It’s a bit surprising there’s never been a theatrical rendering of the history of The Body Politic. While the collectively run publication that gave birth to Xtra certainly had its share of drama, until now it’s never been put on stage.
“I realized there are younger queers totally ignorant of the history of the gay rights movement in Canada,” says playwright Nick Green, fresh off his turn in Sky Gilbert’s Dancing Queen. “I felt driven to explore this story and make a case for why it needs to be remembered by the next generation.”
Summarizing both the complex narrative and vital importance of the seminal magazine was a daunting challenge. But Green was lucky to have the support of both the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (which the magazine helped create in 1973) and many of the founding members, whom he interviewed as part of his research.
Born in 1971 without an editor or formal leader, The Body Politic was a collective dedicated to creating a living document of Canada’s budding gay rights movement, as well as a resource for gays and lesbians to access services and each other. Working entirely on a volunteer basis, the group took turns being laid off from their paid jobs and claiming EI to take over duties of running the magazine.
Less historical document than dramatic reimagining, Green’s text seeks to capture the essence and importance of a pivotal period in Canadian queer history. Certain characters have been combined, and interpersonal relationships have been fictionalized. But key events (like the 1977 police raid of the publication’s office in response to Gerald Hannon’s “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” article) are rendered in full detail.
“Writing about historical events is much harder than creating a story from scratch because there’s a great responsibility for accuracy,” Green says. “At the same time, you know how the play is going to end before you start, so that part is a lot easier.”
Articulating just how radical The Body Politic’s actions were to a younger generation of gay people may be Green’s biggest challenge. In an age when even the US president supports legal recognition of same-sex relationships, the push toward mainstream assimilation is greater than ever. But he sees reintroducing that history to the next generation as an important part of understanding how we got here.
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married or have a monogamous, heteronormative relationship,” Green says. “But it’s important for people to understand that the reason they can be in an openly affectionate, legally recognized relationship is because of a generation of people who were radical in their sexuality, pushed boundaries and actively challenged the idea of conventional relationships in every way possible.”