Toronto
2 min

Why gays love The Ex

Coloured lights, soccer hotties & Debbie Reynolds

The dog days of summer are upon us.

Every year around this time, I look forward to the “They’re going baaaaaaack!” commercials on TV, trips to Toronto Island — often choosing the shrubbery maze or the pier over giggly gays at Hanlan’s — and at least one trip to an amusement park. After all, I need my fix of coloured lights!

For the past couple years, The Ex has been my first choice for a dose of neon and dayglow. Ignore the obnoxious 905ers; most of them are gone by sundown anyway, and that is when The Ex truly comes alive. (I’m not saying all 905ers are homophobic; just avoid the hordes that spill out of the GO Train by the hundreds.)

The music, the residual dizziness from the rides and, especially, my beloved coloured lights always make me feel like I’m at a rave. The city skyline looks cinematically beautiful from the Dufferin gate, and walking around all day justifies belt-busters like deep-fried butter.

The rides also make for cute dates, especially the ferris wheel. Take my advice and go as late as possible so you have the pod all to yourselves.

Don’t forget that BMO Field is in the middle of it all. Even if you don’t run into Becks or Ronaldo, there are delicious soccer players who might need befriending after losing a game on the pitch.

The best part of an evening at The Ex is the free entertainment. You might be surprised at this year’s lineup, because it seems to be meant for us. Last year the Pointer Sisters nearly set the bandshell on fire with their legendarily tight vocals, much to the screaming delight of the assembled queer folk under the stars. Anita Pointer and I even compared jewellery afterwards.

This year, there are two certified icons who are worthy of your time. Hollywood madame Debbie Reynolds brings more than just movie memories to the stage: she’s also conquered Broadway and TV. Problematic disco diva Gloria Gaynor’s name alone invokes the piano glissando at the beginning of “I Will Survive” that runs in our collective DNA.

I appeared with Debbie in a TV movie-of-the-week shot here a decade ago, and I remember clearly her bawdy humour and off-camera candour about the days of the MGM studio system.

Anyone who can casually name-drop going to a party with Judy Garland or working with Gene Kelly gets my attention in a Hollywood second! A gossip girl after my own heart, she’s been an unofficial Toronto-ite for decades, with shows at the O’Keefe (now Sony) Centre and Royal York, countless Toronto International Film Festival red-carpet appearances and the odd film shoot or two.

In addition to having worked with, partied with and married anyone who mattered in Hollywood’s heyday, her body of work is full of queer characters and themes, cementing her gay icon status: Will & Grace, These Old Broads, In & Out, The Golden Girls and Singin’ in the Rain.

What I find funny about her appearance at The Ex is who’s going and who’s not. I invited some delightful older ladies I’m chummy with to dinner and the show, and they rolled their eyes and said things like, “That vulgar hoofer is still around? Count me out.”

Surely I wasn’t the only one in the city excited about her show? Sure enough, slow-but-steady Facebook status updates (“OMG grace’s mom at the Ex!” “gonna sing in the rain with Debbie Reynolds”) from film-student hipsters to dykes-on-bikes alike started trickling in.

Gloria Gaynor is a different matter altogether. Decades ago, she alienated gay fans by becoming a born-again Christian. She’s still apologizing — sort of — for the fallout.

Well, she can stick her prayers for me under her weave. I will resolve to separate the art from the artist. Funny thing about the coloured lights of The Ex: they filter out the ugly stuff.

The Ex runs until September 6. theex.com

>> Read more by Ryan G Hinds