Sexy is not the word you’d usually use to describe a show on moral reform and regulation, but the library’s Vice & Virtue exhibit is a real looker. Warm red walls, fabulous black-and-white photos and some zippy charts show just how far we’ll go to keep pleasure at bay. Prohibition, censorship and some really virulent homophobia – when it comes to policing the id, we’ve done it all. There’s only one small cabinet and a chart devoted to gay history, but it’s a cool little show, and the central image – blown up at the entrance – is alone worth the price of admission. A wonderfully dark and gloomy shot of Yonge Street looking north from below College Street circa 1914, it shows Toronto in an earlier low-rise era, the streets clogged with streetcars, pedestrians and even the occasional horse-drawn cart. There’s a pre-prohibition liquor store in the foreground – hard to conceive in this LCBO era – and the tower of an old fire hall in the left rear background. What the exhibition won’t tell you is that the tower once marked the site of one of Toronto’s most famous homo hotspots. For generations of Torontonians, the St. Charles Tavern was the gay bar. Gay men gathered in the huge, U-shaped space and on Halloween, homophobes arrived to pelt the drag queens with eggs. The bar went gay in the mid-1960s and remained so until its demise in 1987. The small TD Gallery always has some interesting shows but this is one of the best, especially if you’re partial to Toronto history. It runs until April 30, 2017.
Part two of Don McLeod’s magisterial account of early Canadian gay lib is out and available on-line. It’s a chronology with sources rather than a straightforward history and so maybe not something you’re likely to read straight through, but it’s an absolutely invaluable source for the still wildly uncharted territory of Canadian gay history and even the most casual browse is likely to provoke a couple of bouts of “Oh, I remember that,” or better yet, “I didn’t know that.” Want to know when Anita Bryant visited Toronto, the feds allowed gay immigration or the police raided the Body Politic? Here’s where you’ll find it.
Part one, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology, 1964-1975, came out in 1996 and was initially available in paper. Part two, covering the years 1976–1981, is about three times the size and only available on-line. (I hear it would have been too expensive to print.) Online is of course easier to search than paper, but I hope somebody will eventually issue it in paper-bound format. Something this valuable deserves to be made permanent.
When it comes to gay history, the period before the 1960s is a photographic black hole. Most gay archives are lucky to have a few images. San Francisco’s G.L.B.T. Historical Society, on the other hand, has actual home movies, some dating from the 1940s. Alastair Gee writes about it for the on-line New Yorker and the mag helpfully supplies some clips. Nice to see that the tell-tale gay gestures haven’t changed a bit.
In the urban west, gay rights are pretty much a done deal. Elsewhere in the world, especially in places like Russia and Uganda, not so much. TVOntario explores the discrepancy first with a repeat showing of Stephen Fry’s Out There, about homophobia around the world (9pm, Wed. Sept. 10), then with a panel discussion on LGBT rights around the globe on its flagship public affairs show, The Agenda, hosted by Steve Paikin (8pm, Thu. Sept. 11).
Nice piece on recent gay history and the way it continues to be distorted even, sometimes, by well-intentioned homos themselves: Ryan Murphy’s Troubling Vision of Gay History.
The Library Company of Philadelphia examines early gay history in That’s So Gay: Outing Early America, on until Oct. 17, 2014. It includes comic valentines, souvenirs of Oscar Wilde’s North American tour and an early edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. More pics here. … The FX network in the U.S. has a new gay cartoon called Chozen. It’s about a gay, white rapper just out of prison. It doesn’t seem to be available on FX Canada. … Medici TV is streaming Charles Wuorinen’s new opera, Brokeback Mountain, for free until early May. The Teatro Real production stars bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch and tenor Tom Randle. … Nice photo essay in of all places, Time magazine. Twenty images of Australian Radical Faeries by documentary photographer Claire Martin.
Edmund White has a new book coming out next month, as well as a short memoir in the Jan./Feb. 2014 issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review. … Stephen Fry’s BBC series on international homophobia, Out There, is now available on YouTube … Mary O’Connell chronicles the struggle for LGBT rights in Jamaica, Afghanistan and other parts of the developing world in a CBC Radio doc called Desire Denied. It’s available for both streaming and download at the CBC Ideas site. … Director Marc de Guerre examines the rise of gay rights from the 1940s to the present in How We Got Gay on CBC’s DocZone.
Did Marc-Antoine Charpentier write a gay opera in 17th Century France? The New York Times describes his David et Jonathas as “a courageous love story about the young David, the future king of Israel, and his beloved friend Jonathas, the Israelite prince.” The story itself is an old chestnut, oft cited in pro-gay interpretations of the Bible, but I’d never heard of this particular variation before. It’s available in a new DVD by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, starring Pascal Charbonneau and Ana Quintans.
When I was a kid still struggling with his sexuality, the dictionary definition of masturbation was “self-abuse,” which was to say the least disheartening. We are how others see us and for centuries much of gay life has been defined, distorted and even hidden by the use of derogatory words, whose choice, in retrospect, seems actively malicious. There are at least two gay couples in Virgil’s great Latin epic, the Aeneid, for instance, but you wouldn’t know it to read some of the older translations.
In 1697, John Dryden described a gay hero battling the invading Trojans in Book X as some kind of sinful pedophile: the “wretched Cydon … Who courted Clytius in his beardless bloom,/ And sought with lust obscene polluted joys” and might have been permanently cured of his “love of boys” had not his brethren stopped the enemy.
Three centuries later, Sarah Ruden gets far closer to the truth with a translation that’s less grand but far fairer:
“And you, poor Cydon, following Clytius,
Your latest love, with blond down on his cheeks,
Would have been brought down by a Trojan hand
That turned all passion for young men to nothing,
Had Phorcus’ seven sons, your troop of brothers,
Not hedged you closely, throwing seven spears.”
Now that’s what I call history.
Great little show at the Market Gallery, Deco and Art Moderne buildings from the 1920s and 1930s. The displays could use a bit more information, especially dates of construction and (too often) demolition, but the black-and-white photos are terrific and point to some really interesting buildings, including at least two of gay significance, the Oak Leaf Steam Baths at 216 Bathurst Street and the Ashley and Crippen building at 83 Bloor Street West near Bay. Charles Ashley and James Crippen were a gay couple who photographed dozens of famous Canadians and lived not far from another famous same-sex couple, the sculptors Frances Loring and Florence Wyle. Stripped of its Deco flourishes, their studio is now just another box-like component of the Bloor Street luxury trade (Hugo Boss division), but from 1977 onwards it was one of the gayest non-gay venues in Toronto: Bemelmans bar and restaurant. The Oak Leaf has been open since c. 1939 (it’s shown here in 1941) and is still going strong today, though perhaps with a tad less panache.
Oak Leaf Steam Baths, Sept 1941, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 795