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Rae Spoon’s upbeat outlook on the future of Calgary’s queer scene

The musician and author is this year’s grand marshal for Calgary Pride

Musician and author Rae Spoon. Credit: Courtesy Calgary Pride

Calgary Pride is coming up fast, and this year’s grand marshal is none other than Rae Spoon, one of Canada’s best songwriters, and a multi-talented voice for the trans and non-binary communities.

To find out more about their role at Pride and their relationship with Calgary, we called them at their home in Victoria in this edited and condensed interview.

Xtra: You were in your studio in Victoria this weekend — care to divulge what you were working on?

Yeah, Alex [Alexandre Decoupigny] and I were working on some new tracks. I just released three new songs and two different versions from Armour last week as a surprise EP, Jump With Your Eyes Closed. I probably won’t put another EP out for a while, so it’s nice to be able to put out these shorter albums.

Is that why you set up Coax Records?

Well, my label was retiring and so I took a lot of the contacts and things to set up Coax. It’s nice to be able to use my contacts and experience as an indie musician to help others who don’t typically get given opportunities at other labels.

There’s a song on Jump, and on Armour, called “Try Again at Everything,” and Armour — your eighth solo album — has been described as being about your view of the future. Do you feel like once you’re in your 30s it’s easier to look forward and leave the past behind, to jettison some stuff?

My first book, and My Prairie Home, and the documentary dealt with a lot of that, and so, yeah, I suppose I jettisoned some things doing those. Artists can do that: confront things. Other people might not ever confront those things, so I guess I’m lucky in that way.

So you’re moving forward and feeling upbeat?

Well, I think maybe people don’t want to hear depressing stuff all the time. I know I don’t. I mean, I do listen to some of that kind of music [Rae laughs], but I also want to show that being trans isn’t awful. Obviously, there is a lot of awful stuff that happens, but . . . life’s good, with my spouse, and the album. My life is really nice now. A lot better than my childhood!

Did you ever sneak out and go to Calgary Pride as a teenager?

It wasn’t safe for me to go to Pride then. I was living with my mom, and I couldn’t be seen on TV. Then, I moved to Vancouver and that changed, and I was in Montreal for six years, and now Victoria for a year, and I was up in the Yukon, and I just got back from Arts Wells. [they laugh] I’ve been all over Canada.

Do you think there are more queer-friendly venues in Calgary now than when you lived there?

Oh, for sure. Things have changed a lot in the last ten years. There are just more people. It feels like the number of people has doubled. And Calgary is in a bit of a recession right now, but Calgary in a recession is kind of like how other cities are normally.

Do you think Calgary misses out by not having a queer/gay village, like in Toronto or Vancouver?

Well, some people don’t feel safe in the village anyway. I think there’s a great queer scene in Calgary now, a lot of LGBTQ people are also in other communities though. A lot of us moved away, and I feel like you need to have older LGBTQ people too.

You’re grand marshal for Calgary Pride this year. Other than, presumably, donning a Stetson and chaps, what else does a grand marshal do in Cowtown?

Well, they approached me and — it’s the Year of Music in Calgary — so they wanted a musician and they’re also looking at trans issues, so they thought of me! I’ll be performing at Festival Hall, and I’ll be giving a three-minute speech at the end of the parade, but other than that, I’m not really sure what’s happening. I was talking to my friend Vivek [Shraya], who was grand marshal for Toronto Pride this year, and she was saying that she was further back in the parade and couldn’t see much of what was going on.

So, like the brief stoppage by Black Lives Matter Toronto? As grand marshal do you get to influence Pride politics at all?

Ha! No, I don’t think I have any sway there. I mean, I have my politics and they aren’t necessarily reflective of Pride’s. I definitely think that there’s no place in the parade for uniformed police, and that should be a country-wide thing. The work being done by Black Lives Matter is so important.

So, will you be on a float at the front of Calgary Pride parade?

They gave me the option of being in a vehicle or walking with a community group. I chose to walk with the youth from Camp fYrefly [Canada’s only national leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, intersexed, queer, questioning and allied youth]. I’ve worked with them for a while now, and they do amazing things. I ran workshops there a couple of years ago.

Working with younger LGBT people is clearly something close to your heart.

The youth are so important. They’re the future of Calgary.