What took us so long? Having spent years peddling my opinions on queer lit in this paper and elsewhere, I’m partly asking what took me so long. Now I’m simply grateful that I’ve been outpaced by a handful of book lovers whose vision and hard work are bringing a groundbreaking event to Toronto this month — one I feel honoured to be a part of. Sun, Aug 26 marks the inaugural Writing Outside the Margins festival of queer literature, an intensive and author-packed one-day event that will turn four blocks of Church-Wellesley into a logorrific street party — our own Q-Word on the Street.
Since I got wind of Outside the Margins I’ve been thinking about my own relationship to margins, beginning with my dour Grade 1 teacher, Miss Bagshaw, who warned that if my ABCs strayed into the margins I would never get a gold star. Naughty kids wrote in the margins, good ones stuck to the middle. It never occurred to me that anyone could actually write outside the margins, because in the nomenclature of Cloverdale Public School anything beyond the margin had to be completely off the page — an unthinkable destination.
The Writing Outside the Margins webpage offered me a new brain tweak. Paste Writingoutsidethemargins.ca into your browser and the fest homepage comes up, cool pink, smartly designed — but with the domain name instantly transformed to Writinginthemargins.ca, as if the concept of something outside the transgressive simply did not compute. Suddenly a part of me was channelling pedantic Miss Bagshaw: Writing outside the margins? What a piece of nonsense! There’s nothing outside the margins. I mean, really, that would mean writing somewhere well beyond the forbidden. Perhaps on your desk, or, oh dear… on a wall?
The dictionary (Oxford version) clears up Miss Bagshaw’s obscuring chalk dust. A “margin” can be either the blank border around a block of text, or the thin line that’s never to be crossed, the line (usually pink, by the way) that draws the gaze of classroom rebels like a red flag. You’ve got your Dick-and-Jane text all tidy in the centre of the page, and at the edge of it — subversive frontier — you’ve got two kinds of margins. One is a barrier, the other is the enticing land beyond it, the play box for kids who hate to be told “No.”
A quick phone call to a fest organizer confirmed that the festival’s URL mind tweak is just that: an acknowledgement of the double-meaning of margin, and by extension our ever-shifting interpretations of margins, marginalia, marginality.
It’s a truism that arty and impudent school kids have always drawn outside the lines. Some grow up to see that the margins are home: where they belong and where they can do their best work. In our queer world, an edgy vanguard of subversives still manages to leap from the increasingly mainstreamed gay and lesbian margins into the off-page realm of the truly queer, the place where it’s still possible to be naughty.
With the film and TV mainstream now so thoroughly stocked, glutted even, with slick, liberal, educational gay tales and viewpoints — from Will and Grace to Six Feet Under, Queer as Folk to Brokeback Mountain — what was once marginal and controversial is now about as edgy as Laura Petrie (if never as hilarious). To counter the acceptable we’ve enjoyed 17 years of Toronto’s exemplary Inside Out film festival, pitching a queer film vision well outside the margins we occupy in prime time and the cineplexes.
Why paper has lagged so far behind celluloid probably has everything to do with the flash and bling (and popcorn) of movie culture, but it hardly matters now. On Aug 26, visibly, collectively, our writers and their stories launch an annual Church St escape from marginal queerness at Harbourfront and the International Festival of Authors, Book Expo, Word on the Street and the TV bookchat shows. It’s wonderful to be noticed and included. Writers will always show for their closeup. But we’ve got our own book party now. May it grow bigger and more fabulous every summer.