Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Month: November, 2010

Asian Beauty

Periodically, American Vogue acknowledges that not every woman has the ‘all-American’ blue-eyed, blond-tressed, blank-faced beauty of Russian models, and attempts to have some diversity on its pages. This has resulted in the ghettoization of the annual ‘Age Issue’ and ‘Shape Issue’ and the odd feature on Ethiopian, Brazilian or “curvy” Victoria’s Secret models.

French Vogue, on the other hand, works on the assumption that we’re all past the need for such tokenism, and then will have an African-themed photo shoot with black face.

The December issue (with Angelina Jolie on a cover whose pink and white writing so suggests Cosmopolitan rather than Vogue that I half-expected the headline ‘The Top Ten Jimmy Choo Clutches to Please Your Man!’) features a tribute to the classic 1948 Cecil Beaton photograph of impossibly-elegant debutantes,  but recreated with exclusively with Asian models. To add even more contrast, the Oscar de la Renta gowns and formal tea-sipping poses are paired with punky black Mohawks.  

While the juxtaposition of Mohawks, evening gowns and Chinese, Japanese and Korean faces is visually arresting (and drawing on Beaton’s legacy is the kind of witty self-reference that Vogue does so well) I can’t help but feel the picture and the accompanying article by Samantha Chang are a tad patronizing.

Chang quickly moves from recounting the difficulties of growing up as a Korean-American adopted by a white family (a mother-daughter bonding trip to the beauty counter ends in embarrassment) to interviewing designers on why they are allegedly choosing Asian models like never before. Big surprise, none of them have any intelligent explanation, and it’s depressing that the term ‘political correctness’ has replaced ‘feminist’ as the word everyone scrambles away from.

The booming Eastern economy is touched on, as is the fact that Vogue launched a Chinese edition in 2005, but for the most part the article’s about Asian faces for the Gap and L’Oreal, ie. Asian models being hired by Western companies who mostly sell to white people. The huge, and growing, influence of Chinese and Japanese fashion on the rest of the world, and the potential that in just a few years Chinese Vogue may write about how nice it is that white models are finally walking the catwalks in global fashion-capital Beijing, are ignored.

Asian models are beautiful, of course (as are models from India, Africa, South America and everywhere else in the world) and while it’s good that proverbial ‘main stream America’ is accepting different kinds of beauty, the globalized world of fashion is still learning what globalization truly means.

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Fallin’

 

I awoke this morning watching the gentle wisps of November snow out my window. A change in the weather, a click you can feel in the air, is much more important in determining the change of season than when stores put up Christmas lights or Tim Horton’s begins running those cloying tear-jerking ads.

I guess its winter.

Autumn went by in a blur.

My life had been on a seemingly-endless upward trajectory since coming home from Ireland, getting the WORN internship and meeting the Gentleman. Inevitably, you can only go up for so long, and in a period of a week everything seemed to crash; I didn’t get the writing position I had applied for, was broken up with in an email and quit my cafe job.  

I quit in order to spend time with my family up at the cottage but in hindsight, maybe that wasn’t the best idea as I didn’t find a new job for a month and a half (and, correspondingly, am now behind where I should be for India saving). But the break provided some breathing room and a fresh start in September.

Then, as they do, things happened very quickly.

I took on editing the WORN newsletter (you can sign up here), arranging a ‘Welcome to WORN’ zine for new interns, along with two blog posts and three book reviews. It got a little out of hand, especially when I found two new jobs. My weeks became perpetually booked up and it hasn’t slowed down since.

Looking back at my blog posts from this fall, a lot of the subjects are melancholy: the wrong person was elected Mayor of Toronto; the party of my favourite president got a “shellacking” in the US midterms; and a wonderful friend of mine passed away.

But there have been good times as well; I went to my very first fashion show (pictured above, with my famous editor Serah-Marie); I braved descending into the world of dating once again; and, surprisingly, especially to myself, I kept my promise to keep going out, dancing on Church street, attending art openings and embarrassing myself at pub trivia nights. This is may be why I have no money.

There was also the WORN Issue 11 launch party, which I went to dressed as the ‘Prom Queen’ complete with tiara and pink sash (pictures coming soon).

And speaking of which,  one of the most exciting things to happen in the little while was my gay men and fashion pitch (which I wrote about in its early stages here) got the go-ahead as a feature for the next issue of WORN. Two thousand words, four pages, illustrations. As Serah-Marie said with a smile, “Pressure’s on, Max.”

All this busyness has meant I haven’t been posting as much I as did in the summer. “I noticed there’s been less stories on ‘Max’s Blog’!” my co-Wornette Hillary complained at the WORN formal, referring to it with its formal name rather than “your blog”. I think, as a result, I have lost some of my regular readers.

But you keep going, for yourself and for others. I was recently told by someone that my writing had noticeably improved since I started, and another person (a friend who lives in Ottawa) went out of her way to tell me she followed the blog religiously.

On my to-do list when I get back from India is getting a ‘grown-up’ job (defined as one which pays marginally better than minimum wage, preferably full-time and where, on occasion, I actually get to sit down), continue doing as much as I can handle for WORN and pursuing freelance writing, in print and online.

Those are all my life plans as they currently stand. It’s kind of scary but kind of exciting.

It’s a new season.

Drop Dead, Diva

 

“That is the gayest thing I have ever seen,” I whispered when I first saw the trailer for the Christina Aguilera-Cher camp orgy ‘Burlesque’. A hodgepodge of ‘Cabaret’, ‘Chicago’ and ‘Showgirls’ (there’s some ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in there too), the film looks horrendous but I think I may have to go see it in order to keep my queer card.

While I worry that Cher’s multiple facelifts have left her unable to act (Cintra Wilson described her as resembling a stuffed, perpetually-surprised geisha), I was pleased to see her again. Cher is that rare creature, a surviving diva who can laugh at herself. When she showed up at the Oscars in a crazy black sequined headdress and a dress that left nothing to the imagination, she joked with reporters, “You can see I’m taking myself seriously as a legitimate actress.” (Would Lady Gaga say something as funny about her outfits, which she treats as conceptional art?)

In her recent Vanity Fair interview she talks about hating the aging process and mentions Meryl Streep, a former co-star and friend: “I think Meryl is doing it great. The stupid bitch is doing it better than all of us!” I pictured her saying this in her quintessential low drawl and laughed out loud.

Not everyone is as happy about the return of Cher. Take Lynn Crosbie in today’s Globe and Mail.

After outlining the term ‘diva’s operatic origins she writes “Lately, to be a diva is to be, plainly, stuck-up, spoiled and deeply unpleasant.” While gay men may cheer their many comebacks, she claims that the persistence of the diva ideal is disheartening to women.

“These women—from Cher to Bette Midler to Liza and beyond—do not persist because of women’s desire or obsessive fascination. Possibly, there are women out there who actually enjoy Cher’s nightmare synth-hit ‘Believe’; women who find Midler’s caterwauling on about the invention of the brassiere in her stage play delicious; women who can watch Minnelli mumble-sing ‘Single Ladies’ in ‘Sex and the City 2’ without feeling shame and revulsion…And while we are gently heartened by the diva’s worldview (‘I will survive!’), by her apparent timelessness and guts, we are simultaneously alienated by such women for they are gay icons who service a queer ideal of women that is, obviously, nonsexual, and rife with cruelty. The diva is not a friend to women.”

While I don’t know what to do with the argument that gay-worshipped divas are nonsexual (Do famous women have to be sexualized? Don’t straight men have that covered?), it is true that gay camp always derided some of its humour from cruelty. How else can you view drag queens recreating whacked-out Marlene Dietrich falling off a stage mid-song, or crazed Joan Crawford brandishing a wire hanger at her terrified children? Daniel Harris in ‘The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture’ has called camp the ‘religion that failed’, a dark mockery by former star-worshippers as they watched in horror as their goddesses aged and faded away.

But there is strength in the diva as well. Harris writes, “to counteract their own sense of powerlessness as a vilified minority, [homosexuals] modeled themselves on the appealing image of this thick-skinned androgyne-cum-drag-queen, a distinctly militaristic figure who, with a suggestive leer and a deflating wisecrack, triumphed over the indignities of being gay… Quite by accident, by pure serendipity, the diva provided the psychological models for gay militancy and helped radicalized the subculture.”

But that’s about the homosexuals, and Crosbie is interested in gay fandom only as it (to her) delegitimizes a diva’s celebrity.

After accusing gay camp of cruelty and divas as being no friend to women, what does she do with the rest of her column? Well, she says nasty stuff about Cher with the relish of a high school mean girl.

She mocks her for making lots of money and not telling ‘20/20’ the exact amount. She brings up a lame joke about “not being born in Poland” from decades ago (because, you know, Cher is obviously racist against the Poles). She judges Cher for the way she handled her conflicting emotions at the death of Sonny Bono, her ex-husband and manager who attempted to control her career. She judges her again for how she’s coped with her daughter Chasity’s transition from lesbian to transgendered male. She even takes the Meryl Streep quote from Vanity Fair out of context, simply claiming that Cher called her friend “a bitch”.

Near the end of this nasty paragraph Crosbie quotes a gay man, flamboyant designer Bob Mackie, who called her a “chameleon”, then, as she did above, dismisses gay fandom as unimportant: “Cher may well be a chameleon, but only in her reptilian demeanour and ability to adapt, cunningly, to her large LGBT following.”

A cunning reptile. Nice, Lynn.

The column reminded me of all the reviewers of ‘Sex and the City 2’ who didn’t see the paradox of cloaking themselves in feminism while criticizing materialism, and then calling the actresses old, ugly and whorish.

It’s fine if you don’t like Cher. And there’s something to be said for questioning gay diva worship and drag performance (even Harris thinks that, rather than being a transgressive force which questions gender roles, drag queens, by exaggerating and codifying femininity as an over-the-top cartoon, actually reinforce them).

But forgive me if I don’t take your feminist warrior stance very seriously when you’ve made a career of writing mean-spirited cut-ups of celebrities, mostly females.

Divas may be no friend of women, but neither is Lynn Crosbie.

Not a City in China

All over Dublin I would see the little penned note on glass cups sitting beside the till. As I paid for my latte and chatted with the (usually) non-Irish barista, I would ponder why so many cafes seemed to have the same, borderline-racist sign: “Tipping is not a city in China”. Beyond the fact that Taipei, the city whose name sounds the most like ‘tipping’, is actually in Taiwan, I was sceptical on whether Dubliners really had to be harassed into leaving some change.

Then I started working at a Starbucks and I understood. The Irish assumed that service was included in their bills and, especially at a cafe, didn’t think they should tip at all.

Now that I work in a restaurant, I’m learning about the vast underground economy of tipping, where thousands of dollars pass through hands every day. I’ve also seen that servers (our fabulous servers include a writer, a male model and a jewellery designer) spend most of their time talking about their tips: bad tips, good tips, but mostly bad.

I only recently became aware of people who routinely don’t tip servers a single penny. I thought everyone knew that servers get paid almost nothing and it’s only through tips that they are able to survive between acting gigs. It’s a difficult, tiring and often thankless job being the face of the restaurant, which you don’t manage, and the kitchen, whose meals you don’t make.

Of course, we’ve all experienced bad service and when you have a rude or indifferent server you remember it for a long time. The first and last night I went to the ‘Red Room’ on Spadina (yeah, I named names!) my friend asked if we could have pint glasses for our pitcher rather than the little kids’ juice glasses we had been given. Our server acted as though it was the most awkward question in the world, then disappeared, never to be seen again. An hour later, we got a new serve but no pint glasses.

But, as I always say when I get into the debate of bad servers versus bad customers (loudly, during Sunday family dinners), when it’s your job to serve someone you are not the one wirh the power. The customer can be rude, raise their voice, threaten to talk to your manager; you have to smile politely. The customer can walk away from the situation; you are glued to the spot. Ultimately, the customer can ‘vote with their feet’ (as they say in poli-sci) and never return to the restaurant. You, on the other hand, need this job, at least until after your next credit card payment is due.

(Yes, some bars have bouncers who can act as Praetorian guards against unruly customers. Restaurants and cafes never do, which, if you’ve ever had to deal with uncaffeinated people, they would benefit from.)

So what I’m saying is be generous and friendly.  Smile at your servers and they will most likely smile back. The secret is, servers (unlike some TTC employees) do not see customers as the enemy and want to have a pleasant evening as much as you do.

But tipping remains awkward, right? I hate how it’s semi-official, like some sort of cultural tradition you just had to pick up. I hate how you have to add up the tax or figure out a percent in your head, and even that’s just the minimum. I hate how your friends will lean over to see if you’ve under- or over-tipped.  Alternatively, I hate how some people simply don’t tip, potentially because they were never brought up to, and will continue to not tip because no one will mention it. Most of all, I hate how nobody talks about it (at least above a whisper). It’s all very awkward and silly.

Let’s do like many sophisticated European countries and include the service in the bill. I suggest we add the very minimum tipping amount to the cheque with the understanding that you can add more or leave less, if your service was bad, without being chased out the building.  While restaurant owners probably won’t like this (it would make their prices look higher), in the long run it would lead to greater simplicity for customers and better incomes for servers which, in a reversal of mythic ‘trickle down economics’, trickles back up through the economy and benefits everyone, culturally as well as monetarily.

As Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) says in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, “Finally I can stop suffering and write that symphony!”

Poor Ireland

Last night, officials from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank arrived in Dublin. This morning they will begin creating a bailout loan and a forced cost-cutting program, expected to cost about $81,000 per household. As unfortunate as an economic  crisis such as this would be for any nation, for Ireland a European bailout comes with humiliating historical ironies.

Already, a Brussels official referred to the loan as the “Oliver Cromwell package”, referencing the British Lord who invaded Ireland in 1649 and, as The Globe and Mail points out, “it is a particular badge of dishonour, for a people who marched under the banner ‘neither King nor Kaiser’ in the last century, that Britain and Germany are extending their hands most generously”.

But what other choice does the country have? The drastic cuts implemented by Taoiseach Brian Cowen were not enough to calm their European Union partners, a financial brotherhood which first much-benefited the small emerald isle during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom. That boom is a distant memory. As The Globe summarizes, “Ireland’s banks are close to insolvency; an estimated 200,000 homeowners—affecting about a fifth of the country—face default on their mortgages; unemployment has topped 13 per cent and the government’s budget deficit has reached 30 per cent of GDP, largely because of bank bailouts.”

But all of that sounds very theoretical. Weren’t you just in Dublin, Max? What was it like actually living there?

The most unnerving thing about an economic downturn is you can’t always tell.

Sure, I had trouble finding a job. Luckily, I was eventually hired at a Starbucks at a posh mall right outside central Dublin. And storefronts in downtown, which would be snapped up in an ever-expanding city like Toronto, sat oddly vacant and melancholy.

But human beings are funny creatures, set in our ways and slow to adapt to shifting environments. There are countless places I would have seen more economic devastation if I had lived there, but living in latte-sipping Ranelagh (sort of like the Annex of Dublin) and working at Dundrum Town Centre, serving frappuccinos to wealthy women, bangled arms weighted down with shopping bags, and their spoiled daughters (speaking with a distinctive Irish-Valley Girl swoopy accent), you could almost believe that everything was going swimmingly.

I venture to add that, as terrible as the American economy is, you would get a very skewed view if you lived in New York.

I venture to add that I have a skewed view of Canada’s economic health living in Toronto.

Of course, this Marie Antoinette distance from reality can’t last forever. After having a labour shortage and welcoming in my Eastern European, Asian and Middle Eastern Starbucks co-workers (“The Irish don’t want those jobs,” a native Irish person told me), the government is scaling back on who gets in. And Starbucks closed about six locations in the greater Dublin area, as good an indication of any that people are cutting expenses and guarding their money.

If I knew more about economics, I would draw a lesson about not letting banks run amok with mortgages, not letting housing developers build like wild men, not letting governments go in to debt because they bizarrely and ahistorically believe economies continue to grow indefinitely.

For now I’ll just sign off with the hope that when Ireland pulls itself (or is pulled out) of this marshy economic quagmire, that the lessons hard-won will help the sun shine again.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match/ Find Me a Find, Catch Me a Catch!’

Though I know a handful of couples who met online, and have a few times dipped my pole into the ‘Plenty of Fish’ fishing hole myself (it’s more like a koi pond: tiny, cramped and filled with glittering, showy fishes acting all, well, coy), I didn’t realize how huge internet dating had become until I was waiting for a subway and two posters advertised online dating services right beside each other: one gay, one straight. Forget straight men’s metrosexual fashions and fag hags receiving oral sex tips from their queer buddies; internet dating has done more to bring the straight and gay worlds together than ‘Will & Grace’.

The for-pay sites are doing so well they can advertise on TV, leading to those groan-inducing e-Harmony ads in which beautiful people rub their noses together, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight, cuddling on a beach somewhere, unintentionally illustrating the classic “long walks on the beach” line from the pre-digital dark ages of personal ads. The ads seem designed to make single people both yearning and angry.

I was going to call them the opposite of phone sex ads in which monotone blond women lounge about on beds, purring about how they love meeting exciting new people, and trying to convince you to call the number at the bottom of the screen (“Your first call is free!”) as though they are the ones actually answering the phones. Really, they are the flip side of the same reality. Phone sex ads put sexuality at the forefront, when a lot of the men targeted may just want someone to talk to; dating services, which target women more, emphasize companionship and romance, while a lot of the ladies are probably sitting at home feeling a little horny.

Either way, we are lonely. And apparently we can’t be trusted to meet people on our own.

One hundred years ago, matchmakers could be hired to find a suitable suitor for your unwed daughter, at 19 years old almost a spinster! In the western world, this formerly-important tradition is remembered through musical theatre, with the babushka-wrapped matchmaker of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and Dolly Levi of ‘Hello Dolly!’, a part alternatively played by Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey and Barbra Streisand. Without campy ladies in gigantic feathered hats to help us, we’re left on our own to find mates, so we turn to the source which helps us spell words (I just looked up ‘babushka’) and find addresses two streets away from our homes: the internet.

Tellingly, in the film ‘Bride and Prejudice’, a Bollywood-style musical based on Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the modern day Indian family doesn’t turn to a matchmaker to help get rid of, I mean, set up their four daughters, but an Indian match-up website.

And speaking of dating within your ethnicity, my favourite online service has got to be J-Date, the Jewish dating website. We discovered it one night during undergrad and signed up our Jewish friend Shana, who sat on her bed on the other side of the room screaming. I love that you can be gay or lesbian on J-Date. The fact that someone has bucked tradition enough to be queer but still wants a Jewish partner I find quite remarkable. But the most hilarious aspect of J-Date is how many favourite food options you are given: easily, more than thirty.

“Who decides to go on a first date based on a mutually love of Malaysian or Hungarian or Tex-Mex food?!” I asked.

“Jews do,” Shana said.

Then there’s the stigma. (“There’s no stigma,” Ted on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ whines. “Oh, there’s a stigma,” his friends maintain. “That’s why you said ‘there’s no stigma’!”) I knew a couple who never once admitted to having met online.

“What would you tell your grandkids?” another friend asked me. Don’t you assume, the way things are going, that our grandchildren will live their entire lives online?

I think the stigma comes from the feeling that we shouldn’t have to meet people on the internet. The characters in ‘Friends’ and ‘Sex and the City’ and all the romantic comedies I grew up with never needed websites to go out on dates. Either baby-boomers and Gen-Xers were a lot better at actually getting out of the house and meeting people in person, things that our generation is dramatically bad at, or all those TV shows and movies lied to me (a very likely scenario).

Whatever the reasons, where once an old Jewish lady trampled about the village trying to find us “a good match”, we are now, as we often are in the post-industrial world, left on our own, scanning profile pic after profile pic, trying to see some honesty shine through all bullshit, because deep down, beneath our nonchalance and cynicism, we still believe love is out there.

The Problem with Angelina…

The trouble with Angelina Jolie is not her beauty or her talent, nor the fact that since arising to fame she’s had at least four different personas (naughty-bisexual-scarlet-haired-daughter-of-Jon-Voigt; gothy-Oscar-winner-making-out-with-her-brother; knife-playing-wife-of-Billy-Bob-Thornton; and finally, international-good-doer-and-earth-mother-with-beautiful-Brad-in-tow).

Her problem isn’t the fact that, despite no one really watching her movies, she’s the most famous actress in the world, largely for playing the seductress in the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt love triangle, which was, for all intents and purposes, a remake of the split of good girl Debbie Reynolds and cad Eddie Fisher, with Angelina taking the role of then-‘most beautiful woman in the world’ Elizabeth Taylor. (A pop cultural allegory whose legitimacy was increased threefold when I saw no less than Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie and Eddie, compare her parents to Aniston and Pitt!)

 The problem isn’t even that, in keeping with being the Elizabeth Taylor for the 21st century, she’s reprising Taylor’s most famous (and worst) role, that of Queen Cleopatra. The role of the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt is a cursed one, with many an actress’s career being killed alongside the tragic queen’s suicide by snake bite, and Angelina would be wise to listen to the warnings delivered to Cleo’s Roman sugar daddy Julius Caesar and “Beware!”

The problem with Angelina Jolie is nothing to do with personality or PR or talent. The problem is literally only skin deep. She’s the wrong colour.

Wrong colour for some, I should add. Despite the unavoidable fact that the queen was ethnically Greek, for more than a century we have wanted her to be dark-skinned (at least Middle Eastern, if not African-looking) to provide a beautiful and powerful historical role model for young women of colour (or at least use her glamorous image to sell makeup and shampoo). So, even though the real Cleopatra was more Nia Vardolas than Beyonce Knowles, the casting has been criticized. The editors of Essence claimed that Angelina stole a role which was rightfully that of a “Black woman”.

All of this seemed very familiar and suddenly I remembered the controversy which surrounded Angelina’s casting in A Mighty Heart, playing Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain reporter Daniel Pearl. Some people objected to the casting of Jolie because Pearl is of mixed-race heritage. As Angelina pointed out at the time, Pearl’s father was Jewish-Dutch and her mother Afro-Chinese-Cuban: if they were determined to find an actress with the exact same genetic background, the casting director may still be working on it today. And Pearl herself, who personally chose Angelina for the part, told reporters the colour of someone’s skin is less important than who they are as a person and that she felt a kinship with Jolie, before adding “she is way more beautiful than I am!”

The real Cleopatra was an intelligent charmer, both blessed and cursed with a dynastic lineage, who used her wiles to forge alliances with powerful men. While ultimately this did not save her kingdom’s independence, it resulted in her fame as the most beautiful woman in the world.

Perhaps the similarities are more than skin deep.

Farther’s Fascinating Freaks at Freedom

For most of first year at the University of Guelph, Jess Bartram kept to herself, but we were all intrigued at how she had turned her dorm room into a whimsical, soft-lit caravan with sparkly scarves hanging from the ceiling and watercolours posted on the walls. Luckily, once she began joining us in my room, cuddling up on the bed to eat Tostitos and partake in wandering conversations which could start with Marxism and end with the guy we thought was cute at Burger King, she never left my life. We lived together for the next three years, in one way or another;  indulged in moaning and Sex and the City viewings when we found ourselves single; yoga classes when we thought we were out of shape; and a backpacking trek through Europe, from London to Istanbul.

Since graduating and entering the quote unquote Real World not many of us are actually utilizing our education and doing what we want to be doing. For instance, I’ve spent the ensuing three years over-steaming milk at Starbucks, cursing UofT and wandering European cities by myself, only now feeling like I’m back on track towards a dream.

 Jess, I’m very proud to say, is an exception.

Her show ‘Farther’s Fascinating Freaks’ opened last weekend at the Freedom Clothing Collective. Drawing from freak shows and children’s books, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Victorian portraiture, the watercolours feature charming animals in opulent, old world dress, some of whom would be creepy if they weren’t so cute. Jess has combined her interest in fashion with her love of fauna (she was the type of kid who was happy to spend the afternoon pouring over illustrated encyclopaedias and learning all the names), and I never dreamt that the amazing characters she doodled when bored in ‘History of Greece and Rome’, who even then came with triple-decker British titles, would leap off the page and onto the gallery wall.

On the crowded opening night, little red stickers signifying ‘sold’ were popping up like pimples. The show runs until December 7th.

Queer in Toronto

I am very lucky to have made some pretty fantastic, talented, inspiring friends over the years. Case in point: I am going to two art openings of close friends in two days. The first was last night at the Gladstone Hotel, the ‘Queer in Toronto’ project. It started with my friend Taryn Pimento, whom I went to elementary school with, and her partner Margo Foster realizing that there wasn’t much space for queer women in Toronto, both rhetorically and physically. They sought to correct this by creating a series of photographs of queer women and female-identified persons which show queer Toronto in all its glorious diversity.

While the photographs are beautiful, the warmth of the two artists is reflected in their loving treatment of their subjects, what stood out for me were the cards featuring questions and scribbled answers next to each work. Asked about how they identify and their thoughts on the queer female scene in the city, the women penned answers which are sometimes funny, sometimes political, occasionally scratching out part and rewriting them. By not editing or retyping the subjects’ answers, Pimento and Foster allow the women’s voices to be heard alongside their faces.

The show is on the second floor of the Gladstone Hotel and is up until November 24th.

Love

One of the few rules our high school Writer’s Craft teacher (a wild-haired, string tie-wearing cowboy poet) believed in was to not title pieces overarching, concept words. I agree: it’s very dangerous to call a story ‘Loneliness’ or a poem ‘Hatred’. But what about when your subject simply is ‘Love’?

(In case anyone’s interested, I spent that class submitting an episodic story about a group of multi-racial, sexually diverse teenagers, who I pushed into university in the then-futuristic year of 2005, and eventually into marriages, political careers and war traumas in the 2020’s.)

I have an inkling that no culture has made a bigger deal about love than our own. It is the fuelling sentiment behind pop songs, movie endings and apprehensive first dates. In the past, social connections, financial security and procreation were openly accepted as the reasons to wed. But, while these justifications still exist, nowadays, especially in the West, we would shudder at their bluntness. Instead, we talk of love. Where big white weddings used to be displays of the bride’s family’s wealth, now, in order to justify the 5,000 dollar dress and all the ice sculptures, each ceremony needs to have an epic love story behind it. Half of them end in divorce.

Wow, that’s cynical.

Okay. Love.

I was once in love. My entry into the world of dating was so abortive, so disappointing (my love life was DOA, as the song from Friends would have it) that told a friend, “You know, when I meet a guy who I like, and who likes me, and actually wants to date, then that will just have to be love!”

Funnily enough, that’s how it went down.

Well, first there was a drunken make-out. Then we forgot each others’ names. Then he convinced me that, despite being in different cities, we could actually date. By the time he visited me two weeks later, we were using the ‘L-word’, as in ‘I think I’m falling in L—’.

He was beautiful in an otherworldly way and we had enough in common to always have something to talk about, but enough different that we could challenge and learn from each other. Over time, our differences became more apparent and I realized that he had repressed parts of his self in order to better fit with my friends and family, he so wanted to be part of my world.

I can’t compare from experience, but, as bad as a break up is when one side does something shitty like cheating, it’s almost worse when despite loving each other it just stops working. Scary thing is, sometimes love isn’t enough. We broke up and I tortured myself by misremembering us as a perfect union and dwelling on everything I could have done differently. We got back together and I tortured myself in a new way by doing everything I could think of to make it work. I think partially, although I loved him, I also loved the idea of being in love and didn’t want to let it go. Perhaps I thought that I wouldn’t meet someone like him again for awhile, if ever.

We broke up and I was right. In the years since, I have not been in love. But that’s okay. If I had been in a couple, I wouldn’t have met the guys I did, some I ended up dating, some who became friends and still others who were destined to become funny, embarrassing stories. Your twenties are for sowing wild oats anyways. I’m the type of gay guy, midway between a twink and a bear (I often have facial hair, but no belly, guys!), who gets ignored in his twenties, but when we’re all 36 I suspect I’ll be a catch.

But love often doesn’t happen when it’s convenient.

Speaking of love and embarrassing dating stories: I haven’t had a guy blow it with me during a pre-meeting IM chat in quite awhile, but one did last night. He recounted, in OCD-detail, how the last guy he met didn’t respond to his last text messages. It wasn’t so much that it made him look desperate as it was boring to hear about. I told him a funny first date story in which I was drinking and he said, “Oh, you got sloppy-drunk on a first date? I would wait until the fourth or fifth.” I thought, ‘Well, excuse me, Miss Manners. My copy of The Rules: Gay Dating Edition hasn’t arrived yet!’

I explained to him that my two longest relationships began with me not only having a couple drinks but (gasp) making out with them! In contrast, I’ve gone on countless pleasant, afternoon coffee dates and never seen the guy again. There are no rules. But the kicker came when I asked him if he had been in love. He said no but wished he had. He then asked me and I typed, “Yes. My ex boyfriend and I were very much in love. I think about him all the time and still miss him”. To which my new friend answered, “Whoa, rub it in much?”

After I picked up my jaw off the floor I wrote, “He broke my heart. I’m still getting over it. That was in no way showing off.” Then he felt kind of bad. Turns out, there are some rules: don’t make someone’s break up story about yourself if you want to get a first date. But I can see where he was coming from. Prior to having fallen in love, I was totally jealous of anyone with any kind of love story. And even though now I’ve seen it from both sides, and I am admittedly bitter about the dating world, I still seek love. Although the guys I have the most in common with always want to just be friends, and the guys who come from totally different backgrounds and I don’t know what to say to are the ones who want to date, I still, deep down, think someone I could love is out there.

And in the mean time, while searching, I’m going to have fun.