Ottawa
2 min

Things that change your life

Some boys get all the breaks.

In June, I curated Westfest Lit, a portion of Westboro’s signature festival. Westfest is run by a rad dyke, Elaina Martin, and has a history of honouring diverse artists, especially aboriginal people, women and gays. It’s a pretty cool gig.

I was given a lot of leeway with my programming, and we brought together four badass writers. During a portion of the afternoon, a pair of lesbians, Patrizia Gentile and Gabriella Goliger, took questions about their most recent books.

The books couldn’t be any more different. Gentile, with another professor (Gary Kinsman), recently published a nonfiction book about the federal government’s treatment of gay people over the years — especially gay employees — called The Canadian War on Queers. Around the same time, Goliger released a novel about a young Jewish lesbian struggling to find her place in the world, called Girl Unwrapped.

Different as they may be, they do have something in common: the time period. Paranoid, pre-Stonewall — or perhaps I should say pre–We Demand (see page 9) — Canada.

I had a bit of an ulterior motive for bringing the two together. I wanted to spark a discussion about activism. Activism then, activism in the intervening years, activism now. That may well be the theme of this issue of Xtra as well.

I’d seen Gentile speak at the Ottawa Dyke March last year, and I’d been impressed. And I knew that Goliger had been an editor of Gays of Ottawa’s newspaper, GO Info, in the 1980s. In fact, I’d read her work when I was researching a particularly violent period in Ottawa’s gay history.

During the discussion, host Lawrence Wall asked Goliger if her work at GO Info had coloured her writing.

She paused and, with typical poise, dropped the afternoon’s zinger. This is a paraphrase:

I’m glad I got to work at GO Info, she said, because it felt good to help buoy the community, and in turn, to be buoyed by it.

Bang on. That, in a nutshell, is what makes community organizing so powerful. It reminded me of the mission statement of Pink Triangle Press, Xtra’s parent company, which promises to engage gays and lesbians “to form a movement, fight for change and, in so doing, change themselves.”

When you do activist work, you grow. You challenge yourself. You become better.

As I prepare to leave Xtra this month, after five years with the press, I want to say thank you for all the times that, as a community, you’ve helped me to grow.

Volunteering for gay groups and working in the gay press has changed my life. No doubt about it.

It’s helped me to relax into my sexuality and my identity. I am more confident and more laid-back than I was five years ago. I’m more comfortable with strangers and more open in interactions with people who are different than me.

In short, like Goliger, I have been buoyed by Ottawa’s gay community, and I’m grateful.

Marcus McCann is the managing editor of  Xtra.