All month long, Buddies is hosting a blog salon with some our favourite writers and artists responding to one question: How do I connect with my queer heritage? Follow the conversation on our blog, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #GayHeritageProject. Here’s an entry from lemonTree creations‘ Indrit Kasapi.
Heritage is something inherited from the past. So what queer “somethings” have I inherited from the past? My immediate response to this makes me think of so many things such as bathhouses, dark parks, Queen’s park, the AIDS epidemic, discrimination, the LGBT museum of history in San Francisco, pop culture, etc. The question, however, is how do I connect?
I’ve narrowed this down to three major ways through which I feel that I connect with my gay heritage.
The first one is perchance obvious but it was actually the first time I felt that I entered a very public environment that could potentially define me as a queer man; the gay nightclubs/bars.
This fall my boyfriend and I travelled through the West Coast. We drove for around 5,000 kilometers and visited the beautiful sites of Jasper and Banff in Alberta, checked out the gorgeous views of Vancouver and then drove down through the Pacific Highway Coast all the way to San Francisco and then back up by way of Seattle.
When we arrived in Jasper we took a walk around the small town of Jasper and as we were passing the shops, cafes, restaurants and ice cream stores I noticed a small rainbow flag on one of the doors of a café. Immediately I was drawn in. I got closer to the door and tried to get in but it was locked. I looked through the door and there was no one inside. It was dark. And then I saw a note posted on the door above the flag that informed about a small party for the LGBT community organized by the good folks at OUT Jasper, that coming Wednesday.
My initial reaction was “Let’s go!” but I look at my boyfriend’s face and he does that sort of annoyed and squinty-eyed look that tells me he would so rather not. And then he says to me: “You always wanna go to this gay stuff!” Now I don’t want to make my boyfriend sound like a prick who hates gay people or gay things because he is not. He’s just a Scorpio who prefers to not hang out in crowds. Especially in crowds with strangers. We were on this trip so we could spend time alone so therefore going to this party would completely defeat the purpose of the trip. So I understand his logic. However, right away it made me think of the fact that everywhere I go when I travel my first instinct is to find out where the LGBT community gathers, parties, hooks up, rants etc.
It is my need to feel somewhat at home and on a completely selfish level somewhat safe. And I certainly have always found that at the gay nightclubs. There is a piece of history within those establishments that is totally hidden but also totally present.
Gay bars always smell the same everywhere I have been. I admit that this could be a totally biased opinion. But I feel like there’s this specific smell of sweat coming from bodies that are full of alcohol, rage, passion, lust, insecurity, abandonment, sadness, loneliness and happiness. Bodies of hundreds of queer individuals who have come through these buildings in need of the same things as me: a feeling of connection.
On a completely different level, the existence alone of gay nightclubs or bars in a city, town or village speaks of some sort of queer history. The first thing I google when I’m travelling is “gay bars in said city” and if nothing shows up I already know what to expect. I intrinsically understand part of the history of the queer community pending on just whether or not gay nightclubs exist. It is a direct way of how I connect with my gay heritage everytime I am dancing my heart out in the middle of a dance floor with a drink in one hand and surrounded by love, queer love.
The second way I connect is through music and specifically pop music and female pop stars.
At the risk of sounding entirely stereotypical I believe that pop stars like Britney Spears, Beyonce and Madonna are indirectly how I connect with my gay heritage. Indirectly because I do understand that Britney and Beyonce are pop stars of my own generation, and Madonna belongs to several generations but it is the self-identification with and idolization of female pop stars that I think connects me on some level to my queer past.
There is something in that idolization that makes me feel like I have so much in common with the queer community (or part of it at least). Names like Bettie Page, Farrah Fawcett, Liza Minelli, Bette Midler, Dolly Parton and others (including some which I might still be completely in the dark about); their music and fame I am not entirely familiar with, but I am familiar with that deeper completely weird and indescribable feeling of self-identification with that strong but equally volatile “girl” power. Or “gurl” power as some of my friends currently refer to it. It is that feeling of “lurve” [love] towards these female icons that connects me to say…secret small rooms in 1950 NYC where queer men are gathered and are secretly listening to music, enjoying themselves and feeling for a tiny short period of time that they could truly be themselves without worry or fear.
The third way is through the power of theatre and plays.
My work and passion as an actor, director and artistic producer of a theatre company has made this last way the most effective because it has allowed me to directly engage with my queer heritage. I remember the first time I saw The Maids by Jean Genet at Soulpepper with Nancy Palk and Martha Burns. I knew nothing about Jean Genet at the time but immediately after I became obsessed with him and later on I found a way to immerse myself into his world by acting in Deathwatch (a precursor to The Maids). Reading his and other queer playwright’s work I have slowly begun to understand that there definitely is a queer heritage that tells the stories of this community and thus makes me feel connected to the queer history at large.