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Month: December 2023

Lost Boys Episode Three: Mike

Last Seen: Winter 1998

Strictly speaking, we were never supposed to meet.

You see, I was volunteering with Lethbridge’s Gay and Lesbian Peer Support Line (it was 1997, this was pre-acronym). The PSL had a policy: no one-on-one meets. The purpose was two-fold – the safety of volunteers and the protection of vulnerable callers. But you see, there weren’t other volunteers. It was just me, for months and months at a time, and this guy, he needed to meet a real life gay person, badly.

One of those Mormons, you know.

Lethbridge in the late 90s was nestled snugly between fundamentalist Christians and Canada’s main Mormon population, and neither of them had anything good to say about the gays. Having grown up with the former, I certainly empathized with the latter. I’d been out 2-4 years at the time, depending how you looked at it, but I was certainly a lot farther along my coming-out journey than this guy, and knew I could help.

I was also in a horrible mental state and was absolutely desperate for some kind of connection. Which is less noble a motivation, true, but at this stage, honesty trumps nobility.

I was not expecting what I found, when we met for coffee – a smart, funny social work student who was absolutely dreamboat handsome. I would like to say that nobility trumped horniess, and that I stood by my morals and didn’t sleep with him. Oh, I didn’t, but that was likely more his choice than mine. “Doable if dateable” was how I described him – he was too good to be just another notch in a whittled-down bedpost. So, friends we became.

We met up a few times, even had him over to my place – where we looked through photo albums of gay parties (“See Mike, this is the fun you could be having,” I said, trying to convince him to hit up a homo hop or gay coffee night). He pointed out one friend of mine he thought was cute, and so -and nobility definitely trumped here! – I played matchmaker.

And it seemed to work. It worked enough that they both repeatedly thanked me, and I’m sure I wasn’t bitter at all, sitting there single as a pringle while the hot new gay immediately found a happiness I’d been so desperately searching for for years.

Except then he told his parents, who did what so many Christofascist parents do – wanted him to see a therapist to get “fixed”. And he agreed. And broke up with his happiness and his potential new life to focus on the cure.

And then he was dating a girl. But as his friend who had helped him through so much, he kept in touch. And then he wasn’t dating a girl, and was hanging out with another local gay, who got him drunk and took advantage of him, and so now he was gay again, but didn’t want to be. (Ironically, the same predatory gay later called me out for meeting Mike one-on-one in violation of the rules. Kettle, you’re black).

Keep in mind. This is all over about five months. It was August when we first met, and by January of the following year, he called me to tell me he was straight. “I like girls. I want to have sex with girls. I want to marry a girl, and have a family with her. Before, I was confused and experimenting.” I had no idea what to say, other than I didn’t agree, didn’t understand, didn’t think that was something he could just change. “But I’m your friend and I’ll stand by you.”

I don’t think we ever spoke again.

Part of me dreads he became a statistic of conversion therapy, so fucked in the head by it that he drove himself back deep into the closet – or ended his own life. But there’s another part of me that pictures him living his best gay life somewhere. I’ll probably never know, but Mike, if you ever read this, say hi.

Lost Boy Lost Girl
Lost Boys Episode Two: Ashley
Lost Boys Episode One: Paul

2023 Year in Review: Evolution’s Up and Down

The down time of the pandemic feels so long ago, it’s hard to believe that this was our first full year of operation since 2019. Ten weeks of 2020 followed by months of closure and a few brief attempts at reopening, followed by moths of closure and a few brief attempts at reopening, followed by months of closure. March 2022’s relaunch feels so long ago, and so does that incredible energy that went along with it. COVID changed so much, most significantly the neighborhood where we are.

Anyone who follows us, knows me, or visits the space, knows that we have been hit hard by the current state of downtown. Don’t get me wrong. I still love the heart of the city, love the opportunity to work with some great businesses in the area, but it’s getting really hard, kids. The costs of 2023’s vandalism, break-ins, and robberies has exceeded $10,000, and for a small business still underwater with over $100,000 in covid debt? That makes for a hard year.

Prices are rising everywhere, but we’ve avoided big increases. The economy is hurting, and marginalized communities like queer and trans people are hurting all the more. But that’s meant no extra money to refresh the space, much less no extra money to get us closer to our goal of opening somewhere street-level, with, you know, windows and a kitchen and accessibility. That’s still the plan, but let’s be honest, the only way that’s gonna happen is with your continued love and support.

Both of which we got in 2023, loads!

It was a great year, all the above notwithstanding. We started off big, with Drag Race’s Olivia Lux being absolute pure drag excellence. Olivia was far from our only Drag Race guest. We were joined by Kornbread, Bosco, Suki Doll, Icesis Couture, Willam, Deja Skye, Kaos, Lady Camden, Heidi n Closet, Jackie Cox, Lemon, Elliott with Two Ts, Anetra, Kandy Muse, Jan Sport, Jorgeous, Tammie Brown, Jada Shada Hudson, Kita Mean, Oceane Aqua-Black, Stephanie Prince, Kiki Coe, and yes, Edmonton’s own first Drag Race star – Melinda Verga! Add on Dragula’s Hoso Terra Toma, Call Me Mother’s Justin Abit and Weebee, and Calypso Jete Balmain from HBO’s Legendary, and yes, the talent was THERE.

Let’s be honest. The talent is always here though. Edmonton drag remains diverse and ground-breaking, and we love celebrating it. Like at February’s Stiletto Awards when we crowned Tugs Cuchina and Rexy Resurrection as our new EVOs, and inducted Sucreesha Minorah, Mac U More, and Tanner Steele in the Hall of Legends. Gemma’s Dollhouse continued to celebrate trans and non-binary and 2-spirit drag talent, and Sapphic Panic continued to celebrate our Sapphic drag artists. And we tried to sponsor and support drag talent outside of EVO too, sponsoring shows at Next Fest, Fringe, Drag Me Out to the Ballgame, Taste of Edmonton, K-Days, YEG Christmas Market, and more. And as always, we remained an active supporter of the ISCWR, with their record-breaking 47th reign stepping down in August.

It was the Summer of Pride this year, but truly, we are queer and proud all year long. Still, one of the highlights of 2023 is going to be that Pride Riverboat Party. What an amazing afternoon of sun, sounds, and sick drag! We weren’t sure how we felt about August pride celebrations, but with June being Pride Month, July having queered-up festivals like K-Days and Taste, and now August hosting Pride Fest, plus Pride Cup, it’s a loud and proud community and city and we love being at the heart of it.

Community partnerships remain at the heart of what we do. Not only with the ISCWR, one of Alberta’s longest-running queer groups, but also groups like Curling with Pride, Edmonton Rage, Edmonton Lesbian Event Network, Fellowship of Alberta Bears, RaricaNow, Team Edmonton, Edmonton Pride Centre (especially their new Josh Brown Wellness Room), Chew Project, and all the other community groups that are active out there changing lives for the better. We exist to give them space, voice, and, where we can, financial support.

We are well into our planning for 2024 already – with the Stiletto Awards coming up February Long Weekend, with the tenth anniversary of Alberta’s Drag Superstar contest coming, with the tenth anniversary of our Sunday Revue coming, and of course, another Summer and More of Pride. This year has been a journey, for sure, but the lesson really driven home by the hard times was how much we still love what we do. When we work, we WERK! The magic of queer space is needed more than ever these days, and we are honoured, humbled, and so very happy to be your year-round pride bar.

Happy holidays, from all of us, to you!

2023 Year in Review: Reconnection, Renaissance, and still Really Queer

The year started off in a grand and glorious way, getting a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal from our once and hopefully future premier Rachel Notley. There have certainly been awards and recognitions in the past that I’ve received and appreciated, even as they might make me feel old or trigger imposter syndrome. This was no exception. The other recipients in that room have improved and enriched so many people’s lives; it isn’t always easy to believe that I should be counted among them.

And certainly this year came with many lessons that for every person I’ve helped, there’s been someone I’ve hurt, but this one night, I let myself just believe in myself and be happy.

This year has been… weird. At times, it has moved so very slow; at others, it was lurching forward at breakneck speeds. Looking back, things that happened at the beginning of the year feel like there’s no way they could have been in 2023, they feel so long ago. Welcome to old age, I guess. But, as 2023 reminded me so very many times, old age is a luxury not everyone gets to enjoy.

The body count of 2023 was high. My Opa passed. We lost Deb. We lost Alberta’s first Drag Superstar, Tiara Manila. We back-to-back lost two monarchs with the ISCWR, Emperor 14 Rob and Empress 27 Endora, as well as Brenda Buffet. Gentle giant James Jarvis passed. And just recently I learned Justin died from fucking fentanyl, which means another star needs to be added to my Too Many Too Soon tat. Those of you who know me know how every new death walks me down the memory lane of all those who I’ve lost before, so indeed, 2023 was a year spent on memory lane.

Memory lane wasn’t always sad though. It was a year of random reconnection. From the sudden reappearance of Ross (and the accompanying memory lane about Boots and Jim), to high school reconnects like Jacqui and Katrina, to even further back reconnects like a visit with my kindergarten teacher, it was a year of looking back, in many ways. Those of you who know me know that every year is looking back though; that sensation of “life flashing before your eyes” when you die is one I won’t recognize when it happens – my life is always flashing.

Memory lane is always part of my career path of course. Work with Edmonton Queer History Project and Rainbow Story Hub continued in 2023, with projects and events always there to unearth forgotten memories. Highlights included the summer series of walking tours, the Times.10 photo archive processing with the City of Edmonton Archive, and the digitization project that will help future historians and storytellers have easy access to our collective queer history. We even had a queer history display this year at K-Days.

Buddys to Buddys walking tour with Dan

For the second year in a row, I worked with Explore Edmonton on K-Days, Edmonton’s summer fair and exhibition. It was an opportunity to queer up the midway, as 2022’s programming expanded so exponentially. There were ten days of queer entertainment, featuring so much local talent, both drag and live. What will 2024 bring to the midway? Time will tell.

I was also able to help queer up some of Edmonton’s other festivals. I worked with Winterruption for the second year in a row. We brought drag for the first time ever to Taste of Edmonton, thanks to James Jarvis (RIP). And we just dragged up Fort Edmonton Park with the successful three-night run of SlayBells. 2023 featured the Summer of Pride, but truly, its pride-all-year in Edmonton.

Pride Brunch at the Rec Room
Family Photo at Aiden’s grad dinner

The festivals weren’t my only opportunity to enjoy some great entertainment though. Right after K-Days was Freewill Shakespeare Festival, and there were lots of other shows too, here and in NYC – Anastasia, Pretty Woman, Aladdin, 12th Night, Romeo + Juliet, Music of the Night, Ain’t Too Proud, Importance of Being Earnest, Little Shop of Horrors, Hooves Belonged to the Deer, Hadestown, Lion King, Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, and & Juliet. There’s an alternative timeline in which I’m an actor, as opposed to just being dramatic.

Of course, my main career path remains Evolution, but I think that’s going to get it’s own post. But in keeping with the personal memory lane of this post, that’s something that’s always part of EVO, and never more so than in the last few months, where people who have moved, or just moved on, re-surfaced. It’s always wonderful to see people I haven’t seen in a long time. The water under the bridges is deep, but beautiful.

For a second year in a row, I didn’t write one word on any new book. After two coming out during the pandemic, I’m just … word-less. There’s been too much survival mode and not enough creative-mode, and I’m hoping 2024 sees that shift.

Travel-wise, 2023 was the year of Italy. What a transformative experience that was. Rome. Venice. Florence. Milan. And then of course stopping in Paris on the way home just because. Michaelangelo’s David was so powerful; gay gaze indeed, I suppose. And Venice was pure magic. Add on a quick tail-end of Toronto Pride (aka trip to Steamworks) and a quick in and out of NYC, where “& Juliet” blew me away. Even though my 2024 travel calendar is currently empty, I anticipate that changing soon. After all, life is very short.

David’s bicep vein

I crushed, and was crushed. I soared high, and crashed down. I moved. I appreciated. I grew. I was blind-sided more than once, but I always made my way back out. The navigation is the whole point I guess. Get lost, sure, but learn something as you find your way. And if that’s the point, 2023 was, all in all, a good year.

My people