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Dawn of a New Gay, Or Drawn Out Old Story?

Rich white gay man tells city that oppression is over

by Frida Press

Flag created by Sarah Hopkins symbolizing working class, queer liberation
Flag created by Sarah Hopkins symbolizing working class, queer liberation

By now, most people who are part of a queer community in Toronto are familiar with the debacle of the front page article published by Toronto newspaper The Grid on June 9th. "Dawn of a New Gay", the title grandly proclaimed.  With a promise of showing how post-modernism relates to the gay community many were excited to read the story- until they opened the paper and their jaws dropped...

 A picture of nine well-dressed gay men holding a Canadian and British flag boldly declared the title “Dawn of a New Gay” on the front cover of the second issue of Toronto's new magazine 'The Grid'. Unfortunately, the cover article in question couldn't be farther from a 'new' or 'dawning' analysis. The experiences of the majority of people is altogether glossed over and forgotten in this article, where a wealthy white gay man sat down to tell us how lucky we are as gays in Toronto and how “a new generation of twentysomething urban gays—my generation—has the freedom to live exactly the way we want. We have our university degrees, homes and careers... We’re tattooed and pierced and at the helm of billion-dollar industries like fashion and television. We vacation with our boyfriends in fabulously rustic country homes that belong to our parents, who don’t mind us coming to stay as a couple. Hell, we even marry our boyfriends, if we choose to.”

 It goes without saying that the people Aguirre-Livingston refers to, gay men in their twenties, do not all have university degrees, do not have homes, and do not have careers. Tyson Suzanne Purdy Smith explained why the article doesn't speak for his experience, and specifically pointed out how his sexual orientation affected his access to education:

“ I am a twenty five year old queer poly trans-man, originally from Nova Scotia and resident of Toronto for the past four years. I am Metis although I pass most often with white male privilege and yet I have not experienced the utopic gay life Aguirre-Livingston describes in his article. I don't have a university degree, though I went to university. In the first semester I received death threats because I was queer. One night some drunk guys started pounding on my door trying to break it down. I was stranded in my room with no phone to call security. For some hours I sat at the window ledge thinking how if they succeeded in breaking down the door I would jump out the window. It was only three stories- not enough to kill me, but not something I wanted to do. After that I moved out of residence but I couldn't afford to get a new place somewhere safer because I had already paid for my room in residence for the semester. The school wouldn't refund me because they said I didn't have a valid reason for moving out and breaking the contract.”

 Tyson went on to describe how the subsequent economic struggle and housing insecurity led directly to his dropping out of university. This kind of story does not appear in the Grid's 'post-mo' conception at all, but is still a reality for many gays and queers in their 20s.

 Aguirre-Livingston's wilfully narrow worldview excludes even some of the people who were photographed for the article. Elie, who is a 24 year old Lebanese gay man who grew up in Dubai, U.A.E. and moved to Montreal in 2003 printed this response in, and says he was 'mortified' by being associated with the article and felt misrepresented.“I was disgusted at the writer's arrogance and thought the piece reeked of privilege and ignorance...I think the article brought light to the fact that certain members of my generation have the tendency to be apathetic. Yes we may have more rights than ever before and most of us didn't have to fight to earn them to start with, but the work is not done and the struggle is not over. We're still being persecuted in every corner of the globe and it's our duty to help make sure that every LGBT individual on this planet can live as openly and freely as we do. In saying that, sweeping statements such as that are even more poignant when you think about all the people still being gay bashed in the supposedly queer friendly metropolitan cities that we live in. ”

 Elie elaborated on how his life did not fit into the “new gay' narrative in the story illustrated by his photo. “His [Aguirre-Livingston's] experience is rare. My parents aren't as tolerant as Aguirre-Livingston's are and reacted extremely negatively when my homosexuality was brought to light. Not only did I receive a three hour beating and was told by own mother that she'd forget she ever gave birth to me had I 'chosen' to be gay, I was also forced to read the Bible for months to pray 'the gay away' and ask God for forgiveness and was treated like a leper by my family for a very long time. Instead of going to the cottage on the weekends, I was almost thrown out on the street at the age of 13. My story is not unique and there are millions of others out there who have similar (and often worse) experiences. I'm lucky to have gone through what I did and come out stronger on the other side. I've said this before and I'll say it again, we're very lucky to live with the rights and the privileges that we do, but we're far from living in the utopic world that the article claimed we live in. Had my parents not been able to afford sending me abroad to study, I'd still be stuck in Dubai where homosexuality is punishable by death. I'm incredibly fortunate to have been able to leave and I'm very conscious of the fact that there are many others in Canada and around the world who aren't as lucky as I am." 

 The reality is, most of us are outside of this new gay life and looking in through the television screens of billion dollar television industries “Dawn of the New Gay” describes us as being 'at the helm of'. We are on the outside of Aguirre-Livingston's world, reading flyers handed out by low-waged workers on the street to events we can't afford to go to. Aguirre-Livingston and indeed the mainstream media in general seem to forget that queer people exist who are blue collar, very much not running fashion or television companies and most of us aren't even out of the closet. How does Aguirre-Livingston factor in to this story of post-modern gays whose parents don't mind us bringing our boyfriends over to stay as a couple? He doesn't. In this narrative, they don't exist.

 So then why do we so often hear this story as the overarching narrative of the gay community? Why are we so often depicted as chic city socialites with corner offices, restaurants, and glamourous homes? The details the blogger-turned-journalist gives us of 'post-modern gays' are just that, details. The privilege and myopic focus of the story are the same. Aguirre-Livingston claims that we are moving away from identifying with queer politics and community in general, and then in the same breath offers up the businesses of Queen Street West, suitably dubbed Queer West as the new community to spend gay dollars. Describing a party, Aguirre-Livingston asks “part gay, part hipster. Wait, is there even a difference now?”

 Elie described how: “A lot has been said about the disposable income and significant buying power that gay men now possess, but this is an exclusively city-centric and extremely narrow narrative. If we are to venture to more rural areas of this country, we'd still find an incredible amount of people who don't have the means to move away to relatively safer cities which completely contradicts the retelling of what it's like to be gay today. Beyond that, this doesn't even touch the thousands who end up on the streets because they're families don't accept them for who they are and are forced into homelessness.”

 If Aguirre-Livingston had stepped out of his class-privileged social milleux, he might have uncovered stories like this one, by a man who cannot be identified by name: “I am a straight-acting, masculine man and I am gay. I am twenty six, half Jamaican and half Canadian, from Toronto. I will never tell my family or friends that I am attracted to men because they will never accept it and they will hate me. I will marry a woman because if I don't they will suspect. If they found out they would disown me and likely try to kill me.”

 Lives like this are erased in his conception of the 'New Gay'. But the lower class and the labour force are not heterosexual. The queers of the lower class experience discrimination and hardships that those of the upper-class do not. They are people of colour, of immigrant background, of disability, of poverty, with language barriers and heavy discrimination on them every day. These people have reasons never to admit that they are anything but straight to their families, communities, and often even to themselves that the people who inhabit the upper echelons of the class struggle need never face, not in their lives nor in the media they create for us and consume with us. Yet according to Aguirre-Livingston, “To be a twentysomething gay man in Toronto in 2011 is to be free from persecution and social pressures to conform. It’s also, in most ways, not about being gay at all.” If Aguirre-Livingston has any comprehension of society today or what conditions are like for people who are queer, he does not show it.

 I'm used to being told what it is like to be gay by the media and by wealthy gay men. The issue I want to raise is not chiefly with the treasury of problematic statements made by Aguirre-Livingston (which range from vapid statements like I would trace the beginning of the post-mo, and our true introduction as functional members of society, to the premiere of the NBC sitcom Will & Grace in 1998” to “Is there even a gay struggle to be had anymore?” to a dismissive attitude to the risk of HIV infection in our communities, but that editors of The Grid read his editorial and considered it appropriate to print, much less plaster over the front page. According to Tyson Purdy Smith: A lot of the blame has to fall on the Grid, for publishing this. A writer can be forgiven for writing a poor article if all they've written are blogs that are meant to be opinionated and personal and not researched. But for the Grid to display this as their cover story, when it's really just very poor journalism is utterly reprehensible.”

  Megan Kinch of the Toronto Media Co-op saidThis is their flagship piece, the second cover article of the Grid. The Grid is the replacement for Eye magazine, which was owned by Torstar (which publishes the Toronto Star) as a kind of fake alternative weekly which looked independent but was actually owned by a major corporation with its own interests. This article is supposed to differentiate themselves from Eye or NOW and position their target market as these new post-gays. The reaction of the community to this article shows that they have made a major miscalculation, and shows why communities need to own and control their own media and not depend on corporations to do it for them.”

 Queer people living in reality are fully capable of figuring out for themselves that the paradise of equality Aguirre-Livingston describes in his article is not the norm or even common. Elie said: "Paul Aguirre-Livingston's experience is his and no one should discredit him that. One day, someone will write an article similar to his (albeit less arrogant, ignorant, and irresponsible) and it will come at a time when it's appropriate and accurate to everyone's experience. As I stated in my response in The Gaily, the silver lining here is that the LGBT community has been galvanized and everyone's passion for the community has been fired up which is something that needs to be done every once in a while.”

 At the end of the day it is most convenient for corporate media sources for us to be exactly that: a blurry result of consumerism making the gay and the hipster indiscernible. One can only hope that The Grid's publishing of this article was a major lapse in judgement, but the fact that it was their cover story leads me to believe otherwise. Our communities can be most profitably exploited by corporations as Aguirre-Livingston describes: depoliticized, only capable of asking each other out online, and happy in a discreetly homosexual variation of the straight consumerist culture, where the most pressing issue at hand is “the right way to be gay” or whether or not to get married. Thankfully the response that communities have given “Dawn of A New Gay” and the depoliticization it espouses has been encouraging. Since the article was published many organizing groups for arts and anti-oppression have come forth against it. This response and my interviews with queer Torontonians in their twenties make clear that not only is there a struggle for young queer people in Toronto to be had, but that we are actively engaged. I am twenty, queer, male, and incensed by the apathy The Grid feels it has no obligation to apologize for endorsing on its cover. This is not the kind of responsible media our communities need.


If you are interested in reading more of the interviews, follow the link here.

If you are interested in fighting the exploitation of our queer community and its history of political activism, The Ladies Anarchist Solidarity Society is organizing an Anti-Policing Contingent to Pride Parade


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2310 words


Umm, the Grid has published

Umm, the Grid has published more than 2 issues. Just sayin'.

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