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Month: May 2022

45 45s at 45

Inspired by a recent Facebook post from my friend Brian, I thought I’d try to visit the 45 songs that have impacted or defined my life to date.

​So here goes, in no particular order

  1. Don’t Cry For Me Argentina Miami Mix – Madonna
  2. Right Here Waiting – Richard Marx
  3. Ya Never Know – Little Shop of Horrors
  4. Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night – Bon Jovi
  5. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again – Phantom of the Opera
  6. Memories – Shawn Mendes
  7. More Than Me – Greyson Chance
  8. Angel – Aerosmith
  9. I Dreamed a Dream – Les Miserables
  10. Beautiful Boy – Coleen McMahon
  11. Always Starting Over – If/Then
  12. Soul of a Man – Kinky Boots
  13. Safer – First Date
  14. The Last Song – Elton John
  15. Waving Through a Window – Dear Evan Hansen
  16. Some Other Me – If/Then
  17. Audition – LaLa Land (Kyle Bielfield cover)
  18. He Used To Be Mine – Waitress (Paul Baker cover) 
  19. In This Life – Bette Midler
  20. Let the Radio Remind Me – Hayden Joseph
  21. Ready to be Loved – Devin Lewis
  22. This Time – Lea Michele
  23. Last Party – Mika
  24. Get It Right – Lea Michele
  25. Sign of the Times – Harry Styles
  26. Vulnerable – Roxette
  27. Blink – Cascada
  28. Words – Bee Gees
  29. Wonderwall – Oasis
  30. As If We Never Said Goodbye – Sunset Boulevard
  31. The Winner Takes It All – ABBA
  32. It’s All Coming Back to Me Now – Celine Dion
  33. You Don’t Know – Cyndi Lauper
  34. This Was Me  – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
  35. From Now On – Greatest Showman
  36. This is the Moment – Jekyll and Hyde
  37. Remember Me This Way – Jordan Hill
  38. Only You – Yaz
  39. One Fine Day – Beautiful The Carole King Musical
  40. Once in a Lifetime – Sarah Brightman
  41. On My Own – Les Miserables
  42. It’s My Life – Bon Jovi
  43. Go the Distance – Hercules
  44. Goodbye – Catch Me If You Can
  45. Heaven is a Place on Earth – Belinda Carlisle

My Pride Timeline

Pride 2001

​My first Pride festival was 1997. Was it Lethbridge’s first? I don’t remember one in 1996, and I certainly would have gone. Lethbridge in 1997 was a very different place than it is now, with a giant Pride Fest happening at a major mainstream downtown club. Then, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Lethbridge and Area (GALA/LA) threw monthly events at the Croatian Hall, outside of town, and the ’97 Pride event was even further into the country. There were some queens down from Calgary (likely ISCCA, not that I knew what that was then) for a show at a little gay BBQ. Even the prospect of a slip n slide wasn’t enough to keep me there, not when my friend Dave suggested ditching for a night in Calgary, where I could slip and slide into some hot boy’s bed. 

My first (and last, come to think of it) Calgary pride saw a very hungover me ending up actually walking in the parade, with Calgary’s queer youth group at the time, I-dentity. The fact that impromptu attendance at my first parade involved me being in it was par for the course of who and how I was then: gay gay gay gay gay and you better know it (as opposed to now, when it’s gay gay gay gay gay, but let me nap). And yes, that parade was empowering AF, but my clearest memory of my first Pride was the vodka-soaked kisses of Michael with the ice-blue eyes. 

My first Edmonton pride was 1999, I guess? I wasn’t really involved in the community yet; I’d only been back from Lethbridge a couple months. I didn’t know then how big a role Edmonton Pride would play in my life. By 2000, I was Village People’ing and crashed the Roost float, and by 2001, I was reigning as Prince for Reign 25 with the ISCWR and was actually invited to be on a float legitimately. 2001 saw a shift in the Pride festival into a format it would keep for two decades, with the parade leading into a beer garden, entertainment stage, and resource fair. 

In 2002, I joined the Pride board (then called EPWS – Edmonton Pride Week Society) as Secretary. Things were going along great with plans for Pride 2003 (The Flame Within) until blatant transphobia derailed the board. In the fall-out, one of the board members who had been tasked with parade organizing went around  and cancelled all those plans before quitting. I was left the only member of the Executive, and it fell on me to cancel those cancellations, while emergency board recruits like Mickey and Erin Wilson salvaged the society. Yes, people had tried to extinguish the flame, but it burned brighter than ever that year. 

It’s weird, but looking back, becoming involved with the community when I did, I saw less problems facing Pride from external enemies and more problems from within the community. The bigger Pride got, the more internal politics and ego it had to contend with.

2004’s Pride was particularly memorable for me. In 2003, Michael Brown and myself started a gay monthly magazine called Fresh (with a lot of financial help from our respective partners). While I could easily go off on a tangent here and talk about how here again internal community politics were the biggest hurdles, for the purposes of this piece, what is important is that Fresh Magazine was recognized at the 2004 Pride Awards at City Hall. 

2004’s Pride was particularly memorable for me. In 2003, Michael Brown and myself started a gay monthly magazine called Fresh (with a lot of financial help from our respective partners). While I could easily go off on a tangent here and talk about how here again internal community politics were the biggest hurdles, for the purposes of this piece, what is important is that Fresh Magazine was recognized at the 2004 Pride Awards at City Hall. 

The parade shifted course again in 2005. At my first Edmonton Pride, it had gone down 100 Ave, then later, westbound on Jasper to Oliver Park, but in 2005, we were heading EAST on Jasper and ending in Churchill Square. I cannot stress enough how important a victory this was. This represented an acceptance of Pride as part of the city in a way that nothing else had. We were in the heart of the city, and here to stay – and it truly felt like mission accomplished. I was managing Buddys in 2005; Buddys etc had always had some of the most amazing floats in the parade, and I was excited to be part of that. This was the pinnacle to date of my professional fulfillment, and I still love that summer 2005 Buddys/Woodys team with all my heart. That being said, it’s possible that year was the coldest Edmonton Pride I’ve ever experienced. Although Binki and Vanity (in their Pride hosting debut) tried to keep everyone entertained, the temperature was dropping as fast as the rain, and by the end of the show, Churchill was pretty deserted. All that remained was our Buddys/Woodys team, because cold beer keeps wet gays warm!

Pride at Churchill continued to grow, but life for me was increasingly less proud. By 2006, I was a full-fledged cocaine user, and the snowfall definitely took priority over the rainbow. Which isn’t to say I didn’t participate still. Village People reunited for the 2007 mainstage (don’t ask me how, considering I was essentially homeless that Pride). And then came 2008, the first time I went to Pride still up from the night before. But the crowds continued to grow, and not just because I was seeing double.

Village People reunited one more time for the Pride mainstage, in 2009. We’d perform together a bit more after that, but never anywhere so big. 

2011 was my first sober pride. It was a different scene then, compared to my first Edmonton pride. The Roost was long gone, and Boots was freshly closed. New kids on the block like Play, Flash, and Pure had dominated the 2010 line-up, but in 2011, my focus was just on our programming at Junction. I didn’t really have much interest in the parade anymore, at least not as a participant. It was time to pay off years of cocaine debt, and start shaping up professionally. The theme for 2011 was Stand UP, and for the first time in a long time, I was standing up, proud and sober. 

By 2013, we knew EVO was in the works. Though I was living in Calgary at the time, I was up for Edmonton Pride to visit friends (Calgary pride had long since relocated to September long weekend to avoid overlapping with us). Little did I know then that I wouldn’t go back to Calgary. By the end of Edmonton Pride 2013, we had signed a lease and EVO, originally planned for Calgary, was about to be.

Evolution’s first Pride was 2014. We’d selected a Circus theme, because I had seen first hand how internal themes could be great for venue programming and floats. That year was the last year Edmonton Pride was at Churchill, with the parade going right down 102 ave by the bar. We were the new kid on the block now, and we were intent on making our mark. We did, for sure, and maybe we felt we made enough of a mark that that was the one and only Pride Parade we participated in. That was likely more to do with the official festivities relocating to the original home on Whyte. Whyte Pride wasn’t nearly as convenient for us, downtown, so we turned our focus inwards. 

There were definitely some conflicts with the Edmonton Pride Festival Society that dampened my enthusiasm for festivities, but like any non-profit, boards change, so every year really was a fresh start. While we were professionally on a different page, I still respected the work, and was honoured to help judge the parade floats one year.  Still, we missed downtown programming, and we missed programming that helped the little non-profits we worked with all year. That’s why, in 2017, we started the 103 St Community Street Festival. I’m grateful for the team at EVO that picked up my slack while I navigated the hoops and hurdles that went along with that first year, and loved seeing its huge success only grow in 2018.

In the spring of 2019, the Edmonton Pride Festival Society announced the cancellation of their events. Media picked up on this as a cancellation of Pride entirely, and I feel I spent weeks trying to correct that narrative. EPFS events were not the whole of Pride. We doubled the size of our Community Festival that year, and helped get a Pride Guide out, and so many other groups kept their programming going. Never let anyone tell you that Edmonton Pride 2019 was cancelled, because it wasn’t. 

In the summer of 2019, we started the plans to relocate our Community Street Festival from 103 St to Churchill Square. With the dissolution of EPFS, it was time to go back to the heart of the city, and LRT construction on 102 Ave was forcing us off the street anyway. And then along came COVID, just as the balls were getting rolling.  Virtual programming was certainly a different way to spend Pride, but at least there was something, to keep Edmonton Pride going, uninterrupted, during a pandemic.

Now here we are, two weeks away from Pride Month 2022. This year marks forty years since 1982’s Pride Through Unity, where multiple groups and businesses came together to put on Edmonton’s first pride festival weekend, in response to the 1981 raid on the Pisces Spa. (Yes, even Edmonton’s Pride can tie its origins to protest against police action).  New groups like Capital Pride and Edmonton Pride Association have formed to fill the void left by EPFS, and part of this involves that return to Churchill Square we had been working on in 2020.  2019’s events had left me pretty emotionally broken, and all I wanted was to see other groups pick up the baton and run with it; that’s now happening, and now my challenge is just not letting my own pride stand in the way of enjoying the bigger Pride. Over forty events are being planned for this June, and myself and Evolution are helping enhance and elevate as many of those events as we can. 

But in 2022, what makes me proudest is my new position with Explore Edmonton, bringing an increased LGBTQ2 presence to K-days this summer. My Pride journey has taken me from a little gay boy desperate to be included, to someone at the heart of things, trying his best to include and involve everyone he can. And damn – that is something to take pride in.

A Confession:

I’ve been a bad, bad writer. Somehow, I managed to put out two books during the pandemic, and don’t get me wrong, I am fuckin proud of both of them. (Legit – check them out: Starting Over and Finishing Last, available now on the Big A)

But I haven’t written a word since. Not the fourth River City Romance, not the YA thing, not the ghost thing. I have a folder filled with half-started concepts, and … nothing. Not one thing.

I mean, sure, I’m running a night club, plus working as a research assistant and writer at MacEwan University for the Edmonton Queer History Project in addition to creating content for the Rainbow Story Hub, plus I’ve recently been hired by Explore Edmonton to elevate their Pride programming at this year’s K-Days… it was tiring even to link all those, but oh! It’s a rewarding time career-wise and I am very grateful for the opportunities as life pivots and evolves. 

That being said, I miss writing for you all. I want you to meet Bastian and Topher. I want you to let me try to redeem Luc. I even want to let you know what happens next for Dorothy, Wendy, and Alice. (Not to mention the ghost thing. I really want to write the ghost thing)

And I will. Soon. 

​I promise.

Memoir Course: Letter to Younger Self

You’re always going to remember your first time.

You never planned on it happening that night. You never planned on it happening at all really. It wasn’t something you never really thought about doing. Sure, other people did it, and sure, maybe it seemed fun, but you were just happy drinking and dancing.

This is what’s going to happen. It’ll be March 2001, and you’ll walk into that Vancouver hotel room, and they’ll be doing it, there on the bed. They’re the cool drag queens, and you want to be accepted by them. Right then, as they hand you the rolled-up bill, you’ll flashback to every single time in your entire life when you wanted so desperately to be included. It’s not you at 24 having that first time, it’s 8-year-old you, and 14-year-old you, and 19-year-old you. And you will lean down over the hotel bible that they had cut the lines on and you’ll snort it.
Doesn’t sound like I’m talking you out of it, does it? I guess that’s because objects in the cocaine-covered rear view mirror may appear closer than they were. I also guess I know you won’t listen to me, whatever I say. You’ll do that first line, that first night, and then a second line a second night, a month later, and then a third and fourth line a few months after that. And then you’ll stop, and you’ll wonder why I would have reached back through space and time to warn you about it. 
Because that WHITE. GOLD. FIRE. is going to take you over. 
Edmonton winters are all about the white powder, after all, but in 2005, it’s going to be a very different snow. Snow should be cold, right? But no, this is that other snow. That WHITE. GOLD. FIRE. It’ll burn through you, that week between Christmas and New Years, and it will leave nothing behind. 
The blizzard of 2005 will last until 2011. 

You won’t listen to me just the same way I didn’t listen to others. We can’t hear until we’re ready. But on the nights when you’ll be laying on your bed, unable to sleep, your heart racing, your mouth dry, the bitter nasal drip making you cough and sneeze, you’ll hear those voices, so let me add mine to the chorus. Stop sooner! Put that fire out.

It will burn down your job, your relationship. Remember when you were the smart kid with the unlimited potential? The WHITE. GOLD. FIRE. Will leave you homeless. I mean, sure, you and I both know we had fun at many a bathhouse, but do you really want to be living in one? Because you will be, so that you can pace the corridors, burning up, horny and unable to do anything about it because oh, you don’t even want to know about the coke-dick. The house music will be blaring over those speakers all night long, and it won’t matter because you couldn’t sleep anyway because of the WHITE. GOLD. FIRE. Coursing through your veins. 
And you’ll love it, and you’ll hate it, and you’ll hate yourself, and you’ll try to fix that hate by doing more. You’ll go further down the spiral, because you know that even if or when you hit rock bottom, well, that rock is just made of coke for you to crush and snort. 

Who knows what you could have done or been without the WHITE. GOLD. FIRE? Would you still be managing Buddys, that gay bar you loved so frickin’ much you let it dominate everything? Would you be an owner there? Would you still be with Mike, if the fire hadn’t burned you both up, the night he threw you into a Christmas tree, the night he came at you with a hammer? I wish I could tell you what you’d gain, if you listened to my words, but I can’t, and besides, the kids never listen. I didn’t listen when I was you, and they don’t listen now when I talk about how I was / how we were, back then, when the snow piled up and the world was an endless white-out. 

Cuz you see, as the snow piled up, you lost sight of everything. You’re a good Alberta boy. You know what the winter is like. That winter was endless. You’d gone through the wardrobe to find the White Witch in a little baggie, and she was in control. When the snow is coming down that hard, that long, you can’t see anyone. You will have never felt so alone, and c’mon, let’s be honest, kid, I’m you. I know how alone we had felt. This was that, but ten times worse. A hundred times worse. You will be alone in the blizzard, because you see, that WHITE. GOLD. FIRE? It burns down bridges too. Friends, family, work. The fire will consume them all, and still, all you will want is to keep feeling that burn. 

When you could have been having breakfast in bed with a husband, you’ll be having cocaine for breakfast before even rolling out of bed alone. And you will drink so you can sleep, and you’ll snort to stay awake. And you’ll be living at this intersection of alcohol and cocaine, and only at your highest and most alone will you scribble endlessly into journals the despair and truth eating away at you. But in the morning, and by morning, I mean mid-afternoon because mornings will find you just crawling into bed to hopefully be able to pass out – in the mid-afternoon, you won’t be able to do anything, but later, rinse, repeat, to get through the next night. 
You’ll be Icarus, flying high, and the sun will burn you with its WHITE. GOLD. FIRE. and you will crash. And crash. And crash and burn. 
Even if you hear me, and walk into that room at 24 and say no to that rolled-up bill, you’ll need to say no again and again. Eventually, I fear, it will get you, the same way it got me. Maybe we needed to burn, eh? That’s what we used to think, right? Better to burn out than fade away. Was it a slow march to the suicide we avoided in high school?  At that first time, in 2001, we hadn’t racked up the body count we later would – the friends lost to addiction and depression and suicide. We came so close to just being one of them, but instead, we lived, maybe so we could remember them. 

Because you see, the blizzard WILL end. It will last six years, and it will take you down, time and time again. You will live your life in ten city blocks, and you will go days, weeks, months without seeing the sun. You will be a stranger to your family, and a disappointment to yourself. But we’re good Alberta boys, we know that spring will come. And there will come a day, 3657 days after walking into that Vancouver hotel room, when you will be done. You will wake up and just be done.

And you’ll walk outside, and lift your face to the sun and close your eyes. All you will see is white gold, and the sun will be warm on your face, and you will smile, clean and sober.

Just do us both a favour, and get there sooner?

Back to School: A Coming Out Project

I recently signed up for a Gay Male Memoir Course through UCLA, because 3.5 jobs isn’t enough right? The first assignment was just a piece about an early on moment in our coming out stories. For those of you who know me, it’s no surprise I landed on that high school straight ex:

If anyone had still been paying attention to the game, chances are it never would have happened, but most of the room was Truth-or-Dare’d out. The only ones really still playing were the three of us: me, my best friend Jenn, and Him. The first him, anyway. There’d be other hims later, many other hims, but then, it was just Him. Jeff. . The rest of the room, the other dozen or so people I’d invited out to celebrate my seventeenth, were caught up in their own conversations. They couldn’t hear Jenn urging Jeff to ask me who I liked, and they definitely couldn’t hear my answer.
Jenn knew what that answer would be, of course. I’d come out to her the previous fall. She was one of three people who I’d told by that point. Her reaction had been the best: complete acceptance and total lack of surprise. That had compelled me to tell the other two, whose reactions had been, for Pam, awkward laughter, and for Verity, betrayal and anger. Three people knowing “my greatest secret” was more than I’d ever intended, so I was fine leaving it at that, especially given the declining positivity in results.But that night, I took a plunge there’d be no coming back from.
“Who do you like?” he asked, just simple and straight-forward.
“You,” was my reply, equally simple but far less straight. Jenn was on my right, legs folded underneath her on the couch, bouncing up and down with excitement. Jeff was in the chair next to her, everyone else behind us doing their own thing.
“I’m just not gay.”
Was it immediately at that moment he said those four words for the first time, or did the news take a minute or two to sink in? Looking back, it’s impossible to remember, and given everything that came after, the timing didn’t matter. The words were said, right away, or minutes later, or possibly even the next day. They were said, and they ended all the hope that had carried me, giddily, into the confession.
He’d seemed it though. And that wasn’t just me projecting. Jenn thought so too. The plan had never been just outing myself for the sake of being out. Oh no, it had been outing myself because that was how I’d get to the next part, the good part, the fall in love forever part. Because when you’re seventeen and freshly out and you haven’t had your heart broken yet, you still believe in forever. Or at least I did.
But with those four words, he ended the hope that that forever would be with him.
“I’m just not gay.”
He said it lots over that summer, as the friendship deepened.   
And he had called to say it once again that fall.
It was her birthday this time. Jeff and I were drunk and Jenn was just laughing at us. The vodka soon filled me up, and I ran upstairs. I came back down to the basement from the bathroom – ‘Angel’ by Aerosmith playing on the stereo – walked by them kissing, and, wait – what? I turned around, but she was gone. Nothing about the night until then had indicated it would change everything so profoundly, but as she cried and I cried and she accidentally outed me to my mother, who panickily outed me to the rest of my family, and all the while, all he could say was, “I’m just not gay.”
My heart was shattered. She was my best friend, and he was… my Jeff. And in the midst of that, there was my mother, now privy to something I’d never intended to tell her, and she was in a crazy denial. “You can’t be,” she said, through my locked door, while I was crying and Jeff was passed out on the couch across from me. “You’re just not gay.”
I was barely aware of the momentous shift in my reality. I was out to everyone! How did it even happen? No, all I could see was them, kissing. Her, the best friend. Him, the boy I liked. I was gay, and he was fine with that, but he wasn’t, and I had to accept that. Allegedly.

They dated. We fought. They broke up. We fought. They got back together. We fought. We laughed and cried and got drunk and passed out next to each other, and it was all such a mess. A painful, beautiful mess. It was New Year’s Day that I woke up next to him, taking a moment to breathe in his scent. Just the barest whisper of my lips against his ear was enough to wake him up. “I’m just not gay.”
She was just barely there, on the periphery of our descent into whatever it was that came next – months of mind-games and self-harm, and solace in each other. But there she was, while they dated, and after they were done. “He’s just not gay,” she’d say, and oh, it would sting, that she could know that, first-hand. He’d tell me he wasn’t gay as I reached out to brush away the brown bangs that fell across his forehead. He’d tell me he wasn’t gay and I’d cut myself, thinking that pain was easier to handle than this, this finally being out and STILL not being loved back. He’d tell me he wasn’t gay as our fights about her turned into actual physical confrontations, and he’d tell me he wasn’t gay as those physical confrontations turned into some twisted frottage. And by the time May rolled around, a year after that Truth or Dare, he’d tell me he wasn’t gay even with my mouth on his dick.
“You’re sure you’re not gay?”
“Bi maybe?”
“Curious and interested in experimenting?”
“Gay and just not telling me?”
“I’m just not gay.”
I grinned. “Oh well. Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
He’d never touch me, of course. That would make him, you know, not not-gay. But he was seventeen, and a mouth was a mouth. And of course, I knew he was thinking of her because he told me; he made sure I always knew that she was in his mind when my mouth was on his dick. I didn’t care. It wasn’t the fairy tale, but it was something. The connection was fucked, but it was a connection.
It wasn’t real, and I knew it wasn’t real, and oh, how I needed it to be real! My arms bore the proof of how painful the un-reality of it all was, dozens of slice marks made by a paring knife that now lived next to my bed. It was the mid-90s after all, and the soundtrack to our summer was angst and rage. Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana and Green Day sang my pain. The world was dark, it seemed, and everyone hurt, so what were we doing? What was I doing to myself? It was just our normal.

It was a merry-go-round I couldn’t get off, because, maybe, the next time around, I would grab that golden ring, the one where he would finally accept what he obviously wasn’t ready to accept, and he would kiss me, and the price I had paid for it would all be worth it. It was easy to ride that fantasy, even though I had to know, deep down, that it really wasn’t ever going to happen. His four little words had told me that right from the beginning.
And then I had to move. High school had ended, the summer was winding down, and my university career was happening 300 miles from his. How inconsiderate of real life to just up and intervene in my obsession like that! I knew what would happen of course. With me away, he’d soon forget all about everything we’d gone through. He’d be fine. He’d land on his feet. I was the one with everything invested in the relationship.
For the first time in a long time, I was exactly right.
He was fine, and he did land on his feet. More accurately, he landed on another blond girl.
It’s easier for straights, I guess. I’d land on my feet too, but it would take months. Months in which I re-entered the closet. After all, it was a new city, far away, and I didn’t have to be the crazy psychotic gay anymore.
It wasn’t real. I was gay. There was no denying it. By the time the two-year anniversary of that fateful Truth-or-Dare rolled around, I was visibly and vocally out (and being cheated on by my first boyfriend, which just goes to prove, gay or just-not-gay, all men are dogs). But before that happened, there was a weekend back home. With him, and the new her.

We were at the Thunderdome, this massive straight nightclub, and they’d been kissy-facing all night, which really drove home the way he would never kiss me. Still, I put on a good face, because he was, in the end, my friend, and as much as it hurt, I wanted him to be happy. As the sound system blared AC/DC ‘Thunderstruck’ (really, straights? Really??), and the smoke from the fog machine rolled across the floor, she left to go to the washroom, and he leaned across the table.
“I’m just not gay,” he said.
“Fuck! I know! Why are you—?”
He cut me off by leaning across the table, with just the barest whisper of his lips against mine, there in that straightest of worlds.
He cut me off again. “Thank you for being okay with it,” he said. “With me and her. And thank you,” he continued, “for being okay.”
That he would finally kiss me, however briefly, somewhere so public, so straight, it meant something. Whatever he was to me, this mash-up of best friend and straight-ex-boyfriend, he was important to me. And then I thought about his last words. Thanking me for being okay?
I wasn’t, not really. The damage would take a long time to heal – not just the physical scars it left, but what it did to my brain. But right there, right then, surrounded by the drunken straights in air thick with smoke, it was just me and him, one gay, one just-not-gay. We had seen each other through the worst, and yes, it was going to be okay.