Ottawa
3 min

Road Tripping with Zero

Road trips, especially long solitary, nighttime road trips, are wonderful for thinking deep and delicious thoughts.

Thoughts such as how long it will be before owners of video-enhanced family wagons discover that no matter how many “baby-on-board” stickums they put on their windows, playing DVDs for the kids in the back is likely to cause others to run into them while we’re trying to figure out whether or not we’ve seen that movie.

What about the disappearance of the northern icecap? Polar bears are now having to swim more than double the usual distances to get from shore to their normal hunting grounds — or vice versa — and are drowning on the way. Has the unseasonably warm weather affecting the north anything to do with humans running amok further south? It does seem like more than mere coincidence. In any event, we ought to be able to figure out a solution. Turning the weather around is a lovely goal. In the short term, though, we need to figure out how to make artificial ice floes so our bears have somewhere to rest. Who knows, it could even be an interim use for the plastic foam that no one seems to know how to recycle.

More relevant to this newspaper’s queer mandate, one of the CDs I hastily grabbed on the way to the car was the soundtrack from the movie Zero Patience (John Greyson, 1993). There is something happily perverse about tapping one’s toes (thanks to cruise control) while driving along the 401 toward Toronto belting out gay show tunes. When the show tunes are about AIDS, evil drug companies and people fighting for their lives, the queerness of the experience is raised exponentially. Somewhere in that manic cognitive dissonance it came to me: it really is time we — queer communities — started a Canadian museum of our own.

The Lesbian And Gay Archives are wonderful, and will be even more so once they move into their new space, but archives have too staid an image. A museum, on the other hand, is listed in tourism brochures. School children go to museums on class trips. Museums can be fun and funky and interactive and even educational. (Though I suspect that teaching children too much about activism would be seen as subversive — especially after some enterprising class goes back and starts staging die-ins to protest cafeteria food.)

As with many good ideas, I’m not the first to think of this one. There is a queer museum in Berlin and several in the planning stages in the US. Peter Tatchell’s ideas for an International Lesbian And Gay Museum in London, England are fabulous — though far from being realized. The concept had political support in 2004, but doesn’t appear to be moving quickly. Perhaps his plan for using the museum to out historical queers ranging from Richard The Lionheart to Winston Churchill scared off too many backers.

Unlike Tatchell’s, a Canadian queer museum wouldn’t have immediate access to 1,000-plus years of local history. Not that the queers didn’t exist, but early Canadian history is not easily accessed. Native Canadian queers do not have written pre-contact records, and existing records based on oral history are often exemplars of the contamination of later, often homophobic, interpretations. That said, the existence of a museum — and whatever content about First Nations queers that could be found — could well catalyze further research.

At the same time, there’s no reason that a Canadian museum could not pay homage to the earlier histories of all immigrant peoples and include exhibits on lesbian queens, gay kings and vice versa. If nothing else, it is long past time that someone exposes the fallacy of believing that queerness is a white North American character flaw – people need to see expressions of queer culture from many ages and places.

Perhaps even more important is housing the Canadian history that is now fading away. Can the monogamously and matrimonially-focussed activism of the ’00s be partially attributed to AIDS having killed proportionally more of the most sex-positive members of our communities? An interesting question. Certainly the bulk of queers seem to have moved their focus up a Maslow-like hierarchy from dealing with matters of life and death (mostly death) to dealing with matters of d├ęcor, catering and whom to invite to the big event.

I’m not suggesting that our Canadian Queer Museum not have a marriage exhibit. It should. But it must also show the stories of groups like AIDS Action Now! and all the activism that went into pushing drug companies into developing and releasing drugs for HIV infection. Given that most of the people dying internationally from AIDS now are heterosexual (and poor), perhaps some schoolbus-load of children visiting the museum will decide it’s time to return to late ’80s-style activism and shake drug companies until they start dropping prices — or pills — for those who need them.

The road trip’s over, I’m home and Zero’s song is still stuck in my mind: “We were boys who loved our bodies/ Playing hard and deep Boys who thought we’d live forever/ Didn’t know we were playing for keeps.”

For a drowning polar bear, or an African village where almost everyone over the age of 15 is HIV-positive, games of profit maximization are played for keeps. We need a queer museum that reminds us of our power to influence those games.