Toronto
5 min

Where the wild things are

For Team Toronto, it was about bonding, not winning

ROOT, ROOT, ROOT. Members of Team Toronto take in a game in Sydney. Credit: Nancy Lyons

There are no superlatives to describe the Gay Games held in Sydney last month. No one’s calling them the best games ever. Nor were they the biggest. And with a projected $2-million deficit, they were hardly a financial success.



And yet they cemented the Gay Games movement as a global queer phenomena. Every single person I questioned at the dud of a closing ceremonies (clearly budget squeezed) said they would be at the games in Montreal in 2006. Indeed, they all said exactly the same thing: Definitely.



So what went on in this trés chic, trés gay beach city, when 35,000 queers from around the world dropped in for a week-long party? Ask the suntanned faces of Team Toronto members. Ask as many as you can, because each will tell a different version – there were a thousand stories from this often-naked city.



IT WAS ABOUT SYDNEY



The toughest competition here was from the host city. Sightseeing kept drawing people away from games events, and for good reason.



Sydney is the best parts of LA, San Francisco and Toronto tossed into a friendly cocktail. It has beautiful people and stunning beaches, tons of beaches and each unique. It has a gay village steeped in as much history and local colour as San Francisco’s, not to mention great restaurants and a romantic harbour. And like Toronto, it’s a city of walkable neighbourhoods. Funky queer scenes thrive in the edgy, alternative Newtown, the artsy chic Paddington and of course, Oxford St in Darlinghurst, still queer central despite skyrocketing real estate.



Yet Sydney stays real and endearingly hungry for approval, thanks to its remote locale.



“Sydney’s gays always feel like they should be somewhere else – London, New York, Asia,” local activist Craig Johnston told me when I caught up with him for lunch one day.



The community experienced a collective confidence meltdown leading up to the games. “Would the world come, would they like us?” The fact that people came and loved the city, says Johnston, will help assure gay Sydneysiders that here is okay, even where it’s at.



BUT IT WAS WAY TOO MUCH ABOUT SYDNEY



The downside of Sydney is its urban sprawl, which made these the transit games. Many facilities were off the downtown map and a bitch to reach. Ticket sales tanked. Athletes performed in front of miniscule crowds. There were three entertainment hubs of makeshift beer tents, but no central headquarters and, hence, very little soul to these games.



IT WAS ABOUT THE OPENING CEREMONY



The highlight of any games, say veterans, is the athletes’ march into the opening ceremonies. But it took four hours for games officials to line up the some 13,000 athletes. Then the line stalled. Canadian teams broke into a spontaneous round of, “Oh Canada.” My eyes stung. Hey, Canada’s an okay place to be gay and we know all the words. Then we sang “This Land Is Our Land.” Then “Alouetta.” Then “Oh



Canada” again. We were left schmaltzy and stagnating in a tunnel for an hour.



By the time we marched in, I was ready to barbie some Aussie butt. Then they put on what many consider to be the best opening ceremonies ever.



In a massive, glitzy show on the football field, hundreds of performers told the story of our struggle from persecution, to protest, through the AIDS crisis, towards liberty and celebration. Aussie convicts charged guards, with an SM edge. Drag queens and leather girls drove back police. Then massive photos of fallen friends were danced about the field as 35,000 in the stands lit candles. Before we would dry our tears, KD Lang sang “Our Day Will Come,” dancers in tribal dress from around the globe gyrated to “Sexual Revolution” and Sydney’s Dykes On Bikes roared in a bold new day.



They told us our story. And it was a big fat sexy spectacle.



IT WAS ABOUT QUEER CULTURE



One of the most moving moments was seeing queer choirs from around the world perform at the Sydney Opera House. You couldn’t beg a ticket with any sexual favour. The singers (from a gang of Filipino gay men hamming it up to a group of Scottish dykes singing it straight) were living their dream, and their excitement brought down the house.



IT WAS ABOUT PARTYING



At night, the gay mile of Oxford St buzzed. All the bars were full up. To get into the girls’ Bumpher Bar, you needed to do exactly that. Line-ups snaked down the street. But no one cared. Everyone was on Sydney time, where some bars stay open all night. Besides the party was right on the street.



The games also staged five massive all-night, circuit-style dance parties, which were fuelled by ever plentiful chemical imports. For the Butch Party, two thousand dykes jammed onto a dancefloor with plenty of naked bodies, local leather, and a very touchy feely vibe. After the all-men’s Black Party ended at 6am, hundreds headed to the Midnight Shift to keep partying. A bouncer said he had never seen anything like this, not bad for a town that hosts the gay Mardi Gras, the largest outdoor parade and party in the world.



IT WAS ABOUT THE GAMES WE PLAY



It matters twat that the founding principles spell out what the games’ competition is about: inclusion, participation, personal best. These are abstract terms. During the games, they got personal.



Leaders of the hockey team I play on had been building the Toronto Rainbow Rockets for six years. For the past two, players were fundraising flat out to whittle down the $4,000 it would cost to have this experience. And what would that be?



Heading into the games, our hockey team was a mess. Our summer training schedule went off the rails in the spring. We parted ways with our coach a month before leaving. Some were more focussed on winning, others on having fun. At times, we had the team camaraderie of a girls’ boarding school PMSing.



And yet, with the excitement of this massive competition (with 13,000 athletes it was 3,000 athletes larger than Sydney’s Olympics in 2000), we started to gel. Not on the ice, no, on the ice we played like we grew up in Florida. But in the dressing-room.



Thanks to our goalie Kathy Kelly standing on her head (she would be named the tournament’s top goalie), we found ourselves in the gold medal game. As only fate can throw a curve ball, we faced a one-woman team, a team with a ringer. The Boston Bulldogs centre was good enough to star for the Boston men’s team.



Our only hope, of course, was to do what we have been unable to do thus far: be a team. We developed a plan, rallied, skated onto the ice believing in each other. A couple of dozen fans had made the long trip out for the game, and they were solidly behind us. We played to a 1-1 tie through the first 10 minutes. And then the hell of our worst nightmare exploded: Boston went ahead 5-1 and the game ended in an ugly 9-3 thrashing.



The loss was devastating, not just for the score but because the score so mocked all the years of preparation, the work and the emotional investment.



And then, as we lined up for the medal presentations, we spontaneously locked arms over each other’s shoulders and we did not let go. It was the only thing that could console us. In defeat, we achieved our personal best, this emotional knowledge that winning is truly about the team, the friends, the community we build.



* Final results are available at www.sydney2002.org.au.