I got to evade it, working on a project I helped create but had no need to shape: someone else wanted to. In 1995 Marilyn Schuster had visited, doing a book on Jane Rule's writing (published in Jun '99 by NYU Press as Passionate Communities: Reading Lesbian Resistance in Jane Rule's Fiction). She wanted, with Jane's & my consent, to see our letters. She did, then wrote saying they should become a book:

"...the qualities that bring you and Jane together combined with the extraordinary differences in your life situations make your friendship, & the correspondence, particularly rich for anyone who would like to understand politics, publishing, intimate relationships, institutions, cultural history & -- most important -- friendship in the highly charged context of the last 20 years of North American life."

Well gee. Both Jane & I agreed. That project is still in the works. In my own work on it, all those years of letters (1981 - 1995), I of course read them again. And in mine I kept finding all these tales of life in The Bar.

So we've got to what you see now. It must have been the right angle: this piece did get done -- as both a manuscript & a website -- in just over a year.

My earlier work did turn out handy: much that was there is now here. Some is on the CLGA site, including The Body Politic & Visions of Community & Time & Place: Toronto 1971, leading off a later look at Church & Wellesley.

I also put an Inventory of the Records of The Body Politic & Pink Triangle Press on the site, expanded from a paper version I did in 1988. And on this site there's On the Origin of The Body Politic, rescued from what I got done to 1974.

The end of the
"human rights" decade?

Not the '90s. The 1970s

In TBP's Jul '79 issue, Michael Lynch looked back 10 years to when "the notion of 'human rights' for gays was but one of many straws in the wind" -- from which, he said, a "straw house" of strategy had been raised: "The Canadian gay movement had a place to live, a priority for action, a basis for unity" -- & "mainline respectability."

By then, the struggle to get "sexual orientation" into Canadian human rights laws had been won only in Quebec. But, even then, Michael asked what may have already been lost:

"The 'human rights strategy' has become the new 'homophilism.' It seeks assimilation, legislation, & isolation -- the isolation of this one issue from all the rest that concern us. [We] must shun the fight against sexism or racist or ageist issues in order to get two words into human rights acts.

"But the greatest danger in continuing to seek human rights above all is that we might get them. They are not much of a sop for a government to give, & the more we equate gay success with achieving them, the more we risk the fate of the abolitionist movement after Emancipation, the feminist movement after the Franchise, the Black movement after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"To those American memories we may add the way the Quebec 'sexual orientation' amendment lulled Quebec gays into a lethargy from which they have not yet fully recovered."

Gay rights are now enshrined in law all across Canada. We have been lulled indeed, our dreams now not of human justice, but of comfortable banality.

Xtra spousal rights logo
Flag that story!
Spousal slug endlessly slapped
all over Xtra.

As the spouse fest heated up, Xtra diligently reported every detail as "news" -- its actors cast as celebrities; stories stamped with a theme logo.

The paper had run opinion pieces critical of the concept. Mere opinion; "news" is reality.

As history

This chapter is called "History" so I should get down to it now, as a theme, having wrapped up most of my own. Mind you, the history that has preoccupied me these last few years is also partly my own: the story of The Body Politic.

Ken Popert had hired me in part to tell the kids at the Press about it, some never even having seen a copy. So I did, in a brief narrative they all got, current staff and new. But I doubted its effect, knowing that a few sheets of paper wouldn't mean much unless something in them happened to resonate with the life they knew now.

To give the story a bit more punch I illustrated it: a display for the opening of the 491 Church Street office covering more than 30 feet of its lobby walls: 50 covers of The Body Politic and about as many of Xtra.

I used the full spread of the 1971 "We Demand" manifesto, the one from "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" in '77. I showed Xtra growing from a four page pocket fold in 1984 to issues of 48 pages and more. There were small signs marking key moments.

The Mission Statement headed it all; it ended with Xtra's October 14, 1994 cover: Mark Leduc gently engaging as he delivered his big red gloved right with a bright yellow "Pow!"

That display stayed up until February 1996 when it, and the Mission Statement, came down.


For a while I had another medium, and for wider history: Xtra -- or rather a regular piece of it about two inches square.

In an April 1994 issue I'd resurrected the sort of history bits TBP had headed "Five [and ten] years ago." I did more than 30 of them, running to August 1995. For a taste, here's the second last:

Ferry tales

This month 1975:
In an Aug 8 story on the beach at Hanlan's Point, The Globe and Mail quotes the objections of Metro Parks Commissioner Tommy Thompson to "the number of folks there who carry on activities with respect to human bodies in the nude." The Body Politic later reports that "At least 62 people have been arrested there recently for being nude in a public place. All but three of them were men. It is safe to assume they were gay men." Hanlan's Point on Toronto Island was known as a mecca for gay sunbathers, and cruisers, since the 1950s -- and likely well before. 1985:
Listings in the Aug 4 issue of Xtra include a Lesbian and Children's Picnic, Sun Aug 11 at Ward's Island, sponsored by the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. "Follow the purple flags! Bring food, games, musical instruments" -- and, presumably, clothes. Metro Bylaw 103- 78, enacted in 1978, stipulates "the wearing of an appropriate bathing suit or other beach attire." Writing in the August 1985 issue of The Body Politic, Craig Patterson and Alan O'Connor note the arrest of 30 men at Sunnyside beach in 1936 -- for wearing trunks but exposing naked chests -- and find the latest bylaw "delightfully prissy: 'beach attire' conjuring up visions of wide brimmed sun hats and Esther Williams floral bathing caps." Tommy Thompson dies in 1985.

(And 1999: Toronto City Council establishes a "clothing optional" beach at Hanlan's Point. But do not go naked into that Great Lake: the water is still subject to federal, and less casual, regulation.)

The one after, its linking theme medical, was to have been headed "Health, homos, and Rock Hudson" -- Rock the Big AIDS Cover Story on four mass media mags all dated August 12, 1985 (I'd done an article about that then).

It ran titled "Ferry tales" -- left on the layout from the issue before. That told me how much respect was paid these postage stamps I took hours to research and write -- much of the work editing them down to stamp size. Not worth it, I figured, so that was the last.


Still, they had offered an odd revelation. The bits from a decade before seemed almost contemporary, the world in 1984 or '85 feeling much like the one we knew in the mid 1990s -- but '74 or '75 seemed almost prehistoric.

In the 10 years between things had changed mightily, if often imperceptibly in the moment.

On a whim I did a later display, rather egocentric so on the walls of my own office: all those zany promo ads Merv Walker, Gerald Hannon and I had done over the years to sell subscriptions for TBP and raise money for its legal defence.

During one Kid-sex Hooker Prof confab at Xtra I found Max Allen in my office looking them over. "This makes me wonder," he said. "So why aren't you running a big ad agency?" "Oh Max," I said, "we've only ever known how to give it away. We lived in gift culture." He knew what I was talking about: he too had read Lewis Hyde's The Gift, suprised to find anyone else who had.

Certainly no one else at the Press had, by then long steeped in a media market economy of advertising sales, commerical audio services and writers for hire. Digging out those ads from page after page of The Body Politic I'd been bathed again in that culture now lost to its descendants. I wanted to dig more.

I did. Lots of digging, in fact. It led, by an odd route with many detours, to what you're reading now. It also took a while. I've traced the route in some detail, over in the column at the left.

Along that road, I learned quite a bit. Inevitably, I suppose.


History teaches. Those who do not know the past... etc. In fact we're not doomed to repeat it, even in ignorance. But sometimes I wish we could.

The gay movement of the early 1970s was a lot more fun than what passes for gay politics now. (Gillian Rodgerson has just sent me Lisa Power's book on London's Gay Liberation Front, 1970 - 1973: No Bath But Plenty of Bubbles -- said of a radical drag communal squat in Notting Hill.) Those early "zap" tactics may seem naive -- it was still The Sixties, really -- but behind them lay hopes more generous than we seem able to muster today.

Gay Liberation didn't begin as a bid to win "rights" for a distinct "minority." It didn't separate mind from body, men from women ("Gay liberation is a farce as long as we retain genital based identities," an early activist wrote), adults from children -- even homosexuals from heterosexuals.

Early '70s glitter rock androgyny was backed (for those who noticed) by a politics of poymorphous perversity, a childlike -- Freud had said "infantile" -- ability to find erotic pleasure not limited to the genitals, nor to partners of only one sex or the other, nor even to "sex" itself.

In 1971 Dennis Altman titled an entire chapter of Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation "Toward the Polymorphous Whole," defining that as the goal of liberation, suggesting it might even lead to "The End of the Homosexual."

People studied Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization), Norman O Brown (Loves Body; Life Against Death), anti psychiatrist R D Laing (The Politics of Experience), sexual repression, as they saw it, the root of everything from rabid aggression, violence against women, children, queers -- anyone "other" -- to the poisoning of the globe with toxic waste.

This affected not just "homosexuals" but everyone, every human being on the entire planet. Dennis wrote:

The repression of polymorphous perversity in Western societies has two major components: the removal of the erotic from all areas of life other than the explicitly sexual, and the denial of our inherent bisexuality. [I'd have said ambisexuality.]

Thus to talk of gay liberation demands a broader examination of sexual mores than merely the attitudes towards homosexuality, for the liberation of the homosexual can only be achieved within the context of a much broader sexual liberation.

Toronto Gay Action, that radical spin off from the Community Homophile Association -- the very people who birthed The Body Politic -- did their own mini manifesto in 1972, a little flyer with the final line: "GAY LIBERATION IS PEOPLE LIBERATION."


But it was a tough sell. "Liberating the homosexual in everyone," as Dennis once wrote, was a scary thought for the straight world. And for avowed homosexuals so was its necessary concomitant: liberating the heterosexual in everyone.

Such grand theory seemed to come from another world (as indeed it did: the future world we might hope to create), not from the lives so many of us actually lived. In the first issue of The Body Politic activist Brian Waite wrote, zapping the "Zap Strategy":

Freaking someone out does not, by itself, raise consciousness. ... While T.G.A.'ers [Toronto Gay Action] were attempting token integration of a few straight bars, the rest of Toronto's 150,000 odd gays were either at home in the closet or enjoying themselves (or getting quietly loaded) in the gay bars and clubs without fear of getting rapped in the mouth by an uptight heterosexual.

Brian had had enough of gay radicals going on about "liberating our heads." As long as they were considered or even seen, he wrote, "to represent only a small minority of our own people the government, the media, churches, educational system, etc. will all carry on business as usual -- Oppression Incorporated.

"Explicitly, this means that we will have to develop a program which speaks to the needs of the majority of gays, not to a handful of gay militants. Through our experiences to date, the beginning of such a program has been raised around the struggle for gay civil rights."

In January 1972 Ontario's nascent Homophile Federation listed among its many demands the inclusion of "sexual orientation" as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the province's human rights code. By TBP's third issue, in "A Strategy for Gay Liberation," Brian said it was time to make this not one demand of many, but the primary one.

And for one good reason: it had mass appeal. He asked: "Which issues appeal to the widest section of the gay population? How can we win our demands?"

Then he answered himself: by fighting for things we might actually win -- not as the ultimate goal, but as a strategy to mobilize gay people who didn't see themselves as "gay militants."

Winning this demand, in itself, will not end our oppression, but in fighting for it many gay men and women will develop a higher level of pride and consciousness. With a victory, thousands more will find it easier to come out and begin the task of educating their fellow workers, neighbours, families and friends about the nature of homosexuality, without fear of losing a job or apartment, being harassed at school, or facing discrimination in other innumerable ways because we have no rights guaranteed in law.


This "Human Rights Strategy" had a ready model with wide appeal: anyone could grasp the concept of a minority fighting for its rights; look at the Civil Rights Movement in the States.

To make the model fit, however, its key components had to apply. Gay people had to be seen -- and see themselves -- as a minority: distinct, identifiable, much like minorities based on ethnicity, race, language, or religion.

And their goal must be seen to be equality: the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the majority.

In fact, we are not a "minority" in the classic sense -- which as Ken Popert noted in The Body Politic in 1980 "is essentially a family affair." "Under the social fiction of a homosexual minority and a heterosexual majority," he wrote,

...lies a more complex reality. If we view ourselves simply as a minority group, we run the risk of dead ending ourselves into a political strategy which neglects the large number of so called heterosexuals who have a personal stake in gay liberation. ...

Ethnic minorities are accidents of history; gay people are part of the working out of history.

By then, though, it was too late to call people back to early '70s liberationist ideology. We were too far down the road to that dead end -- a road too tempting.

As Ed Jackson said in 1995, looking back to the dawn of the Human Rights Strategy: "If you wanted to find something people could actually work on, then it needed to be fairly practical. If you were not primarily an ideologue or a theorist, but you wanted to see things change, that seemed the most logical direction."

It was. And it was a huge success.


In just three decades -- as Gerald Hannon wrote recently, "an historical nanosecond" -- gay people have achieved gains likely unprecedented in so short a time by any other oppressed group in history.

But along the way we forgot that "human rights" was initially meant as a strategy, merely the means to ends more profound, to visions of ourselves and of the world much more ambitious.

I suppose it's no surprise that most of us bought the means as the end, bought "rights" so diligently sold. Now, in place of Gay Liberation's most radical ideals -- its defence of difference, its celebration of distinctiveness, its public revel in the unfettered body, every body -- we hear exhortations to sameness, privacy, and the supposed safety of pretending we're "normal."

A social movement born in defiance of craven "respectability," knowing that true respect grows only from self respect; one boldly challenging established norms as "impediments to human fulfillment," now hives to the norm, seeking the "right" to "equality."

So let's all go get married.


Despite Ken Popert's cogent 1980 critique of "the minority game" usurping better ends, in 1994 he too easily let Pink Triangle Press slip into another "strategy": spousal rights.

Of course he didn't believe in it. Or certainly had not. In its 1982 début his oft quoted line -- "Promiscuity knits together the social fabric of the gay male community" -- had, with no more pause than a semicolon, carried the thought to its logical end: "the imposition of widespread marriage- like coupling inevitably goes hand in hand with the abolition of that community."

On that point, I doubt Ken ever changed his mind. He once said -- or perhaps quoted his lover Brian Mossop saying -- "Monogamy is theft." That parodied an old Marxist line (Prudhon, I think): Property is theft. Indeed one might say: monogamy is property, the two so intimately intertwined.

Ken and Brian first met in the early '70s, Brian with the old line Communist Party of Canada, Ken soon joining. But in 1976 the party expelling Brian for "advocating homosexuality" and Ken quit too.

They remain together still, a couple if not a monogamous one. In fact, if a comment Ken made on their relationship in 1980 remains true (it was in Between the Lines, his regular if too short lived and usually very good column in The Body Politic), they have not had sex with each other in nearly 20 years.

This odd couple (to some eyes) were ironically placed in what got billed "spousal rights." They had fought a related battle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1985 Brian asked his employer (the Government of Canada; he worked as translator) for leave to attend Ken's father's funeral. They said no; he launched a challenge. In April 1989 a tribunal of the Canadian Human Rights Commission backed Brian. The feds appealed, the case reaching the Supreme Court.

There, in February 1993, he lost again. But as Xtra headlined its story then, "This 'no' means 'maybe.' "

Ken and Brian had not based their case on a claim to be "spouses"; they claimed bias based on "family status" -- disallowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The court said they might have had better luck if they'd claimed bias based on sexual orientation and made their case a "Charter challenge."


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- part of the constitution, so supreme over all other law -- did not specifically protect people from bias based on sexual orientation.

But the court was inclined to "read in" such protection: the list of prohibited grounds, preceded by the words "in particular," was not seen as exhaustive.

The court couldn't do that in the Mossop case, sexual orientation not the issue at hand. But they did in the 1995 case of Jim Egan and Jack Nesbit. Technically that was a loss, too: Nesbit didn't qualify as Egan's "spouse" under the Old Age Security Act.

However, much more significantly, the court said that that was discrimination based on sexual orientation. They ruled it was allowed in this specific instance -- as a "reasonable limit" on rights. (The Charter's Section 1 clarifies that it ensures rights "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free democratic society." The court found the Old Age Security Act's original intent -- to support widowed women -- a reasonable goal.)

But, the justices agreed -- unanimously -- that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was not allowed more generally.

From that moment, anti gay bias became unconstitutional. Egan and Nesbit's technical loss was a fundamental victory.

In the litany of same sex spouse jurisprudence, "Mossop" is cited nearly as often as "Egan and Nesbit." Both Ken and Brian took pains to say their case had been about family status, not spousal rights. Wisely: it had been a more progressive approach.

In a factum for the Supreme Court in the Mossop case, Gwen Brodsky argued that it would be of more social benefit to more people to broaden the definition of "family" -- "to cover categories of persons or relationships that could not be captured by the term marital status" -- than it would be to include same sex "spouses" in the conventional model of the family.


But the limits of Ken's political pedagogy could be seen even at the Press. The bookkeeper, by virtue of cutting the cheques the effective executor of pay policy, once tried to dock an employee for time taken off to attend his grandmother's funeral.

"Grandmothers," he said, "are not immediate family." His direct supervisor was Ken Popert.

Xtra had run a few opinion pieces critical of spousal rights, one of them my own. But as the spouse fest heated up its every detail got diligently reported as "news." Opinion is just opinion. "News" is reality.

This latest "gay rights" battle got big play, its actors cast as celebrities, its ongoing stories stamped with a cute theme logo. The Press put the latest bulletins on its phone chat lines.

As the 1994 same sex spouse juggernaut roared toward Queen's Park, critics got out of the way, biting their tongues lest they be accused of letting down the side. (At Paul's and my first dinner with Shelagh Day and Gwen Brodsky then, we did such a delicate dance around spousal politics that it took hours to discover all four of us found it a crock.)

It was, again, a way to "mobilize the masses" -- if, again, with dubious excuse and, again, in the vague hope that those masses might then be moved along to more truly progressive politics.


Fat chance. "Spousal rights" (if now as "partnership recognition") is still the limit of official gay politics in Canada.

Xtra, while still reporting it as "news," has lately offered more critiques, many written by lawyer Brenda Cossman, on the Press's board of directors.

In February 1999 she accused EGALE -- Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, Canada's only national gay group -- of shying off messy issues like censorship, age of consent, draconian laws on "child pornography," too caught up in endless spouse touting. The piece was titled "No sex, please: National lobby group stands up for respectable rights only."

(From mid 1999 the feds pondered out loud raising the age of consent from 14 to 16, maybe even 18 -- a move potentially impinging on sex education, disease prevention, birth control and, not least of all, erotic awareness and self determination for more than a million kids, queer and otherwise. EGALE responded in early 2000 with an online survey asking -- as a group lobbying for "equality," nothing more -- whether they should have any position on the issue at all. Duh?...)

In June 1999 Brenda analyzed the Supreme Court's "M vs H" lesbian alimony decision, noting that governments relished the chance to throw "dependent" costs onto "spouses," fitting their deeper agenda: privatization of social welfare and the common good -- once deemed worthy of state support.

"Some of us have won the right to sue our exes," she wrote. "And a bunch of us have won the right to be sued and make the big pay out. And pay we will."


Rights, rights, rights...
Whatever happened to sex?

Gay Human (& Spousal) Rights strategists speak endlessly of "equality," but rarely mention what was once much more central to gay liberation: sexuality.

In modern "gay rights" discourse, sex has disappeared. It's not that we're ashamed of it or anything (oh no, of course not). It's just not the issue; not... well... strategic.

In Xtra, Aug 24, 2000, York University academic & black activist Rinaldo Walcott challenged the limits of "rights" politics based on identity, in a piece titled "The Day Sexual Liberation Died." Some excerpts:

"We live in an age of posts. Post- civil rights, post- women's lib & post- gay- &- lesbian liberation, as each was called in its original arrival on the political scene. ... It is only by seriously engaging the ethics of these social movements that we might ask: where has [their] bastard child -- sexual liberation -- disappeared to?

"What many have failed to see is that these movements were never about identity in the first instance, but about justice.

"Justice does not require an identity to be articulated. One does not have to be a woman to understand & reject patriarchy; gay or lesbian to reject heterosexism; or black to reject racism. One doesn't have to proclaim a sexual identity to call for a plurality of sexual desires & practices.

"Sexual liberation had to go missing because sexual liberation does not have an identity. It has only a politics & an ethics. Yes, it is as open as that. And yes, it can be a can of worms -- a radical politics of sexuality where having to stake a claim to an identity becomes meaningless."

(Meaningless as human truth -- if, sadly, not as human rights strategy....)

The full text of Rinaldo Walcott's The Day Sexual Liberation Died is available online, directly by clicking on the title here, or via

In late 1999 the Tory government of Ontario -- under court order based on the M vs H case, and quite against its will -- amended more than 70 laws that had defined "spouse" as a person of the opposite sex.

The usual cast of gay rights faces showed up on the TV news, hailing another victory. Commentators casually tossed around the term "gay marriage" -- though the Tories, guarding the "family values" front, rigorously resisted any such interpretation.

Days later I got a call from Ann Silversides, writing for Xtra on issues affecting people with HIV. She was looking for a couple living together, one of them on social assistance. I knew of none (I'm out of the AIDS loop now), but I was sure she'd find some.

She hoped to break the news to them gently: now they might well be "spouses" in law, one of them the other's "dependent" -- no longer elegible to depend on state largesse. They could kiss those benefit cheques goodbye.

Now we see the price of "equality" in a system based on private -- even involuntary -- obligation, rather than on any wider public good. But, again, it's all too late, careful thought applied only after we'd cast our lot in the name of "strategy."

The "masses" -- treated as such -- again bought the hype, not the hoped for product.


"Rights" are easy. Brenda Cossman said we'll likely get all the ones we ask for -- as long as they don't tap the public purse.

Other easy answers abound, too. For instance: genetics. The most intelligent comment I've ever heard about "the gay gene" -- neatly encapsulating the "nature vs nurture" debate -- is: "My gay genes are 501s."

Any homo (or anyone) who thinks a single gene can determine something as complex as sexuality knows piss all about genetics -- and even less about self respect, desperate for a simple minded, self absolving excuse for his or her sexuality.

Yet we hear self appointed gay spokespersons blithely say now: homosexuality is biological. This after years of insisting that biology is not destiny.

In 1971 Dennis Altman could posit "the end of the homosexual." (I often wondered who "The Homosexual" was, poor fellow, subject to such scrutiny. Maybe he lived next door to "The Woman," for old leftists each a troubling "Question.") Now gay people are reified as practically a distinct species, genetically determined.

Tim McCaskell has called this the "racialization of homosexuality" -- noting that even what we call race isn't genetic in any simple way: genes are actually more varied within each "race" than between them.

Ah, but it's oh so comforting: it means homosexuality is "not my fault" (or my mother's). As if being gay were a fault.

Long before any social constructionist slagged "essentialism" -- even, for those old enough to remember, before Kinsey's 1948 sexual continuum, many on it somewhere between rock solid straight and outrageously gay -- our lives told us that rigid definitions of sexuality were a fraud.

Now that fraud is again common coin, peddled by homosexuals themselves. Tell a Big Lie often enough and it becomes The Truth. Just ask Josef Goebbels.


The struggle for true social change, for justice extending beyond oneself, one's "identity," one's sanctified "minority" -- that is not so easy.

We have come a very long way from "GAY LIBERATION IS PEOPLE LIBERATION" -- again, a long way downhill.

I live in hope (so far just hope) that some day we'll find our way back to the place from which we once envisioned a better world.

Go on to Media: Beepers as "journalists" -- not
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This page:
January 2000 / Last revised: October 8, 2001
Rick Bébout © 2001 /