Ottawa
3 min

Dreams from nightmares

Since my first Dr Seuss fan-fic, written at age four, Marianne Forsyth, my mother, has been my primary editor and literary sounding board. After last month’s column, we discussed the question raised: When a minority ceases to be persecuted, does it “disappear”?

Some do. Descendants of slaves, for instance. We never lit a candle for the last Vespry who was a slave, or the last Forsyth who was illiterate.

Many groups, however, do survive as groups, maybe due in part to Canada being a mosaic rather than a melting pot. At the same time, every Highland Games, Caribana or Pride Parade helps ensure survival of some group identity. What that is, and how it reflects our day-to-day lives, is another question.

Without persecution, who are you as a community? You said once that your literature tends to be porn, which suggests that the only difference, in fact, is who you boink and marry – so as a community you only meet to party, go to queer bars or Pride day… and to buy books.

I suspect that I said something more like: “The best-selling books and magazines at lesbian and gay bookshops tend to be porn or romances with the ‘good bits’ left in.” There is no lack of queer poetry, essays or literary novels – but people tend to read more for entertainment than brain-teasing workouts. Interesting to ponder, though, whether, or how, our more “serious” literature differs.

Bars and bookstores will continue as long as the community supports them. If/when the queer kids in school can date as openly as the straights, will they still go to queer bars and parties? I hope we reach a time when we can say, “It’s up to them,” and sit back and see what they do.

Essentially, that time may be now. Or, perhaps, always is now.

Queers are rarely lucky enough to develop our identities through our birth families. Yet even groups that have the capacity to transmit culture find that each generation (re)invents itself. Theoretically, baby feminists learned their A(bzug), B(loomer), C(asgrain)s at their mother’s knees. In reality, we are on wave three (or four) of feminist discourse – without even counting the wave-free folk who maintain that feminism is dead.

It can be disheartening to compare the ability of dominant society to transmit rules across generations – this is how we knot neckties; this is how we make laws; this is how we use pepper spray – with our communities’ incessant re-invention of the wheel. Yet it may be that that very re-invention is a crucial part of what it means to be queer. Sure we waste time proving, again, that square wheels don’t work. That proof, however, can be the catalyst necessary to start new Queer Nations or Gay Shames (a new queer alternative to increasingly corporate Pride events).

Weathering bad times is a powerful source of pride (and nostalgia). Old soldiers look back over their memories of war, remembering the camaraderie, and if they are not too clever, persuading themselves that those were the good days – because they felt themselves young and virile, and because nothing so intense ever happened to them again.

Theory has it that homosexuality had an evolutionary function in keeping adults with the tribe who had free time to help care for other tribal members. This may explain why, whenever any social justice group needs bodies on the streets, queers are there. Often, we are instigators in the group itself, or non-group members working in coalitions to improve things for everyone.

Yet this willingness to work with others seems to have faded with the advent of mainstream queer activism, and we have strayed towards becoming a single-issue movement. Sure, life is easier with the privilege that comes from being indistinguishable from folk who live so far inside the box that they’ve not yet discovered the edges. Yet for many of us, that privilege is unattainable for many reasons, of which queerness is only one. Besides, once one has seen the box, it’s hard to forget. Having ventured outside it, it’s harder to contemplate return.

And the ones to whom nothing intense has ever happened may long for those days, may become white-supremacists or neo-Nazis.

Working to advance the rights of the disempowered, not just sexual and or gender minorities, is an intense experience – especially when it brings one into contact with riot police.

As humans we need to know how to orchestrate intense experiences, community and self-building experiences, without being destructive. (Isn’t that what initiation rituals are about?) But mostly, we don’t know we need that capacity, let alone how to develop it.

True. It would be great if Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals were part of high school curricula. Better if teachers made connections between learning anti-bullying techniques, and practicing them against corporations and governments. That should provide enough intensity for any number of generations.