Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Photo of the Moment January 27th

visit praireartsters.com

visit http://www.prairieartsters.com/ to read a review I did of the Re-drawing the line show at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

prairieartsters is a blog all about art on the prairies...

ted

Saturday, January 26, 2008

video of the moment: January 26th

video

Unlimited: Current Online Feature and Past Articles



Unlimited Magazine is a new magazine from the publishers of Venture. It has great content and an awesome design. Edited by Dan Rubinstein and art directed by Malcolm Brown.

Follow this link to view a sample of 60 Women Living in Edmonton, part of a photo project I did called Towards Seeing Everything funded by the Edmonton Cultural Capital Project:
http://www.unlimitedmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=142&ed=8&cat=20

Follow this link to read my 360 article in the 1st edition of Unlimited magazine:
http://www.unlimitedmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28&ed=3&cat=15

Towards Seeing Everything Artist Talk with Amy Fung



Below are my notes from this Thursday's Artist Talk.
Thank you to Sharon at Mandolin Book and Moderator Amy Fung!

I want to talk about process tonight, for some of you it will be a new buzzword and for many I suspect it will be an old one. I am tonight looking at how it relates to a lingering buzzword - diversity.

Over the last year I have had the opportunity to be on committees and be involved in working groups.

In my time in these groups I see how diversity is one of the most important values a group can hold. I also see how in many ways we often fail to fully understand diversity.

It is not just about color, size, backgrounds ECT. but of course those things play a part. Diversity is about differences in the minds, thoughts, ways in which the brain works and ways we express ourselves.

True diversity is uncomfortable, unsettglining, challenging. You know that you are experiencing real diversity when you face gets flushed, or you are outraged or feeling confronted.

Diversity comes when the very core of your beliefs are cast in a way that allows you to recognize that
you are possibly wrong,
there is no such thing as right and
that we are all just doing our best to find the answers in a way that provides us joy or peace.

For me the best way to explore and understand diversity is through process. How does one arrive at a certain belief, idea or result? I am fortunate to have just gone through a process where I had to become apart of 4 different processes in order to complete something that was important to me: the role of non-profits and relations to culture.

I am not an artist’s artist. What matters to me are people and how we interact. How we are with each other, and inside ourselves.

I don’t know theory, I never went to school, and I don’t really know what is going on in the art world- or even fully want to believe that there is an art world because for me an Artist is not caged by a group or school or even profession. An Artist is someone who listens to their curiosities, and then how they see it the curiosities through.

A Politician is an artist, a chef is most certainly an artist, doctors shouldn’t always be, but is okay if they are, researchers should be artists and most single parents who play an active role in their children’s lives are for sure artists.

The best writers are artists and the same can be said for painters, filmmakers, photographers and all other titles we often bundle as Artists. And those rare individuals who really make change are artist. It is not a holy word- but for me the term Artist does suggest that there is some internal work being done. A good preacher, yogi, imam monk is an artist. The best policy makers are artists. And in that thinking many people working in non-profits are artists by survival. I know this 1st hand because of my involvement with various non-profits.

I am involved with HIV Edmonton and on the board of Mile Zero Dance. These experiences have given me insight into the inner workings of what makes non-profits tick but also an understanding that when we talk about culture, ecspeally a city’s culture we damage our understanding by not unpacking the word. What is culture? Who deserves to be included under the umbrella? What is the purpose of culture? And how do we ensure that all people are seen as part of the culture. To me a city is just a manifestation of human’s relationships so a culture is part of that manifestation. It is the thing that can not be tangible because it is more than fluid, it is the vapour we all breath that affects how we walk, talk, build and eat.

As soon as I heard about the cultural capital grant as funded through Edmonton’s designation as Canada’s Cultural Capital I knew I wanted to do something that included voices from outside the typical arts and culture community because for me they are the ones that most influence my work. It was being a volunteer and then employee of HIV Edmonton that I began to understand the delicate choreography of stigma and help services. It was while listening to Dr. Fay Fletcher and her work with Changing Together that I began to appreciate the different textures that surround despair and solutions.

My initial idea was to use the naked human form as a way of capturing people’s attention to issues and the simple fact that non-profits exist in Edmonton. It was and is a good idea but as I traveled down the road with the idea I realized that it wasn’t where I wanted to go.

The 1st aside of the evening. I often hear artists as well as those people in the non-profits, talk about projects and they say things like, “oh the idea got away from me and took on a life of it’s own” there is something both beautiful and dangerous about this urge and or phenomenon. As bosses of our own process we cannot abdicate responsibility to a higher power like whim or inspiration without taking responsibility and ensuring that we hold on to the wheel. It is good to be fluid in our thinking but we must honor our initial curiosity and see that through. Too often great ideas are watered down or over complicate because of something taking on a life of it’s own. Since you breathed life in to the idea you are responsible for where it goes. We do not let our children wander the streets at 5 years old. We can let something have a life of it’s own when we have ensured it can stand on it’s own.

So I was given the grant based on the naked idea but more importantly I think I was granted money for the project because at the base of the project was a curiosity about the role of non-profits in creating culture and how culture in turn works with non-profits.

With a letter of introduction (still with the chance of nudity) I approached and was accepted by 4 different non-profits: HIV Edmonton, Mile Zero Dance, Changing Together and Chrysalis. Of the 4 I had intense experience with 2: HIV Edmonton, Mile Zero Dance; perfiral experience with Changing Together and no prior knowledge or understanding of Chrysalis. It was a passion suggested by a trusted person with whom I knew to listen to.

With my friend and artistic advisor Kathy Ochoa I met with a representative from each non-profit. Before we met I sent them a questionnaire that asked them about their work, barriers, success. I was s looking for the nitty gritty, the highs and lows that I wouldn’t get from the website and that only someone committed and maybe slightly burnt out could provide.

I got what I wanted and even though after each meeting I bored poor Kathy with the, “Okay I get it now, this is what I am going to do speech”, it wasn’t until it was almost getting too late in the process that I realized that I was going down a very narrow path dragging all the non-profits with me and that if I kept traveling I might be the only one who made it through to the other side.

I needed to follow a way that was large and accommodated many different destination- not just the small one of meeting my grant requirements. Something also about this process is that it was deadline. I had until the end of 2007 to finish. It was a busy time so it added to the stress, which added to the work.

The learning for me by the end of summer was that every non-profit was unique and that although they shared a lot they were very different. Funding was a concern for all of them. There ability to think outside the box and bring in community help was something else they all did well. They all also appreciated and understood the power and need for creativity in their work and who art could help them. I think to a degree I saw how art help create a good reflection back on them. Art reminded them that their work was beautiful and meaningful and had a place in society to be celebrated.

What I hope you see when you look at the work is 2 seemingly contradictory yet related things. On the outside all the work looks the same. It is white squared. This for me represents not only how they all represent building blocks that make up our culture but also how in many ways they re all in the same boat and can work together to see a bigger picture (towards seeing everything) once inside the box there are difference. Differences of size, numbers, perspectives and details. There are still boxes thought. This was something that came naturally. I see now how it is both in response to my need to contain the largeness of the issues but also as a way of pointing to the idea that these are just details of what I was exploring

(tour of art work. notes not included)

In closing
In the end for me I realized the project need more than just images hanging on a wall. People needed to come together. I planned a community discussion and invited people from all the different groups to come together to discuss what the images were attempting to animate.

In part this was a reaction to the classical art opening where nobody talks about the art, but in part it was also an homage to art show where people connect after not seeing for a while and catch up on each other’s lives. It is also a place where people come up with new ideas and have conversations that lead to new projects.

A group discussion is also an opportunity to bring together all the different processes I was involved with and give them a chance to influence each other they way they had me. I often feel blessed in this life that I get the opportunity to meet and work with some many amazing people- present company included.

Not to tute my own horn but I am happy with who I am becoming as an artist understanding that I have a long way to go and credit it all to the diversity of voices that I have had along the way.

In the end if we as a collective or even as individuals are working towards seeing everything we need to pick up different lens, filters, and perspectives along the way. It can be achieved through many ways and I thank you for being a part of tonight, which is only on example.

Video of the Moment: January 26th


birds in edmonton... (turn the sound down)
video

Photo of the moment : january 26th

News Vue Weekly Week of January 24, 2008, Issue #640

LONG-RUNNING INTERNATIONAL WEEK OFFERS OPPORTUNITY TO ACT ON GLOBAL CHALLENGES
TED KERR / ted@vueweekly.com

On the historic day Dr Sima Samar was named Deputy Chair and Minister of Women’s Affairs for the interim administration of Afghanistan she was here in Edmonton. Seven years and many accolades and weighty global assignments later, she is back, this time as one of four keynote speakers for the University of Alberta’s 23rd annual International Week.

Hosting Dr Samar that day—mere months after Sep 11, 2001 and in the early stages of the invasion of Afghanistan—was Nancy Hannemann, director of Global Education with the University of Alberta International, the coordinating body of the annual event.

Hannemann says that bringing people like Dr Samar to the city to connect people here to issues around the world is what International Week—or I-Week as it has come to be known—is all about.

“Every individual in Edmonton should be a global citizen,” Hannemann insists, “and realize that they are connected and that their actions affect everyone around the world.”

Coinciding with the U of A’s centenary, the theme of this year’s event is also a gauntlet thrown, Addressing Global Challenges: 100 Years and Beyond.

“Knowledge is a very important component of addressing issues,” Hannemann explains. “The University has a role in affecting change. As we look at the next 100 years what do we want the university’s role to be?”

The role that the university and I-Week can play in affecting such change is an intensely personal one for this year’s I-Week volunteer coordinator Roshini Nair. Nair made the jump from the sciences to a major in anthropology after seeing 2006 I-Week keynote speaker Stephen Lewis.

“[International Week showed me] that a community of people who care very deeply about international issues exists, and that my educational pursuits do have real-life relevance,” Nair recalls.
It works the other way as well, says Pat Mooney, who is speaking on the issue of extreme genetic engineering at an event on Jan 31.

“It is an encouraging thing to be invited,” Mooney says, adding that with much of his time spent with politicians and bureaucrats the week is a refreshing change which offers him the opportunity “to talk to students who offer new perspectives, different angles and different sets of priorities.”

With more than 60 free events, including speakers, workshops, displays and performances, Hannemann says the aim of I-Week is to use dialogue and connections to spur people on and get them “inspired to be involved in resolving issues in a real way.” To do so, Hannemann insists that people must “understand that the issues presented are complex,” pointing to Africa as an example of the intricacies of global issues.

“We look at Africans as victims of war and other calamities,” she explains. “I want people to see that many vibrant cultures exist in Africa, to share a more holistic view of African people and to recognize that Africans have much to contribute to the rest of the world.”

And so, the week offers “Beyond Indigo,” an exhibition of renowned Nigerian textile artist Nike Okundaye as well as the Jan 29 “Spotlight on Darfur,” which will bring together an expert panel including UN personnel, academics and Sudanese refugee and activist Mohammed Adam Yahy to discuss the ongoing crisis in the Sudan.

Knowing how disingenuous it might sound, the authentically excited Hannemann confesses that this year is the highlight of her 14 years of involvement with I-Week.

“Every year gets bigger and better. This year we have four prominent keynotes,” she says. Along with Dr Samar there is medical anthropologist Dr Paul Farmer, a hero to many in the HIV community; anti-landmine activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams; and author and economist Jeffery Sachs.

While introducing Edmontonians to global issues is a major aim of the week, Hannemann stresses that more important is what people do with the information for the other 51 weeks of the year.

“Garnering knowledge is only one part of it. You have to act. Follow up on issues that are important, go with what struck you, become more informed, get connected, have a long view, and plan for change.

“When I started this work people shied away from promoting global citizenship within the university but now we have a university president that is an advocate for global citizenship. Things can be done to create a better world both at an individual and institutional level.” V


Mon, Jan 28 - Fri, Feb 1
International Week 2008: Addressing Global Challenges 100 Years & Beyond
U of A Campus, most events free
iweek.ualberta.ca

THE POWER OF WRITING: AN EXILE SPEAKS
TED KERR / ted@vueweekly.com

As a Kurdish poet, journalist and—before he was imprisoned for his writing—executive director of the Department of the Culture Ministry in northern Iraq, it’s safe to say that Jalal Barzanji is more than qualified to speak on the 2008 International Week theme, Addressing Global Challenges.

In his role as Edmonton’s Writer in Exile, Barzanji will be sharing stories from his personal journey and speaking about writing in an atmosphere of fear and how one can use writing as a tool to “defend freedom.”

“He inspires us by his example,” says Dr Gurston Dacks, acting dean of the Faculty of Arts, whose office is sponsoring the event. “He wants to create poetry, and that trumps everything else.”

The Faculty of Arts is also a sponsor, along with Edmonton Community Foundation, Canada Council, Edmonton Arts Council and others, of the Writer in Exile program. Hosted by the Writers Guild of Alberta, the program is intended to aid “immigrant writers living in Canada, and to create opportunities for them to pursue a professional career.”

“I belong to my freedom and my writing,” says Barzanji. “[Writing is a way to] at least try to create even a small amount of change in order to make the world more beautiful.” V

Wed, Jan 30 (3:30 pm)
The Power of Writing: An Exile Speaks
Dewey’s, U of A, Free

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of January 24, 2008, Issue #640

There were reports in mid-January of confusion from those involved with organ donation. Starting in December of 2007 Health Canada made changes to its organ donor policy that now potentially excludes organs donated by gay men. While it is true that these new precautions are in place, it is not meant to discourage gay men from donating. What it does mean is that more information will be gathered at the time of donating that will help Health Canada to determine the risk of the organ based on their own criteria.

People were confusing Health Canada’s policy on organ donation with the Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) flawed policy on blood donation which states that “All men who have had sex with another man, even once, since 1977 are indefinitely deferred [from donating blood].” The CBS reports to Health Canada, so any policy of the CBS is a policy of Health Canada. At the root of the ban on gay male blood is the higher rate of HIV among gay men, a disease that is passed through bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal secretion and breast milk.

Many university groups across Canada, not including the U of A, called for a review of CBS’s donor policies, some of which are seen as a form of institutionalized discrimination, including Question 18, the infamous “sex with another man” question.

Many other groups of people are also banned from donating blood, including those who have travelled to France for longer than three months or those which spent one month in the UK between 1980 and 1997. This is based on the inability to test for Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, a human form of Mad Cow Disease.

At around the same time as all the blood and organ hoopla was happening, CTV.ca reported on a very important story stemming from the Annals of Internal Medicine’s new findings on MRSA, the bacteria which can spread through casual skin to skin contact and can lead to abscesses, ulcerations and life-
threatening infections. The story read, “Sexually active gay men are many times more likely than others to acquire a new, highly drug-resistant strain of staph infection related to the MRSA bacteria.” The actual report states that “the germ appears to be transmitted most easily through intimate sexual contact.”

On the tip of everyone’s tongue in these stories were the words “anal sex,” but nobody was willing to say it. What is at risk by not saying anal sex is the further discrimination of gay men, the continued confusion of sexual acts and behaviour with sexual orientation and the well-being of sexually active people regardless of labels.

One of the lone institutions that was willing to use the term anal sex was the CBC. In its online story regarding gay men and organ donation the CBC quoted Toronto gay activist Dean Robinson: “I think it’s more of an issue of anal sex, anal intercourse, than it is to do with whether someone is gay or straight.”

Simply being gay does not put someone at greater risk of sexually contracting HIV or MRSA. Gay people’s blood is not being refused because of our supposed collective love of Kylie. We are not being asked about our sexual orientation or past when donating organs as a way of making conversation. In the collective minds of policy makers and squeamish media, gay means anal. As HIV Edmonton education coordinator Lynn Sutankayo says, we need to “stop referring to anal sex as ‘gay sex.’ Studies indicate that about 25 per cent of heterosexual couples have had [anal sex] at least once, and 10 per cent regularly have anal penetration.”

According to my own non-scientific studies, this number is way higher. Not to mention the fact that, as many homo dudes can attest to, gay does not always mean anal. From oral to intercrural intercourse (thigh sex), from heavy petting to whatever, there are as many definitions to gay sex or sexual activity in general as there are combinations of people.

This is serious. We need to start calling things by their proper names and saying what we mean even if it causes discomfort. MRSA is a health risk, and Health Canada’s policies on blood and organ donation are barriers to dismantling systemic discrimination. As long as we talk in orientations and not behaviours, we’re missing an opportunity to talk about our bodies and how we use them in a real way. All people, regardless of how they are sexually labelled, need to know about the risks associated with all sexual behaviours. All people who engage in anal sex need to know how to take care of themselves on the road to pleasure and all people need to understand that gay men are not being denied the right to donate blood because they are less human or more dangerous but because of a sexual act that they may or may not engage in.

Use a lot of lube and a condom when you have anal sex. Go slow, have fun, have a safe word (“yellow” for slow, “red” for stop), and do it because you want to. Also: wear a seatbelt, let your coffee cool before you drink it, chew before you swallow, look both ways before you cross the street and wash your hands—that last one is actually the best defense against MRSA.

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of January 9, 2008, Issue #638

Long after the night had slipped into a state of sunder my friend pointed up to the beam above the downstairs dance floor. There against the black stuccoed surface was a mass of cables and cords attached to an industrial outlet. It was a sight I had seen countless other Saturday nights; spotlights and reflections from the half disco ball momentarily and repeatedly illuminating the electrical still life of eclipsed building codes. He leaned in to my ear as I stood, neck stretched toward the dancefloor sky and said, “That,” his face warm with drink, dance and nostalgia, “will never be again.”

It was the last Saturday night at the Roost and the overwhelming feeling I had of a world ending, collapsing in on itself, had given way to a friend’s hands on my hips as we danced to a surprisingly decent string of songs. “Here we are now, entertain us, acting stupid and contagious.” I took out my phone and snapped a photo of the cables and lights. As I look at the photo uploaded on to my computer almost a week later, I see the photo as an attempt to salvage something concrete from the night that, like the club itself, has slipped into the Bermuda pink triangle of memories.

Waiting in line to get in that night, the pads of my feet frozen, I couldn’t help shake the feeling that we were all boarding a doomed plane. As if everyone, standing there with our exhaled breath illuminated by the big red “R” and the 104th street lamps, were all in one of those ‘70s disaster flicks. The ones where the audience tries to figure out who will die first and who will survive as the characters are being introduced. The difference being that we all knew that it was the Roost that wouldn’t make it and it was us, the survivors, that were going to be left contemplating how and why the Roost matters.

As I made my way around the two dance floors, the pool tables, the concession, the different bars, up and down the stairs, I felt very strongly that I wanted to see every person that I had ever seen there before. I wanted to see them as a way of acknowledging that we had existed in the same place at the same time and had survived. It was silly and overwrought but it felt real and more important than I could understand. As I nodded or shared a smile with some of the pretty boy faces of my years in retail, and the handsome lesbians that inspire how I dress, I understood that we were each other’s witnesses and showed each other a way of being together.
Propped up against the pinball machine by the patio door in front of the backside bar was an older gentleman with spiky dyed blond hair and a handsome looking pea coat on. He was literally beside himself with a pint of beer. He got up when I did and we passed each other going in different directions. “I have been coming here since the beginning,” he said to no one/everyone/himself. I remember the first time I saw a gay man over 50 that wasn’t on the news or being supported by a laugh track, I felt lighter and instantly recognized that being gay isn’t just about pecs and cocks. It was about who I was and what I wanted to be. It wasn’t a choice and it wasn’t going to be easy but I would make it and I would be fine.

A lot of people, the Roost staff included, say that maybe the bar outlived its purpose, that because of the changes in society a club like the Roost was no longer necessary. They are wrong. You are wrong if you think this. So what if a slim-hipped, lip-pieced, pan-sexual man lady can go buy a beer at the Black Dog whenever they want. What about the older man in the pea coat? How welcome is he going to feel at the Bank? Where am I going to Vogue without abandon? Where is the small town queer that snuck away from home for the weekend going to go to get some same-sex humping? Not Oil City Road House, that’s for sure. Of course we might still have Buddies, Prism and Boots but these are specialty bars aimed at a specific demographics. When and how are we going to see each other again?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not an advocate for the gay bar as a community centre and I am the first to admit that the Roost was not an oasis of tolerance but I also understand the important role nightlife plays in our queer culture. It is under the cloak of night and the influence of shitty music and watered down drinks that many of us find ourselves ... finding ourselves.

By seeing people a lot like us, or a lot different than us we begin to see the world as bigger. Possibilities of how we can inhabit our being become vast in their scope. We try on various ways of dancing, moving, interacting and fool or no fool we are the better for it.

As we fumble towards assimilation (or worse invisibility) we will loose sight of each other. Now think of the lone half disco ball suspended above an empty darkened dance floor. Dull with nothing to reflect.

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of December 26, 2007, Issue #636

I hope that Hollywood makes a big gay love story where neither one of the lovers dies. Or if not Hollywood, some kid with a video camera. In 2008, I’d like to continue the string of sexy dreams I’ve been having about Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts. I want to be fisted by Matt Damon. I hope that in 2008, queer kids will hate themselves less. I hope that for us adults, too. I would like to stop checking my email so much.

I would like more people reading about queerness, more understanding of polyamory, winks on the LRT, brave performances and a bathhouse night for women and transpeople. My wish for the queer community in the New Year is a desire to get involved. I foresee people deciding that it’s time to pay back; we do this by remembering the obstacles we’ve overcome and decide to make it easier for the next generation.

I hope that society figures out that all people need access to the basic necessities, regardless of difference or state of health. I want my opinion to exist independent. I want to see the rates of HIV infection go down instead of up. I want to see the world from perspectives other than my own, so that it’s upside down, sideways, aslant. And I want to go to Argentina. Viva la Edmonton Queer Renaissance!

My wish is that smart decisions be made about downtown Edmonton, and that the warehouse district becomes a walkable, café-strewn, indie shop-laden maze. Maybe this is too much to ask from a bourgeois urban queer in the throes of a city obsessed with strip malls. I want to be okay with farting in public. I would really like to see the year where there is no need for a pride parade, because we will all be accepted. I want Pizzaway. I want to go to San Francisco.

I want the queer community in Alberta to riot in the streets and reclaim the radical past of the movement for queer liberation NOT assimilation. I wish for queer spaces and queer organizers to lay plans for a rowdy future that is safe and accepting for us while maintaining strong politics, inclusivity, sexual positivity, wicked kink and avid knowledge of queer histories.

As a two-spirit man I would like to see more education done about two-spirit people (even if it has to be me). We are a proud people with a proud past. I want amazing great people to stop leaving Edmonton.
To have a successful and meaningful resolution to my harassment and discrimination grievance and Alberta Human Rights Commission complaint. To go to the gym more often, to have more sex, to stop trying to make my life take an unnatural shape, to let go but these don’t matter because I don’t really believe in resolutions. I would like to find out where I don’t fit. I’m going to work less, and take more time for my friends, and for nurturing my soul.
I want a job that means more to society than getting somebody their coffee, DVD or jeans ... way more. I wish us a reflective year when we reflect on the decade since our rights to freedom from discrimination became Alberta law, where we see where we have come from, and plan a future where our cultures thrive. I want to see comprehensive sexual health education for all people including sexual minorities.

Resolution: to come to terms with my boyfriend being a transman and accept that I’m still queer, no matter what. To volunteer with Youth Understanding Youth, support Camp Fyrefly, get involved with one of the Team Edmonton sports groups, volunteer or even send story ideas to Gaywire and Queermonton. My wish for 2008 is that the community rallies around itself, support itself, take pride in who we are and help build the institutions needed to provide even the most rudimentary support to our youth and our closeted brothers and sisters.

To mark the 10-year anniversary of the Vriend decision in 2008, the Alberta government officially “write” sexual orientation into the province’s human rights statute. I want all schools to be safe for kids to come out in. I want to stop thinking so much. I want them to make an all male version of America’s Next Top Model. I want a queer bar to open up in Edmonton, not just another gay bar. Edmonton Queers challenge fate: no more hate in 2008!

One night of amazing sex without hearing that nagging inner voice shouting, “be careful, be careful, be careful.” I would like to be the voice for the muted. I want to stop trying to find myself and instead just be comfortable being myself.

The above is a collection of queer resolutions, confusions, convictions, fears, needs and hopes. It is an attempt to give voice to our collective identity. It is who we are right now.

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of December 12, 2007, Issue #634

On a Wednesday afternoon with the low winter sun washing a warm hue over the front room of the Pride Centre of Edmonton (PCE), Brendan Van Alstine has tucked himself into the corner of a couch. He is relaxed yet upright. He shifts every once and a while to grab his NAIT travel mug, which will hold his four cups of coffee that day. His grin relays slight puzzlement and his face seems prepared to spring sceptic at any moment.

Brendan is not overly comfortable or excited talking about himself. He prefers group dynamics and consensus building; he is a social worker by trade. It is with slight bewilderment and humour that he jokingly talks about how he has been “forced into a community leadership role.” Considering his work at the Pride Centre, to say nothing of his extracurricular activities, which include volunteering with Youth Understanding Youth and Camp fYerfly, helping to relaunch Guerilla Gay Bars in Edmonton and helping to found the Transit Riders Union of Edmonton (TRUE), it’s not hard to see how he has found himself in the position. Entrenched at the centre of important issues like mentorship, mobility, diversity and inclusiveness, it’s no wonder Brendan would rather get back to work than sit and talk.

As the Youth Programs Coordinator at the PCE, Brendan finds himself responsible for fun stuff like hanging out, watching movies and creating leadership activities with queer youth from all over Edmonton that drop in, as well as the more mundane tasks of filling out reports, paperwork and networking.
He has worked at “the centre” for two years, the last year as a full-time member of the staff. In that time he has helped move the centre from its previous location to its current home on 111 Ave and 95 Street, where they have a great landlord. He has seen life at the centre “crystallize.”

“There used to be this perception that the centre was just for LGBTT people who were in need of help,” but now, he says, people of all ages as well as gender and orientation identities, “come to the centre because they want to be a part of the community. They come to drink coffee, chat, watch a movie.”
Brendan first gained experience working with youth as a volunteer with Rave Safe, a group that aims to promote a healthy dance and techno culture by educating youth about drugs, sex and addictions through a harm-reduction based approach.

It was through Rave Safe that he realized he wanted to become a social worker, thinking that he wanted to come out of school as an addictions counsellor. After a work placement with an addictions counsellor he realized that it wasn’t what he wanted and that he would much rather work with youth. “It’s good to know that I am a positive person [in their lives] when they have no other adults around ... it’s good to be the role model you never had.”

He wishes more young people would get involved in politics like he has, canvassing for both Malcolm Azania and Linda Duncan during federal elections, but understands that “it’s easy to take things for granted if you haven’t had to fight for anything.”

Through his work and as an “all-around queer guy,” Brendan recognizes that although things are getting better, “There is still homophobia, and as invisible minorities, we are so easy to ignore.” Involved with the same-sex marriage debate, Brendan thinks that the next fight on the horizon is around maintaining rights. “If you’re not exercising your rights then they disappear.”

Around 3 pm, when people start filtering in to the Pride Centre to snuggle up with a book from the LGBT library or make their way downstairs to the youth space, Brendan begins to get distracted from our conversation. Without having to say a word he excuses himself and begins to do the small things around the centre he needs to do to make a difference. It’s while turning on computers, giving advice to an intern social work student or planning for the next week that, for the first time all day, Brendan seems genuinely comfortable.

_____________

It would be remiss of Queermonton not to mention the passing of the trail-blazing writer and activist Jane Rule. Queermonton resident, artist, curator and writer Anthony Easton writes in her obituary:

“Jane Rule lived with her partner Helen for 50 years, mostly on Galiano Island. During that time, she lectured on composition, lent Atwood a set of dishes, fought censorship, taught local kids how to swim, placed herself in the centre of radical gay male sexual culture, smoked, drank, cursed and wrote. Her writing was wise, learned, wry, very very funny and on fire for a justice that shot through with a WASP's sense of ambiguity. Writing will be her legacy, including the novel Desert of the Hearts, and essay collections like Lesbian Images and Hot-Eyed Moderate. But in so many other tangible ways, she was den mother to us (queers, Canadians, writers, westerners) all.”

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of November 28, 2007, Issue #632

Dec 1 is World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people to unite their focus, hope and strength in an attempt to improve the lives of the estimated 33.2 million people worldwide who are living with HIV, to ensure that everyone around the globe is receiving HIV/AIDS education and to support all those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. It is also an opportunity to remind people to find out their own HIV status by getting tested and to reinforce the reality that there is no cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS (but thanks to modern medicine there are drugs that prolong the lives of people who are HIV positive).

For me World AIDS day is also a day to remember that while HIV/AIDS is a universal concern, we as a community must not forget that it is also a relevant and uniquely gay issue. Many people, gay men included, attempt to de-gay HIV/AIDS. This creates a false sense of safety and a type of apathy that leads to misinformed choices and irreversible consequences.

Statistics released in 2006 show that men who have sex with men (MSM)—a blanket term that includes gay men, bisexual men and men who engage in homo sex acts but do not identify as gay or bi—account for 51 per cent of new HIV infections in Canada, up from 45 per cent the previous year and compared to 27 per cent of those who engage in hetro sex acts and 17 per cent of those who use drugs intravenously. While rates among intravenous drug users have gone down in the past four years, rates among MSM have gone up. Both are stigmatized groups.

Gay men are still living and dying with HIV. We are still infecting each other. In Alberta the numbers are going up, as are rates of the other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). We are ignoring safer sex campaigns and we are still not receiving comprehensive, gay-friendly sex education in school. In many respects we are still stigmatized for being gay and we are still often choosing to have anonymous underground sex, not because it is hot but because of low self esteem and societal pressures that make us feel we have to in order to stay closeted.

Pre-1982, before the term AIDS was created, HIV / AIDS was called the Gay Plague, the Gay Cancer and GRID (Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease) because it was thought to be primarily killing gay men. Friends, lovers, fuck buddies and brothers began dying in the gay meccas of the Castro in San Fransisco and Greenwich in New York. Once enclaves of promiscuity and freedom, these homohoods became city blocks of ghosts and protests. In the beginning, long before Bono or Oprah, it was gay men, lesbians and allies that cared for the sick, educated the masses and helped prevent scores of others from becoming infected. No one else was doing the work. The mainstream media was afraid and politicians for the most part chose not to be proactive.
Even in our own city gay men were dying, sometimes in empty far-flung hospital rooms unattended by nurses that were too afraid to make contact. The Imperial Sovereign Court started raising money for what was then called the AIDS Network of Edmonton (now HIV Edmonton) and in its early years Loud and Queer was filled with pieces about loved ones passing away.

Gone was the sense of utopia that Stonewall ‘69 had afforded the gay community; in its place was fear and questions. “What is killing us?” and “Why is no one doing anything about it?” quickly and necessarily evolved into “Where should we meet?” and “What can I do?” Drag queens added activism to their talents and himbos became nurses. Bathhouses became political and condoms suddenly became something gay people had to deal with.

HIV/AIDS made space and a reason for men to come out of the closet and taught us new ways to be intimate. It shone a light on systemic homophobia and created divisions within gay communities. It added to the stigma of homosexuality and politicized as well as radicalized many gay men. Gay leaders emerged in the face of it and many gay artists found their voice because of it. It created allies and enemies within governments and global organizations. It inspired conversation and self-reflection about what is it to be gay and what it is to be alive.

HIV has taken away countless lives and in their place left us imagining all of the unknown creations, inventions, understandings, works of art, friendships and ways of being that they took with them. It has also hugely impacted gay sexuality and culture while leaving us with an opportunity to know ourselves better in its wake.

HIV/AIDS is a gay issue. It is part of our queer history and how we continue to live and die with HIV/AIDS is part of queer legacy.

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of November 14, 2007, Issue #630

Being gay seems to grant my friends permission to give me touchy feeling greeting cards, which I gushingly, gaily, gratefully accept. One of my favourite cards was one that said something to the effect of, “It is not the big choices in life that make us who we are, it is the small ones.”

This idea has stayed with me because it speaks to the beauty of small things, the power of banality and the amazing arithmetic of nuance. It also lends itself to be a meditation on this new age we have entered, one of nano, micro and local. In the post-9/11 world we have begun to remember the local in the face of the global, have become more aware of the interconnection of both, and seem to have chosen to focus on the intimate in place of the monolithic.

The rise of craft sales, organic food and dialogue around cities and identity are all manifestations of our need to grasp and grab the known world around us as a way of dealing with or blocking out the rest of the world which is beyond our reach and immediate control.

As we begin to take the small steps to see what is around us, a new appreciation emerges, and with that comes a sense of ownership and pride. On the flip side, we also see things that are unjust or that we think ought to change or improve. The more local we look, the more we see our own capacity to affect change. Once we have a sense of agency and responsibility for our actions, we begin to exercise our duties as a citizen.
As a gay citizen it is interesting for me to consider my own role in all of this. Michael Phair gave a speech last year at an LGBT human rights conference where he spoke about the “queering of cities” and the idea that, as people from within the community, we have a chance to consider how we can reconcile our queer identities with our citizenship, thus creating change in our cities.

I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what he meant, but before long I found myself a part of Exposure: Edmonton’s Queer Arts and Culture Festival, and was being supplied with answers at every turn.

A few weeks before that speech Phair had invited some people to city hall to discuss the possibility and feasibility of putting together a queer festival. The enthusiasm in the room eventually lead to the creation of a steering committee and from there Exposure was off and running. I feel lucky that I heard the queering cities speech because it put Phair’s vision in context. Exposure is an opportunity for members of the queer community to think about their contribution to the city, and allow for all Edmontonians to consider the contribution of queer people to the city. It is hard to conceive of a modern, cultured city that does not have an active queer community, and Exposure is a way for people to see that Edmonton is no exception.

Something that I think we as Edmontonians take for granted is—as the multi-involved Kris Wells puts it on the wall of a new Facebook group called “For those who think being a GLBT in Edmonton, AB does NOT SUCK”—”Edmonton is a hotbed for LGBTQ activism.”

He’s right. Ever since the Pieces bathhouse was raided, Darrin Hagen moved his high heels and curlers to Edmonton, Phair got elected, Womenspace had their first potluck, someone from Making Waves put on a Speedo, Kristy Harcourt first gave advice and Trevor Anderson picked up a camera (or a set of drumsticks for that matter), Queermontonians have been active.

Exposure is the natural progression. Be it through the Fringe or CariWest, Edmonton groups have a long tradition of gaining attention by putting on a festival and, never a group to willingly be ignored, we homos are no different.

The Exposure festival carves out a space and place where queerness, regardless of how one defines the word, can be contemplated, debated and celebrated by all Edmontonians through the lens of art and culture.

One thing that I have realized through my involvement with Exposure is that most people do not aspire to be an artist or an activist. They do not wake up in the morning and think about their role as a citizen, queer or straight. Sure one might make a choice to buy local but it’s not knowingly a political act. Most people are concerned with making car payments and paying their taxes, trying not to break laws, giving to charity when they can, all the while attempting to carve a life out for themselves in the city.

When one is able to do this, all while being gay, then I think as a community we have begun achieving what Phair was talking about. By being ourselves no matter how loud or banal we might be, we queer the city. By participating in Exposure, be it as an artist, volunteer, donor or audience member, one is in a small way flexing their Edmonton queer citizen muscle and, as we know, that is what changes the world.

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of October 31, 2007, Issue #628

1998 was a tumultuous time to be gay on the flat plains of North America’s prairies. Big skies and land as far as the eye could see provided no protection from the unruly human winds that in this so-called modern time often deliver crueler storms of torture than Mother Nature ever could.
Vriend vs Alberta

On Apr 2, 1998 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Vriend vs Alberta case that provincial governments could not exclude LGBT individuals from human rights legislation.

The Supreme Court’s ruling was the result of a six-year battle that began when Delwin Vriend was fired from his job as a lab coordinator at King’s University College in Edmonton due to his sexual orientation.

When Vriend attempted to file a discrimination complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission his request was refused on the grounds that sexual orientation was not protected by Alberta’s code of human rights. This meant that Vriend could not sue the College directly for discrimination because, in the eye of Alberta’s laws, being a sexual minority was a seemingly justifiable reason to be fired. With that decision, Vriend sued the Government of Alberta and its Human Rights Commission for not protecting him. The issue was not that the college fired him because he was gay, but that the college could fire him because he was gay.

In 1992, Vriend’s case against the Province resulted in an Alberta court ruling stating sexual orientation must be written in as a new protected class under the human rights legislation. However, the provincial government appealed the decision through the Alberta Court of Appeals and had the decision overturned. This meant that Vriend and all other sexual minorities were in the same boat as when he was first fired, a precariously unsafe one that could easily be led by a homophobic captain throwing queers overboard, leaving them with no lifejacket.

This final ruling at the provincial level led Vriend and his team to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada where within a year the hearing was over and the Vriend camp emerged victorious. In the end all provinces read the Supreme Court’s ruling into their human rights legislation—all except Alberta, which to this day has yet to read it in.

Matthew in Wyoming

I find it hard to write about Matthew Shepard. I don’t know where to start and I need to believe that you already know what happened starting Oct 6, 1998. I don’t know how much detail to go into nor how much of him to bring into it and how much of what happened to share.

With Vriend it’s different. As simple as it is to see that there would be no Vriend vs Alberta without Delwin, the story quickly finds it’s own narrative. Vriend becomes the symbol for the small army of people including Delwin that fought hard and won the case.

With Matthew it is about one young man who could have been and has been countless young people among us. The difference is that most of us escape with a cautionary tale that makes us shake our heads with disbelief later in life. Matthew paid with his life, his head shaking and flinching from the impacts of fists and the butt of a gun. He was tied to a fence on the outskirts of a city that wasn’t even his own, beaten by two strangers who lured him out of the neon danky glow of a bar by pretending to be gay with the somewhat-innocent intent to just rob him. But everything came loose; things got out of hand.

Matthew suffered a fracture that went from the back of his head to his right ear—an earthquake inside the flesh of his head, damaging his brain stem and affecting his body’s ability to control its own heat or make the heart beat.

They left him for dead, without a wallet and shoeless, begging while they went to rob his house, only to be distracted from the task by more violence and subsequently apprehended. A mountain biker found Matthew the next morning, a near-lifeless lump clumped up against the cold autumn earth. He was unconscious and died in a hospital within six days.

If it were not for hearing Matthew’s mother Judy courageously tell the story in the hopes of “making even a small difference,” I am not sure I could even attempt to write about Matthew. But who am I to cower at an opportunity when even his own mother can say the words: Matthew was killed because he was gay. Matthew was a victim of a hate crime even if, at the time, the state of Wyoming was not equipped with the laws to say so.

Find out more. But don’t google him, because hateful websites come up. Instead, search out The Laramie Project at the library, video store or local playhouse. In fact, Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts is putting on a production this November.

Six months, life and a border separate Vriend’s victory from Matthew’s murder. When viewed together the stories show two men unwittingly illustrating the similarities between the terrain of Alberta and Wyoming and the vastness between rights and realities, intentions and actions. The world did not become a better place when Vriend was passed and it did not stop when Matthew’s heart did. Ten years later, we who still live on the Prairies carry on and so does the world around us.

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of October 17, 2007, Issue #626

What is it to be gay? Can our gayness be measured by how others perceive us? Are we gay if we never have same-sex nudie relations? Are we gay because we say we are, or are we gay because someone else says we are? For asylum seeker Alvaro Orozco and Canadian Immigration Minister Diane Finley, these questions have never been more poignant or important to consider.

Since his Oct 4, 2007 deportation date, Orozco, a 22-year-old gay man born in Nicaragua, has been in hiding in the Toronto area. The deportation order is so far the last word from Immigration Canada on his three-year-long journey to achieve refugee status based on sexual orientation, a journey that began at the age of the 13 when Orozco fled his family to escape abuse and fled his country in pursuit of freedom.

Currently, Orozco’s only hope of staying in Canada and avoiding the persecution and violence that would greet him upon returning to Nicaragua is for Minister Finley to grant him a Minister’s Permit to stay in Canada based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

As a boy Orozco says that he was different from his brothers. His father, who called him “marica” (derogatory term for gay), knew it as well and physically and emotionally punished him for it. As he entered his teens he began to feel that the macho Nicaraguan society would not be much more accepting of him. Orozco was right.

The same year Orozco turned seven, the government of Nicaragua added an amendment to the penal code that criminalized same-sex marriage, as well as sodomy. Six years later, in 1998, Orozco began his epic journey from Managua, the place of his birth, to Toronto, his adopted hometown. In between, he travelled through South America, sleeping in churches and landing in jails, he swam the Rio Grande to get to America, where he was taken in by members of the 7th Day Adventist Church, and eventually, inspired from his internet research, made his way via Buffalo to Canada, a place he felt was a beacon of hope and resources for gay immigrants.

As soon as he arrived in Canada he sought refugee status based on the domestic violence he had experienced. Coming out to officials and befrienders was not something Orozco felt comfortable doing, however. It wasn’t until he witnessed the "outness" of gay men in Toronto that he felt comfortable enough to include sexual orientation into his claim. While living in Nicaragua and throughout his journey, Orozco maintained and practiced the survival skill of concealing his sexual orientation. “I deliberately tried to act as ‘straight’ as possible” he says, “I was terrified of being perceived as gay.” This is where the irony gets thick and tragic.
On Oct 6, 2005, Orozco appeared via teleconference before Deborah Lamont, a member of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. He was in Toronto; she was in Calgary. After what he describes as a grueling process that tested his mere six years of formal education, his claim was rejected. Ms Lamont did not believe that Orozco was gay.

In her ruling, she stated that Orozco was fabricating the sexual orientation portion of his claim in order to support “a non-existent claim for protection in Canada.” She found his “many explanations unsatisfactory for why he chose not to pursue same-sex relationships in the US.” She also cited the fact that at age 13, Orozco did not inform Nicaraguan officials that he was escaping the country because he was gay.

Implicit in this ruling, says Orozco’s lawyer El-Farouk Khaki, is the notion that Orozco isn’t “gay enough,” or does not “appear” to be gay. “The decision” he says, “shows a lack of understanding of issues facing queer kids from homophobic cultures.”

It also raises important questions: does the Canadian justice system run on the assumption that everyone is straight unless proved otherwise? Does that make Canada’s judicial culture homophobic? What does a sexual minority “look” like in the eyes of the law? How do we prove we are gay? Should we have to?
A few days before his Feb 2007 deportation date, Orozco received a two-month deferral by the justice department that gave his lawyer time to fill a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment application. The PRRA, like his initial claim, was rejected and resulted in the now eclipsed Oct 4 deportation date.

Sadly, it seems that due to his inability to appear camp-on-command, have sex before he was ready or exercise a suicidal need to tell the people he was fleeing from why he was doing so, Immigration Canada has forced Orozco to hide—the very thing he was attempting to escape from. V

Visit orangehabitat.com/alvaro for updates or more information on Orozco’s case.

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of October 3, 2007, Issue #624

t is Sunday morning after the gay bar. I am still wearing yesterday’s socks, and the sun has already risen above the office buildings of downtown. I can smell somebody else’s breakfast cooking from another apartment in the building. I am dehydrated and the smell makes me slightly sick to my stomach. My eyes are dry, and my joints are a bit stiff. I have a mega mix of terrible songs in my head and I am smiling.

The promise of a cup of coffee coerces me to get out of bed, brush my teeth and drink some water. There are no decent breakfast places I know about around where I live that are open on Sundays. I put some coffee in the maker, get dressed with clothes that I rescue from my bedroom floor and walk across the street to the grocery store to pick up a muffin and some fruit.

There is something so quiet about downtown Edmonton on a Sunday morning. The early bird risers in their running clothes look alarmingly healthy and un-fun against the backdrop of barstars and one-night stands scurrying to get home before noon. The latter wearing sunglasses like shields against the morning sun, their crumpled clothes reeking of last night betraying them, their mouths held in a way that tells a story of impulsive good times or slight disappointment. I smile at one girl as she attempts to keep herself together after getting off a bus. She smiles back.
When I arrive back at my apartment the coffee is ready. I sit at my kitchen table and stare out of my window for a while.

My apartment overlooks a back alley that is doted with large garbage bins every 1/4 block. As I sit there I can hear the rattle of shopping carts long before I see them. Sunday mornings are a slow time in the alley. I watch as mostly single men park their carts and hoist themselves up into the dumpster to start scavenging and salvaging the garbage. It makes me feel odd knowing that I can see them and they can’t see me. It seems to add to the injustice.

I sip my coffee and let my mind wander. I realize that for me the best part of a night out at the gay bar is often those moments I find myself amidst a sea of people dancing without a care of what they look like or who is watching. Flush red faces, flat hair and pools of sweaty moisture collected in collarbones creating a chaotic pulsating choir of movement. I love seeing serious homos let go and let their bodies move to the music (“Vogue” —Madonna). For me dance can be an act of revolution as the dancer reclaims their body and moves it with unabashed freedom.

It makes me happy because so often in our walking hours we Gaylords give up the kingdom of our bodies and inhabit our temples in a way that is not 100% authentic. We pose, bend, posture ourselves for ease of movement or to get by with minimum interference from the outside world. We rarely take the time to align our physical body with our spiritual and emotional selves. We are afraid, I think, of being too much ourselves and letting people in to see who we really are.
It is on the dance floor at a gay bar that I witness many of my gay brothers and sisters merging all of themselves through movement. There is nothing more beautiful than catching the frowned-faced girl from the organic grocery store or purse lipped boy from the clothing shop rock out to Kelly Clarkson or lip-sync every word along with Avril Lavigne as if they wrote the song she’s singing.

And yet as great as gay bars can be, they are not enough, Monday eventually rolls around and we are again roped back into the immense design of things (“Paul’s Case” —Willa Cather).

As I take a last sip of coffee and smile at the text message from a friend who hooked up, I can’t help but think that in many ways gay bars and even villages are beginning to outlive their purpose. Gone are the days when we had to ghettoize ourselves for safety and a sense of community. We are living in a time when allies are plenty. We do a disservice to supportive friends as well as family and ourselves when we are not authentic or honest with how we conduct ourselves. We are all at our most useful when we are ourselves—especially when we have no idea who that might be.

There is still equality to fight for and wrongs to address. To do the work we have to continue to walk the yellow brick road less travell0ed and be ourselves wherever that may be, remembering that we are everywhere (civil rights slogan now used by anti-capitalists).

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of September 19, 2007, Issue #622

aura Crawford is a 24-year-old thinker, drag king, poet and work-in-progress who grew up in Kingston, Nova Scotia, population 3000. She is a self-identified transgendered, big bodied PhD student who for me embodies many of the current waves within the queer movement and is an important voice regarding the shape of things to come for all of society.

With a kind, humourous and giving personality, she challenges my assumptions, un-thought-out niceties and conclusions and has led me to think more as well as differently.

Currently living in Edmonton, Laura is doing her PhD at the U of A, which a University of Western Ontario prof lovingly told her was home to “Canada’s queerest English department.” Her dissertation is on 20th Century Architecture and Transgender.

Laura’s use of architecture is not just a clever cross-discipline look at the transgender experience but a useful employment that draws upon the practical and metaphorical aspects of the word. Architecture is the science or art of building, and when coupled with the already used metaphor of construction to examine everything from our identity to our reality, transgender can be seen more as an “artful practice of the body rather than something from the inside having to be dealt with on the outside,” as she says.

She has sectioned her study into two prongs: the first looks at architecture considering transgender, as it exists now. The best example of a building with transgender sensibility is Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbo, Spain. For Laura the much talked about Bilbo Affect has nothing to do with “starchitecture” and everything to do with how a building can embody ideas beyond the hetronormative ones. Gehry celebrates curves in exchange for straight lines (no pun intended) and creates confusion by blurring the lines between exits and entrances (pun intended).

The second prong of Laura’s work examines ideas about being born trans and the idea of constructing a trans identity. Using a house as a metaphor, she explains that in a way we are all given a home and how we chose to interact and inhabit determines how we choose what the house looks like, how we interact with the house and how the house is part of the world. “Transgender reminds people that there is a responsibility to use our bodies to intervene in our own lives,” she says.
At 5’9”, with short, wavy Superman hair and with a tie around her neck, Laura is proudly androdgous. Her appearance is a culmination of her physical, gender and sexual self. “I wasn’t born transgender” says Laura. “Transgender is not separate from being big or separate from who I want to fuck—when I was small I was a different gender.”

The physical body and desire are connected for Laura—she thinks we do a disservice to ourselves by trying to divorce them from each other and see desire as only something “natural.”

As a founding member of Alberta Beef, a Drag King troupe born out of Judith Halberstam’s 2007 visit to the U of A, Laura is able to put theory into practice. With a fluid crew of between seven and nine members, Alberta Beef playfully and poignantly examines the spectrum of masculinity and femininity. Beef’s legendary and crammed shows at Prism have been an eye opener and an opportunity for Edmontonians to consider gender and the role of drag in a broader sense.

One day over cheese buns (on the glamourous 109th Street Save on Foods patio), I ask Laura why she thinks there is so much transphobia within the queer community. “Transgender causes anxiety because it challenges assumptions and identities like gay and straight,” she answers. For example, I suggest, if a guy is gay, and we assume this means he is attracted to masculine traits among other things, why is he not attached, or at least open to being attracted, to Kathleen Turner? Oprah? Martina Navratilova? (And since we are inquiring—how many lesbians are attracted to Kalan Porter?)

As the alphabet soup of acronyms expands to include the growing diversity within the queer community, transgender illustrates the ineffectiveness of our current labels and allows us to consider we might never have enough. Laura’s lens on transgender helps us to go further and empowers us to examine our personal role in the construction of our own bodies and attractions freeing us in many ways from the victimhood of circumstance.

“Questioning is something that can be done,” she argues, “it can be rewarding, fun and change your life.” The problem is not enough people take the time to do their own investigations because in our society, Laura says, “we always have to know who we are—it’s hard to let things remain in question, yet those moments I didn’t know lead me to some of my greatest moments of understanding.

Vue Weekly Week of September 5, 2007, Issue #620

Why do we discriminate within our own communities? Why do we as minorities continue to divide amongst ourselves?

All inroads made in securing rights as a group are useless until we as individuals stand together understanding and supporting each other. In the gay community, divides and discriminations exist preventing us from seeing the whole rich diverse realm of the queer experience.

It seems like once we as individuals have found our way out of the closet we let the door close behind us, keeping those who follow in the dark. In many ways this is a survival technique that resemble the politics of oppression, a theory I first heard about it in Sherry McKibben’s book Daunting Tasks, Dedicated People.

The politics begin when two or more minority groups both working to secure similar rights and resources begin to fight each other. The oppression starts when a dominant group emerges and starts actively discriminating and oppressing the other group.

The other part of the politics of oppression is when the other groups start working to ensure that they are being heard. The best example of this is the Dyke March that was created to happen before the Pride Parade because the Parade was seen as being largely absent of diversity beyond the different colors of booty shorts that adorned men’s butts.

The politics of oppression elongates the chain of discrimination and begins a new cycle of prejudice, as Mckibben illustrates using the AIDS movement as an example in her book. A lot of understanding can be generated through the politics of oppression but often the price paid is very high.
The early days of AIDS saw the media shying away from imagery and mention of homosexuality, resulting in the under reporting of AIDS. Then the pendulum swung too far the other way and the general understanding was that AIDS was only a gay disease. By the time the late-’90s rolled around a degree of equilibrium had been established: there was a growing awareness that AIDS not only affected gay men but also drug addicts, the urban poor, First Nations people, lesbians, housewives and many other people from all social classes.

As AZT and other meds entered the picture prolonging people’s lives, the virus was seen as less dramatic and therefore less of a story. The media’s attention on AIDS, especially in relation to gay men, began to wane altogether and funding became complicated.

Like any group would when faced with extinction, gay men fought to stay relevant to stay alive. AIDS taught everyone involved that attention was access, and access was life. Gay men, who had lost so much and gained so much in the face of AIDS, were not about to go quietly into the night.

Neither were the other groups. As the ’90s ended, AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) began to break apart. Where there once appeared to be a community working together for the benefit of everyone there were now splinter organizations all fighting with each and struggling just to keep their heads above water.

In the end it was all people living with AIDS that were adversely affected by the politics of oppression. Money was stretched too thin between too many groups and a lot of good will and awareness momentum that had been generated was lost.

I see this in the gay community between the gay white passing male (GWPM) and everybody else. As pop culture celebrates and lavishes validation on the GWPM all other queers are left outside still looking in.

The experience of the gay men in the ’90s through the AIDS movement may be why today GWPM have a strong presence in gay representation but I don’t think it is that simple. I think GWPMs were the first to be invited to the bigger table and for the most part the work landed in their laps and has been left with them ever since.
The small handful of people doing the work, coupled with systemic discrimination, has resulted in representations of homosexuality largely devoid of people of colour, disability, gender, less-than-ideal bodies and economic diversity. This has not only created a ghettoized gay culture but also a crisis of identity for many people within the homo community; seldom is any one of us just gay. As we might fight for our rights in the bedroom and beyond we are also fighting parallel wars for mobility, self worth and other often forgotten issues.

In the last decade, human rights victories are starting to be animated by gay culture becoming more accessible and open. Through different methods of representations, the gay community has been able to tell our friends, our neighbors and our families about ourselves.

In the rush to be heard and seen as equal we have missed an opportunity to share the wholeness and diversity of queer culture both to the larger society and each other. We were so focused on looking forward that we forgot to look within

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of August 22, 2007, Issue #618

Last winter my friend Lynn and I represented HIV Edmonton at a screening of what we now know to be an irresponsible and homophobic film—Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, directed by David Sabatino. Unfortunately, no one at HIV Edmonton had seen the film prior to agreeing to be involved in the director-attended screening and group discussion. We have subsequently learned to never do that again. The film is about Loonie Frisbee, a gifted young preacher and closeted gay man who was continually let down by his community leaders and who died of complicaations related to AIDS in 1993.

Within the first 20 minutes of the so-called documentary it was obvious what we were watching was neither journalism nor art but propaganda. Lynn and I watched the film with rapidly beating hearts and clenched fists, both of us hoping that everyone else was also realizing how lacking in rigor and potentially damaging the film was.
As the lights rose, we waited for the first comment from the audience. Our hearts sunk as the hip-looking middle-aged woman started the group discussion with a “thank-you” to the director.

The film, she said, helped her clarify the idea that you could hate the sin and love the sinner. Her comment was greeted with applause. Someone in the audience compared homosexuality with her own personal struggle to lose weight. Both, she said, had to do with self-restraint. I sat there knowing I did not consider myself a sinner.

Lynn and I looked at each other. My face was flush with emotion; her limbs were spastic with action. As Lynn does in situations where there is an opportunity for a good discussion, she whipped out her notebook and started scribbling.

As she wrote I listened to what other people had to say as well as to the director’s response. As it became clear that Lynn and I were in the minority with our dislike of the film, I knew that I would have to leave the comfort of silence and use my voice.

I raised my hand, the director acknowledged me, and I asked, “Is it your opinion that homosexuality is a sin?”
After skirting around the question by proving examples of how liberal he was as exemplified by his love of rock music, he responded. “Yes.”

I was crest fallen, not because of his beliefs, but because, as confirmed by his response, he abused the documentary form to express his beliefs. He had not created a balanced, well-research film but instead a tool to rationalize close-mindedness.
As the discussion continued with more sin and sinner talk I noticed people turning around in their seats, cranking their necks to look at me. Most faces were consciously blank, while some were wrought with imploring eyes that seemed as frustrated as Lynn and I were.

The most upsetting thing about the film and the resulting discussion, aside from the assumed belief that Loonie’s contracting of AIDS was a result of his homosexuality, was that the scope of the conversation didn’t allow for Gays and Christians to be one in the same—and, if they were, then certainly Christianity suffered.

As someone who has been baptized, attended church and believes in a God of some sort, I was becoming increasingly frustrated. After Lynn eloquently went through the basics of HIV, including the different methods of infection, I raised my hand again.

“Listen,” I said, “I am gay and I go to Church”.
With my comment the energy in the room changed. The lady to my left became visibly uncomfortable, more faces turned back to look at me; some of them were smiling, some were shocked.

After she took a moment to collect herself the lady beside me raised her hand and said through deep breaths “ I am so confused.” “I don’t know what to do.” “I don’t know what is right.” “I have never known someone gay before”.

I looked at her; the bubble I had been living in had also just been popped because I had never met anyone who had never met anyone gay before. I offered her a tissue someone had passed me.
Sitting there, with the lady being comforted by people around her, questions now being politely worded for my benefit, I began to feel that gayness was more than just sexual, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. I saw how gayness is also political.

In the past I had held my sexual orientation close to my chest as if it was something belonging only to me. I lived my life with the belief that it was better to get wet first, make waves later. The experience in the auditorium that night and the wise and wonderful words from Lynn in her car after the film helped me to see that, although it was a convient distinction, it wasn’t realistic. Gay is not something that can be corralled like water into a man-made pond. For me, gay is a river that is part of my fluid identity. I am many things in every moment, including gay

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of August 22, 2007, Issue #618

Last winter my friend Lynn and I represented HIV Edmonton at a screening of what we now know to be an irresponsible and homophobic film—Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, directed by David Sabatino. Unfortunately, no one at HIV Edmonton had seen the film prior to agreeing to be involved in the director-attended screening and group discussion. We have subsequently learned to never do that again. The film is about Loonie Frisbee, a gifted young preacher and closeted gay man who was continually let down by his community leaders and who died of complicaations related to AIDS in 1993.

Within the first 20 minutes of the so-called documentary it was obvious what we were watching was neither journalism nor art but propaganda. Lynn and I watched the film with rapidly beating hearts and clenched fists, both of us hoping that everyone else was also realizing how lacking in rigor and potentially damaging the film was.
As the lights rose, we waited for the first comment from the audience. Our hearts sunk as the hip-looking middle-aged woman started the group discussion with a “thank-you” to the director.

The film, she said, helped her clarify the idea that you could hate the sin and love the sinner. Her comment was greeted with applause. Someone in the audience compared homosexuality with her own personal struggle to lose weight. Both, she said, had to do with self-restraint. I sat there knowing I did not consider myself a sinner.

Lynn and I looked at each other. My face was flush with emotion; her limbs were spastic with action. As Lynn does in situations where there is an opportunity for a good discussion, she whipped out her notebook and started scribbling.

As she wrote I listened to what other people had to say as well as to the director’s response. As it became clear that Lynn and I were in the minority with our dislike of the film, I knew that I would have to leave the comfort of silence and use my voice.

I raised my hand, the director acknowledged me, and I asked, “Is it your opinion that homosexuality is a sin?”
After skirting around the question by proving examples of how liberal he was as exemplified by his love of rock music, he responded. “Yes.”

I was crest fallen, not because of his beliefs, but because, as confirmed by his response, he abused the documentary form to express his beliefs. He had not created a balanced, well-research film but instead a tool to rationalize close-mindedness.
As the discussion continued with more sin and sinner talk I noticed people turning around in their seats, cranking their necks to look at me. Most faces were consciously blank, while some were wrought with imploring eyes that seemed as frustrated as Lynn and I were.

The most upsetting thing about the film and the resulting discussion, aside from the assumed belief that Loonie’s contracting of AIDS was a result of his homosexuality, was that the scope of the conversation didn’t allow for Gays and Christians to be one in the same—and, if they were, then certainly Christianity suffered.

As someone who has been baptized, attended church and believes in a God of some sort, I was becoming increasingly frustrated. After Lynn eloquently went through the basics of HIV, including the different methods of infection, I raised my hand again.

“Listen,” I said, “I am gay and I go to Church”.
With my comment the energy in the room changed. The lady to my left became visibly uncomfortable, more faces turned back to look at me; some of them were smiling, some were shocked.

After she took a moment to collect herself the lady beside me raised her hand and said through deep breaths “ I am so confused.” “I don’t know what to do.” “I don’t know what is right.” “I have never known someone gay before”.

I looked at her; the bubble I had been living in had also just been popped because I had never met anyone who had never met anyone gay before. I offered her a tissue someone had passed me.
Sitting there, with the lady being comforted by people around her, questions now being politely worded for my benefit, I began to feel that gayness was more than just sexual, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. I saw how gayness is also political.

In the past I had held my sexual orientation close to my chest as if it was something belonging only to me. I lived my life with the belief that it was better to get wet first, make waves later. The experience in the auditorium that night and the wise and wonderful words from Lynn in her car after the film helped me to see that, although it was a convient distinction, it wasn’t realistic. Gay is not something that can be corralled like water into a man-made pond. For me, gay is a river that is part of my fluid identity. I am many things in every moment, including gay

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of August 8, 2007, Issue #616

It was something about the way Nate’s piercing eyes met me from across the store that made me do it—I purchased Out magazine recently for only the second time in my life. But after the first flip-through I was left feeling annoyed that I spent the money. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the magazine; it’s the fact that a part of me feels that, by purchasing Out, I am bankrolling the continued decline of decent queer representation and discourse in mainstream media.

I know the very fact that Out exists represents some of the huge strides made by the gay movement in the last four decades. I understand I should feel grateful that I even have access to a glossy portable presentation of what it means to be gay (to some people), let alone be able to share it and disagree with it. I even recognize that I am lucky enough to be able to purchase it at a convenience store in the middle of the day and then carelessly flip-though it as I share an elevator ride with strangers.

And yet, I can’t bring myself to fully embrace Out. As much as I recognize what is right about the magazine, I feel that, as a queer citizen who cares about my community, there is a need to highlight what is wrong with Out.

As queerness continues to come further and further out of the closet, gay is becoming globalized; homosexuality is becoming homogenized. In the process, the vast breadth of what queer can and could mean is being melted down into a rainbow plastic bracelet worn by chisel-faced same-sex couples frolicking on a beach. Flip through Out and you’ll see for yourself: out of 90 pages, zero contain any representation of the T part of LGBT, and only 14 of them contain images of women (of those, three of them are images of dolls, for some reason). And don’t hold your breath if you want to find representation of a person with a Body Mass Index higher than 24.9—you’ll die of asphyxia, falling face first in to a photo spread of tanned six-packed bodies wrestling in their underwear.
The saturation of shallow, paternalistic, materialistic gay “realities” presented in magazines like Out, along with movies like Another Gay Movie and TV shows like Queer as Folk (don’t even get me started on porn) is leading to what I see as an excluding epidemic among a population where more outreach is needed and diversity cultivated.
The oversimplified and vapid portrayals of homosexuality are not only a disservice to gay people but also give the wrong idea to non-gay people. As I flipped through Out it become clear to me why, as a member of a group that is organizing an upcoming queer arts festival, I have been recently asked rather pointedly, “Why do we need a queer festival?”

For one brief second I could almost see where the person was coming from. From the outside of gayness, it could look like we have it good—in Canada gays can marry, for the most part our rights are protected and the world got to see Ellen walk down the Oscars’ red carpet with Portia di Rossi—right now, Gay looks ooookay.

But from the inside, the kids are not all right—and sometimes the adults are faring even worse. No matter what steps forward we take, queerness is still a minority. We are still “other-”ed, which in our culture means glass ceilings, ignorant asides, lack of mobility and at the very least having to endure ridiculously unfunny jokes like “who’s the man?”

What I found Out to be missing was a diversity of voices in writing and visual representation. For a magazine billing itself as “A gay and lesbian perspective on style, entertainment, fashion, the arts, politics, culture, and the world at large” I found Out to be largely a magazine for upwardly mobile, young, North American gay men. In the issue I read there was no content of substance relating to lesbian issues, to say nothing of the deafening silence on trans and trans related issues.

So was the $7 worth it? Maybe. I got this column out of it and I was reminded that, as much as Marshall McLuhan was correct that the medium is the message, it is just as important to remember that the audience is the filter.

It is not Out’s responsibility—any more that it is Vue’s, really—to be the dynamic voice of reason for the gay community. It is up to readers, viewers and audience members to be alert as they consume, be vocal in their criticism and be proactive in their communication. If I want a decent conversation to happen in my community, then it is up to me to start it

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of July 25, 2007, Issue #614

For nearly a decade Rufus Wainwright has been an elephant on my gaydar that I have been trying to avoid. But now the jig is up, let the circus begin—I am going to a Rufus Wainwright concert!

The first time I heard Rufus sing was on the radio while I was attempting to study in the little café across from the Grant MacEwan City Centre campus. His debut album was out and he was coming to Edmonton for a concert. Although there was something about him that I was curious about, there was also something about him that made me shake in my proverbial boots. At the time I found him too naked in his theatrics, too obvious in the unburdening of his soul. He was this un-fully realized yet larger-than-life figure whose presence I felt better ignoring.

My attempt to avoid him was, of course, born more out of my mistrust of homos in general than anything to do with him, but still I preferred to keep the idea of him trapped in judgmental purgatory. I was not ready for Rufus.

As Rufus became famous many people found a kindred spirit or a musical role model; I, for the most part, saw nothing more than a lanky, messed-up homo. He was like a gay older cousin I didn’t want to be compared too. Yet I was struck with pride when he appeared on the big screen in Scorsese’s The Aviator and I remember suppressing a swoon the fist few times I heard his cover his cover of “Across the Universe.”

The first real crack in my armour came thanks to my friend Aaron. He was letting me use the button maker at his studio while he did some errands. In his absence he left some music on and, as it is with repetitive tasks, I fell into a rhythm with the button making, a trance that found me really digging what I wrongly thought was a Fiona Apple album. When Aaron came back, I finished my button making and said, “she’s great.” “Yeah he is,” he replied. “I like this Rufus album.” I choked back a protest and vowed to do some downloading/investigation.

After listening to a few tracks online I couldn’t bring myself to download any. My guard was back up—as I listened, all I could hear was the voice of a husky feminine man, and this was well before I found beauty in husky feminine men. Although I didn’t purchase any of Rufus’s music that day, I did find myself more open to reading small articles about him and took note if he was mentioned in the press.
For me, letting Rufus in was dangerous. I feared that liking him would change me. It was part internalized homophobia—like, who does this guy think he is that he can so freely be out while the rest of us keep one hand on the closet door? I wondered: if I liked Rufus Wainwright, would I become more nellie?
I also feared what others would think. It’s silly, but at the time I wondered what consuming all that was Rufus would say about me. If I swallowed Rufus what would my breath smell like?

On my journey of attempting to embrace Rufus, I realized that aside from being gay, the brother is queer! A gay man is one who has sex with other men; a queer man is one that adorns lady’s stockings and a man’s double-breasted blazer to recreate a legendary concert of a long-dead, tortured singer. A gay man makes another man his life partner, but a queer man finds himself in Germany drowning in German Romanticism a reaction to living in post 9/11 America, then making art out of the experience. Slowly, in Rufus’s work I was seeing inspiration, glimmers of light.

Little by little, as I let these Rufus facts illuminate my mind, he become more acceptable to me—and, at the same time, I was becoming more acceptable to myself. When I first heard and discounted Rufus I was trying desperately to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Before I ended up dropping out, I think I spent more time in that little college cafe daydreaming of what I might do after I graduated than I ever did on homework. Fast forward to a month ago when I said, “Yes… Hell Yes” to the offer to attend Rufus’s concert and I realize that I have stopped deciding what to do with my life and instead find myself just living it.

Once I became brave enough to accept myself for all my gay attributes and dramatic tendencies, enjoying Rufus was easy, enjoyable, rewarding. So if at the concert you hear what sounds like an elephant clapping wildly, you will not be mistaken: it will be me and the acknowledged elephant clapping as much for Rufus as for ourselve

Queermonton Vue Weekly Week of July 11, 2007, Issue #612

I am 28 and gay. I have been out since the summer before I entered the tenth grade. By the time I reached Jasper Place High School, the halls had already been queered a few years earlier by two guys: a flamboyant straight guy who didn’t care that everyone thought he was gay and an out (and out to lunch) gay guy who didn’t really care about school. They were both such authentic and enigmatic individuals that my chubby, nelly, slightly grating presence barely even registered.

Aside from the culture at school, the culture in general back in the mid-’90s was more willing to consider gays. Rickie was using the girl’s bathroom on My So-Called Life and everyone knew that Ellen was gay (even before she said so). I easily slipped in amongst the drama nerds and school newspaper geeks—high voice, turtleneck and all. If a jock was going to beat me up, it was most likely because I was in his way—not because I was re-enacting a Madonna video in the hallway. My sexuality was never really a bone of contention (and for that matter, my bone was never really contended with, but that’s another column entirely).

Fast-forward to almost a decade later. Even though I have, uh, played fetch a few times in the interim, it is only in the last few years that I am beginning to understand what it is to be a homosexual.

For the better part of my adult life I have been a self-neutered homo—a castrated figure for comic relief, someone who bamboozled my minority status while being disconnected from the pivotal aspect that made me so. I played the roll but never rolled with the play.
In high school and even into my early 20s I never mentioned anal sex unless I was making a joke, I made fun of “flamers,” I held the hands of girls as they told me their boy problems and I never hit on guys who said they were straight. I went shopping a lot, worked retail and waited in line to see Evita; I found band frontmen dreamy and never spoke about my personal life—because I didn’t have one. I had a few boyfriends but never really dedicated myself to the relationships (sorry Matt). I was so wrapped up with being a likeable, respectable gay guy that I forgot to find out what it meant to be gay (let alone queer). I took being gay for granted because my homosexuality was basically accepted.
Like so many homo dudes before me (and, some could argue, most of the current mainstream “gay movement”) I got lost in the struggle for acceptance. I watered down my own desires and urges for the comfort of others. I disconnected with myself to the point that I became a caricature of what it is to be gay. 

By cutting myself off from the primordial thrust of being gay, I cut myself off from a lot of experiences. Just recently I’ve begun to find out who Harvey Milk is and have started to understand the deep-seated scars AIDS continues to leave. Just now am I enjoying the sensation of waking up to a heavy hairy arm on my chest that is not my own. Just now am I experiencing the joys and specific agonies of guy on guy problems.

And I’m lucky, because even though I feel like a late bloomer there are still tons of neutered homos out there. I see them with their t-shirts on under dress shirts lest they show some chest hair, fidgeting with their hands, picking away at beer bottle labels or playing with their cell phones, scared of what their hands may do if they are left to their own devices. Even a few weeks ago at Edmonton’s Pride Dance—an event existing for no other pretense than to get drunk, be gay and have fun—the room was full of tucked in torsos with both feet firmly planted on the ground, guys standing in awkward semicircles talking about condo fees.

There are so few of us gays who want to be the odd man out—hence the whole reason we self-neutered in the first place—that neuteredness in public settings becomes contagious. At the dance, once I realized how gone my balls were from my surroundings, I passed up the best pick-up line I have experienced. I was talking to this dude when POP!—out of my hand went a bunch of tickets I was holding. As I was picking them up, the guy said—with what I could tell was a perverse grin—“while you’re down there ... ”