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Previous Entries

» Queerly Canadian #6: The censor's dilemma
» Queerly Canadian #5: Picking sides
» Queerly Canadian #4: The drama queens of 'The L Word'
» Queerly Canadian #3: The Pope's queer ideas
» Queerly Canadian #2: Escape Claus(e)
» Queerly Canadian #1: Do they know it's World Aids Day after all?

May 01, 2009

Queerly Canadian #11: Have I become a professional lesbian?

Posted by Cate Simpson at 12:01 PM ET | Comments (0)

Label MakerQueer people spend a lot of time thinking about labels. Picking one that fits, reclaiming offensive ones to alter their meaning, trying to avoid them entirely. Lately, I've started to worry about acquiring a label I never selected for myself: gay journalist.

I just finished an internship, and I'm returning to the freelancer's constant search for work, so I've been looking back over my portfolio and wondering: when editors read through my clippings, do they see reviews, news pieces, and columns, or do they see reviews of gay books, gay news, and a column about queer politics? I didn't set out to be a professional lesbian. I haven't decided yet what sort of journalist I want to be when I grow up so I want to keep my options open, but I worry that the more queer-themed writing I do, the more the label starts to stick.

My links to the queer community gave me my first breaks in journalism. Among my first publication credits were reviews of queer club nights for the LGBT section of a newly-launched magazine in my hometown of Edinburgh. These led to three longer pieces for the section, and I went on to work at a mainstream entertainment magazine. When I moved to Toronto, Xtra was the first freelance market to return my email, and quickly became my most regular and reliable source of work.

When you're trying to establish yourself in this industry, you can't afford to be choosy about what assignments you take. You're just grateful to be writing. And it's good to have a niche as a freelancer — it helps editors remember you. But at some point, a niche threatens to become a pigeonhole, and "gay writer" is a tough label to escape.

My dilemma is that to a certain extent, it is important to me to write about queer issues. Whatever progress we make and however integrated queer culture is with mainstream culture, we do still have our own concerns and our own history, and I think it's important to use the voice I have as a reporter to tell some of those stories. And since I am increasingly well-placed to do so, it would feel like an incredible betrayal of my own background to ignore these stories just because I'm afraid of being branded an activist.

All of these concerns were very much on my mind when I decided to start writing this column back in December. I was about to take a hiatus from most of my freelance work, including Xtra, and start a three-month internship, and I was ready to focus on broadening my experience. I had to think seriously about whether I wanted to weight my resume with another queer writing credit, especially since my being asked to write it in the first place suggested I was already becoming typecast. In the end, I decided that working with a magazine I had a huge amount of respect for was well worth the risk, but it was a tough decision to make.

The dilemma still rears its head every time I think about moving career forward. My best bet for getting into a big mainstream magazine is probably a story about something or someone queer, and I'm faced once again with deciding whether it makes strategic sense to do that, or whether I'd be shooting myself in the foot by refusing to capitalize on the most useful thing I have going for me.

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April 16, 2009

Queerly Canadian #10: Teach them well, let them lead the way

Posted by Cate Simpson at 04:46 PM ET | Comments (0)

Carl Joseph Walker-HooverLast week an 11 year-old from Massachusetts called Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover (right) hanged himself after enduring daily taunts at school, many of which were homophobic. This comes, as this press release from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network reminds us, just over a year after the murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King, who was shot by another student because of his perceived sexual identity.

In an age where queer people are protected by various anti-discrimination laws all over North America, why are we still failing to extend these freedoms and protections to our youth? Among queer teens in the US and in Canada, suicide is the number one cause of death. We can do better.

The article above lists some harrowing facts and figures about homophobic bullying in American schools, but Canada is generating some scary statistics of its own. Last year, a Statistics Canada study based on data from a 2004 survey reported (PDF link) that LGBTQ youth (and adults) were three times more likely to encounter violent victimization and discrimination. Sexual minorities account for 30 percent of teen suicides in Canada, which is particularly significant when you consider that they only account for around 10 percent of the teen population overall.

Why is it that we’ve come so far in making our cities safe and welcoming places for queer people, but we can’t do the same for our schools? It’s not enough to legislate against discrimination and hope that the growing acceptance of sexual minorities will trickle down to our youth. Because messages that say otherwise are still pervasive in our society, and we need to give young people the means to fight back. We need to make sure teachers are willing to step in and protect kids like Carl Walker-Hoover, and that they know what to say when they do. We need to start educating, and we need to start younger.

I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention the queer youth projects that exist in Toronto. Planned Parenthood’s Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia (TEACH) runs workshops in schools all over the GTA, and Supporting Our Youth has an ever-expanding roster of programs and drop-ins for queer and trans youth. But we don’t rely on third party organizations to teach the other basics of human interaction, so why should it fall to them to explain to teenagers why singling out gay kids is wrong?

Parents start instructing children in the differences between right and wrong before they start school. Schools teach traffic safety, ethics, healthy eating, even first aid. Why isn’t basic anti-oppression training on that list? Why can’t we educate our children about the full range of human relationships that exist when we explain to them what marriage is, what families are about, how babies are made? How many more teenagers have to die before we get over our fear of talking to young people about homosexuality, and realize that we can’t afford to be squeamish about these conversations?

We try to build better worlds for our younger generations. We try to protect them from the mistakes we made, and we try to teach them the lessons we had to learn for ourselves. But when it comes to homophobia, we are failing. Instead, we are loading our youth down with prejudice that ill equips them for the real world, and condemning them to start from scratch, to learn for themselves as teens and adults the respect for difference that has come to us slowly, if at all, and remains — even in 2009, even in the most urban and diverse of settings — so tenuous.

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April 03, 2009

Queerly Canadian #9: House-proud?

Posted by Cate Simpson at 11:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

For-Rent sign

This column is brought to you today by my apartment hunt, which even though it's being spearheaded by my girlfriend, is taking over all the other things I am supposed to be doing with my afternoon. It's funny how being gay can complicate the most mundane of experiences — not just public bathrooms (that double-take) and dating, but completely banal things like moving house.

I have to wonder, for instance, about the "LGBTQ-positive space" checkbox on U of T's apartment listings website (I'm not a student, but my girlfriend is). Ontario has laws about housing discrimination, so the landlords who don't check that box aren't actually allowed to refuse to rent to queer couples. But would we want to rent from them?

It's unclear what it means if someone doesn't check the box. Do they actually hate gay people, or did they just not see it? Do they assume that the box is only for people who would be especially delighted to rent to a queer person? Is it significant that the majority of listers who leave it blank aren't actual landlords but people advertising a room in their already shared apartment?

This box is causing me all kinds of extra stress and anxiety, because whenever I find a listing with a conspicuously absent "LGBT friendly" line, I worry about what we'd be exposing ourselves to by hiking over to view that apartment. (There's also a box for "international students welcome," which seems equally suspect to me, but we'll leave that for now.)

Being queer makes you feel suddenly very visible when you're doing things like apartment hunting, or anything else that involves you having to declare yourself as a couple to a total stranger. Like going to a restaurant on Valentine's Day. Or getting a lawyer to endorse your statutory declaration of common-law union (something else we did this year).

When I moved into my current apartment, it is hard to express the anxiety of the weeks between when I moved in and when my girlfriend finally called our landlady to tell her I was there. When she and her roommate signed the lease, the landlady pointed out that they were welcome to move their boyfriends in, so we knew an extra person was okay in principle. But calling her and saying the word "girlfriend" seemed like it might be slightly more complicated.

The call itself, when it was finally made, seemed to go well enough, until the landlady called a surprise meeting with our roommate. Was she coming over to reprimand her for moving lesbians into the house? Was she going to demand that all three of us leave immediately? Neither, it transpired; she just wanted to make sure our roommate was okay with having a third person in the house and with being responsible for my rent contributions.

All of which makes me think that, for some of us at least, the possibility of homophobia is ultimately far more wearying and harmful than the actual, far less frequent, fact of it. Obviously, it's an indicator of progress that I can make this statement, that I can consistently expect but rarely encounter discrimination. But I still eagerly anticipate a time when I don't carry that niggling unease, and when pronouncements like "LGBTQ-positive" aren't necessary anymore.

[Creative Commons photo by Turkeychik]

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March 19, 2009

Queerly Canadian #8: Sick of talking about gay marriage

Posted by Cate Simpson at 03:55 PM ET | Comments (0)

lesbian wedding cake toppers

Yesterday a friend in Edinburgh, where I lived until just over a year ago, sent me an invite to a Facebook group started as part of a campaign for marriage equality in Scotland.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sick of talking about gay marriage. Especially now that I live in Canada, where it passed four years ago. I wish the rest of the world would cut the crap and stop holding out on us, so we can all get on with our lives. Gay and trans kids are still being beaten up in school, queers have less than equal access to healthcare, and Canadian same-sex couples might be able to get hitched but that doesn't mean their families are always willing to stand at their sides at the ceremony.

The point is, we have other things we need to be talking about. There are other campaigns to start and wars to wage and — as Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore has often (and eloquently) pointed out — the campaign for gay marriage sets those fights back years in its zeal to make queer relationships seem as "normal" and hetero as possible.

But here's the thing. Queers are not going to dismantle the institution of marriage by refusing to care very much about it. And all we achieve by trying is confirming the attitude that American Defense of Marriage clauses and civil partnership stop-gaps reflect: that our relationships are less legitimate, less permanent, less important. States that don't allow for same-sex marriage fail to do so because there is homophobia in those states. But that causal chain goes both ways. DOMA and Civil Partnership clauses are state-sponsored homophobia. Why should individuals confront their own prejudice when it comes with a government stamp?

We can't get started on discussions of healthcare, shelter, and the oppressive aspects of marriage itself when we live in a state that doesn't even recognise our right to full equality under the law.

We have gay marriage in Canada. That's pretty awesome, and I think our society is better for it. But that doesn't mean that, as Canadians, we're done. If we can throw parties and hug and cry and rejoice over the election of an American president, if we accept that America's reach is wide enough to have that kind of impact on our lives, then we better be ready to pitch in next to those in California whose marriages were unceremoniously anulled on the same night. We can't share in the joy of other countries' progress and then remain quietly superior when they fall short.

There is weight to some of the arguments against marriage from within the queer community. Marriage is a flawed institution, and it's got some serious historical baggage. But we don't have to get married. And if we do, we don't have to get married with one person in white and the other in a tux. We don't have to have one partner who works in an office while the other stays home. We don't have to buy marriage lock, stock, and picket fence. But we do need the right to do so.

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March 05, 2009

Queerly Canadian #7: LGBT Blog Roundup

Posted by Cate Simpson at 01:15 PM ET | Comments (1)

Logos of four LGBT blogs: Bilerico Project, Lesbian Dad, Slap Upside the Head, and This Girl Called Automatic Win

It occurred to me this week that if you're reading this, whether you're queer or not, chances are you have at least some interest in, you know, gay stuff. So, this column being but a tiny drop in the queer blogging ocean, I thought I'd round up some other sites that deserve a spot in your RSS feed-reading software of choice.

While we're at it, I'll also give a shout out to Snarfer, the program I use to aggregate my RSS feeds. It's much more user-friendly than Google Reader; it downloads the whole webpage rather than just the text, which means you get the full visual experience of the site you're reading; and it works offline.

We now return to your scheduled LGBT blog round-up. The biggest and most comprehensive is The Bilerico Project, a massive group blog with more than 50 contributors. It started out as a politics blog but it's grown to include all kinds of queer-themed content including pop culture, music, and an advice column. The great thing about Bilerico's size is that it manages to cover a tremendous amount of ground; their bloggers have something to say about most of the major (and many of the smaller) LGBT–related happenings in the US. The content can be slightly overwhelming in its volume, but the site's layout makes it easy enough to pick through for posts you want to read.

Lesbian Dad is, as you might imagine, a lesbian parenting blog. Winner of Best Lesbian Parenting Blog at last year's Lezzies, the blog's author writes about her experiences as the butch non-birth mother to her and her partner's two young children. The great thing about kids is that they provide fantastic comedy material, which makes Lesbian Dad an always entertaining read. It's also frequently moving, especially in its Prop 8 (she and her partner live in San Francisco).

My favourite recent discovery is Slap Upside The Head, which illustrates the best and worst LGBT-themed stories in the news. The Author's drawings (he just goes by "Mark") are reliably adorable, and with so many blogs covering the same ground, Slap Upside The Head is refreshingly different. Also, its lighthearted approach to rage-provoking events makes it a pleasant way to keep up with what's going on without becoming wrapped up in the emotions of it all. Bonus points here for the blog's Canadian focus.

Finally, in the almost entirely non-political corner, is an amazing personal blog called This Girl Called Automatic Win that, amongst other things, contains some really beautiful writing and offbeat content. AutoWin's author also posts some pretty awesome L Word episode recaps at her spin-off pop culture blog, Automatic Straddle, which are actually more fun than watching the episode.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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February 19, 2009

Queerly Canadian #6: The censor's dilemma

Posted by Cate Simpson at 04:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

book locked shutIf you're looking for some unconventional reading material this week, this list of the Canada Border Service Agency's Prohibited Titles from October to December of last year is a fairly interesting browse.

The list is linked from a recent article in Xtra last week about gay porn studio Lucas Entertainment's battles with CBSA over their line of fetish films (titles include "Piss!" and "Farts!" — I'll leave the details to your imagination).

Censorship is full of grey areas that make it hard to come down on one side or the other of the debate, and it's particularly complex from a queer perspective, because it hasn't historically been in our interests to advocate censorship (Little Sister's bookstore in Vancouver had a much harder time of things than Lucas Entertainment; their troubles with the CBSA span more than two decades), but there are queer groups out there advocating for the censorship of homophobic speech.

The most high-profile example is the campaign against "Murder Music" — Jamaican dancehall music by artists including Sizzla, Elephant Man, Buju Banton and Beenie Man — that contains violently homophobic lyrics. Stop Murder Music, who have been leading the campaign in Canada (and OutRage! who are doing the same in Britain), claim that these songs constitute hate speech and have been putting pressure on HMV and iTunes to stop selling their albums. The artists have had to cancel shows in Britain and the US because of the success these groups have started to have in their campaign.

I have nothing to say in defence of songs like Banton's "Boom Bye Bye", and I'd be behind SMM 100% if it wasn't for my suspicion that rallying in support of any form of censorship would come back to bite us in the ass.

In some ways, Murder Music is a bad example because the SMM campaign argues that Elephant Man's lyrics, for example, are not only distasteful but socially irresponsible, and that they actively contribute to a culture of violence in which gay people are profoundly unsafe. But ultimately, it all comes down to the same thing: the policing of the entertainment industry.

Honestly, I have a hard time formulating an unproblematic defense of Lucas' fetish films. The only argument that has real force for me is that if you ban out-there fetish porn, you're going to set a precedent for banning less extreme porn. And that seems like a dangerous road.

When I hear dancehall tunes calling for the violent murder of gay people, instinct tends to take over. I want to draw lines, bold lines in black Sharpie that stop this sort of thing from ever reaching my, or anyone else's, ears. And when I read that fetish porn I personally find entirely unappealing isn't making it to the shelves of 24-hour video stores, I find it hard to get too riled up about that.

But none of these things happen in a vacuum. Murder Music attacks a minority that is still fighting for its right to exist and to be free from danger: that's the context that makes it absolutely indefensible. Banning it outright is a limitation of the rights of artists to speak their minds. And I can't help worrying that there will come a point at which limiting the speech of people we don't agree with starts to impede on that of people we do.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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February 05, 2009

Queerly Canadian #5: Picking sides

Posted by Cate Simpson at 12:45 PM ET | Comments (1)

Venn Diagram of two overlapping circles

"Sometimes men like women, and sometimes men like men. And then there are bisexuals but some say they're just kidding themselves."

A line from one of Phoebe's famously quirky songs in Friends, this actually doesn't strike far from the mark in terms of how bisexuality is viewed both inside and outside of queer communities.

People like to joke that bisexuals have the best of both worlds. In actual fact, the reverse is often true. They face the same prejudices in their same-sex relationships (along with their own particular set of challenges, because they have to deal with folks who don't understand why they can't just ignore their "gay" side). At the same time, they do without widespread support from other queer people, who scorn bisexuals for their easy access to heterosexual privilege (or, to put it another way: bisexuals get to turn out for Gay Pride and then go and date someone they can hold hands with in public without being stared at).

Two weeks ago I talked about the shortage of lesbian characters on television. When it comes to bisexual characters though, the situation is even more grim. In fact, the only character who comes readily to mind is Alice from The L Word, who has so far dated only one male (who identified as a lesbian man, to much ridicule from just about everybody else on the show) in the show's six-season history.

We do see the odd character who dates men and women, but the switch is always presented as a dramatic changing of sides. Case in point: Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who declares herself to be "gay now" once she falls for Tara — a state of affairs that leaves mysterious her obvious love for and attraction to Oz, the boy-werewolf she dated for two years.

Still from Sex and the City with Carrie and Sean The BisexualAnd then there's the episode of Sex & The City where Carrie dates Sean the bisexual. Miranda takes the opportunity to point out that all the bisexuals she knew in college, male or female, ended up with guys, and concludes that she just doesn't "buy" it. Later, Sean introduces Carrie to his friends, all of whom have dated or hooked up with one another, implying that all bisexuals are terribly modern and sexually indiscriminate.

The show's gay characters, by contrast, are portrayed as uniformly conservative and traditional, as anxious to settle down and buy property in the Hamptons as the straight couples.

What is most interesting about all this is that the scant data we have suggests bisexuals are proportionately vastly under-represented. The 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey, the largest survey of its kind to include a direct question about sexual orientation, reported that 1% of Canadians identify as gay or lesbian, and only slightly fewer (0.7%) as bisexual. Interestingly though, among women there are actually more bisexuals than lesbians (0.9% compared to 0.7%).

Maybe part of the reason bisexuals get overlooked is that they are rendered invisible as soon as they start dating, because as soon as it turns serious they're perceived to have "picked a side." Try marrying or settling down with someone of the opposite sex and holding onto your bisexual identity in the eyes of everyone you know. It sure didn't work for Ani DiFranco, whose queer street-cred has never fully recovered from her marriage to Andrew Gilchrist.

Ultimately though, the issue comes down to good old-fashioned prejudice. There wouldn't be the same pressure to "pick a side" if bisexuality was recognized in its own right, rather than as a stop between more legitimate stations.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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January 22, 2009

Queerly Canadian #4: The drama queens of 'The L Word'

Posted by Cate Simpson at 01:09 PM ET | Comments (3)

Showtime's lesbian serial drama The L Word returns this week for its sixth and final season. Set in L.A., the series follows a group of women through their hook-ups and break-ups, generally providing a rough sketch of what being a lesbian is like if you're wealthy and live in Los Angeles. The show hasn't garnered much mainstream press attention, but it has become a staple for queer female viewers.

Cast of The L Word

Nearly every lesbian I know hates The L Word. We complain that the plot twists are out of control. We complain about the publicity photos showing the cast members stark naked. We complain that we have absolutely nothing in common with the lives of these rich, tanned, ultra-femme figures who also just happen to be gay (with the token bisexual included for good measure). We complain that Jenny is insane and irritating, and that if we have to hear one more word of her awful new-age writing we are going to stop watching. But we don't.
What is it about The L Word that is so compelling? Maybe it has something to do with the dearth of other lesbian characters on television. There have been valiant attempts in the five years since The L Word premiered to introduce some queer characters to our TV screens, which would be more encouraging if these characters weren't so prone to freak accidents and sudden changes of heart that see them packed up and shipped off the air without warning.

An early example was Kerry Weaver's first girlfriend in E.R.'s seventh season (four years before The L Word appeared on the scene), who left suddenly because of Weaver's inability to stomach a simple lesbian in-joke, and her second girlfriend looked promising until, after most of a season spent as a fuzzy off-screen presence, she was killed in a fire.

Or take Grey's Anatomy, for example, where network heads reportedly became so alarmed by the relationship developing between two female surgeons that they pulled the plug on the romance overnight, writing one of the women out of the show with only a perfunctory — and fairly implausible — explanation.

And yet, we grasp at these tenuous and short-lived lesbian storylines, and keep watching shows like The L Word that aim to depict our relationships and social lives, even when they do it spectacularly badly. Because, no matter what else we think about television, it is important to see ourselves reflected on it.

In a society in which popular culture has expanded to the point where the "popular" is redundant, if you don't see yourself or your group represented in the media, it starts to feel like you don't exist. And for people who grew up watching Sex & The City and Friends, The L Word is an irresistible guilty pleasure.

The quickly aborted Grey's Anatomy storyline brings us neatly to the start of the current L Word season, which premiered on Monday. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, but you can expect painfully dramatic twists, lengthy scenes of remorse and reconciliation for last season's misdeeds, and (drum roll) a completely random and gratuitous death.

I can't wait for next week's episode.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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January 08, 2009

Queerly Canadian #3: The Pope's queer ideas

Posted by Cate Simpson at 11:45 AM ET | Comments (5)

Pope Benedict XVI - via WikipediaPope Benedict made some waves last month with his Christmas address for saying, amongst other things, that homosexuality and transsexuality were liable to cause the "self-destruction" of the human race. It hasn't so far, but perhaps he means sometime in the future we'll reach a sort of trans critical mass and one Friday night at 2am, an especially loud Church Street drag queen will tip us over into the gender apocalypse.

The Pope also briefly compared the "protection" of humanity from homosexuality to the protection of the rainforest. Aside from being a curiously outdated approach to the climate change concerns of the present decade (when was the last time anybody said "rainforest"? Do we even have any rainforests left?) I think there may be in this the seeds of how the Catholic Church and the homos can finally live together. It's called "queer offsetting."

As with the (somewhat dubious) practice of carbon offsetting, in which you arrange for some trees to be planted to make up for the damage to the environment by your carbon-belching SUV, queer offsetting would require queers to plant an appropriate number of trees every time their homosexuality impacts the world around them. So, for instance, an overly camp Christmas pantomime might warrant two or three, and when Pride Week brings all of downtown to a standstill someone better be out there planting a forest.

Or maybe the Catholic Church should stop hiding behind rhetoric about the end of days, admit that "tolerance" is no substitute for acceptance, and turn its attention to something that matters.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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December 18, 2008

Queerly Canadian #2: Escape Claus(e)

Posted by Cate Simpson at 12:32 PM ET | Comments (0)

I am writing this on a crowded flight from my adopted home of Toronto to my former home of Edinburgh, where I am trying to ignore the brainwashing effect of Fred Claus on ten tiny screens in front of me.

wrapped giftLike countless others, I am heading home for Christmas. So far though, I'm having a hard time getting into the spirit of the holiday — mainly because, for our third Christmas in a row, my partner and I are going to be on inconveniently opposite sides of the Atlantic.

I'm not the only one complaining about Christmas this year. Friends who have been hit by the recession face Christmas shopping with dread; those who still have their jobs are too busy to shop. It's got me thinking about the reasons queers have in particular for succumbing to bouts of Grinchiness as the time for turkey comas and bad television rolls around.

For some, it's that they simply can't go home — either because they were shown the door after their first adolescent fumblings were met with more than the usual amount of horror, or because they've fled their small towns for urban centres and can't afford the trip back.

For others, it's that they themselves are still welcome at the family dinner table, but evidence of their "alternative" lifestyles must be toned down for everyone else's comfort levels. For many queers, this means enduring questions about the dates they're supposedly going on with members of the opposite sex, while questions about their true spouses are conspicuously absent.

Some resort to bringing their partners to Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving dinner as their "roommate" or "best friend", even though everyone is painfully aware they've been "roommates" for five years and both parties continue to report suspiciously empty datebooks. Others settle for surreptitiously texting them between courses.

Whether you're queer or not, family events can be rife with things not said and tensions that bubble to the surface after one too many drinks with dinner. For the black sheep among them, this kind of bickering can strike particularly close to the bone.

It's for this reason that queers have been leading pioneers of the alternative family Christmas. But increasingly, they're far from the only ones doing it. So, if you're dreading your own family Christmas, here's a bold proposition: play hooky.

Use rising fuel costs, snowstorms and the recession as an excuse. Grab some similarly truanting friends, Google turkey recipes, rent DVDs instead of watching whichever Vince Vaughn or Tim Allen nightmare is on every channel, skip the Governor General's speech, and give inappropriate gifts you'd normally hold off on in case they get unwrapped in front of Auntie Marge.

Of course, since I'm having this epiphany somewhere over Greenland it's too late for me to take my own advice. In fact, I'm actually gaining tentative enthusiasm for mince pies and The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Go on without me — I'm a lost cause.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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December 05, 2008

Queerly Canadian #1: Do they know it's World Aids Day after all?

Posted by Cate Simpson at 09:54 AM ET | Comments (0)

[Editor's Note: today we introduce "Queerly Canadian," Cate Simpson's new blog column on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans- issues. Queerly Canadian will appear every other Thursday.]

This Monday was World AIDS Day, and last week was AIDS Awareness Week. If both of these events had so far escaped your notice, you wouldn't be entirely to blame.

red ribbonMen who have sex with men are no longer the fastest-growing infection group for HIV, and some suggest that HIV/AIDS is no longer an issue for the queer community. But with gay and bisexual men representing 40 per cent of new infections in Canada, the disease is still very much present in our communities. We cannot afford to become complacent about HIV/AIDS education and testing.

With the Ontario curriculum reportedly falling short when it comes to educating youth about HIV prevention (a recent study by the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research found that more than half of Canadians between grades 9 and 11 think there is a vaccine for HIV), and the mainstream media largely ignoring World AIDS Day (The Star and the Ottawa Citizen were the only Big Seven publications to give it space), where is the next generation going to get its facts?

The queer community was the first group to mobilize behind AIDS education. Has the community focused its political consciousness so squarely upon the fight for gay marriage in the last few years that it has lost sight of where that political consciousness was born? From the LGBT press to the Globe and Mail, everyone is talking about Proposition 8 which passed in California last month. Even in Canada, where we already have gay marriage and no personal stake in that outcome, people are protesting in the streets over the right to marry in California and almost nobody is talking about AIDS. And nobody is dying for lack of a marriage license.

Of course same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and these protests are about demanding access to something that was always rightfully ours. But the fight for gay marriage has obscured and, in some cases, actively sought to obscure, other issues of significance to queer people.

Gay marriage is important because, in some ways, it is a proxy for other things. It's about being recognized as full members of society. It's about not having our relationships made "other". But in making our case, we try to convince the world that our relationships look just like theirs, and associating the queer community with AIDS reminds people of stereotypes we want them to forget. It reminds them of bathhouses, of promiscuity, and, horror of all horrors, it reminds people that same-sex relationships often include sex.

The No On 8 campaign wanted voters to see two men in tuxedos, surrounded by their families and their religious leaders and think, "That looks just like my wedding." They don't want voters to imagine that couple barebacking after the reception.

But to pretend that AIDS isn't part of the history of our communities not only does a disservice to the 266,272 American and 9,515 Canadian gay and bisexual men who have so far died of the disease, and to those people who are still living with HIV and AIDS, it makes it more likely that it will be part of our future.

Cate SimpsonCate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.

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