3 min

Toward a shared identity

From faggots and dykes, to gay, to queer to . . . who are we now?

Xtra's Still QQ columnist, Kevin Dale McKeown, wants to start a conversation about our shared identity. Credit: Xtra

Long ago, in a simpler time, we were faggots and dykes. In Vancouver, most of us were white. It was the world we had inherited, not made.

The dykes and the faggots did not hang out that much. The Vanport was dyke territory. Faces was for faggots. There was some mixing it up at Champagne Charlie’s and Cheerios and that was about it.

The 1960s had ended well for us; laws were changed and much else was changing. The details are debatable, but, as I recall, at some point we became “gay” in a tentative move toward a shared identity. That worked out briefly, until feminist theory caught up with us and some women began to feel that “gay” wasn’t working for them. By some invisible process of consensus we became queers.

But faggots had been queer even longer than they’d been faggots — and certainly long before anyone was gay. So we were just repurposing another term from the lexicon of oppression for a new era.

It was confusing even when there were only faggots and dykes, and so a conversation began about who was what and what that meant. It might have been a helpful conversation toward a shared identity, but it was interrupted by a decade in which “community” was defined through crisis and death.

Our conversation had to be postponed, and we substituted Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am” as a philosophical touchstone. It got us through a bad time.

Responding to all the breast-beating that went on during this year’s Pride season over who was feeling excluded from the festivities and why, Reg Manning (Empress II Mona Lee) rephrased the identity question by remarking, “I know who I am. Now I’m wondering what I am?”

By the time Manning posed the question, dykes and faggots had become gay, then queer, and now some seem poised to become something else. Maybe.

Add bi, trans and gender-variant to the mix and colours of the rainbow that were all but invisible during our formative 1960s and ’70s, and it’s worth asking what common ground we can find today for a community whose diversity is becoming increasingly complex — a complexity seen by some as inclusive and by others as divisive?

What all-inclusive label can we agree on for solidarity’s sake?

And what does this portend for parades, festivals, public-washrooms committees, and community-centre planning if we cannot find that common ground? Are we approaching the end of “queer”?

Thinking this was something worth talking about, I contacted a few friends and they agreed, so we are going to get together in the near future to hash it out. I’ll do my best to report back to you.

Right now it’s just me; Reg Manning; Vancouver Gay Liberation Front co-founder Gordon Hardy; Kona, a black leatherdyke artist and queer disorganizer whose co-creation The Queeriodic Table is well worth a Google; artist Pamela Leaman, whose 1969 male-to-female transition in Montreal may have been Canada’s first; and another member of the trans community, spoken-word artist Antonette Rea.

This is a less than perfectly diverse group, whose common ground is in all having been called “queer” at one time or another, by themselves or by others, and that I count them among my friends. I’m hoping, and I hope they are too, that we will build on that to create a more genuinely inclusive conversation that will bridge both identities and, most importantly, generations.

With the exception of Kona, we are a pretty mature group, ranging from our late 50s to early 70s. We can talk among ourselves and arrive at our own conclusions regarding the meaning of “community” and “identity” and such. But it is the queers (if that is how they describe themselves) under 35 who are busy creating the world of the future, and the final say in all this must be theirs. Once we’ve had a chance to debate our own views, we’ll have to open the conversation to everyone.

If you’d like to contribute to this informal community roundtable, you can start by emailing me any questions or comments you’d like to share. We’ll let you know when this grows to the point where we can open the group to greater numbers.

Two or three months of this and I promise regular readers that we’ll get back to our core business of rehashing old gossip from the ’70s. But for now, let’s give a thought to the future.

Contact me at stillqq@dailyxtra.com.