Category Archives: Writing
Playing It Straight
Check out my latest published article! Last year, I pitched an article to Canada’s Verge Magazine, about “travelling while gay.” It was published online earlier this year, for subscribers, and has just been made public. Check it out!
For the average cisgender white lesbian tourist like me, I’m not likely to experience those kinds of harassment, but it’s not impossible. For example, in 2014 a British tourist was jailed for four months in Morocco for committing “homosexual acts.” Luckily, he was able to fly home early after being released on appeal.
Before I left, I knew that for most of my trip I’d have to “play it straight,” to avoid endangering myself (but mainly just to avoid negative remarks or rejection from new “friends”). But I don’t think I realized how frustrating and disheartening it would be.
Notes on a Love Affair
Check out my friend’s blog – she’s started reblogging some of her friend’s work which I think is a really cool idea, and she decided to share my memoir piece “Notes on a Love Affair”
December 6 – Love Letter
You are perfect to me. I want to hold you, wrap my arms around you. Caress you and kiss you. Sleep beside you, curled up, the big spoon spooning the smaller spoon.
Mould my body to your body. Hug you close. Become one with you.
I want to know that I can proudly walk with you hand in hand. I want to love you and to be loved by you.
And while I partly hate feeling this way – the anxiety, the wondering, the yearning to see you again – at the same time, I love feeling this way. Because it means that you’re special to me.
And I hope you feel the same way.
And I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.
I want to be numb. To not feel the pain.
But I also want to phone you. To hear your…
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I’m Number 1!
So I don’t often get a chance to brag, but today I found out something quite fabulous, if I do say so myself. My story on gay men in Pakistan – Is Pakistan a gay man’s paradise? – was Daily Xtra‘s number one most read world story of 2015.
Pakistan is a world of contrasts: a land of fundamentalist Islam, Osama bin Laden’s hideout, and terrorist attacks, where children are gunned down going to school or accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Yet it’s also a land where secular, liberal, young adults socialize by drinking whisky and smoking weed, where you can find used lesbian erotica or buy a dildo on the black market.
Check out all the other stories here.
It’s a pretty awesome way to set off on my next leg of this incredible journey on Saturday – LGBT rights and issues in Latin America!
Paragraph 175: Male Homosexuality and the Third Reich
On Thursday night, I went to a lecture with my aunt about homosexuality and the Holocaust. I began to write a blog post about it yesterday and then thought, “This is super interesting. More people need to see it.” So I wrote to my editor at Xtra and the result was this article.
It was edited down to make it much more newsworthy, but I wanted to share my original opening, as I think that the quote from the survivor should be shared.
Gay men were not only persecuted by the Nazis, but were re-victimized when liberating armies put those rescued from concentration camps back into prison, Dr. James Waller explains
“In order not to mutually incriminate ourselves, we decided to no longer recognize each other.”
These words, recorded as the testimony of a gay survivor of the Third Reich, struck Dr. James Waller, the Cohen Chair of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire, as particularly heart wrenching.
It was as though they also could no longer recognize themselves, Waller explained. He likened this to what many LGBT people continue to experience today, particularly in countries where homosexual acts are illegal and the LGBT community is forced to “not recognize” who they truly are, at least publicly.
On November 6, Waller gave a public lecture during Holocaust Education Week in Toronto, co-sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves, Kulanu Toronto, and The Equity Studies Program at New College, University of Toronto. Entitled “Do No Harm? Nazi Doctors and the Persecution of Gay Men,” the lecture looked at the psychological, social, and cultural factors that influenced Nazi policy against homosexuality.
For more on how ordinary people, such as German doctors, can commit extraordinary acts of evil, see Waller’s book “Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing.”
Get Sea Sick with Alanna Mitchell
Alanna Mitchell knows good sex.
No, not the Carrie Bradshaw version. But rather the coral-spawning sex orgy that happens in Panama once a year, an event so sexually charged that Mitchell describes the water as being electric, the whole reef vibrating with sexual energy.
This is but one of the encounters with the ocean that Mitchell describes in her one-woman show Sea Sick, based on her award-winning, best-selling book of the same name. The research for that book took three years and consisted of 13 trips to different parts of the world, where Mitchell interviewed the leading scientists studying the ocean and its mechanisms.
The Countdown Is On!
In just over two and a half months, I will be embarking on an epic journey. The foundation is already in place – I’ve given my notice to work; I’ll be giving my two months’ notice to my landlord on November 1. I’ve arranged to store the things I want to keep in my parents’ basement.
And I’ve renewed my passport.
In mid-January, I will be leaving the country for what I hope to be a year to a year and a half voyage of not only the cliched self discovery, but also of writing, taking photos, and making short films. Meeting people and discovering new places and interesting stories.
First stop? Pakistan. And then India. Then onto more of Southeast Asia. Eventually some of southern and eastern Africa. Then onto the Middle East, a dash of Europe, and then a giant tour of the Americas – everything south of Mexico.
I cannot wait! And I invite you to follow the journey with me, on this blog as well as on Facebook and Flickr.
Venturing into New Writing Genres
While my writing has usually focused either on human rights – my degrees, my blog, recently published articles, etc – or creative writing, I’ve been venturing into new areas this year. And I’m loving it!
The first is memoir writing. Earlier this year, I discovered that there’s an awesome queer memoir reading series at the 519 on Church street in Toronto, called Queer Confessions. I’d never written a personal piece for public consumption. But I decided to give it a go. In June, I’d gone on a few dates with a girl who I really, really liked. She was the first girl I felt any kind of connection with since my ex. And then, suddenly, I got the text. THE text. Y’know, the one that says “I don’t really think we should keep seeing each other because I’m not ready.” And it stung. It hurt, even though I believed her, as she’d recently come out of a serious longterm relationship. Feeling sorry for myself, my colleague emailed me the link to Queer Confessions. The next month’s theme? Crush(ed). And submissions where due the next day.
Perfect, I thought. It’s time to channel some of this angst and heartbreak into art. And so I dug out some of the snippets of writing I did as I was going through the break up with The Ex. And it was really cathartic; I was able to deal with both heartbreaks – one much more significant and deeply felt than the other – in a way that, I thought, turned them into something beautiful.
(Side note: On the night I was reading this piece, I went to dinner near the 519 with a friend beforehand and guess who walks in? The girl from a week or two previously who sent “THE” text. Insert mini freak out while I wondered if she was attending the reading. Luckily, she wasn’t. And it was a good distraction from my nervousness about reading in public.)
No, what I hate most are the memories that swoop down and slap you in the face as you’re going about your day, minding your own business…You glance up as you walk to the subway and see a girl of similar build, wearing the same coat as your last girlfriend. The girlfriend who broke your heart. In public. The girlfriend you’re still not really over even thought you think you are. And the weight comes crashing down, into the pit of your stomach. The memories slice you. And all for a coat. A stupid, black, faux-fur trimmed winter coat.
Some people who’ve seen me perform these pieces or have read them on their own say I’m brave. That it takes a lot of courage to write something so personal, and even more to stand up and read it aloud. Perhaps that’s true, but for me, it’s more freeing than courageous. It’s standing up in front of people and saying “This is my story. Like it or hate it, it’s how I view the world. This is me.”
Then last month the theme was “Coming Out” and I decided to submit something again. This piece was lighter than the last one, but still cut to the core:
And then came the kicker.
“Well, y’know, I feel like I’m a sinner, everyone’s a sinner, so why should I judge
others? I wouldn’t want other people to be commenting on my sins.”
You can read these two pieces here.
Also during this past summer, I started dabbling in lifestyle writing in my free time, thanks to my super cool friend and roommate Nicole Edwards, the Lifestyle Editor at Style Empire, an online magazine. I’ve done two articles for them so far, and they were a lot of fun:
Classy without being pretentious, the cocktail is light and fruity, perfect for the summer heat. And versatile too; at first, I thought there were two versions being made, one that was more generous in its sourness than the other. When I asked the bartender, he said it must just be the different way the two bartenders were making them. But either way – a lovely sour experience or a more fruity-tasting version – the drinks were a hit. “I’m more sour, and she’s sweet,” the male bartender explained to me. “We get that a lot,” his female counterpart chipped in with a laugh
Read the first article: Disaronno Sour is the Drink of the Summer
Decorated with florals and bright colours at the moment, the space will evolve with the seasons. It’s classic, elegant, and a friendly space. “I don’t ever want to hear the word uptight,” Salm says, in terms of the feel of the space. I doubt he will.
Read the second article: Colette Brings a Touch of France to the Thompson Hotel
And as a bonus, here’s a recent article by Nicole featuring photos I took of her around our neighbourhood last month.
And the latest writing venture? Travel writing. As you can see from this blog over the years, I love to travel. So why not dabble in some travel writing as I go about my more human rights-focused journalism? More on this soon – something big and exciting this way comes!
Zambia’s Pervasive Homophobia
I got published!! It’s been such a crazy adventure trying to get this piece out, but it finally happened in late July. And I just realized I never wrote a blog piece about it. So here we go!
Last Fall, I took a writing course at Ryerson University with the amazing Carla Lucchetta (check out her writing) where I wrote a pitch letter for this piece, as well as a first draft. Just before Christmas, I pitched a story on LGBTQ rights in Zambia to Daily Xtra, and just after the new year, they accepted it! But then there were delays with editing, then my editor left for another publication, etc, etc. But now I’m finally published!!
I’d visited Zambia the previous summer, and also travelled through Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. While in Zambia – a country, like many in sub-Saharan Africa, where homosexuality is illegal – I interviewed Juliet Mphande, the Executive Director of LGBTQ organization Friends of Rainka. These were my original opening two paragraphs, for the writing class:
In Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa, Juliet Mphande leads an LGBTQ organization, Friends of Rainka, which aims to advance, promote, and protect the human rights of sexual minorities. It’s a difficult place to be doing that kind of advocacy. A 2010 study showed that 98% of Zambians find homosexuality intolerable compared with 11% of Ugandans who do find it tolerable. It is within this context that I arrange to meet Juliet at a Lusaka location that won’t bring too much unwanted attention to either of us. As I search for someone who could be her on the open-air patio of the restaurant we’ve chosen, a recent front page headline in Zambia’s daily national newspaper swirls in the back of my mind: “Cage Filthy Homos….they are worse than dogs.” This is not a place to be openly gay, even for a white, blonde Canadian like me. Finally, I spot a solitary woman at a booth just inside the restaurant. I join her, and we begin to discuss the reason I am there – to learn more about the situation of LGBTQ people in the country. “Enough is enough,” Juliet begins.
It’s summer 2013, and this is the first time I’ve considered myself an “unwanted tourist.” I am travelling through a country, as an openly gay person, where homosexuality is illegal. I’d been to other countries, also on the African continent, with jail sentences for the “crime” of homosexuality, but I wasn’t yet out – to myself, or to anyone else. Back then, I had an acceptable level of contempt for the laws of the countries where I travelled, but that was it. I didn’t have to think about my own personal safety. While I was incensed by other people viewing my friends as being “sinners” or less deserving of human rights, I now felt a new level of hurt, when that hatred and prejudice were directed at me.
It was a very surreal experience travelling through four countries where I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to live and truly be myself. Where I knew that people like me were struggling to live their lives in fear and hiding. There were glimpses of these lives as I wandered along my trip. I brought a Canadian LGBTQ flag with me, and took a photo of it in every country I was in – my own little act of rebellion. Then there were the other gay and lesbian travellers I’d subtly suss out and warm up to, like the woman who worked for MSF who spoke to me about being gay and working for an international organization in countries where homosexual acts are illegal. There was the book I stumbled across in the national museum in Lusaka about sexuality in Zambia, with its three paragraphs on homosexuality. It described how women in America “chose” to be lesbians because of fear of contracting HIV/AIDS.
And finally, I met with Juliet Mphande.
And the final result of all this travel and exploration? My very first commissioned – and paid – piece published in Xtra on July 26, 2014, entitled Zambia’s Pervasive Homophobia. Hope you like it! The ending is one of my favourite parts:
I ask if she’s afraid and mention David Kato, a well-known gay rights activist in Uganda who was murdered in 2011. Mphande appears unfazed. “It’s not a job; it’s who I am,” she says. “The worst thing that could happen is to not be an activist.”
Shortly after I got back from my trip through southern Africa, I was killing time at the Indigo at Yonge and Eglinton before meeting a friend for dinner. There, just before I left the store, there was a table lined with books for Gay Pride. “Wow,” I thought. “I’m home.”