Ottawa Xtra

Toronto theatre critic remembered for helping queer artists thrive

3 May 2017 - 7:58pm
Theatres across Toronto left a seat reserved this weekend in honour of theatre critic Jon Kaplan, who passed away from cancer on April 28, 2017. He is survived by his husband Don Cole. Kaplan was best known as the senior theatre critic for Now magazine, where he wrote for 35 years, using his position at the alternative weekly to tirelessly boost the local arts scene. He was also a former contributor to Xtra and its predecessor, The Body Politic.  Kaplan was a champion of emerging and independent artists. He attended and reviewed hundreds of shows every year in Toronto and maintained an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s theatre scene.  Facebook was filled over the weekend with reminiscences from Toronto artists who recalled the many ways Kaplan supported their work. Many artists cited a positive review from Kaplan — a note of encouragement, or even tips on how to engage other media — as helping kick off successful careers.  Many of Toronto’s queer artists were among those who found particular support from Kaplan’s work. Alistair Newton, artistic director at Ecce Homo theatre company, says Kaplan’s contributions to the community are immeasurable.  “It is likely impossible to count the number of Toronto theatre artists — spanning three generations at least — who owe a piece of their existence to the visibility and encouragement that Jon’s journalistic eye afforded,” Newton says. “Jon’s enthusiasm, warmth and tireless boosterism was a bright-light that provided continuity to so many of our artistic lives, and things will be noticeably dimmer now that that light has blinked-out.” Brendan Healy, former artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, says that Kaplan’s generosity helped build a community around the theatre in Toronto. “He gave to the theatre community in so many ways,” Healy says. “He was somewhat discreet about it. For example, he was a big supporter of the queer youth arts program at Buddies but never made a fuss about it.”  Performance artist Ryan Graham Hinds, most recently seen in lemonTree creations’ MSM [Men Seeking Men], says Kaplan’s encouragement of younger artists was one of the things most beloved about him.  “Jon really took an interest in people at the beginning of their careers, even going to college or university productions. He took pride in following a career throughout the years, and would remember you or your show despite the unreal amount of theatre he saw,” Hinds says. “His writing was always thoughtful and he didn't think in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ If he didn't like a show, he'd still be respectful of the time and work that went into the piece.”  LemonTree artistic producer Indrit Kasapi agrees. “When you start out and no one in the theatre world knows you, having his attention provided an incredible amount of validation and confidence to keep going. I will never forget how attentive he was with the words he chose when speaking to us,” he says. “Moreover, and on a personal level, he became quickly a queer elder I could look up to. He will be greatly missed.”

How my love of an ’80s musical made me the ultimate Xanadude

3 May 2017 - 4:58pm
I’m not influential on Twitter. Most of my Tweets are irreverent notes to self like, “I don’t remember putting on deodorant this morning,” which are seen by about five people. But in July 2016, I tweeted the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, “When can I expect to see Xanadu on that big screen?” And to my surprise they replied, “This is totally doable.” A week later, Olivia Newton-John’s face was shining like a million dancing lights on the theatre’s  page announcing an upcoming screening. I immediately texted my friend Bill who never missed an opportunity to remind he’d never seen the film: “Xanadu is coming to The Rio. We’re going. My treat.”  If you’re like Bill and have never seen Xanadu, it’s about a muse named Kira, who is sent by her father Zeus to inspire a scrappy graphic artist and a clarinet-playing real estate developer to fulfill the dream they never had of opening a roller disco. Kira betrays Zeus and falls in love with the artist despite the fact he’s a stalker, and there’s no chemistry between them whatsoever.  It’s basically an MGM musical filmed through a disco lens that is remembered mostly for its soundtrack and killing the genre. The first time I saw Xanadu was with my sister MJ, at the Shoppers World cinema in Brampton, Ontario. I had worshiped MJ when I was a pre-pubescent homo in the ’70s. She had long Cher hair that went to her waist and wore earth shoes and bell bottoms like Marcia Brady. I don’t know if MJ suspected I was gay, but she knew she could count on me for a sympathetic ear when she wanted to talk about Donny Osmond.  In my tweens I became MJ’s unofficial little sister, after all of our older sisters were married off. She lent me her paperback copies of Valley of the Dolls, The Thorn Birds and Scruples, which we analyzed at length. Dad would only let MJ go to the movies if she took me along, so I’d pretend to protest when she “dragged” me to chick flicks like Ice Castles and Coal Miner’s Daughter  which I loved more than she did. But neither of those films held a candle to Grease.  Grease was perfection in our eyes — the motherlode of everything that was missing from our dreary Portuguese-Catholic lives: music, romance and magic. So when we saw the trailer for Xanadu during a TV commercial break for The Love Boat, we just about shit our pants. [[asset:video_embed:309707 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["3DollarBillCinema\/YouTube"]}]] Hollywood had been trying to capitalize on the success of Grease (1977) with a string of cheesy musicals, starting with Robert Stigwood’s 1978 Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, followed by The Wiz with Diana Ross as Dorothy in 1978 and and culminating in Can’t Stop the Music with Village People and Caitlyn Jenner which had been released two months earlier in June 1980. All three had flopped at the box office. Xanadu was going to change all that. If the nearly-empty Shopper’s World cinema was any indication, MJ and I were among the only people counting down the days for Xanadu to open. “I guess people aren’t coming to the mall to see movies anymore ever since the multiplex opened on Kennedy Road,” MJ pointed out, oblivious that the film had been universally panned by the critics. The Rio Theatre was nearly as empty as the Shopper’s World cinema when I took Bill to see it, 37 years later. Watching Xanadu as a middle-aged gay man, I struggled to comprehend why MJ and I liked it so much. I remember being bored during the scenes with Gene Kelly when I saw it in 1980, but in 2016 I just felt sorry for him because it was one of his last movies.  After the song “Don't Walk Away” ended, I envisioned all three of the film’s writers coming up from a line of coke and having the exact same thought: “We need an animated sequence!”  I love Xanadu for its campy ’80 vibe, but I never fully appreciated its lisping production design until dragging Bill to the Rio Theatre to see it. Now I know how all those teenage girls from the ’80s must have felt when they found out George Michael was gay in the ’90s. There’s a scene near the end of the movie, where Sonny, played by Michael Beck (who was hot off The Warriors), is wearing a pair of crotch-hugging red Adidas shorts with white piping, a button down Hawaiian shirt, striped socks like the ones sold at American Apparel and roller skates. The outfit triggered a flashback to a very explicit dirty magazine called Roller Sex my friends and I used to pass around in grade school.  I began to wonder whatever happened to that filthy magazine, and if I could find a pair of those Adidas shorts at a secondhand store, when Bill leaned across the armrest and whispered, “That outfit is the basis of your entire wardrobe.” Then he sat bolt upright in his seat like he’d been struck by lighting and announced, “Oh my God! You’re a Xanadude!” At first I was hurt and offended by Bill’s new nickname for me. But then I remembered how much MJ and I had in common with Kira, Olivia Newton John’s character. We wanted to obey our father’s strict rules and traditions, but we longed to experience true love and headbands. That’s when I realized my fondness for Xanadu had nothing to do with the film, and everything to do with how much I loved my sister for allowing me to be gay for a couple of hours.   “You’re right!” I said. “I am a Xanadude!” And then the guy behind us asked if we would mind keeping it down.  I remember MJ and I floating out of the theatre on streaks of neon light like Kira zipping around Santa Monica on her roller skates. To hear us rave about the movie, you would have thought it was the greatest thing since West Side Story. Here we were, a horny Catholic teenage virgin and her horny Catholic adolescent gay brother, having just had our nipples tweaked by the gayest thing since Bette Midler performed at the Continental Baths and we didn’t even know it. I like to tease MJ that she made me gay because she treated me like the little sister she never had. She hates it because there’s a part of her that thinks it’s true. After seeing Xanadu again, I’m inclined to agree with her. In her defense, I was a willing participant.

The black, gay man who could have been the US vice president

2 May 2017 - 7:57pm
Imagine a history of the United States of America where a black queer man was a heartbeat away from the presidency. In 1980, leading up to the Democratic National Convention that would decide the pick for Democratic presidential candidate and their running mate, Melvin Boozer was put forth as a candidate. Endorsed by the Socialist Party USA and sponsored by the 87-member Lesbian and Gay Caucus of convention delegates, this made Boozer the first openly gay vice presidential party candidate. In a speech addressing the convention, Boozer outlined the Democratic party’s work on equal rights for all, including women, black Americans, and gay and lesbian people. In this speech, he delivered the following, gut-wrenching lines: “Would you ask me how I'd dare to compare the civil rights struggle with the struggle for lesbian and gay rights? I can compare, and I do compare them. I know what it means to be called a nigger. I know what it means to be called a faggot. And I can sum up the difference in one word: none. “Bigotry is bigotry. I have been booed before. Discrimination is discrimination. It hurts just as much. It dishonors our way of life just as much, and it betrays a common lack of understanding, fairness and compassion.” Being the first openly gay vice presidential party candidate was an incredible moment for America’s gay and lesbian community, but this was only one in a long list of achievements by Dr Melvin “Mel” Boozer. As historian James Thomas Sears writes in Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South, Boozer was raised in Washington, DC. He was an usher at his family’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a colonel in his local student cadet corp and was the highest ranked student in his graduating class at the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. He was one of only three African American students admitted to New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College in 1963, which he attended on scholarship. (Dartmouth’s school motto is Vox clamantis in deserto, which is “A voice crying out in the wilderness” in English, strangely apropos to Boozer’s story.) Sears notes that Boozer’s admittance was the same year as the Birmingham bus boycotts (during the Birmingham campaign, when African Americans were widely protesting racial segregation on public transit), and the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  He remained closeted until adulthood; Sears writes that Boozer “had known since childhood he was attracted to males, being in an all-male college and black meant that his absence of heterosexual dating practices went unnoticed.” After completing his PhD at Yale, he became a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. It was during this period of Boozer’s life that his activism began. In 1979, he was elected president, the first of two single-year terms, of the Gay Activists Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that advocated for the rights of gay and lesbian people in Washington, DC (the group is still active today as the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance). As part of the GAA, Boozer won a court battle with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to display posters that read “Someone in your life is gay” on public transit buses. Sears’ book also delves into Boozer’s other accomplishments. He won a fight with the US Army allowing the GAA to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in the name of gay and lesbian soldiers. Among a number of political successes, he championed empowering civilians against police abuses, and the inclusion of education on gay issues as regular training in the DC police academy. As the head of GAA, he was also part of an effort to recognize gay people as victims of the Holocaust leading into plans for a national Holocaust museum, addressing the issue in an open letter to then-President Jimmy Carter. He also was a regular contributor to BlackLight, the first black, gay periodical. During the 1980 Democratic National Convention held in August at Madison Square Garden in New York, with Carter nominated by the Democrats to run for re-election, Boozer found himself nominated as vice president against the sitting vice president, Walter Mondale. This was thanks to 77 members of the lesbian and gay caucus, who had circulated a petition, garnering the signatures of 400 delegates to place his name in the nomination.  Writing about the event afterwards in its October 1980 issue, the Body Politic (Xtra’s predecessor published by Pink Triangle Press) explained that Boozer had received 49 votes when voting was halted halfway through the roll call, at which point Mondale had received the majority vote. “Boozer withdrew his nomination in order to obtain an opportunity to address the convention on lesbian and gay issues,” and thus he gave his impassioned speech recognizing gains that had been made for gay and lesbian people:  “Why should so many men and women continue to suffer from arbitrary discrimination? Why must we be denied a fair chance to participate in the American life which we have contributed to as much as anyone else? Why must we be subjected to harassment and intimidation and ridicule when the Constitution of this great nation has already provided that all citizens shall enjoy the equal protection of the law?”  The Body Politic described how, “Boozer’s declaration was favourably received by many of the delegates, but a few boos were heard at the conclusion of his speech.” Carter and Mondale would not end up winning a second term in the White House. Instead, the presidency would go to Ronald Reagan and VP George H W Bush. Reagan was widely criticized as ignoring the AIDS crisis; his communications director, Pat Buchanan, said AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men.” By the time Reagan addressed the crisis in May 1987 at the Third International Conference on AIDS and nearly at the end of his second term, over 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died.  Boozer himself died from AIDS-related illness at the age of 41, but not before seven years of advocacy and intellectualism. He is memorialized on the AIDS quilt  — his name, above a pink triangle, is perhaps a nod to his efforts to recognize gay men as victims of the Holocaust — but there are many other reasons for people to remember Boozer: a powerful political trailblazer, the first openly gay party candidate for VP and as the black queer who was almost a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Methodists, Merkel and left-handed bottoms

2 May 2017 - 4:57pm
[[asset:image:309701 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Ejection of gay bishop could split Methodist church The highest court of the United Methodist Church has ruled that a woman married to another woman cannot be a bishop. Karen Oliveto was made a bishop last year, but the church’s judicial council says “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are barred from positions of leadership. Mother Jones reports that the ruling is likely to sow division between the church and Oliveto’s supporters.     Study: Porn use is only harmful to those who think it is Researchers at Brigham Young University have found that watching porn only harms the relationships of people who feel guilty about their own porn habits, especially because of religious beliefs. Those who watched porn but did not feel guilty about it suffered no ill consequences. Read more at Psychology Today.   Merkel urges Putin to protect gay Chechen men On a diplomatic trip to Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to investigate reports of the capture and torture of gay men in Chechnya. A Russian newspaper has reported hundreds of allegedly gay men being rounded up and detained in the region. Read more at the Guardian.   Scientists find link between genetic markers and anal sex role A research team at the University of Toronto has shown a link between genetic markers such as left-handedness and sibling order and anal sex role — being a bottom or a top. The researchers say there is probably not a direct genetic link, but rather an indirect developmental process at work.   Read more at Jezebel.   Colbert ruffles feathers with gay joke Late-night comedian Stephen Colbert offended some viewers Monday night when he said in a monologue that Donald Trump’s mouth was only good for “being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.” Gay journalist Glenn Greenwald called the joke homophobic on Twitter.

What still needs to change in BC’s adoption process

1 May 2017 - 7:56pm
An election is kind of like having a newborn, Spencer Chandra Herbert says. “I thought election campaigns were stressful — well, raising a baby is a whole other level of it,” he laughs. It’s the campaign hours, says the proud first-time father and incumbent NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End. “You’re often up early and often up late. It’s the same as raising a baby.” His husband, Romi, also laments the lack of sleep, sort of. “I’m doing great. Missing lots of sleep, but this guy is pretty good,” he says, as their two-month-old, Dev, gurgles quietly in the background on speaker-phone. In some ways, Chandra Herbert says, his political work — first as the youngest person at the time to be elected to the Vancouver parks board in 2005, then as the youngest MLA elected to the BC legislature in 2008 — has helped prepare him for parenthood. It’s about accepting responsibility for the well being of others, he says; only with Dev it’s much more personal. As he and Romi dive headfirst into raising a baby, they say they want to be the best parents they can be, which includes questioning what it means to be fathers. “We focus on being parents,” Chandra Herbert explains. “There’s so many gendered stereotypes about what being a dad is versus what being a mom is that I don’t think are all that helpful. What I think you need to do is to be a good parent who loves your kid.” [[asset:image:309695 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Romi and Spencer Chandra Herbert with their baby, Dev."],"field_asset_image_credit":["BC NDP"]}]] But the road to parenthood wasn’t easy for the Chandra Herberts. It’s still hard for them to talk about the time several years ago when homophobia upended one of their chances to become parents. They had been so close to finalizing an adoption, when one of the child’s relatives intervened and convinced the birth parents not to go through with it because the Chandra Herberts are gay. “I don’t want to go down that road too much because it was a tough moment,” Chandra Herbert says. He and Romi spoke out at the time but opted not to take the case to BC’s Human Rights Tribunal because they felt it would be unfair to have the baby start its life wrapped up in a court battle. “That was hard, but at the same time you have to get up and get back at it, otherwise they win,” Chandra Herbert says. After four or five unsuccessful years stalled within the adoption process, a friend stepped up and offered to help the couple have a child through surrogacy. On Feb 14, 2017, they welcomed Dev into the world. Looking back on the adoption process, the Chandra Herberts have concerns, although not directed at ministry or agency staff, who they say are working their hardest. Rather it’s the system itself they find problematic. One of their biggest concerns is the level of duplication that people seeking to adopt both from a private agency and through the government have to endure. “You have to fill out a 72-page questionnaire, have six visits to your home to be inspected, undergo criminal record checks, pay thousands of dollars, and that’s only for one system,” Chandra Herbert says. “If you want to be involved in the BC government [ministry system for] children waiting to be adopted, you have to do that all over again.” They also expressed serious concerns about how opaque the process was. “It was forever waiting in expectancy. And then what got hard was we stopped getting any phone calls. All of a sudden nothing was happening,” he says. “So we’re stuck in a system of waiting and wondering, ‘Did I say the wrong thing? Did I write the right thing but send the wrong picture? Why is that we’re not getting chosen?’” No matter this election’s outcome, Chandra Herbert is hoping to find bipartisan solutions to these issues with BC’s adoption system. He would like to see a one-stop process, a single form to fill out and a single group of people to meet with, so “you don’t get sent through multiple hoops with multiple expenses both for yourself and for taxpayers.” Last fall the provincial government launched a new website aimed at making the adoption process smoother for British Columbians and encouraging more people to adopt. The Adopt BC Kids site is now approaching the six-month mark since it went live in October 2016, and so far more than 200 families have signed up for it. A representative from the Ministry of Children and Family Development was unable to speak with Xtra due to rules governing media communications during an election period. The minister, Stephanie Cadieux, also declined Xtra’s request for an interview, but in a press release at the time of the site’s launch said the government is moving BC into the 21st century when it comes to adoption. “We heard from adoptive parents that the old paper-driven, ministry office-based system was cumbersome and just too slow. Adopt BC Kids allows people to manage their application online and helps streamline matching functions for adoption workers, helping us find the right family match for waiting children, quicker,” she said last October. [[asset:image:309692 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Dev, held by dad Spencer Chandra Herbert, strikes a pose."],"field_asset_image_credit":["BC NDP"]}]] The site, a first of its kind in Canada, offers a searchable online database of foster children available for adoption. Advocates like Karen Madeiros, executive director of the Adoptive Families Association of BC, which provides province-wide support and education for people considering or in the process of adoption, say the site is a step in the right direction. “It’s actually, surprisingly, been a very simple process for families. There’s not been a lot of disruptions or concern,” she says. “It still has lots of potential and lots of work to be done on it, but it is functioning and meeting the needs at the moment.” In the past, prospective parents reported geographical inconsistencies in the system depending on the region in BC that they were trying to adopt from. Madeiros says Adopt BC Kids has changed that and now all families are treated equally no matter their location. Though the new site does not merge private and public adoption applications as Chandra Herbert suggested, Madeiros says it may address concerns around transparency and the system leaving prospective parents in the dark. “Before [families] filed an application, it disappeared behind closed doors, and the only way they could find out what was happening with their application was by phoning and trying to speak to someone,” she says. “[Now] they can go online and see where they’re at. As things get completed, they get completed up on the site. It does put some of that control to access their own information into their own hands.” Chandra Herbert says Adopt BC Kids — which did not exist when he and his husband were going through the adoption process — will certainly help promote adoption, but he still thinks there’s more that needs to be done. “What still hasn’t been fixed is once people get into the adoption process there are a number of barriers of multiple forms, multiple this, multiple that, paperwork exercises that don’t seem to serve the kids very much,” he says. “There’s not enough resources behind getting those kids actually to the parents and getting those want-to-be parents to those kids.” Back on the campaign trail, Chandra Herbert is primarily focused on the priorities of his West End constituents, such as affordable housing, an increase to minimum wage, and better childcare options. But if re-elected, he also hopes to work across party lines to help children in foster care and waiting for adoption find their “forever homes.” Even if he’ll be running on fewer hours of sleep for the next few months.

Out in Ottawa: May 1–15, 2017

1 May 2017 - 1:56pm
Friday, May 5 Rise Up: Spring 2017 In honour of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, local activists come together to keep the conversation going surrounding issues of sexual assault and gender-based violence in Canada. The evening includes several speakers and all proceeds will go toward charities that support victims of sexual assault. 7–10pm. SAW Gallery, 67 Nicholas St. For more info, visit Facebook.   Saturday, May 6 2017 Canada Robin Cup Folks head out to cheer on the Ottawa Wolves, an inclusive rugby club, as it competes against Toronto’s Muddy York and Montreal’s Armada in the second annual spring tournament.  Includes a women’s game as well (Ottawa Wolves has both men and women’s teams).  12:30–5pm. Twin Elm Rugby Park, 4075 Twin Elm Rd. For more info, visit Facebook.   Manajiwin: LGBTTQ+ Fitness Space The gym is one of the most intimidating places — especially for people from marginalized communities. That’s why Kind Space and Odawa Native Friendship Centre provide an exercise space for queer people. Folks can get workout tips from on-site volunteers (if they want), and work out in a pressure-free environment.  Every Saturday, 5–8pm. The Odawa Native Friendship Centre, 250 City Centre Ave, Bay 102. kindspace.ca/manajiwin   Sunday, May 7 Something Inside So Strong  The Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus, a local charitable organization, celebrates its 30th anniversary with a concert. Not only that, all 385 former members of the choir are invited to attend and sing a song with the choir’s current membership (former members interested should contact cgo30ogmc@gmail.com). 2–5pm. Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, 310 St Patrick St. For more info, visit Facebook.  [[asset:image:309683 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Something Inside So Strong takes place at Saint Brigid\u2019s Centre on May 7, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Valerie Mills"]}]] Tuesday, May 9 The Big O!  Tips and Tricks for Bigger, Better and More Frequent Orgasms You know how to have an orgasm, but you want to expand your repertoire. This workshop, centred on improving female orgasms  (but everyone is welcome to attend), covers such topics as multiple orgasms, g– and p–spot orgasms, bigger orgasms and solo and partnered play. 6:30pm. Venus Envy, 226 Bank St. venusenvy.ca   Thursday, May 11 National Capital Pride Run Launch Party This is your first chance to sign up to run in Capital Pride’s annual run this coming August. While you’re here, you can also bid on items in the silent auction and try the 50/50 draw. Proceeds from these diversions will go to the 2017 run’s charity of choice, Bruce House. 6–9pm. T’s, 323 Somerset St W. For more info, visit Facebook.   Friday, May 12 Queers and Beers: Spring Fling Beer isn’t really that bad. It can actually be pretty good. Each month, Queering 613, an organization aimed at promoting the queer community in Ottawa, takes over a typically straight venue for a big queer party. The venue is accessible. 6–10pm. Mill St Brew Pub, 555 Wellington St. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:309068 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["This edition of Queers and Beers takes place on May 12, 2017, at the Mill St Brew Pub."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Bailey Cook"]}]]  

When sex work is unsexy (Part 3)

28 April 2017 - 7:36pm
In the sex business, the clock has a strange ability to morph. In the moments after your client has come and you happen to only have five or 10 minutes left before you can leave, the clock is your best friend. But when you’re trying to make a session work with someone you’re physically or psychologically repulsed by, and you realize you’re barely a quarter of the way through, the clock is your worst enemy. No matter what point you’re at in a session and no matter how badly it’s going, the last thing you want to do is watch the time. The best solution is to try your best to lose any awareness of how long you still have to be there and just throw yourself in with gusto. Whenever you get the urge to look at the clock, close your eyes and imagine counting the fat stack of bills you’re going to receive at the end. Unfortunately, I’ve already done the thing I know I’m not supposed to do and now have to grapple with the knowledge that I have more than two and a half hours left with my highly-undesirable companion.  We’re supposed to start with a massage, so I lay out a towel and a series of pillows on the bed, instructing him to lie down with his feet pointing towards the headboard. He obliges, but then keeps himself propped up on his forearms, glaring at me.  “Okay,” I say, taking his head gently in my hands. “Let’s just relax the muscles in your neck.”  I guide his face gently down to rest on the rolled towel I have positioned under his forehead. I realize that my bag containing the massage oil is still in the hallway so I excuse myself to get it. When I come back, he’s propped himself back up on his arms, staring angrily at me, his mouth hanging slightly open. I guide his forehead back to the towel a second time. As I turn to grab my massage oil from my bag, he springs up again. I set the oil on the bed next to him, stare into his face and grab the muscles at the back of his neck.  “If you keep your head up like this, your muscles won’t relax and I can’t massage you,” I say. “I need you to let your neck relax before we can start.” I guide his head back to the towel again, this time pressing my hands into his upper back to keep him from popping up. Most of us tend to carry our tension in our upper backs — the result of being bent over a computer or a phone for most of our waking hours. His back is unusually tense, with knots up and down his spine. I start gently at first, trying to warm up his muscles slightly, gradually encouraging him to relax before I apply more pressure. We’ve only been at it about a minute, when his arms suddenly shoot forward, roughly grabbing the backs of my thighs. As any massage therapist will tell you, having your arms extended above your head like this makes it impossible to massage your shoulders. But since my services are erotic not therapeutic, I usually let this slide and just allow my client touch me.  But the way he’s grabbing me is so decidedly unsexy. His rough hands are squeezing the backs of my hamstrings in a way that is painful. He quickly makes his way to my ass again, pulling my cheeks apart and pressing his long fingernail into my hole, making me wince with pain. I release his shoulders, grab both his wrists and place his hands back on the bed next to his face. “I already asked you not to dig your finger into my ass like that,” I say. “You can touch me if you want, but that doesn’t feel good.” He doesn’t respond, but just continues to lie there for a few minutes as I work my way down his spine. Then again, without warning, his arms spring forward. This time he grabs for my dick.  Usually when I’m giving a massage, I start the process with my underwear on, doffing it partway through to allow the erotic tension to build. But since we’ve come directly from the shower I’m already naked, so my dick is hanging flaccid, available to his hands.  He touches me like he’s doing a medical exam, but without any understanding of anatomy. He squeezes my dick roughly in his palm, as if he thinks it will get me hard. It doesn’t, of course. Just like when he was fingering my ass, his actions are having the opposite result of what he wants. I let him keep going for a little bit, but again his sharp fingernails start to hurt and so I push myself away from his upper body and move on to his legs. I’ve been trying not to glance at the clock next to the bed, but I finally break down and look. Its glowing red numbers announce that I’ve been here for a total of 45 minutes. I pause for a moment, wondering if I should just give up — tell him that it’s not worth it, collect a partial fee and leave.  No, let’s just get through this — it won’t actually be as hard as I’m imagining it will be, I tell myself. And that money is going to feel so good in my hands. I begin applying massage oil to his legs. I don’t usually spend as long on a client’s legs as I do on their upper bodies. Most people, unless they’re athletes, don’t carry as much tension in their lower bodies as they do in their backs and shoulders. This shift to the legs also usually comes at the mid-point in the massage, when things start to take a turn to the erotic. From the legs it’s a short trip to the ass, and that’s where everything really gets started. In this case though, as I start oiling up his hamstrings, I can tell that he’ll need a lot of work. His physical condition of having two legs of different lengths has meant both are tense in different ways, the muscles working to compensate for the asymmetry. I continue to massage up and down his legs, gradually feeling the tension release, before moving on to his feet.  Some erotic massage purveyors won’t go near a client’s feet. I understand why. Occasionally you’ll get someone who’s perfectly pedicured. But more often, especially with older clients, you’re faced with a bunch of calluses and over-grown, fungus-ridden toenails. A quick glance reveals that my trick could definitely use a trip to the chiropodist. This is the part of the job where sex work really ceases to be sexy and starts to feel quite medical. But right now, that’s sort of a relief. It allows me to drop the idea that everything we’re going to do should be titillating. Sometimes you’re really doing something for a person that benefits their physical health. I give his feet a quick brush with my hand to knock the sock lint off, and then pick up his right foot and drip oil on it. I’ve consciously positioned myself so my back is to the clock, which allows me to forget about the time. Instead, I stare up at the wall of books behind his bed. Most of them are old hardcovers with German titles, but there’s also a substantial selection of travel books, mostly from Asia and Africa. As I stare up at the books, I continue to rub circles with my thumbs into the sole of his foot, counting the strokes as I make them so I can roughly approximate the same thing on the other side. I’m trying to use the massage to delay the sex we’re going to have, which I’m already dreading. But I also feel like in this moment I’m giving him something that he actually needs. His muscles are so tense and twisted. Maybe after releasing some of his stress he’ll be a better lover. After an exceptionally long time dedicated to his feet, I stand and announce I need a quick bathroom break. This is a lie, of course. I just need a moment alone to focus before the sex starts. As I’m leaving the room I glance the clock to find we’ve just passed the hour and a half mark . . . 

New Brunswick trans-rights bills pass final reading

28 April 2017 - 4:36pm
Two bills to expand trans rights passed final reading in the New Brunswick legislature on April 26, 2017, bringing the province into line with every other province.  Bill 51 adds “gender identity and expression” as well as “family status” to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination under the province’s human-rights code, and Bill 37 amends the Vital Statistics Act to give New Brunswick residents the right to legally change the gender marker on their government-issued ID without requiring gender-confirming surgery. The bills will come into effect when they are given royal assent, which should happen next week.  The twin victories cap off a year of mobilization and negotiation by trans activists with the province’s Liberal government.  Sara Hubbard, a member of the transgender support group UBU Atlantic says she “couldn’t be happier” that the bills passed. “I finally feel like the government has made a major effort to look out for and protect the transgender community,” she says. “If you asked me if this was possible only a few years ago I would have told you not a chance. It is amazing how attitudes have changed here in the province.”  This isn’t the only recent achievement for the trans community in New Brunswick. Gender-confirming surgery was added to the provincial health plan last summer following community demands. But while the province has rapidly expanded basic protections and services for trans people under the current Liberal government, Hubbard says there’s still more work to do. She’d like to see the health plan expanded to include additional gender-confirming procedures such as breast augmentation, chest contouring and hair removal, as well as additional training for medical professionals about the needs of trans patients. “The province has made some nice first steps, but there are still more than can be done,” she says.  New Brunswick is the last province to make the legal changes to its human rights code or Vital Statistics Act, although similar changes are now before the Yukon territory legislature. Trans people will soon be explicitly protected by anti-discrimination laws from coast to coast to coast. [[asset:image:309686 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["An updated map of provincial\/territorial trans rights in Canada."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Rob Salerno\/Daily Xtra"]}]] C-16, a bill to amend the federal Canadian Human Rights Act and to add trans people to the listed categories under the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code is currently awaiting final reading in the Senate. The Canadian Human Rights Act applies to federally regulated industries, such as Crown corporations, air travel, broadcasting, telecommunications and banks. The provinces regulate everything else.  Prior to the changes, human rights commissions interpreted the protected category of “sex” as including trans people.

What do you do if you’re robbed while cruising?

27 April 2017 - 7:35pm
A Vancouver man is warning gay men to be aware while cruising in public, after he says a hookup robbed him. He says he’s afraid to go to the RCMP for fear of being charged for public sex, but a spokesperson for the Burnaby RCMP insists they will not charge men who report a crime while cruising. Chris, who asked Xtra to withhold his last name for fear he’ll be prosecuted, alleges a man stole his wallet and then started a physical fight over it after they hooked up. Chris says the night he was robbed, he dropped by the popular cruising area in Burnaby’s Central Park, where he met a man he’d hooked up with previously and even chatted with at the Pumpjack pub in Vancouver’s gay village. This time, Chris says he and the man gave each other blowjobs, before they joined a third man. Soon, the third man invited Chris to follow him to another spot where they could have sex. “I went to follow him and pulled up my pants, and at that point I noticed my wallet was missing. I thought it must have fallen out,” Chris says. After retracing his steps and searching with the help of other men in the area, Chris gave up. But when he returned to the parking lot and began to drive away, Chris says he saw the first man sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle, looking down in his lap. “I pulled over aside him and I rolled down my window because I wanted to let him know I lost my wallet and couldn’t find it — to see if he saw anything,” Chris says. That’s when Chris alleges he saw the contents of his wallet in the other man’s possession. Chris says he demanded his things back, but the man denied having them. The two struggled, Chris alleges, as the man tried to slam the door on him, while Chris punched him in the face and elbowed him in the gut to get him to release the wallet and cards. With his cards and wallet back, Chris says he got back in his car, locked the door and drove away. Chris says he was hesitant to call the RCMP about the alleged robbery attempt. A friend cautioned him that although Vancouver police tend to leave cruising alone, Burnaby RCMP could possibly charge Chris for illegal public sex. But RCMP Corporal Daniela Panesar says the RCMP would not respond by charging victims of robbery. “I can assure you that is not a consideration when police are looking at investigations. Guaranteed,” Panesar says. “If somebody is assaulted and robbed, that’s an offense regardless of what kind of activity they were participating in and it would be investigated as such.” When Xtra asked Panesar if Chris’ concern about getting charged is justified, she said she doesn’t think so but is fairly new to the Burnaby detachment and unfamiliar with any policing around sex in Central Park. But she reiterated that any assault or robbery should be reported and police would take the claims seriously. Panesar advises anyone in Burnaby to report similar incidents to the RCMP. Chris is now cautioning gay men to be aware while cruising. “When it’s someone you’ve done stuff with before you sort of feel safer, and that can be misleading because obviously I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. I thought, we’ve done stuff before, I’ve chatted with him at a bar. I thought, oh he’s safe, I don’t need to worry. But I was totally wrong.”

Out in Toronto: April 27–May 3, 2017

27 April 2017 - 1:34pm
Thursday, April 27 Bad Dog  Kinky human puppies get decked out in paws and hoods and scamper around cutely and sexily for the enjoyment of their handlers and the general throng. Organized by The Kennel Klub, a group that throws kinky pup events, this new bar night offers plenty of opportunity for new pups to get their feet wet (but don’t pee on the rug!).  8pm–midnight. The Black Eagle, 457 Church St. For more info, kennelklub.ca.  [[asset:image:309671 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Bad Dog takes place at The Black Eagle on April 27, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Paul Argo"]}]] Friday, April 28 Pretty Munny Productions Presents: Kings and Classics The latest addition to Toronto’s drag king culture, this performance-filled night is a chance to see kings, old and new, strut their stuff. The performance portion of the evening is followed by socializing and dancing to the music of DJ Johnny B Goode. To perform at future events, contact prettymunnyproductions@gmail.com. The venue is accessible. 10:30pm–1:30am. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:309674 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Cyril Cinder performed at the last Kings and Classics event at Buddies. The next one takes place April 28, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Nick Lachance\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Saturday, April 29 Hot Cocks 8 It is time once again for the annual celebration of the queer and sex-positive films showing at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. It’s a dance party with a “mer” theme, so attendees are encouraged to take part, according to billing, “in whatever under the sea way they’d like.” Features a mermaid drag show at midnight. 9pm–2am. Blyss Nightclub, 504 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.   LGBTQ Volunteer Fair  Why not spend the summer doing something a little less hedonistic? Here’s an opportunity to beef up your resumé with employable skills and network with the community. Organizations from across Toronto are on hand at this annual fair to provide information about various volunteer opportunities. Talk one-on-one to representatives. 11am–2pm. The 519, 519 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.   Sunday, April 30 Bad Girls of History: Burlesque Tribute  This burlesque show is a tribute to the passionate, unconventional, trailblazing women who, though they were much maligned in their time, changed history. Includes such performers as Delicia Pastiche, Scarlett LaFlamme, Tanya Cheex, Zyra Lee Vanity, Bianca Boom Boom, Violet X and more. Hosted by Belle Jumelles and Johnny B Goode.  6–9pm. Revival, 783 College St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Monday, May 1 Mesmerized Comedy Hypnosis Show Las Vegas-trained hypnotist Brandon Dean’s performance is a surprising, intriguing and sometimes goofy peak into the subconscious mind. During his show, Dean calls adventurous (or perhaps foolish) volunteers up on stage and guides them through an entertaining journey into imaginary environments for the amusement and delight of the audience. 8–9:30pm. Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St E. For more info, visit Facebook.   Tuesday, May 3 It’s All Tru Everything’s fine in the life of Kurt and Travis, a perfect gay couple, until one of them has unprotected sex with a stranger. Written and directed by Sky Gilbert, this new play explores such issues as the use of PrEP and the criminalization of HIV. The cast included the Dora Award–winning David Coomber. The venue is accessible. Runs until Sunday, May 14, various showtimes. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com  [[asset:image:309677 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["David Coomber and Caleb Olivieri star in It\u2019s All Tru, which runs until May 14, 2017 at Buddies."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Seanna Kennedy"]}]] QueerCab: Go For It  At a cabaret-style event, talented queer youth take the stage to show off their singing, dancing, filmmaking, instrument playing, stand up comedy, storytelling, cat juggling, poetry reciting — anything they want (okay, maybe not cat juggling). To sign up to perform in one of the few available spots, contact leelee@buddiesinbadtimes.com. The venue is accessible.  8:30pm. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com

Out in Vancouver: April 27–May 3, 2017

26 April 2017 - 10:33pm
Thursday, April 27 Long Division Long division brings back nightmares from school; let’s see if Pi Theatre’s version affects me in the same way. Long Division revolves around seven characters at a downtown bar on a complicated anniversary, including a high school math teacher, a soccer-loving Imam, a lesbian bar owner, an aspiring actress, and a single mother working in the corporate world. Through excursions into number theory, geometry, and logic, the players struggle to delineate their evocative, elusive patterns of entanglement, but find that one emotional variable consistently remains unsolved. 8pm. Annex Theatre, 823 Seymour St. Tickets at the door $30. Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm for $25. Show runs until Sunday Apr 30. whatsonqueerbc.com/event/long-division/   Spin: Grindr Party I know you “just go on to look at the pictures.” Really? Now when you see the real thing, you can at least have a drink and move on. This party may be thrown by Grindr but it’s really all about the spin at this new weekly night in the village. New weekly "celebrity" guests from the community join the party as they get their chance to spin their own DJ set, or maybe even pour it up behind the bar. Join for swag giveaways and meet the founder and CEO of Grindr, Joe Simkhai. I bet you all thought it was Del Stamp, but he’s just the top user. Come down and let us see who is celebrity enough to be in the DJ booth. 10pm–2am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. No cover. facebook.com/xyvancouver/   Friday, April 28 Real Men Real Makeup Now here is a night I can really get into watching, I love seeing guys squirming as their spot gets closer and closer. A well-timed drink for courage will do wonders for your own private late night showing. Ten average guys dress in drag and put it all on the line for charity. Join in the fun and debauchery by cheering them on out of their comfort zones. Watch the heels get higher and the dance moves dirtier as the guys battle it out to win money for a cause close to their hearts. 7:30pm–2am. The Imperial, 319 Main St. Tickets $25 at eventbrite.ca or $30 at the door. facebook.com/events/1697555460537790/   Hot Bitch Bingo Surrey drag queens are a wild and crazy bunch, and if they get hold of you, especially in a pack, my advice is to just submit. Tonight the hot bitches and bingo will all be found in a bowling alley, where more than just the holes on the bowling balls will be fingered. 7:30–11pm. Dell Lanes & Lounge, 10576 King George Blvd, Surrey. Free event, but with a 50/50 draw for Surrey Pride. facebook.com/events/178399326001559/.   Robin Hood: Prince Of Tease Do not mistake this for Robyn Graves, she is much older and that babe gives nothing to the poor. This is a gender swapping, burlesque style musical inspired by the tale of Robin Hood, complete with a tantalizing twist. Robin conspires with her merry (wo)men to take down the tyrannical Prince Joan and her sadistic sidekick, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood: Prince of Tease combines circus, the art of burlesque and the storytelling traditions of musical theatre to create an auditory and visual feast. It is a hysterical, over the top and sensual spectacular that will leave the audience on their knees—OK, well that’s more like Robyn Graves—begging for more. 8pm. Performance Works, 1218 Cartwright St. Tickets $29 general, $25 student and senior. More info at facebook.com/events/217861288673509/. Show runs until Saturday, May 13.   Deluxe Edition TGIF: Debut Night I have to admit, the poster for this event showing Katy Perry in braces brought back bad memories of high school — a fumbling blowjob, braces, my genitals and a lot of blood. Tonight, however, is all about fun and frivolity. DJs Dyco Rake and Skylar Love take to the decks playing the latest and greatest pop/house remixes. There will be pop star themed drink specials, contests and much more. The first 20 people in the door get a TGIF! scratch card for the grand door prize, free drink tickets, or — get ready for it — free coat check! 9pm–3am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Before 11pm cover $5, after $10. facebook.com/deluxeeditionyvr   Man Up: Home Alone This is always a fun night, especially if you take friends who won’t believe the performers are in drag. There's a first time for everything, and this month Ponyboy will be MIA from Man Up. The rabble-rousing drag family is taking matters into their own mischievous hands while Ponyboy is gone, with a no-holds-barred gender fun-fest that even a party dad would surely shiver at. Hosted by Karmella Barr and Johnny B Bad, the plethora of performances will leave you breathless. 9pm–2am. The Cobalt, 917 Main St. Cover $8 before 10pm, $15 after. Pay-what-you-can admission is available. Send an email to get on the list: manupdrag@gmail.com. Info at facebook.com/events/2120675351492056/   Sissy Boy: Glam Babes So many manly sounding events to go to this week, right? You may have noticed that it was quiet in the village for a while, but Carlotta Gurl is back from her whirlwind European trip with pictures, stories and probably every European STI (they just sound classier in Italian.) Join the Gurl along with Mina Mercury, Mandy Kamp, and the saint of the immaculate dick safari, DJ Del Stamp. Sissy Boy is a throwback to one of the most successful events at the Odyssey from years ago, brought back to life at the new Odyssey by some of the gurlz who started it; yes they have been around that long. 9pm–3am. The Odyssey, 686 West Hastings St. Cover $5. facebook.com/events/1640016206027083/   Saturday, April 29 Queer Jive Lessons I tend to stay away from Jive, and yes I have a story about it as well. A few drinks in at a ballroom dance event, I tossed my date so hard they took off across the room like a dreidel. Anyone want to be my partner for more lessons; I seem to be free? Not So Strictly Ballroom brings you beginner jive classes to bring out the Ginger Rogers in you. A four week series begins tonight, so see you there. 10–11am. Commercial Drive Legion, 2205 Commercial Dr. Cost $15 drop in. facebook.com/events/803783036436118/   Wild Fruit The girls are back in town and throwing an LGBTQIA dance party, so it’s time to get too sexy for your shirt. The ’90s best, catchiest, and most obnoxious are back. It’s the home of music that doesn’t take itself too seriously — your secret guilty pleasures and sing-along wonders. No one can hear if you sing like a canary or squawk like a crow, as long as you’re on the dance floor. 10pm–3am. The Odyssey, 686 West Hastings St. Tickets $12 at flygirlproductions.com.   Monarch The only crowns I ever see are the ones that also have a mouth attached to my dick. Ever wonder what it would be like to be a queen — a real one, Conni, settle down. Monarch is a new monthly event during the 46th reign that will feature everything royal. Sounds by music royalty, a special Monarch shooter, and crowns all over the room so you can get your selfie on — royally. Feature performances by Empress 46 Jane Smoker as well as princesses Kendall Gender and Gia Metric and will be hosted by the boys, Emperor 46 Tommy D and princes Clayton and Sean. 10pm–3am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Cover starts at $5 with partial proceeds going to DMS charities. facebook.com/xyvancouver/.   Divine: Drag Disco Party I have a friend, Art, who pulls off an amazing Divine in drag, though most of the twinks at the bar are too young to know who that is. It entertains us old dogs, though. Tonight launches a new Studio 54 vintage drag and disco party that will transport you into a time warp of opulence, hedonism and whimsy from the ’70s and ’80s. The headmistress of throwbacks — and throwing a few back — Shanda Leer, will host alongside Jef Leppard and Trevor Risk, plus majestic drag hostesses Cinnamon Winters and Poison Apple. Get your furs and your skin tight pants ready because this is a truly transformative party. 10:30pm–2am. Fox Cabaret, 2321 Main St. $12 at door. facebook.com/events/761281647364812/.   Sunday, April 30 Sher A new monthly peer support group is available the last Sunday of each month exclusively for queer South Asian youth between 16 and 30 years of age, in a safe space to find support, share stories and meet new friends. The group will be led by youth for youth, with facilitators screened by Sher Vancouver. Sher helps to inform, educate, and bring about more acceptance and cross-cultural understanding surrounding LGBTQ issues including bullying, racism, and homophobia.  1–4pm. Please email shervancouver@hotmail.com to get event location. shervancouver.com/.   Sunday Beer Bash When I grew up in New Westminster there were no gay bars, clubs or gay restaurants around. We lived with the dirty ads in the Georgia Straight, Xtra West and whatever guy tried to pick you up on the street—which happened a lot with all the straight married men in town. It’s nice to see New West branching out with Pride events, bathhouse ads, and now even a Sunday afternoon beer bash. Always handy to have one around the corner from the only bathhouse in town. Win-win situation for me, so let’s have some out-of-town debauchery. 2–7pm. Judge Begbie’s Tavern, 609 Columbia St, New Westminster. facebook.com/events/1865322003730995/.   Sanctuary & The Shequel Alma is off this week. She’ll be back next week, but you know you’ll need two to fill her boots, Jane Smokr and Gia Metric, both stars of Bratpack. (I was going to say fill her panties, but I think we’d be another two short.) Start off with the amazing Sanctuary, where all sinners can repent and receive cum-munion. Then take that newly waxed butt over to Shequel where the fun continues. 10pm–3am. 1181, 1181 Davie St & XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Both events no cover. facebook.com/events/980437802092294/   Monday, May 1 Looking For Good Head I can guarantee that any guy reading this page found this headline in the first half-second. Every guy is looking for good head, but not every guy can give it. Here is the class for you to blow more than your lover's mind. Join for a fun evening of erotic techniques and products that will enable you and your partner to enjoy a heightened level of excitement and pleasure. Watch a few DVD clips of some famous blowjob artists at work and learn some new moves that your mother never told you about. And yes, for those of you curious about where I got my skills, it was at a workshop very similar to this. I can see the line forming already. 7:30pm. The Art of Loving, 369 West Broadway St. Class $35 and please register in advance at artofloving.ca/.   Wednesday, May 3 Cool, Calm And Collected in New Westminster As if being gay wasn’t enough to cause you to have sleepless nights, suburb life may lend to anxiety as well. In a world full of dating apps, hooking-up, stigma and shame, gay guys have plenty to worry about. For some, anxiety is a sense of apprehension or fear that can lead to repetitive and intrusive thoughts, and difficulty making decisions. For others, it’s an overwhelming sense of panic brought on by many sources of stress. In this four-week experience, you will explore what anxiety means and unpack how to manage it, and take care of yourself and your loved ones. These workshops are open, so participants are welcome to attend any, or all, sessions. 6:30–8pm. Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St, New Westminster. To register, please email counselling@checkhimout.ca. Info at checkhimout.ca.

Yukon government introduces trans-rights bill

26 April 2017 - 1:33pm
The Yukon government introduced a trans rights bill in the legislature on April 25, 2017, making good on a pledge made in last fall’s election to bring the territory in line with current standards for LGBT people’s human rights. Yukon will be the last jurisdiction in Canada to pass a trans-rights bill.  Bill 5 — the second bill introduced since the legislature began sitting — amends the Yukon Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on “gender identity or gender expression” and amends the Vital Statistics Act to allow a change of gender on a birth certificate without gender-confirming surgery. The revised act will also allow gender-neutral markers to be used on birth certificates. “All Yukoners have the right to be free from discrimination and harassment because of their gender identity or gender expression. Our laws will soon be a better reflection of Yukon’s rich diversity,” Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said in a press release.  Chase Blodgett, a coordinator with All Genders Yukon credits Xtra’s coverage of the fight for transgender people’s legal rights in the territory with getting the government to move so fast. “I don’t know that this would have happened if [Xtra] hadn’t done those articles,” he says.  Blodgett says that All Genders Yukon has written commitments from all three parties in the legislature that they will work to improve trans people’s rights and quality of life, so he expects the bill will pass easily. “We expect there to be little resistance to these long overdue amendments,” he says.  But while the proposed changes are a major advance for trans people in the territory, Blodgett says that All Genders Yukon would have preferred if the government took a step further and ceased collecting and recording gender data from its citizens altogether.  “All Genders Yukon will continue to suggest that the government denote the biological sex of all residents as ‘person,’” he says.  He says if the government insists on continuing to record sex data at birth, then it should use scientific methods that are more accurate than the standard visual method used by doctors, as this can sometimes miss intersex people. The Northwest Territories was the first jurisdiction to amend its human-rights code to include “gender identity” in 2002, and Ontario and Manitoba followed in 2012. All provinces except New Brunswick had done so by 2016. Nunavut followed this March, while a trans rights bill is currently awaiting final reading in New Brunswick.  [[asset:video_embed:309665 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_caption":["Xtra documented trans-rights protections across Canada in a video from April 13, 2017."],"field_video_credit":["xtraonline\/YouTube"]}]] C-16, a bill to amend the federal Canadian Human Rights Act and to add trans people to listed categories under the hate crimes section of the criminal code is currently awaiting final reading in the Senate. Prior to the changes, human rights commissions interpreted the protected category of “sex” as including trans people. Changes to provincial vital statistics acts began after the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled against the surgical requirement for legal gender change in 2012. After similar decisions in Alberta and Newfoundland, the other provinces and territories followed suit between 2014 and 2016, although minor variations remain between provinces as to what is required for a gender change.

What it’s like to talk to your doctor about sexual health when you’re bisexual

26 April 2017 - 1:33pm
“Are you sexually active?” I’d been dreading this question since losing my virginity to a female friend a few weeks earlier, not long after my 16th birthday. Somehow, the harsh fluorescent lights in my doctor’s examination room made this query seem even more menacing. “Yes,” I said, but there was an ellipsis in my voice. A hesitation. An unspoken “but . . . ” “You’re using condoms, right? So you don’t get pregnant?” she prompted, and I didn’t know what to say, because we weren’t. We didn’t need to. It was the wrong question. “Uh, I’m not having sex with a guy,” I managed to stammer. My doctor peered at me over her wire-rim glasses, “Oh,” she replied. There are a lot of things a teenager might be nervous to disclose to their doctor — a marijuana habit, some worrying mental health symptoms, a secret relationship their parents don’t know about. While we should all feel free to tell our doctors what’s really going on with us, it’s particularly egregious that so many of them are still in the dark about something so basic as sexual orientation, making these already-difficult situations even more challenging.  The day of my first difficult conversation about my sexual health, my doctor didn’t give me any medical advice on the sex I was having. She didn’t suggest my partner and I use dental dams or latex gloves. She didn’t suggest we get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). She didn’t ask whether my partner was cis or trans. She didn’t ask what sexual orientation I identified as (bisexual, for the record). She didn’t even ask me if I had any questions for her. She just moved on to the next part of our checkup.  I didn’t recognize these as problems at the time; I was too young and nervous to question the approach of my all-knowing doctor. Everything I later learned about safer sex — with the other cis girl I was seeing at that time, and with other partners later on — I learned from the internet. And while the internet can be a great resource for such information, doctors should be a better one. Bisexuals are told all the time — both implicitly and explicitly — that we’re not queer enough to align ourselves with queerness, or that we’re too queer to align ourselves with straightness. I still find it hard to push back against these stereotypes today, at 25.  These presumptions are particularly upsetting in medical situations, where many of us already feel nervous and unempowered and, for many queers, apprehensive. The medical system has oftentimes failed us and our queer foreparents: inequitable health care access due to poverty, doctors’ lack of knowledge about LGBT identities and sexuality and the pathologization of queerness are just a few examples. Two years later, in a different relationship with a person of a different gender, I returned to my doctor. I was a girl on a mission.  “I’m seeing someone new and I’d like to get an IUD,” I told my doc, with all the bravery and resolve I could muster as a meek 18-year-old still coming to terms with her sexuality. “I thought you were a lesbian?” she replied coolly, barely looking up from her computer screen. “No, I’m bisexual,” I clarified, my voice only shaking a little. Medically speaking, it shouldn’t actually matter what word(s) I use to define my sexual orientation; my doctor should want to know, instead, what sexual activities I am participating in. I could’ve been a lesbian having sex with a man (they do exist!). I could’ve been having sex with a trans woman or a nonbinary person who had the ability to get me pregnant. There was no reason for my doctor to assume I was a lesbian in the first place, nor that a risk of pregnancy during sex meant my existing sexual orientation was being challenged. I was reminded of a story I had read online. An American photographer I followed, Brigid Marz, wrote on Flickr that she and her girlfriend went to a hospital to get treatment for her flu symptoms. A staff member asked Brigid if there was any chance she might be pregnant, and she laughed, indicated her girlfriend, and said no. She’d dated and had sex with men before, but not recently enough that she could be pregnant. Months later, she received a $700 medical bill, $300 of which was for a pregnancy test she’d neither authorized nor needed.  “I am so sick of being treated differently just because I have boobs,” she wrote, but I would argue she was treated differently because she is non-monosexual – she is neither completely straight nor completely gay. Our medical system seems to assume everyone is one or the other, sometimes even when we’re loudly asserting otherwise.  In the end, my doctor refused to prescribe me an IUD on the basis that I was “just casually dating” and should wait until I was “in a serious relationship” before committing to a long-term birth control method that reflected my relationship status. She prescribed me the pill instead — the hormonal content of which exacerbated my mental health conditions for years, something the non-hormonal copper IUD may not have done.  What rankled me was that I was in a serious relationship at the time. My doctor may have assumed my relationship was casual because I was now with a man and I was previously with a woman, or she may have simply thought I was too young for the IUD — but I think it was because of negative stereotypes about bisexual people.  Bi folks’ relationships and attractions are often written off as “just a phase” or “just for fun.” We’re told we don’t know what we really want or who we really like — or, worse, that we’re intentionally playing with partners’ hearts, never intending to pursue commitment or depth in our relationships.  In my experience, this is about as true for bisexual people as it is for straight or gay people — some folks are looking for serious relationships and some just aren’t — but this assumption weighs most heavily on bisexuals. Whether or not my doctor was consciously aware of the stereotypes she was affirming that day, it’s clear to me that my relationship would not have been written off as “casual” if I identified as straight or gay. If I could go back and talk to myself when I was a shy and shaking 16-year-old in my doctor’s office, I’d tell her to advocate for herself. I’d tell her to ask the questions she wanted answered, and double-check the answers on Scarleteen later. I’d tell her it was okay if she didn’t even know what questions to ask.  I’d tell her to be unashamed of her burgeoning bisexual identity, because it’s nothing to feel shifty about. But mostly, I’d wish I didn’t have to tell her all these things. Her doctor shouldn’t have made her doubt all this in the first place.

Five queer films you don’t want to miss at Hot Docs 2017

25 April 2017 - 7:32pm
Founded in 1993, Hot Docs has gradually grown from a small, industry film festival to one of Toronto’s largest. There’s a surprisingly large amount of LGBT content among the 200 films offered this year. Xtra has surveyed the program to find you the fest’s queer best.   Chavela [[asset:video_embed:309629 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["Latido Films\/YouTube"]}]] You may never have heard of Chavela Vargas. But there’s a good chance you’ve heard her sing. Her unique voice has been featured in many of Pedro Almodóvar’s films, as well as in Julie Taymor’s Frida and in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel. Co-directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, Chavela follows the Costa Rican-born Mexican singer’s journey from tomboy childhood through stardom in the Acapulco club scene, a career hiatus, and her eventual return to the stage. Starting from an interview Gund did with Vargas in 1992, the film is equal parts queer liberation tale and moving redemption story. An openly butch lesbian in highly conservative 1950s Mexico, Vargas dispensed with the trappings of femininity, sporting ponchos and pants in lieu of hoop skirts and heels. Despite her outward swagger, she also had an inner fragility, medicated by a steady stream of alcohol. Her addiction put her career on hold for 15 years, but it didn’t compromise her voice.  Deep and haunting, simultaneously powerful and drenched in pain, Vargas’s unique sound provides the perfect soundtrack for her own story; a woman who became a radical figure in Mexican queer history simply because she refused to conform. Girl Inside [[asset:video_embed:309632 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["HotDocsFest\/YouTube"]}]] Over the past 25 years, Maya Gallus has turned her lens to all manner of subjects, from Parisian waitresses and roller derby grrrls to erotic performance artists and acclaimed poets. It’s fitting that Hot Docs would select her for their “Focus On” program, which highlights a different Canadian filmmaker each year. Gallus has six films on offer as part of the program, including Girl Inside, which premiered at the festival in 2007. Shot over a three-year period, the film follows Madison, a young trans woman as she navigates coming out, dating, and the health care system. As with all of her works, Gallus stays out of the way, letting Madison narrate her own story, which she does with incredible grace, wit and intelligence.  While her family plays a critical role in her journey, the most prominent figure is her octogenarian grandmother, a former party girl who’s happy to instruct Madison on all things feminine. Transition narratives often involve a lot of pain and Girl Inside has its share of both the emotional and physical wounds. But for all the challenges it shows, it also offers up a surprising amount of hope and joy.  Rebels On Pointe [[asset:video_embed:309635 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["Bobbi Jo Hart\/YouTube"]}]] Ballet is a highly gendered art form. Men and women perform different roles, wear different costumes and, most significantly, sport different shoes. It’s also been, historically at least, a highly homophobic field. As any boy with feminine tendencies who’s attended ballet school will tell you, the pressure to butch up in the studio can exceed that of the schoolyard. All of that is precisely what makes Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo unique. The Trocks, as they’re known, are an all-male, all-gay company that’s been flaunting convention and pushing buttons since 1974, often with comedic effect.  Bobbi Jo Hart’s doc takes us behind the scenes to find the soul of the company; a group that is sometimes been marginalized by their families, ignored by the mainstream dance world and, during the height of the AIDS crisis, lost half of its members. Combining candid interviews, dressing room antics, and a healthy dose of romance, Rebels’ unlikely moral is that the sometimes the best remedy for pain is laughter. Susanne Bartsch: On Top [[asset:video_embed:309638 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["HotDocsFest\/YouTube"]}]] Susanne Bartsch is, for all intents and purposes, straight. But the Swiss-born fashion-purveyor-turned-club-promoter, has been one of New York gay culture’s most important figures for more than three decades. Her legendary events gave space for budding stars like RuPaul and Klaus Nomi, along with queens from Harlem, gender queers from New Jersey and straight partygoers who just didn’t fit in anywhere else. Directorial duo Anthony and Alex’s debut feature traces Bartsch’s life over a 30-year period, both in and out of the club. The film details her off and on relationship with personal trainer David Barton and her work as an HIV/AIDS activist at the height of the epidemic.  We see how she executes her uncompromising vision and why it’s all so important to her. Inventing uniquely queer spaces isn’t just about people meeting up to get wasted; her raison d’être is to provide a way for freaks to come together, be themselves and dance the night away — and there’s nothing more inherently queer than creating a place where everyone can belong. The Lives of Thérèse (Les Vies de Thérèse ) French director Sébastien Lifshitz has a thing for rule breakers. The 2012 documentary Les Invisibles asked elderly gays and lesbians to share stories of their roles in queer liberation. Bambi (2013) looked at an Algerian-born trans woman who became a famous showgirl in 1950s Paris. His current offering aims to present the life of one very particular shit disturber — radical feminist and queer activist Thérèse Clerc. But the impetus for the film isn’t simply Clerc’s remarkable life — it’s also her impending death. Diagnosed with a terminal illness in 2015, she reached out to Lifshitz (having met him when she was part of Les Invisibles) with a request: “Film me while I die.”  Composed of interviews with Clerc and her four adult children, along with archival footage and photographs, The Lives of Thérèse charts her journey from 1950s housewife to outspoken activist. A portrait of a remarkable individual who remains insistent to the end about how unremarkable she is, it’s a deeply moving film as rich in wisdom as it is devoid of sentimentality. [[asset:video_embed:309659 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["xtraonline\/YouTube"]}]]  

Record number of LGBT candidates running in 2017 BC election

24 April 2017 - 10:30pm
In two weeks, British Columbians decide who will represent them in the provincial legislature, and among those angling for a seat in Victoria are more LGBT candidates than ever before. Between the province’s three main political parties, 12 openly LGBT candidates are running, up from seven main-party LGBT candidates  in the last BC election. (The last election also saw one gay candidate running for the BC Conservatives and one independent, for a total of nine openly queer candidates in 2013 — four of whom got elected.) This year, the BC Green Party is running Nicola Spurling (Coquitlam-Maillardville), Ian Soutar (Coquitlam-Burke Mountain) and Veronica Greer (Surrey-Panorama). The BC Liberals are running Nigel Elliott (Vancouver-West End) and Stacey Piercey (Victoria-Swan Lake). The BC NDP is running the largest slate of LGBT candidates: newcomers Morgane Oger (Vancouver-False Creek), Sue Powell (Parksville-Qualicum) and Gerry Taft (Columbia River-Revelstoke), and incumbents Mable Elmore (Vancouver-Kensington), Mike Farnworth (Port Coquitlam), Nicholas Simons (Powell River–Sunshine Coast) and Spencer Chandra Herbert (Vancouver-West End). Xtra interviewed a cross-section of the parties’ LGBT candidates for this story. While they represent parties and platforms from across the political spectrum, everyone Xtra spoke to agreed on the importance of having queer voices represented in BC’s government. “I think often LGBTQ2+ people are forgotten by a lot of people in the legislature, if [they’re] not involved in the community,” says Green candidate Nicola Spurling. “It’s important we have people in the legislature that understand the struggles of marginalized groups.” [[asset:image:309614 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Nicola Spurling is running with the BC Green Party in Coquitlam-Maillardville."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Nicola Spurling"]}]] A project coordinator at SNC-Lavalin, Spurling also sits on the Vancouver Pride Society’s board of directors, chairing the outreach committee. Nigel Elliott, of the BC Liberals, agrees. “I think through the BC legislature, through elected office, [that’s] one of the strongest ways you can have a good impact on your community. So every community does need to be represented,” he says. An independent public affairs consultant, this may be Elliot’s first time running for office but he’s no stranger to the workings of government, having previously been a researcher at the BC legislature and a ministerial aide. He volunteers with a gay men’s health organization that provides counselling for at-risk youth, and is a visual artist whose work typically focuses on themes of sexuality and personal identity. Elliot is facing off against another gay candidate in Vancouver-West End — incumbent Spencer Chandra Herbert of the BC NDP. Chandra Herbert, who recently became a father for the first time, is seeking his fourth term in office. Chandra Herbert agrees that having LGBT representatives in government is as important today as ever. “You can’t understand how a system discriminates against you completely or not unless you’ve lived it,” he says.     One subject on which Chandra Herbert and Elliott differ is what should be done about independent schools that have anti-LGBT admissions policies yet receive funding from the provincial government. Chandra Herbert says unequivocally that no school should receive public tax dollars if it discriminates against LGBT families. Elliot admits that news of such discrimination makes him angry and his first impulse is to say their funding should be cut. But, he says, upon reflection he’s come to question that reaction. [[asset:image:309608 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Nigel Elliott is running with the BC Liberal Party in Vancouver-West End."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Nigel Elliott"]}]] “Is immediately eliminating their funding the best approach? I don’t think so,” he says. “We need to explore other things we can do to bring those schools into compliance in a way that we don’t push people to the margins.” Ian Soutar, one of the BC Green Party’s youngest candidates, says it’s important for constituents to have access to a variety of choice in schools. “But when it comes to government funding to anyone that has any line of discrimination . . . I think that’s absolutely outrageous,” he says. Soutar is the communications chair for the Young Greens of Canada and youth representative for the Green Party of Canada. He says while he’s not a one-issue candidate he tries to campaign with a focus on how issues will impact youth. NDP incumbent Mable Elmore says anyone who experiences discrimination should be able to seek assistance to make sure their human rights are protected. “My expectation is all institutions obey the law. We have a Human Rights Code that prohibits discrimination so it’s my expectation that be upheld throughout the province.” She would like to see the BC Human Rights Commission reinstated to help more people bring their cases to the tribunal. [[asset:image:309611 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Ian Soutar is running with the BC Green Party in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Ian Soutar"]}]]   One subject of particular interest to many gay men in BC is easier access to Truvada for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which, taken daily has been found to significantly prevent HIV transmission. On this topic, Elliott and Chandra Herbert seem to agree: both say British Columbians need better coverage for PrEP. Last fall, Vancouver’s Health Initiative for Men called on the BC Liberals’ health minister, Terry Lake, to fund Truvada as PreP by adding it to the list of drugs covered provincially through Pharmacare. In an emailed statement last September, Lake told Xtra that BC will work with other provinces to negotiate a lower price for PrEP. But nothing has been announced, even though Health Canada approved Truvada for PrEP more than a year ago.   PrEP is one of the subjects Elliot says he hears about most from queer constituents in the West End, and he believes it’s an important next step in one day seeing HIV eradicated. “I do, as a candidate, support expanded access to and funding for PrEP. And if elected as an MLA of course I’ll continue to advocate for that,” Elliot says, adding that it’s important to remember PrEP is not right for everyone. “It only prevents against HIV, not other STIs [sexually transmitted infections], so it’s just one tool in the tool kit.” [[asset:image:309620 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Spencer Chandra Herbert is running for the BC NDP in Vancouver-West End."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Spencer Chandra Herbert"]}]] Chandra Herbert says the government needs to examine the health care costs for people living with HIV versus the cost of prevention through an effective tool like Truvada. “The answer will be pretty clear,” he says. “I can’t tell our pill regulator exactly what to do, because we try to keep the politics out of ‘is this particular prescription approved’ but  . . .  This looks like it works, so why isn’t the government taking steps to make it widely available?” Spurling agrees and urges the government to research PrEP. “My stance is that we need to do some research on Truvada and we need to look at if that’s the best option,” she says. “And if that’s the best option — which it seems to be — then we should be funding it.” [[asset:image:309617 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Mable Elmore is running for the BC NDP in Vancouver-Kensington."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Mable Elmore"]}]]   All the LGBT candidates Xtra spoke to for this piece pointed out that many of the issues that concern their queer constituents are the same as their straight neighbours. Affordability in BC was mentioned by all the candidates. Spurling says she’s also been hearing about a need to protect the province’s water; Soutar, about the need for mental health services; Elliot’s younger constituents in the West End want ride-sharing services like Uber, while older residents, according to Chandra Herbert, are fearful they will lose their housing. Elmore says she’s been hearing about the need for childcare for families, and Nicholas Simons says in his Powell River riding, which is ferry dependent, transportation is always a concern. “Our issues are the same as others,” says Simons. “We’re concerned about child care, we’re concerned about minimum wage, we’re concerned about the environment and jobs. We want to have a vibrant community that’s a good place to live, a safe place to live.

YouTube, football rumours and a nationalist lesbian

24 April 2017 - 7:30pm
[[asset:video_embed:309599 {"mode":"full","align":"","field_video_caption":["Russian gay men tell the stories of victims of the Chechan crackdown (Human Rights First.)"]}]] YouTube reverses discriminatory LGBT filter After complaints from YouTubers that their innocuous content was being blocked, YouTube says it has fixed a filter that made videos with gay content unavailable to some users. YouTube’s “restricted mode” blocks mature content on the site. Read more at the BBC.   German right-wing party appoints lesbian leader One of two new leaders of right-wing German nationalist party Alternative für Deutschland is a married lesbian. The choice is particularly surprising because the party’s platform explicitly opposes same-sex families. Read more at the Irish Times.   Chechnya in stories In a new video from an American human rights group, Russian gay men read the stories of men persecuted in Chechnya’s recent anti-gay crackdown.   A football player’s questionable outing After his suicide in prison, reports surfaced suggesting former football player Aaron Hernandez was gay and had left a message for his “gay jailhouse lover.” Reporters at OutSports, however, say the rumours rely on shoddy reporting and sensationalism.   The only North Korean gay refugee At CNN, Jang Yeong-jin tells his story as the only openly gay men to escape from North Korea, from his secret love for his best friend to his decision to leave.

How piss play helped me get over childhood shame

24 April 2017 - 1:30pm
I’m lying in the bathtub, water pooling around me, in her candlelit bathroom. Electronic music playing over speakers, from the sex playlist that Max says she’s been putting together all week, for us to share. Max and I have been dating for a few months. It’s 2015, we’re both teetering towards being 30. Max is an unapologetic wild woman: tall, slender, freakishly physically strong, and always wearing floral dresses and knee-high combat boots, no matter the weather. She’s constantly in the process of quitting cigarettes. She’s got a face like Kylie Minogue. She’s got a set of chains and wrist-restraints permanently attached to her bed posts. Max likes drugs, alcohol, partying, vampire erotica, wearing a strap-on, and, luckily, she likes me.   She’s straddling me in her bathtub, leaned over me, her pupils wide and alive in the dim candlelight. Her small breasts hang off her ribcage and whisper deep comfort to my brain, the way certain breasts just feel like home and let you know who you are. Hers are the kind of breasts you want to stare at and suck on until this life is over and you’re a baby again. There’s a vein in her forehead pulsating. Her eyes are pulled taut by her smile.  She hovers above me, my mouth full of filthy words and pleas: “Yes, please, I want it on me, make me yours, please, yes.” Her eyes are full of pure, Devil’s Food Cake delight. Eighties synth pop bounces against our teeth and the bathroom tiles. Both of us are open to each other, physically and emotionally. We don’t name it yet, but we’re in love.  That’s when she pees on me. This is the first time anyone pees on me. Her piss pours down on my cunt and pools in the bathtub water. I can feel her warm piss on my clit. I can feel her piss cascading over the lips of my cunt. I can smell her piss in the water around me. I growl and lean back into the tub and know there’s piss against the back of my neck.  Piss in my hair. I look up at her smile and am in such awe that she would give me something so intimate, because I asked for it.   *** I’ve never watched or read any piss play porn. My relationship to my own piss is fraught with negative associations. I’m incredibly prone to urinary tract infections (UTI). I get a UTI nearly any time I start having sex with a new lover who has a penis — don’t ask me what the medical explanation is for this because I can’t tell you, but it is what it is. Much like the number of people I’ve had sex with, I’ve lost track of the number of UTI’s I’ve had.  Another relationship I have to urine has to do with nerves. I’m a theatre performer and have been for years now, but I never get used to performing. The moment before I walk on stage I always feel like I’m going to piss myself. I do not mean that as a metaphor. Before I perform, a stage manager usually finds me hiding, crouched atop a toilet, like a nervous, fluid-filled gremlin.  My third relationship with urine is more profound, and has to do with a period of months where I was constantly and aggressively bullied by the popular group of young women at my Montreal high school.  I am usually the physically smallest person in any room, and that’s been true my whole life. Growing up, my family was on welfare, so I was the shrimp kid with the deeply unfortunate done-at-home haircuts and the second-hand church rummage sale clothes. Around the age of 13 I started to have the acne that dogged me throughout my teens and 20s. Add to that, I was one of those kids who got extraordinary grades without trying, which is part of the pervasive arrogance that was, and is, part of my personality.  As a teenager, I leaned into that arrogance as a way to overcompensate for all the shit I had going against me. Arrogance is not a habit I’ve outgrown. The coping strategies that kept us going in our youth are hard strategies to let go of. Around age 13 is also when I became aware that I am bisexual. While my sexual orientation wasn’t a thing I named out loud, kids can always tell when there’s a queer in their midst.  The popular young women in my school decided to make my day-to-day existence very difficult.  For about six months I had to endure constant verbal jabs, having my stuff stolen, getting pelted with food in the cafeteria, getting followed into and cornered in bathrooms — things like that.  I stopped eating lunch and spent my lunch breaks hiding in the library, sometimes reading and sometimes using the library computers to talk to adult men online, whose interest in me made me feel like at least I was desirable to someone. I avoided going to the bathroom because they were the school spaces in which I was most likely to get attacked. Which meant I was constantly holding in piss. Hungry, scared, hiding in libraries, holding in pee and flirting with creeps on the internet. It was a pretty undignified chapter in my existence. One day in my 13-year-old life, the women picking on me had gotten under my skin in a particular way: I lost control of my body for a moment and pissed myself in art class.  I was wearing dark pants, so as far as I know, nobody knew — if anyone had noticed, I don’t know how I would have weathered that social disaster. I spent the rest of the school day making myself as invisible as possible, hoping like crazy no one would notice, and at the end of the day I walked home rather than risk someone seeing and smelling me on cramped public transit. Those are some of my associations with piss: pain, anxiety, isolation and humiliation. Piss play is still one of those practices that’s taboo among folks who describe themselves as kinky. I’ve talked to many BDSM practitioners who think piss play is disgusting, and only a thing one does for money (piss-play-for-pay). At public BDSM play parties, piss play and its sister, scat play, are often some of the only activities that are not allowed. An argument is often made that vetoing piss and scat play is a health and safety consideration, but those same public play events often allow needle play, and blood is a much more dangerous bodily fluid than piss or shit.  Those same events will also often allow rope suspension and, in terms of safety, rope suspension is very dangerous: it is very easy to sustain nerve injury or damage when hanging in rope. Being peed on, in contrast, is a very physically safe practice.  As an adult, piss play is now probably the form of intimacy most important to me, both peeing on lovers, and having them pee on me, although to date I only have had two lovers with whom I’ve explored this.  Part of my interest in piss play is the stigma surrounding it. I’m still as arrogant as I was as a teenager: if I’m going to be a sexual deviant, I want to be the most sexually deviant person in the room. I am not actually the most extreme BDSM player at all — but I like doing things that lie outside of the comfort zones of most of the people I know. Piss play makes me feel like I am the best at being repugnant. But a larger part of my interest in piss play has to do with directly addressing that which terrifies me, rather than running away from it. I’m terrified of my bladder. I’m terrified of the next time a natural bodily reaction might turn me into a social pariah.  Beyond the general associations that piss is dirty, piss is waste product — for me, piss is the manifestation of my sense of shame. The first time a lover described being peed on as a sexy experience, it suddenly made me realize piss play might be a practice that would allow me to transform my association with piss from shame to something kinder.  I believe kink is a practice akin to alchemy, in which we risk enough for the opportunity to transform that which threatens us into an expression of ecstasy.  When I met Max and she told me she used to pee on a former partner, I asked her if she would also pee on me. Piss play usually isn’t a whole sexual encounter: being peed on is usually a prelude to fucking, or age play, or having my ass and the backs of my thighs spanked —  and preferably all of the above. Piss play turns up the volume on all the physical things that come after it, while simultaneously turning down the volume on any self-consciousness.  When your lover is holding your piss in their palm, you know that lover accepts you exactly as you are. There’s no thinking that you’re not hot enough. There’s no internalized bullshit about being queer tugging at the corners of your brain. There’s no idea of yourself left that you’re trying to perform. A time when all of us were comfortable pissing in another human’s arms was when we were babies. When we were creatures without apology, in a time before humiliation or dread.   *** I lean back into the piss and bathwater in the tub. Max looks down at me, and I feel like a baby in a tiny plastic basin. I feel the delight and freedom of movement in my pudgy thighs and toothless mouth.  We look at each other as we hang in this timeless moment.  The energy in me sends shockwaves off my body like techno beats, but I don’t speak, and Max doesn’t ask me to. She scoops up my head, sits me forward in the bathtub, pulls out the bathtub plug and lets the bath water drain out behind me. I splash in the water with my palms as it drains.  Max turns the bathtub faucet on, runs her wrist under the faucet to make sure the water's not too hot or too cold. She gets a washcloth, soaps it, gently washes my head, my neck, runs the cloth up and down my arms while I hold onto her with little fingers.  She stands me in the shower with her and rinses me. I watch her soap and rinse her own cunt. It feels like that first time, as a child, that you’re in a public pool changing room, and you realize you just became too old to stare openly at other women’s bodies. Her body is a beautiful mystery in this moment, and I want her and I don’t know what I’d do with her if I had her, and I wonder when I grow up, if my cunt will have hair. She steps out of the tub and dries me — I keep feeling like a young, new creature because she lets me stay in that place. She wraps me in terry cloth and tells me to run to her room. I do as I’m told with the glee of someone who’s just learned what feet are for. She unwraps me on her bed. I am all eyes and quiet. She asks me to roll onto my stomach. I do. She holds a butt plug out in front of my face, our consent code — that she shows me the toy she has in mind, and it’s for me to object if I don’t want it. I want it.  She slowly stuffs my ass. She tells me to loosen and squeeze the muscles in my ass around the butt plug. I tell her I’m not good at knowing how to do that. It’s part me acting young and part me telling the truth: I am very bad at localizing and controlling the muscles in my ass and cunt during sex, which usually embarrasses me, but right now I’m not too embarrassed to just be honest. I accidentally squeeze the butt plug out of my ass. She smiles. She’s not annoyed or angry. Everything I am is allowed.  She slowly pushes the butt plug back in. I stay on my stomach, my fingers swirl around the nub of the plug still protruding from me, while, out of sight, Max pulls on her strap-on.  She lies down beside me, and like in the pool change room, I’m looking at another person’s naked body for the first time. Her thin black silicone cock sticks straight up at the ceiling.  “Ride daddy,” she says. “Daddy’s going to fill all your holes.” I ride my girlfriend’s cock and am reborn, over and over, in the tension in her squeezed-shut eyes, the stretch of her long neck against the bed, and in the corners of her wide open, cigarette-stained mouth. I live for any fluids she wants to give me. I watch her come from my piss-stained cunt grinding her dick. The next morning I sit in my cubicle, completely unharmed but miles away from any semblance of okay. I don’t want to go back to being an adult in an office in North York. I want to stay in the temporal place our piss play created: a place simpler than adulthood, better than maturity, and purer than responsibility. To ricochet from a place of such grace back into corporate initiative deadlines and polite, banal conversation is heartbreaking.  I don’t want to negotiate or abide by societal expectations anymore because I know how exquisite it feels to live on the outskirts of what’s tasteful. I don’t want to find myself leaning back into arrogance again, as a way to hide how alone I feel.  I’m grateful for a night of raw intimacy and innocence and I’m gutted that the night is over. I want to cry as I look at the Tupperware containing the lunch Max packed for me. So I pretend to work, and blast Electric Youth in my ears, and scrawl mediocre poetry: She the river that wears down stone and makes new caves in my body For me to crawl into and laugh and splash in In the warm and wet and small places where there is no shame.

Morgane Oger is Canada’s best chance at electing a trans person in 2017

21 April 2017 - 10:25pm
“Maybe this was a mistake,” Morgane Oger says with a laugh, referring to her necklace. It’s not about the jewelry itself — a simple pendant on a fine silvery chain — but rather the chain’s tiny clasp, which has become caught on her orange scarf. She manages to untangle it from the fabric, though not before tugging a single thread out of place and leaving a small ripple in the material. She’s unfazed. “Now where were we?” Oger, 49, is at a JJ Bean on Davie Street in the heart of Vancouver-False Creek, the riding she hopes to win in this May’s provincial election. As her orange scarf suggests, she’s running for the BC NDP, a candidacy that made headlines when she won the party’s nomination last November because of Oger’s gender identity: “BC NDP nominates transgender candidate Morgane Oger in Vancouver-False Creek”  “BC’s Morgane Oger first transgender woman to be nominated by major party”  “Transgender candidate Morgane Oger makes history in Vancouver-False Creek”   Now more than four months later, her campaign is well underway. Even while waiting in line for her cappuccino, Oger strikes up a conversation with the couple standing in front of her, introducing herself as a local candidate and asking about the issues that matter most to them. It’s a role that appears to come naturally to her, but according to Oger it all still feels a little surreal. “It’s very strange for me because I’m not a politician in my heart. I’m doing politician things, but in my heart I’m still an advocate,” she says. Born in France, Oger moved to North America at age 10 when her father — a professor of neuroimmunology — took a position at the University of Chicago. It was there, in a racially diverse neighbourhood and at a public school that mixed students from lower-income areas  with more privileged children like her, that Oger got “a big dose of social justice” that she carried with her when the family relocated to Vancouver five years later. She says it’s stayed with her in one form or another ever since. Oger studied mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia, worked for years designing submarine and space robotics, then moved to Europe with her partner, settling in Switzerland and working as a freelance software engineer for financial institutions. In the late ’90s, she also became involved with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, setting up a server farm from her home in Switzerland and acting as webmaster for the group as it worked to distribute photographic and video evidence of abuse suffered by Afghan women. In 2009, Oger and her family moved back to Vancouver. By now she was married and had two small children. There were a number of factors at play in the decision to move back — career options, a car accident, disadvantages that come with being a foreigner in Switzerland — but one of the biggest motivations for Oger was a long-held desire to transition. “My gender identity was starting to leak. I was starting to have a really hard time with staying inside the suit,” she says. “Switzerland was not the best place to be if you were, say, ‘gender creative’ let’s call it.” [[asset:image:309581 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Morgane Oger chats with a passerby during a canvassing event at Emery Barnes Park. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["belle ancell\/Daily Xtra"]}]] When Oger came out as transgender in 2013, she dove headlong into advocacy work, both for trans rights — she chairs the Trans Alliance Society, helped add protection for gender identity and gender expression to the BC Human Rights Code, and is now pushing the  federal government to pass its trans-rights Bill C-16 — and in education. As the parent of two elementary school age children, Oger chaired the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, a body that oversees more than 50,000 students, until she stepped down to run for politics. Only recently did Oger start to seriously consider provincial politics as an option. As an advocate she had always preferred the grassroots to the machine. She joined the BC NDP’s executive in 2015 because she wanted to see if the party would “put its money where its mouth is” on trans rights. It did, she says.    “As I become part of this establishment I realize it’s actually an incredible tool for social change, and having people in the ‘establishment’ who really actually represent the people that we govern [matters],” she says, half-interrupting the thought to admit it feels weird use the word “govern” in relation to herself. But if Oger manages to unseat BC Liberal incumbent Sam Sullivan in False Creek, governing is exactly what she’ll have to do — potentially making history in the process as the first openly trans person in Canada to win an election for any level of government. The significance of such a win is not lost on Oger. “We need representation, we need diversity, and by having a trans lawmaker in power you will have one more person who understands what systemic discrimination and stigma are,” she says.   Oger’s campaign has had the feel of history being made since its very beginning. Some have pointed out she’s the first transgender woman to run for a party with seats in BC’s legislature, while others argue she is the first trans person to be nominated by a major political party in Canada. (Running with the Ontario Libertarian Party in 2011, Christin Milloy was the first person in Canada to publicly identify as trans and run for office at the provincial level, and Jamie Lee Hamilton was the first openly trans person anywhere in Canada to seek public office when she ran for Vancouver city council in 1996.) Since announcing her nomination, Oger has been joined on the campaign trail by three additional trans candidates seeking seats in the BC legislature — the Green Party’s Nicola Spurling (Coquitlam-Maillardville) and Veronica Greer (Surrey-Panorama), and the BC Liberals’ Stacey Piercey (Victoria-Swan Lake). [[asset:image:309593 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Morgane Oger explains the BC NDP\u2019s affordable housing petition to potential voters in April."],"field_asset_image_credit":["belle ancell\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Hamilton says her campaign team decided to prepare voters early for a trans candidate, announcing her plan to run a full year before the 1996 municipal election. “We developed a strategy that it should be introduced to the voting public on my terms and not by the media outing me,” she remembers. “We decided to announce a year ahead of time to give people an opportunity to get used to the idea because once the actual campaign rolled around I wanted to speak on the issues I’d always been speaking on. I didn’t want my gender identity to be the issue of the campaign.” Hamilton says she was concerned about how people might react to her. Headlines from that time used the terms “transsexual” or “transgendered” to describe Hamilton, and she remembers participating in radio talk shows in which the hosts only wanted to focus on her gender identity. “I think I was treated, personally, as a novelty. They were erasing part of who I was, which was an activist, a very well-known activist in the Downtown Eastside,” she says. “Some really wanted to sensationalize my life. So I was trying to balance the right of the public to know about me but also the serious issues happening in the city.” Although Hamilton lost her run in 1996, she says she felt “generally well received” by constituents she met along the way. Hamilton ran for council again in 1999, then in the 2000 federal election (with the Green Party of Canada), and then in two unsuccessful bids for the Vancouver parks board in 2008 and 2011. In the years since her first run for office, Hamilton thinks society has progressed, and she’s proud to see more transgender candidates running for office. “I ran 20 years ago and I like to think that now it shouldn’t be an issue,” she says. Nicola Spurling of the Green Party initially spoke to Xtra on the condition her name not be published. While she’s not ashamed of her gender identity, she says, it’s not something she wanted others to make a big deal about. “I want to be focused on the issues and I know that when you introduce something like gender identity, which is still a big story in the news . . . that there’s the risk that it will overshadow the issues,” she told Xtra in late March. This was before Global BC aired a news story outing Spurling as one of four trans candidates in this May’s election. In a subsequent Facebook post, Spurling noted the potential risks of outing trans people but attributed her inclusion in the story to a miscommunication between Global and the Greens’ communications department. Her colleague, Veronica Greer, says campaigning openly as a trans person is difficult but “no more than being any other type of minority.” She has some concerns about potential transphobia on the campaign trail but believes that running will help bring gender identity and its attendant political issues to the forefront. “Running brings it out into the open more. And that’s what’s needed,” she says, adding that while they may support different political parties she reacted positively to news of Oger’s nomination to the BC NDP. “Any person who paves the way like that, it takes immense courage.” [[asset:image:309587 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Morgane Oger rallies her volunteers at a canvassing event at Emery Barnes Park."],"field_asset_image_credit":["belle ancell\/Daily Xtra"]}]]   Leaving JJ Bean, Oger heads up the street to Emery Barnes Park where she’s meeting a dozen or so volunteers from her campaign. It’s April 2, 2017, the first truly sunny day of spring, and the sidewalks are bustling. Perfect for an afternoon of canvassing. When Oger arrives, most of the volunteers are already there, some decked out in BC NDP T-shirts. Her campaign manager, Todd Hauptman, has set up a table at the south side of the park with orange balloons and promotional materials. “We couldn’t have picked a better spot,” Hauptman says. And it’s true. Their display is situated under a cherry tree that has just come into bloom. As passersby stop to take photos of it, some also make their way to the table and peruse the election literature. At one point, a Translink bus stops and the driver steps off to take a selfie with Oger. In addition to the info booth, today’s activity is collecting signatures from people who feel something needs to be done about housing affordability in BC. After volunteers receive a brief tutorial on canvassing, they disperse in pairs to different parts of Yaletown. Oger and Hauptman are among those who stay at Emery Barnes Park, with its crowds of noisy children on the playground equipment and dog-walkers meandering along the paths. The park itself is surrounded on all sides by tall condo towers — a perennial challenge of the downtown riding, where advertising with lawn signs is not an option. While landlords and strata corporations cannot prohibit tenants or owners from displaying election signs in their windows, there’s little uptake in the towers surrounding Emery Barnes Park, possibly due to an Election Act prohibition on election advertising signs within 100 meters of a building where voting is conducted. That most constituents live in condo buildings also means door-knocking is impossible throughout most of the riding. “People love her as soon as they meet her. The challenge is just to get her in front of people,” Hauptman says. As the cherry blossoms drift through the air around Oger’s table, she approaches people on the sidewalk. She soon introduces herself to a couple who have stopped to take photos of the tree. “Do you think housing is too expensive?” she asks them. “Rental or real estate?” “Either. Both,” she says. “Which is important to you?” The couple seem friendly and engaged, although they ultimately decline to sign the BC NDP’s affordable housing petition. Later on she approaches a man sitting on a park bench but he shakes his head, refusing to even look at her. [[asset:image:309578 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Morgane Oger talks to her campaign manager, Todd Hauptman (left)."],"field_asset_image_credit":["belle ancell\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Oger says despite her years of activism, she finds it hard to solicit support in person. And this has nothing to do with her gender identity. She doesn’t automatically assume someone has declined to sign a petition or chat with her because she’s transgender, although she admits that as a trans woman there is an elevated risk for her when approaching people on the street. “But then again, it’s a sunny day, I’m under the pink cherry blossoms, I’m at a busy intersection, I’m at a busy park with a hundred people nearby. It is very low-risk here,” she says. After receiving the party’s nomination last fall, Oger needed to collect 100 signatures from constituents, so she went door knocking in some of the neighbourhoods south of False Creek within her boundaries. Oger says that was the only time during the campaign she truly felt threatened, when she was greeted angrily at one of the homes she stopped by. “He came out aggressively,” she says. “He was sweating and red in the face — and I stayed way out of his way. He came out six feet, I backed up eight feet, and there was a wall, so it was pretty scary.” It had been a gloomy night in December and Oger was door-knocking by herself. She made it out of that situation shaken but unscathed, and says other women candidates later scolded her for going canvassing alone like that. “I was really taken aback that this person exemplified the phenomenon that my life could be put at risk,” Oger says. “But I learned from that lesson . . . Rookie mistakes get made and that was my rookie mistake.” Of course trolls aren’t new to Oger. As an openly trans activist, she has encountered her share of “poorly socialized people sitting in their underwear in their mothers’ basements” — and some scarier people as well. “The people who talk about harming me, people who talk about my children. Really really scary,” she says. “When the [candidacy] happened, the nature of the troll changed. I immediately caught the interest of the leaders of the anti-trans movement. Specifically the TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist] leaders. . . . I got a shower of anti-trans messages.” Now Oger and members of her team simply mute the trolls who come after her on Twitter. She says she would much rather be meeting constituents. [[asset:image:309590 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Morgane Oger takes down a constituent\u2019s information for the NDP\u2019s affordable housing petition."],"field_asset_image_credit":["belle ancell\/Daily Xtra"]}]]   As the afternoon wears on, Oger leaves the sidewalk and moves through the park, saying hello and striking up conversations. “It’s very nice that she comes to the playground to actually meet people and talk to the families,” says Maija Wiik, who’s there with her grandchildren. “She probably knows that everybody’s in trouble. Everybody’s trying to make ends meet. It’s tough.” Wiik says she was not aware that if elected Oger could be the first openly transgender person elected to public office in Canada. “Kudos to her. But I think it really depends if she’s a good person and she has the values that many people do. It sounds like she will represent everybody, so kudos to her.” Oger acknowledges that her campaign has required her to shift gears, to go from focusing predominantly on gender identity and human rights to showing that as an MLA she’d be there to represent the needs of everyone in her riding. “It’s not lost on me how important it is that I get elected for my community, as a trans woman,” she says, taking care to point out she wouldn’t be where she is today if not for Jamie Lee Hamilton and other trans trailblazers who came before her. She wants to be elected because of her education policy, her housing policy, her human rights advocacy. “That’s much more important than the fact that I’m transgender,” she says. “Because that will mean a trans woman can get elected on the basis of her skills and her contribution to society rather than on the fact that she’s trans.” As the canvassing event winds down, Oger thanks her volunteers for their support and takes a seat for the first time since leaving the coffee shop earlier that day. She almost seems tired, until a troupe of five-year-olds dressed as Disney princesses hurry past towards the playground, their parents not far behind. “Now here’s an exercise in gender,” Oger says, animated once again.

Korean conspiracy, the Champs-Élysées and gay Devonshire

21 April 2017 - 4:24pm
[[asset:image:309575 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Murdered french policeman was gay rights champion A French police officer killed in a terrorist attack in Paris’ Champs-Élysées on Thursday was a proud defender of gay rights. As a member of France’s association for LGBT police officers, he protested against Russia’s ban on “homosexual propaganda”, and was also known for volunteering to help Greek police handle immigrant refugees. Read more at the Guardian.   Korean army hunting down gay soldiers After a video of two gay soldiers having sex was uploaded to the internet, the Korean army is reportedly working to trick other gay soldiers into revealing their sexual orientation. Military service is mandatory in Korea, and homosexuality is illegal under the military code of conduct. Read more at the Chicago Tribune.   Nigeria arrests 53 over gay wedding Nigerian police have say they have arrested 53 men who attended a gay wedding for “belonging to a gang of unlawful society.” The men who were being married — a crime in Nigeria — managed to escape. Read more at Deutsche Welle.   Chechen men flee gay crackdown The New York Times and the BBC have fresh reporting from Chechnya, where men suspected of being gay are being hunted down by authorities. A crackdown on gay men in the Russian region has turned into two weeks of entrapment, detention and torture.   Mapping gay Britain The UK’s Office of National Statistics has, for the first time, mapped the country’s gay population. The map reveals surprising details, such as apparent enclaves of gay people in some rural areas.

Why LGBT Bajans can’t sue the government to end anti-gay laws

20 April 2017 - 7:22pm
Barbados, like many other English-speaking Caribbean countries, continues to criminalize homosexuality through buggery and sodomy laws. These laws, which were instituted by colonial British governments, continue to be challenged throughout the region. The Bahamas decriminalized gay sex in private in 1991 through legislation. Last year, Belize’s top court struck down the country’s sodomy law for violating the right to privacy, equality and freedom of expression. Similar legal challenges have been launched in Jamaica and in Trinidad and Tobago. But the Barbadian constitution makes it essentially impossible for citizens to challenge the buggery law through the courts. When Barbados became independent in 1966, a “savings” clause was included in the new constitution that saved any pre-independence laws from judicial review. In other words, if a law was in place before 1966, citizens can’t challenge it in the courts. “The whole purpose of the savings law was they thought there was going to be this rush of people litigating everything before the court that was unconstitutional,” says Stefan Newton, a director of Equals Barbados, an LGBT advocacy organization. But unlike other countries with similar clauses, Barbados never removed it. "Therefore the law is just there, we can’t fight it,” Newton says. "It’s an unbreakable barrier." Barbados is one of a handful of countries that recognizes the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2007, the court found that the death penalty, which was similarly saved from constitutional challenge, violated the right to life. The Barbadian government pledged to comply with the ruling and scrap the mandatory death penalty as well as remove the savings clause from the constitution. While they did the former, the latter never happened. “There seems to be no political will on the part of this current administration to uphold their international obligations or to affect rights in the constitution by removing the savings law clause,” Newton says. So now, LGBT Bajans are stuck. A challenge could be made to the Inter-American Court, but there’s no guarantee that Barbados would comply. “There is the complicating factor of finding a complainant in a small society like Barbados,” says Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican-Canadian attorney who is challenging Jamaica’s anti-gay laws in court.  “If you are a claimant in such a challenge, you will be exposed to backlash, your family would victimized. So people are not likely to come forward to challenge it.”

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