News
10 min

Capturing our community one snapshot at a time

Credit: (NICHOLAS JANG, ROB SEEBACHER)

We wanted to do something a little bit different this year to celebrate Pride at Xtra West. It was actually our editorial designer’s idea.

Words alone are not enough, he’s always reminding us; it’s important to visually capture the community as well. He has a point.

So we set out to visually record one moment in the life of our community. One multileveled facet of our Pride and the people who help build it every day.

We invited a cross-section of community builders to participate. From the elders that first marched through our streets in a defiant declaration of visibility, to the generations of drag queens and kings who continue to define and re-define our culture today. From the people who help share our stories, to the people who make them unique, to all the varied people who populate our spaces and breathe life into our gatherings in countless ways every day.

We tried to capture just one still of the shifting snapshot that we, as a community, create.

It wasn’t easy. Trying to capture, reflect and represent our diverse community with just 25 people was a challenging task to say the least-not to mention getting everyone together in one place at one time.

But we tried. And we liked it so much we may even try again next year.

Here, then, is our first documentary community snapshot-our Portrait of Pride.

Plus a closer look at some of the people in the portrait, as they share their coming out stories, their memories of Pride and reflect on what building community means to them.

-Robin Perelle

***

BusterCherry, Drag king

“I was sort of a late bloomer, I must have been 20 or 21 when I came out. I was, at that point, living with my father.

“He went out one evening and when he came back, he said something like, ‘Is it true? Are you gay?’

“I’m like ‘yeah,’ and he went ‘so am I.’ That’ll take the wind out of your sails. He was more bisexual, I guess.

“The first Pride I went to was in Toronto. It was a stinking hot day. You know how they get that humidity that just sits on you. The parade went around and came back, and as it came around Church St, the skies just opened up and it poured. It was amazing.

“It sure didn’t dampen the parade. It was so hot, everyone was just ‘thank you!’

“It was just a total feeling of some kind of freedom where you can just do and be and act and say whatever you want. It’s the person you want to be as a gay person. It’s this whole environment where it’s okay to just be as you’d like to.

“I’ve been doing drag for maybe 12 years or so. I thought, ‘What the heck, I can do this.’ I was working at Delilah’s at the time and friends of mine said, ‘Why don’t you do Michael Jackson?’ Someone lent me a wig and they sort of threw me all together and I sort of jumped up and did my thing.

“It was a great crowd response and it was such a high. It was just ridiculous. You get up there and you’re like so nervous. You think you’re going to throw up. Then the music starts and you start to get into it. Then you start to enjoy it and the more you enjoy it, the more the crowd enjoys you.

“The name comes from my grandparents. My grandfather’s nickname was Buster and my grandmother’s actual name was Cherry, so that’s how it came up.

“I totally identify as Buster Cherry. I’ve sort of created this drag king that is Buster Cherry. He’s kind of suave. He was kind of a crooner when he came onto the scene, but he’s sort of getting into rap a bit now.

“We’re sort of a new phenomenon. Not everybody knows about drag kings.”

***

Kenneth Simon Hamlin, Communications consultant

“I’m single. My friends accuse me of not being able to take care of houseplants. So I’m told pets are not an option at this point.

“I’m a landed immigrant, born in the US. I have one more year and I can apply for Canadian citizenship. I arrived in Vancouver in October of 1998 and became a full-time resident a couple of years later.

“I moved up from Seattle. I’m a West Coast person. Lived in LA and Seattle after university.

“The number one reason I moved to Vancouver is obviously the beauty of the city. People ask me why I moved here; I tell them to get out on the seawall for a little while and enjoy the mountains, the water and people. I really appreciate the diversity Canada has to offer, especially in Vancouver.

“I think when I moved down to LA is officially when I came out, in my early 20s.

“My first Pride would have been in LA. I just remember it being overwhelming. It’s Pride on a grand scale. The sheer numbers of people and the diversity around that-it was just a very festive experience.

“I loved watching the parade and going to the festival afterward, which is enormous.

“I’ve just always been a curious person, so absorbing and letting all that filter in was huge for me. I watched everything as it unfolded and tried to absorb and appreciate as much as I could.

“I attended the Pride celebration in Vancouver before I even lived in Canada, around 1996 or 1997.

“I’ve gone every year since.

“I was in the parade one year with a girlfriend of mine who owned an art gallery and also does a lot of Pride-based photography.

“We were all costumed and on rollerblades.

“You know my feelings about Pride are a little bit different than everyone else’s. To me, Pride is a celebration that happens every day, all year long. It’s not just a festival one weekend in August. I appreciate Pride and I think it’s a fun weekend but, to me, Pride is a celebration that lasts 24-7, 365 days a year.

“I have a mix of friends from all different walks of life: gay, straight, all colours and religions. To me, celebrating Pride is a celebration of diversity, which is an extension of my love for Vancouver.”

***

Nelson Wong, Bartender and actor

“I was born in New Zealand, but moved here when I was six. I’ve lived in Vancouver all my life.

“I came out in 1998. It was a prolonged experience. I was in pretty firm denial when I was a teenager, even though I knew I was attracted to guys. The thought just didn’t enter into it that I could be gay. I was a Jehovah’s Witness for about six years. I really committed myself to being this rightwing Christian.

“No matter what I did, the truth would sort of pop up. I really wasn’t happy living a closeted life.

“What ended up happening is I was going door to door and I kept being attracted to the people that I was trying to minister to.

“I really used Little Sister’s and Odyssey and Celebrities at the time to sort of reach out. Those were the really obvious places to go where you could find other people like you.

“Pride’s a really great way to celebrate that. To connect.

“The bitter queen in me is like, ‘Well there are lots of things that end up being challenges when you go out into the scene.’ Body issues and the cliques and everything like that bug me sometimes but that’s just part of it.

“I had a pet tarantula who committed suicide. She wasn’t a very happy spider. I wasn’t a very good owner. I had read somewhere that tarantulas could go two years without food. When I would feed her, I don’t know if she was too weak or what, but she just didn’t care; she wouldn’t eat the crickets.

“My first few Prides were about my straight friends wanting to experience it and us sort of participating. It was probably my third Pride when I really blitzed it. I went to the Pride Ball, the Pride parties. It was amazing, it was so much fun.

“It felt like both a vacation and a coming home. It felt like a vacation to gay land. It was great to go to events with people that understood and expressed themselves in different ways. It was so exciting and refreshing because everyone was celebrating the same thing.

“We have some really daring individuals in the community. People seem to grow into that as well.

“For the future of the community I would like us to stay strong and united-not backstabbing and all the other things you see.”

***

Rob Kohl, Purchaser

“I live with my partner Chris. I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland and immigrated to Vancouver 12 years ago from Miami, Florida for my job.

“I guess the first Pride event I went to was back when I was a teenager in Baltimore. There really wasn’t anything formally structured around it but it was, all the sudden, the first really visible profile of the gay community.

“There were people out there who were standing up saying, ‘Yes, I’m gay.’ I was identifying my own sexuality at that point and that was pretty exciting and almost alluring.

“Fortunately, I’d had the opportunity to visit Vancouver many times before I moved here. I knew when I got the chance to move here, I wanted to live in the West End.

“There’s the Davie Village, it’s just such a great community. Having come here from the States, the great part about Vancouver was that it was a big city with a small-town feel.

“People were friendly, everybody knew everybody else. I affectionately would say, ‘you know, I live in North Mayberry.’

“The ultimate for me was for a couple of years, when the PumpJack first opened, they were doing their PumpJack Calendar Man contest.

“The second year, 2002, on the Saturday night which was also the fireworks night, it was a great room, it was a contest night, and I ended up coming away with the Mr PumpJack title.

“Then the next day was the parade and I was part of the PumpJack float. It was very, very cool-with a brand new title to be able to celebrate that with the entire city in party mode.

“There’s kind of a renaissance going on in the gay community in Vancouver. It’s been in a little bit of a cocoon for a while. I think people are starting to come back out and do more things as a community.

“We sort of have this situation where we’re not a huge city like Toronto or San Francisco, so we don’t necessarily have the resources they do, but there are certainly enough numbers here so we could have a lot more activity than we do.

“I’d really like to see the city continue to have people step forward and do things that will bring the community out and together.”

***

Rosamond Norbury, Photographer

“Just call me a bon vivant. No partner for me, but I’m looking. I have a stuffed iguana called Spike.

“I was very fortunate that I came out about three months after Stonewall in October of 1969. How lucky for me to come out when it was ‘hey, we are loud and proud’.

“You kind of come into the embrace of ‘Oh man, it’s cool to be gay.’ I think that kind of set my path.

“I used to read about Stonewall when it first happened and I didn’t really know what they were talking about. I just wasn’t versed on those things then.

“I was at the very first Pride Parade in Vancouver-but I’ve never marched in the Pride Parade. I’m always on the sidelines because I like to cheer on the drag queens and everyone.

But back then, the first one was definitely in the West End. It was like one-hundredth of what it is now.

“There were always the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence kind of running around there. Nuns on roller skates, usually with moustaches and very hairy chests.

“It was a rather small and bedraggled group that started the first Pride. It was low-key and kind of small.

“The thing I really like is to see how Pride in Vancouver today is embraced by families. Not only PFLAG but West Enders really do make a point of going down.

“Just to know how many gay people are actually in the workforce. When you see the bus drivers’ union in the parade. The different people actually in the parade make the straight people in the audience realize: ‘Hey, I’m running into gay people all the time and I don’t even realize it.’ Like the bank employees all marching together.

“I love the diversity of being gay and being able to wear a dress or be a drag king or something like that. I do embrace that.

“I love the fact that we are different, and I also think it should be met with: ‘So what?’

“I like the wackiness of being gay, but I think gay people are the most suburban. There are lots of gay people where the most exciting thing about them is that they’re gay.

“I’ll be chasing after the drag queens screaming their names and taking their pictures this Pride. I’ll be there.”

***

PussyWillow, Drag queen

“I grew up in Calgary. I grew up in a Catholic family. My parents were both Catholic School teachers. My dad was a Catholic School principal at St Francis High School.

“I wasn’t gay then. At least I thought I wasn’t. How did I become gay? I ate something.

“I haven’t got a clue what happened. It just wasn’t an option to come out to myself for a long time.

“I came out to my friends, I guess, when I was 20 or 21. Then I moved to Vancouver after finishing my degree at the University of Calgary.

“While I was out here, it was really gnawing at me for years that I had to tell my parents. So I got up the nerve-I couldn’t tell them in person-to phone my mom and my dad. And I said, ‘Mom, I’ve got something to tell you. Can you get Dad and put him on the phone, too?’

“We chatted for a little bit, everything worked out, blah blah blah. Mom said, ‘Just do me one favour. Just don’t hang around the gay bars and become a drag queen.’

I had a feeling she probably knew something was up.

Someone gave me a dress and said, ‘Okay, you’ve got to do drag.’

“The first time I did drag, it was absolutely pathetic. I basically went out in a black cocktail outfit with no makeup on and a mannequin wig. I’m thinking I’m hot shit. I’ve got my red lipstick on that was really orange crap and that’s it.

“It sort of evolved from that and it was about getting crazy and being out there and doing it.

“My first Pride was around 1998 or so. I can’t really remember. I must have been really drunk. Of course the costumes were fabulous. It was pouring rain.

“My favourite Pride memory was waking up the morning after one Pride and I remember getting really drunk and meeting this guy and whatever. We ended up in the back seat of a car.

“I just remember passing out and waking up the next morning without my wig and having to get home somehow.

“It’s the most bizarre Pride memory I ever had.”