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 andVriend 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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Today I climbed up the 1048 steps to the top of Koko Head and drank in the views of Waikiki and Hanauma Bay. While there, it occurred to me how amazing things are since 12 steps changed my life.
When I was drinking, my world was very contained. My work was on 106 Street, my home 117 St, same avenue even. I almost never left this eleven block line. Eleven blocks, It’s a big line but a small world. That was my whole world for so long that it had become ingrained in me. This was the whole world, I thought, this eleven block stretch from Boots to Buddys, this two bar gay bar circuit of beer and blow. I’d long since gotten rid of my car; I was never sober enough to drive anyway.
When I got sober in March of 2011, getting a car was one of my first priorities. And it was amazing how that expanded my world. That summer, I spent most of it across the river, exploring the city I had lived in but never truly seen.
And the world just got bigger with the opening of EVO. Yes, there was luck involved, and yes, a great deal of privilege, but also, a great deal of hard work. First, the hard work in becoming sober, and then the hard work of a career I remain passionate about.
But still, when I looked out over the bay from the top of that mountain today, I thought not about the 1048 steps that got me to the top, or the 1048 I would soon have to take to the bottom, but instead, the first 12 steps that made it possible, the first 12 steps that made my world, the whole world.
If you’re reading this and having a hard time taking that first step, let me reassure you that it is SO worth it.
The first baths was F212. It was December of 1996, and I was still woefully naive and inexperienced when it came to gayness. We were in Vancouver, me and the man who would become my ex, visiting the man who was recently his ex, and the ex suggested going to the baths. It sounded fun to me, so off we went. Steamroom? Check. Hot tub? Check. Fourway? Check. After that, I was ready for more bathhouse fun.
Small wonder then, when I finished Uni and was looking for a gay job, bathhouses were among the places I applied. Now, I know I literally just talked about Down Under being the first, but TECHNICALLY, my first gay job in Edmonton was at the Georgia Baths. I don’t count it because, well… you’ll see.
Compared to the new, clean Down Under, the Georgia was, politely, a hole. It wasn’t even at the nice end of Jasper. Still, how bad could it really be? I was hired to do the Friday and Saturday graveyard shifts, and graveyard was appropriate. Dead. As. Fuck. Also possibly the first time I ever saw a cockroach. But what really got me was the fact that the guys weren’t even hot. If I was gonna be bored at work, I should have at least been able to get off before getting off, ya know? Sadly, not to be.
(Also technically not true, but it doesn’t count if I just bring outside friends in, right?)
After that first weekend, I got hired at Down Under and left the Georgia as fast as possible. And I just happened to let my new boss know about some of the health violations at the other space, and he just happened to call Alberta Health, who of course visited, and of course found problems. But maybe it was too obvious after me leaving, and the owners of the Georgia put two and two together.
First at Down Under, then at home (at my PARENTS home), I started to get phone calls that became increasingly threatening. “Keep your mouth shut or we will shut it for you” kinda thing. And so my first gay job ended with me going to the police, to have my first gay bosses restrained from harassing me.
Luckily, there would be no more gay drama in my life.
That Boots would outlive longtime owner Jim Schafer seemed unlikely, but we made a go of it, me and Ross. The grief over Schafer’s loss was woven into every night though, and the financial reality of the situation became clearer every day. Still, it was, as much as possible, business as usual, which meant, in the spring of 2010, long periods where nothing happened, broken by an ISCWR show or bear bash, and happy hours with my peeps at the Princess Corner. And once a month, Bingo with Bobert.
Now, keep in mind, I was at the height of addiction here. Sure, it wasn’t the circling the drain rock-bottom of the summer of 2007. I had managed to find a way to become a functioning alcoholic cokehead, but drunk and high I was and drunk and high I remained. The erratic moodswings of addiction combined with the still raw grief and guilt and fear of impending change made things extra dramatic that spring, but Bingo with Bobert was a chance to just have fun.
May 31, 2010, was a Monday like any other Monday. I was likely hungover from a Sunday at Buddys or Play, Sunday being my day off from Boots. Hungover Rob required alcohol and cocaine to get through the night, especially when I had to be “on” to host Bingo. Let’s just say, the speed round that my regulars loved so much only happened after a coke delivery, when I was, literally, speeding. As that Bingo started, I had no idea that it would be the last.
It wasn’t busy. There were our usual 20-25 there, and the few regulars along the bar, Claude and Bubbles and so on. We were playing Bingo, and laughing, and everything was normal as we hit intermission and I went to the bar for a drink from Ross. Ross told me to close it down. Right then. I knew when not to question a mood shift, and so I went back to the microphone and said this would be the last round, not knowing yet it would actually be the last round.
After everyone left, as stunned by the abruptly early end to Bingo as I was, Ross told me we weren’t re-opening. This was it. The final night. I was floored. Knowing something is coming along in the future, and having it suddenly there, are two very different feelings. Drugs were ordered, drinks were poured. Ross went upstairs to pass out, and there I was, alone in Boots, the final time.
Looking back, I had no sense of the importance of the space as a forty-year-old gay bar closing. My concerns were immediate, short-sighted, selfish. It was my space. It was our space, me and those 20-25. I didn’t post to Facebook. I just got fucked up, one last time, rummaging through the bar for things to take home. Mementos of my time there. I didn’t know where I would go, I didn’t know what I would do, but I knew this: my time at Boots had changed me as it had changed so many.
And that time was over.
When Ross woke up in the morning, I was still drinking and high as fuck. We left our keys on the bar there, and he drove me and my pile of treasures home. He kept driving west. I have not seen him since.
Then and only then did I post on Facebook. “Boots is closed.” I then turned off my phone and tried to pass out. Everyone who read it knew I meant for good. The writing had been on the wall for a long time. I’d started back at Boots that third and final time while I was homeless, and now, we all were, my bears and court queens, and my princesses of the corner.
Except… while I was sleeping, Deb and Tracey from the Junction read that Facebook post, and when I woke up, they were asking me to call them. We didn’t know it yet, but the days of that little bar on 106 St were not over yet.
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