4 min

To our future

Ivan's beautiful goodbye to Xtra

My first Loose End column appeared in Xtra West in March of 2001. That was 11 years ago. I like the number 11, always have.

I was born on the 11th day of August. I like how 11 looks like an equal sign stood upright on its feet. It is 1:11pm on the afternoon of March 1 as I write these words, and it seems right, somehow, to tell you now that this will be my last column.

I have decided that it is time for me to move on and accept new challenges. It has been a long good haul, me and these stories in these pages, but it is time.

I spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks mulling over just what I would like to say in parting, and how to best say it. Should I tell you the story of teaching a memoir class to senior citizens this month? Hundreds of gems to offer up from this experience.

Should I tell you that I got a chance to hang out with my godson Francis last week, the little boy who used to like to wear dresses? Remember him? He appeared in these pages multiple times. He is somehow magically driving a truck now and a foot taller than me, and trying to decide what he wants to do once he graduates from high school.

I could tell you about him, but I won’t. What I really want to talk about is not our collective past, but our community’s future.

Our kids. And by our kids I mean their kids, and our kids. And what I mean by their and our kids is the queer children of straight parents, and the sometimes queer but often not children of queer parents. Queer spawn, as some of them like to be called. And what I mean by queer kids and straight kids are all of our children. I want to talk about our kids.

I meet a lot of kids from all across the country and beyond, and I have been writing and publishing long enough now that I have met many full-blown adults who tell me they have been reading my stuff since they were just kids. What they tell me is how much it meant to them to see themselves in the pages of a book or a magazine, what a touchstone it was, to know they were not alone, to see a reflection of themselves out there somewhere, however blurry, to see themselves represented somehow in a world which some days seems very determined to make them disappear.

I want to say right now that I hereby renew my commitment to keep writing and publishing queer stories for queer kids to pick up and see a part of themselves in, and to keep dragging my ass into high schools to do the work that still so desperately needs doing.

Don’t get me wrong; it is getting better. I see evidence of better in almost every school I step into. Last week I did a gig at an alternative school in Surrey. Afterwards I was peeing in a stall in the girls’ bathroom when I heard a masculine voice announce, “All I need to do is get into this bra and fix the strap on this cheapass heel and I am good to go.”

I stepped out of the stall to find a young person squeezing themselves into a black bra, getting their drag on to go to their youth group after school. You heard me right. In Surrey.

I see kids coming out younger and, while it’s never easy (I mean, whose teenage years are, really?), many do not seem to face the kind of violence and hatred and discrimination I remember running rampant in my high school back in the day.

But all you have to do is raise your eyes from that kid’s broken high-heel strap and look around you to see homophobia still alive and thriving, on our school boards, in our Parliament, in churches and rest homes and presidential campaigns and being screamed from cars at us on street corners. We still have so much work to do, make no mistake.

I think one of the most tragic ways that homophobia still pervades our public schools is how it shuts down the ability for kids to really be everything they are capable of being. How that fear stops kids from reaching their full human potential.

Girls are taught to play sports, but not to sweat too much or build up too much muscle. There is still a message being sent that in order to be a certain kind of pretty you can be good at volleyball but not rugby. You can throw a ball, just as long as you are not able to throw it farther than the boys can, not if you want one to want you.

Boys can be good at playing drums or the guitar or the trumpet, but not the flute or the triangle or the oboe. Boys are still supposed to want to be football players, not cheerleaders.

I really think that homophobia, and its fraternal twins misogyny and transphobia, keep all kids, including the straight ones, from fully being their amazing selves.

Let me make myself clear: I am not working toward the day when queer kids are tolerated in our schools. I envision a day where they are celebrated.

To that end, I am launching a book in Vancouver on May 3 at the WISE Hall. It is a young-adult collection of my stories, some old, some new, aimed at GLBTQ youth. I want this launch to be a place where queer youth are celebrated.

We are going to have a talent show, so if you know any queer or trans youth from 14 to 20 who live in the Vancouver area and want to be involved, please get them to send me a link, through my website, to a four-minute-maximum YouTube audition video. Could be a drag number, could be a song, could be a dance, could be a choir. I will pick 10 kids, or groups of kids, and we are going to do a show. A really big gay show. Hope to see you there.

Let us welcome our kids into a glorious future. And thanks, Xtra, for a beautiful past.