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Let it never be said I’m not timely with listening to music! In the case of the debut album from Edmonton artist Ben Hartt, I’m only a couple decades late!

Really, there’s no excuse. I knew this album existed. How could I not, with that face gracing the cover of both Times.10 and Outlooks Magazine? And yet, somehow, I wasn’t at the Citadel for that July 2001 CD release. And even though I had friends dancing at the August World Championships in Athletics, I also missed that performance. And the series of Buddys’ performances after? Missed those too – but that’s what happens when you’re a Roost boy, I suppose – you miss what’s happening at the other clubs.

So how did it come about that in 2023, I finally got around to listening to it? Well, it was those Times.10 and Outlooks covers that did it. Working with the Edmonton Queer History Project on digitizing our local queer history, I stumbled across the covers, and I was like “hmmm I should probably get around to checking this CD out.” After all, I’m all about supporting queer art and artists, and celebrating queer stories.

Finding the album was a little harder. It came out pre-streaming, and it’s not like I could download it on Napster or Limewire. But luckily, I got loaned a copy (thanks Kris!), and then raced down to the club to play it.

And loved it!

Right from the first notes of “Take Me Back”, I was transported back to being a twenty-year-old gay, running around Edmonton from one romantic complication to another. And really, wasn’t everything complicated at twenty? Certainly by the time I got to “Why Don’t We Cheat On Each Other?”, I was wholly immersed back in 2001 me, with lyrics like “Maybe we’re sticking together because we’re afraid to do better” really summarizing the whole period of my life. “Settling for loneliness or settling for you” from “pleuvior, pleurer” definitely set the mood for a down tempo visit to young gay angst, and a definite change from the disco inspired tracks that feel ahead of their time. ABBA-inspired dance could fit in on any 2023 playlist, and as Ben’s MapleMusic bio indicated, Voulez-Vouz nurtured him as a music lover and creator.

As of right now, I’m only managed to get my hands on that first album, but there’s a second, and you best believe I am tracking it down as we speak. I also have it on very good authority that nineteen years after his last album, he’s working on another. And I can’t wait to see what two decades has done both in turns of the evolution of his talent and how those two decades inform the lyrics of his new songs.

Will update when I get that second album <3

Edmonton Queer History Links and Resources

I’ve always enjoyed learning about those who came before me, ever since I went to the book launch for Darrin Hagen’s The Edmonton Queen. The last few years, this interest has turned into a vocation, and for those of you who also want to dive into our collective queer history, here are some great places to turn!

One main site is the Edmonton Queer History Project. This includes an online map featuring downtown walking tours, which you can do on your own or in groups (click here for groups dates!) The site also contains links to two podcasts: From Here to Queer and Vriend Versus Alberta. The newest addition to EQHP is a stories map where you can drop pins to memorialize the places that figured in your own queer history.

If you want to tell longer stories, check out the Rainbow Story Hub! This foundation exists to capture history from the experiences of the people who lived it, so that future generations can find comfort, inspiration, and queer joy from those that came before.

The Edmonton City as Museum Project also has loads of articles on our queer history: a five-article series on gay bars, a five-articles series on the Pisces Spa raid, a two-parter on the ISCWR, and more.

There is also an amazing and growing collection of digitized materials accessible through the Internet Archive, thanks to EQHP and their partners who have been working to collect and scan these great resources. With over 70 GB of stuff, your dive can be deep indeed!

You can also check out Tales of the LGBTQ, a podcast whose early focus was on the people who enriched our community.

And of course, if you want to start your journey like I did, check out Darrin’s book, The Edmonton Queen, available on Amazon here among other places.

My Forty-Sixth Year

It began and ended like it always does, with my May Long Weekend Drag Show for Mental Health. 2023 was a much smaller scale in some ways than 2022’s massive fundraiser marathon show, but both shows were the opportunity to celebrate with friends while raising money for great causes.

Pride Month 2022 was different than anything we had done before. The collaborations we were able to develop with the Pride on 104 Event, and the return of PrideFest to Churchill Square set the business up for success, and of course Glow with Pride 2022 blessed me with the shirtless forever-man-crush, so that was a win! And then I caught the tail end of Toronto Pride, which was an experience like no other!

July was a Shawn Mendes concert that took me from fan to super fan to crazy deranged stalker fan, and then the month ended with Pride Day at Kdays. Joining the Kdays team last year was a huge professional and personal boost for me, and I remain proud of what we accomplished last July. I’m excited to be doing that again for this coming summer and look forward to seeing the fair get even queerer.

I caught the tail end of Vancouver Pride, with its sober lounge and its Wreck Beach. #Manflesh.

August was primarily centered around Coronation and completing the year as Emperor 46 of the ISCWR. It held up a mirror to both mistakes and successes, but, even though its not always about the money, setting a new financial record for the organization is definitely memorable. But what was truly memorable, and what truly matters, was reigning with one of my best friends.

And then came Europe – what would be the first of two trips to Europe in the year, anyway. It was a whirlwind week through London and Paris. I knew I’d love London; I didn’t guess I would fall so in love with Paris. It was eye opening and life changing, and I got back from France in time to celebrate my Opa’s birthday, starting off five months of more regular family dinners that brought me such joy.

The fall of 2022 was a bad time professionally. A business slump led to a personal slump, and then it was just a downward spiral of slump that couldn’t be halted by either the occasional amazing party or a Day of the Dead trip to PV. It wasn’t until a Christmas trip to Hawaii that I managed to kick off the personal slump – and just like that, it seemed things shifted everywhere. 2023 started off with a bang, and has kept banging ever since.

One of the greatest honors of my 46th year came from receiving the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal from Rachel Notley. I could live to be 100 and I’d never be able to give back to the community what it has given me, but the medal was a recognition from people I respect that they at least see my attempts at leaving our community, our city, our world a little better than I found it.

And then it was back to Europe, for a truly inspiring trip to Italy and Paris. Six weeks later, and I am still awestruck by David. The gay gaze is real. And I got back from France in time to visit my Opa just hours before he passed.

And the last thing I did in my forty-sixth year was vote for Rachel Notley’s NDP. The rise in far-right anti-queerness is going to be a defining feature of the years to come, and getting the wackadoodle fascists out of power here in Florida North is the first step in braking that hate coaster. I will fight it how I have always fought it – by never backing down and by continuing to bring as much queer joy to as many people as possible.

A Long Day’s Journey into Gay Nightlife

“How did you get involved in gay nightlife?” It’s come up so many times in the last month, and again just now, so I thought I’d explore the question deeper here.

This wasn’t the plan, not that I’m sure I had one, but I didn’t sit around in high school or uni thinking about my future career in bars. No, back in high school, the plan was teacher, I guess. It was what I was usually told I should be, and I liked school so I could see it. But then coming out derailed my uni studies. I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead, but I knew it wasn’t education. I started taking courses because they interested me, rather than with an aim in mind, and more often than not, I queered them up whenever I could.

At the same time, I started volunteering with Lethbridge’s Gay and Lesbian Peer Support Line, and its parent organization, GALA/LA (Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Lethbridge and Area), as well as writing for the monthly newsletter, The Gala Occasion. Those were the only gay orgs in Lethbridge in the mid90s, responsible for weekly coffee nights and monthly dances aka homo-hops. It wasn’t long before I was the Chairperson for GALA, and it was there I guess that my future purpose began to solidify. I liked the connection to community it gave me, prestige, popularity, power, whatever it was, I liked it.

When I finished my BA though, I had to make a choice. At that point, I’d be chairing GALA for a few years. It wasn’t a career path though. I had a $40,000 piece of paper hanging on my wall and no career goal – and I was in Lethbridge… and I didn’t want to be there anymore. No, the road led home, and the career plan could wait until I got there.

Moving back from Lethbridge to Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton took away those years of connection though. Sure, I knew local gays, but not well. Greyhounding into town for a party weekend with internet friends was one thing, but translating those friendships into deeper connection was something else. I needed a job and I needed friends, and when I saw a copy of the Pride Pages, a local guide put out by the Edmonton Rainbow Business Association, I thought that could be the answer to both questions. I’d get a gay job, somewhere, anywhere. The career could still wait. First, I had to fulfill the immediate needs of income and socializing.

That job was Down Under Men’s Bathhouse (after a hot minute at the Georgia Baths, a not-so-hot minute really). Down Under was owned by three people with deep connections in Edmonton’s gay nightlife, and through them, my world expanded fast. I joined Edmonton’s Impersonation Revue of the Village People, which gave me connections to Roost staff. I started working at Boots, then the Roost. I started writing for Times.10, a print magazine for Edmonton’s gay community. I started a new magazine, Fresh, and that gave me connections to Buddys, and then I was managing Buddys. Buddys led to a drug problem, which eventually took me back to Boots, which became Junction, where I got sober. And then the Junction closed.

And suddenly I realized I was in my mid-30s, and I’d never gotten around to answering the question about the career path I wanted. My resume read like a what’s what and who’s who of Gay Edmonton, but there was no plan. I hadn’t set out to consciously choose gay nightlife, but I’d stumbled across it and stayed, and my life was pretty good. The community I’d so longed to connect with? I’d found it, and more.

I didn’t know what I’d do when Junction closed, but my newfound sobriety had given me the one thing I’d never had: a savings account. I could get by on that until the universe told me where to go next. After all, the universe had done a pretty good job so far. I’d learned and grown, and yes, stumbled and fallen – but always got back up.

Which was the time that Evolution began to become to a thing. My uncles were moving back to Canada and looking for their next plan, and if that wasn’t serendipitous, I don’t know what is. I hadn’t chosen gay nightlife before, but now, with a decade and more under my now sober belt, I could choose it in a way that mattered. We chose it together.

In a way, it’s like all those other jobs were ingredients in a recipe, and Evolution is the final product. But that’s also not quite right. It makes Evolution the end, when in every way that matters, it was only the beginning. Even now, almost a decade into it, it’s only the beginning. Every day, I choose the nightlife, because it gave me everything I wanted: purpose, community, connection, and the power to add queer magic to people’s lives on a weekly basis.

We’ve Been Here Before

I came of age and came out in the Alberta of the mid 1990s. Delwin Vriend was taking the Klein government to court because of their complete unwillingness to offer gay and lesbian Albertans the same protection against discrimination enjoyed by the rest of the province. I was living in Lethbridge at the time, sandwiched between Mormons and fundamentalist Christians in Alberta’s Bible Belt. Everywhere I looked, there were people arguing that simply not letting gays get fired or evicted would open the door for all sorts of perversions and degeneracy, and nowhere was this broadcasted louder and clearer than the pages of The Alberta Report, an ultra-conservative publication that was more of a bible to groups like REAL Women than the Bible itself.

Even then, their arguments were tired and old. Being gay was immoral, being gay was a disease, being gay could be fixed through therapy and prayer, and gays, being unable to have children of their own, increased their numbers through the recruitment of youth. We’d already heard it all before, but it was being spouted again, loudly, from pulpits and from politicians. Homophobic hatred found fertile ground in many Albertans – some of whom were in my own family – and it fucking hurt.

I made it through it, even though others didn’t. The connection between anti-gay rhetoric like that and the suicide rate of gay Albertans wasn’t complex to understand. It was direct. Their hate had a real body count. But the tide was turning, it seemed. Vriend won, Prides grew, marriage equality happened, and it seemed like, aside from some outliers, the country was now not only accepting but affirming of their LGBTQ siblings.

There was a moment there when we, as a community, actually let ourselves relax and breathe.

But it’s back, bigger than ever it seems like, a far-right wildfire blazing with virtriol, and drag queens and trans people were the match. The argument is the same though. Queer people put kids in danger. It doesn’t matter that there’s no proof of this; they don’t need proof. They just want to hate. Because you see, they’ve always had one goal – whether it was Anita Bryant campaigning against gay teachers, or Ralph Klein letting gays be fired, or literal actual Nazis outside the Stanley A Milner Library last summer, their goal is our erasure. They will try to terrify us back into the closet, they will try to get inside our heads and our hearts until we push down every truth about our sexuality or gender. They want us dead. This is not exaggeration. Their hate has a very real body count.

It’s everywhere now, like it hasn’t been since the height of that mid-90s fight for simple human rights protection. They’re playing on people’s ignorance and confusion to make sure a new generation of people are taught to hate us. Hate, unlike sexuality, is, after all, groomed. The drag queens who threw rocks at Stonewall, who wrote letters to the Prime Minister to get the government out of the bedroom, they’re still front and centre in the battleground for queer and trans rights, and a whole new generation is being taught that the act of simply living, of expressing themselves, of finding their own joy, is going to be met with vile and venomous protest.

But they’re the ones terrorizing kids. They can call us groomers all the want but they’re the ones sexualizing children through beauty pageants, diddling children in church corners. It’s their words that are sinking into the souls of their queer and trans kids. It’s their words that are going to lead to those kids growing up hating themselves, if they grow up at all. How much bigger will the body count of the far right get?

I am so broken that it’s happening all over again, that all the progress of the last twenty or fifty years seems like its disappearing. And I know it’s temporary. I know the tide has shifted too much to truly wash away all that progress. And I want to think its the outcry of a decreasing minority of bigots. But they sure seem to be growing in number, and they sure seem to be getting bolder than ever, and they sure seem to be aided and abetted by the same far-right politicians I thought were becoming a thing of the past.

The past. They saw those who forget it are doomed to repeat it. We haven’t forgotten though. It’s them, with the same tactics they tried before. They lost then, they’ll lose again. I keep telling myself that.

But how many more kids are we gonna lose in the meantime?

Daddy Issues in ‘9 Princes in Amber’

Recently saw the news that they’re developing Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles for the screen, and I’ve rarely been so excited. The ten book series of Corwin and his son Merlin are filled with adventure, romance, philosophy, politics, and the drama that is family.

I started reading these books in the mid 80s, I guess? I was probably 9 or 10. They were some of my dad’s favorite books, so it was something we could share. Opportunities to bond with my dad were rare, to say the least, so this world we could inhabit together was pretty meaningful. My folks separated around then, and that’s never easy. There was always the hope that they’d work things out (retrospect very glad they did not!), and that hope was reinforced by my dad having so many of his things still at the house. The day he came to get his stuff was the day that hope died for good, but what really bothered me was when he came down to the bookshelves in my room and took these books. It just felt like a low-blow at a time when I was already pretty low.

When I turned 13, I saved up allowance money to buy the series for myself. Because all roads lead to Amber, sure, but all roads also need to lead to self-sufficience.

I’ve gone back and read them many times since, and never thought about that new adolescent and what going out to get those books for himself on his own meant. Not until I saw the recent announcement. It’s weird what memories linger under the surface, what emotional flotsam and jetsam floats to shore at the weirdest times.

There’s a part of the second and third book in the series where (SPOILER ALERT) Corwin becomes friends with this guy called Ganelon, who turns out to be Corwin’s father. Corwin feels doubly betrayed. First, he’s been getting lied to, yes, but the worse betrayal is that Corwin had actually started to like his father. I get it, Corwin. I do. Which just goes to show, on this Shadow Earth or another, it’s always complicated when it comes to fathers and sons.

Old Dr. Homo

It was the spring of 2005. I was managing Buddys, a gay bar here in Edmonton. A new crop of little gaybies was starting to frequent the bar, and because they saw me there 4-5 nights a week, we became part of each other’s lives. They were 18, 19, 20, ish, and I was there at the ripe old age of 28, wise in the ways of the gay world, the all knowing omnipresent when it came to their baby gay dramas. They came to me with questions about work and school and, of course, sex and dating and love. I don’t know why; maybe it looked like I had the answers, with the boyfriend and the great job and the endless party I was living.

They began to call me Old Dr. Homo.

That was eighteen years ago now. There are now gaybies going to EVO that were not even born when I was servings shots and solutions. I am now much older than 28, with 18 more years of gay life experience to impart, including anecdotal evidence of the damage of addiction, the power of recovery, and of course, more on sex and dating and love.

This weekend, I was offering some semi-unsolicited advice to some of this newest generation of Edmonton gays, and I realized how much life has been crammed into those 18 years. I wonder if I still look like I have the answers, what with the profound lack of boyfriend, but still the great job and the endless party I live.

Edmonton gay life in 2005 was very different than Edmonton queer life in 2023, but some things do remain the same. We make bad choices. We all need help sometimes. We all want connection. And we all do crave some greater purpose.

That message in my DMs where someone looks to me for some guidance or support, or just an ear? That’s the greater purpose I’ve been honored to find, 18 years and counting.

To Scotty, Josh, Mykee, and Lizzie – the Dr. Homo patients of 2005 <3

Lost Boy, Lost Girl

She was at the bar this weekend and it broke my heart.
I remember him at seventeen, the infectious high-energy he filled the Roost with. He shouldn’t have been there, of course, not at that age, but we didn’t know he was seventeen until he celebrated his eighteenth birthday. By that point, the damage was done, and whatever, he’d latched onto our group so he’d been safe anyway.
He was going to be a star, we could see that, the queen that became his mother and I. Even just as that smiling seventeen-year-old, the star power was shining through. It wasn’t long before she was on the stage, riding on a wave of applause.

A few years later, a different bar.
I needed staff, yes, but I needed talent too, talent I knew would deliver a new energy to this new challenge. Of course I thought of her. She was a great fit, and formed a nucleus of the next generation of queens. When the snow began to fall at Buddys, was he in that blizzard? If so, only briefly. It seemed he would be the one that escaped that endless winter.

She was at the bar this weekend and it broke my heart.
She did not escape.
The snow that fell at Buddys is nothing compared to the monster she met, wherever she first met it. Meth is the soul destroyer. It sinks its teeth and claws into the beautiful and the broken and it does not let go. It has taken so many. I have seen people fight it off, only to fall back to it later. And in this case, whether its on or off currently, the damage is done. The talent and the beauty of that long-distant seventeen-year-old has been eroded. Now, all that is left is the permasketch of long-term use, a sketch that shows itself in the sudden outbursts of anger, or enthusiasm, or sadness, none of which are bad by themselves but all that emerge without sense of appropriate or awareness of others. That’s what it does, this soul destroyer, it leaves shadows in the brain that are always there. And her outbursts are at them, more than the people who actually get burst at. But she doesn’t know, she doesn’t see.

I wonder if, inside the shadow-swept sketch of the meth-eaten mind, she is still riding that wave of applause. Maybe she doesn’t see the shadows, just the spotlight. Or maybe it’s even worse, maybe he’s still there, that seventeen-year-old, trapped in a cage, screaming out for help, and no help is coming. The people who might have helped are gone. The people now, they don’t know her. They don’t know who she was or how she was, and maybe they haven’t ever had to watch the soul of a friend be whittled down by addiction. I hope they never do. I understand why they don’t have patience though. Why should they have to tolerate the shadow-swept sketch of someone who means nothing to them? They don’t.

She was at the bar this weekend and it broke my heart.
Because she can’t come back. Somehow, I have to take away from her the remaining tenuous connection to a community she helped to build and one she still needs. Because the gays and theys of today don’t know her, and don’t want to know her, and I can’t blame them. I don’t want to know who she is now. Her behaviour isn’t right, and we all know it. But I still remember the boy she was, and it’s hard to say goodbye.


While I typically don’t do New Year resolutions, I thought 2023 should start off with some promises to myself, to set the tone for the coming twelve months

When triggered, I will take five deep breaths before reacting, to allow myself to assess intent rather than simply responding to impact. While its true people need to be aware of the impact of their own words and actions, the simple truth is, we cannot control what others do or say. We can control how we respond though, and I think I’ll find a lot more happiness if I remember that others’ words will not hurt me unless I choose to let them.

I will not attack allies. It is easy, when in pain, to lash out at those closest to us, and that’s super counter-productive. Friends, partners, etc are there to support yes, but that is not unconditional and shouldn’t ever be taken for granted. Allies aren’t perfect, but attacking them does nothing except water down their willingness to ally.

I will remember that while the customer is not always right, they are still important. Customer service is, as everyone who has worked it knows, a bitch, and when you mingle in liquor, that bitchiness can increase. The fine line between not taking bullshit or abuse and trying to please the customer seems to be getting blurrier and blurrier in this angrier and more entitled age we find ourselves in, but I just need to remember that we can’t do anything we do without customers to do it for.

I will stop putting out bad energy into the universe when it comes to the club. The last few months have been emotionally and financially very difficult, but the defeatist attitude it has given me needs to end. We too often self-fulfill the negative as easily as the positive, and this is not what I want to manifest for myself in 2023. (In fact, if you ever hear me say something about closing the bar, slap me across my face and make me buy you a drink so I STOP)

I will not let one angry hater overpower the voices that are positive, grateful, appreciative, and present.

I will create something every day, even if its just a few sentences scribbled down… and I will not beat myself up if I don’t.

I will allow myself to fall the fuck in love with Rome, because it’s been a long time coming.

I will try to imbue every day with kindness and appreciation because I have lived, and continue to live, a blessed life filled with magic and opportunity.

To Stop The Tide

Today on the beach, I watched a kid playing in the sand, He scooped up sand in pre-shaped plastic containers and then dumped them out: stars, a turtle, and a series of boxes. The tide, on its way in slowly, lapped at the first, so he added to his little kingdom a giant wall to stop the water.

I remembered.

The first time I ever saw the ocean was English Bay, Vancouver. My brother and sister and I were there with our grandparents visiting our uncle and “his roommate”. Our joy that first day at the beach was pure, and we built a little kingdom as well. My brother was more concerned with building something concrete, height and shape and structure. Me, I had another goal. With a series of trenches, walls, and driftwood barriers, I was going to protect it all. The tide might come in and wash away other people’s kingdoms, but not ours. I was going to circumvent all that. As the waves lapped ever closer, I grew more frantic in building up walls for the water to batter against, and deeper, longer trenches for it to return to the sea.

I wonder now at that innocent hubris, the frenzied certainty that whatever I was doing would be enough to in fact stop the tide. I wonder how that perseverance in the face of inevitable defeat has shaped me since. I wonder how I knew, even so young, that some things had to be fought against. Rage, rage, against the coming of the tide.

You know how this story ends, of course. The tide comes in, and it washes away the wood, it fills the trenches, it flattens the walls. Some things, you cannot fight against. Eventually, everything returns to the sea.
But it’s the fight! The fight that matters.