3 min

Craving tension

I got an email the other day from Montreal columnist Richard Burnett containing a link to his latest column. The piece turned out to be bold, brash and entertaining. What struck me though was its point of view. Focused on the gay organ transplant controversy, it took a different slant from any I’ve seen locally and that made me wonder why Burnett or someone like him isn’t more readily available in Toronto. Based in Montreal, Burnett appears in Hour and through the years he’s been syndicated in several alternative weeklies across the country, but he’s never been available in Toronto, except by internet.

This may be neither here nor there. Lots of folks from outside Toronto are never showcased here. But in the wake of the sudden streamlining of the local gay media — that would be the recent takeover of Fab by Pink Triangle Press, Xtra’s publisher — it got me thinking about intellectual diversity. Where are we supposed to find it?

Eye has dropped its gay column (written variously by Bruce LaBruce, Sky Gilbert and Gord McLaughlin), although it still has a sex column written by local Sasha Van Bon Bon. Now only has sex columnist Dan Savage, who’s often very political but only in a US context. The mainstream press covers more and more gay issues but usually only when they’re scary, salacious or socially daunting (see gay marriage and unprotected sex). The internet has brought us reams of gay information but most of it is still American.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine came back from Boston touting the wonders of preppie-dom’s Bay Windows, “New England’s largest GLBT newspaper.”

I took a look at the online version and sure enough it’s quite impressive, clearly laid out and with extensive coverage of arts and culture. But my first thought on looking at it was, “What the hell does this have to do with me?”

Like most of the US papers — even strong contenders like Chicago’s Windy Times and DC’s Washington Blade — the Boston paper covers mostly US news and most of that looks rather parochial, if only because so much of the US struggle proceeds so unevenly, bit by bit, state by state. And then, of course, much of the coverage is local, a long litany of hirings, firings and other happenings, which is great for the locals — a fine service, indeed — but a poor haunt for anyone shopping for life-shaping ideas.

As for the US glossies the less said the better. Heavily slanted toward the fashion/lifestyle/travel/celebrity content that is now de rigueur in half the mags on the stand, it’s only a small snooze away from soft-core advertorial.

But at least the Americans have a range of ideas. There’s everything from the conservative, pro-free-market Independent Gay Forum, which claims to be “forging a gay mainstream,” to the academically inclined Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, which is stodgy but broadminded. More than most queer publications it looks to both the past and the future.

But here in Canada the gay press has always meant Pink Triangle Press and its various offshoots. There have been other mags over the years — including Rites in Toronto and Angles in Vancouver — but none of them have had PTP’s influence.

That’s both a coup and a challenge. The gay press struggles with the same issues as the rest of the media, mostly how to make things new. But in our case the struggle is all the more intense because so much of gay news is superficially familiar.

Gay news tends to fall into one of two narrative streams, either discrimination or coming out and while both are important, the structures are shop-worn and difficult to make interesting. Discrimination continues to happen around the globe and people continue to come out, but how does knowing about either help? While important to the people involved, the individual examples are less important than the larger pattern and once you know that pattern it’s hard to take much interest — unless of course the story is given a fresh slant and much verbal vivacity.

In some sense, too, the gay press is living off borrowed capital. The ideas that drive it were largely laid out in the 1970s and they haven’t grown much since largely I suspect because there’s not enough creative tension. Much of gay lib was formed in opposition to straight homophobia but now that intelligent straights have largely come to terms with the everyday ordinary banality of queerness, the energy has gone out of the debate.

If gay marriage never got the discussion it deserved (and I don’t think it did) I’d guess it was because nobody was really opposed. For all the putative talk of discord, everyone eventually got on the bandwagon, convinced that any display of opposition only played into the hands of the right.

Yet fresh ideas only come from discord and display. (Sometimes I don’t know what I think until somebody says the opposite.) They’re created in a dialectic of opposing points of view, honed by disagreements, readied for the field by the fray.

Which is why I hope that whatever new ideas blow down the gay pipeline, there’s more than one of them and that they’re engagingly packaged and presented.