Between the Lines

The Sky’s the limit

Richard Burnett
‘’I am probably the most despised person in Toronto’s gay community’’, Toronto playwright Sky Gilbert told me a couple of years ago. But at least he too is loathed for a good reason. You see, Gilbert has a knack for speaking his mind, not just in private but in public, and usually in print where everyone can read him a second time, unsure if they actually read what they think they read the first time. Well, it happened again just last month (Feb 19) after the Canadian family-values, right-wing website screeched, ’’Canada’s newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham is a darling of the homosexual activist community having constantly supported pro-homosexuality initiatives including homosexual marriage. However, last year a Toronto-based homosexual magazine called Fab [which occasionally reprints my column Three Dollar Bill] published an interview with Lawrence Metheral, a former male prostitute, who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Graham, dating back to 1980 when Metheral was 15.’’

But Gilbert, bless him, seized the moment just days before Lifesite did.

In his Feb 14 Pink Panther column in Toronto’s alternative Eye weekly, Sky succinctly bitches, ‘’The first thing you need to know is that Bill Graham is gay. There, I said it. Is it so very hard to say the word gay? After all, you just have to put your lips together and blow. ‘’

‘’I’m certainly not outing the man. (I don’t believe anyone has the right to drag someone out of the closet who hasn’t already confirmed it themselves.) Almost everyone in [Toronto’s] gay community knows that Graham is gay - even if he is married - but mostly the press is not willing to say it in plain English. Admittedly, Graham, instead of admitting his sexuality, deftly (in true diplomat fashion) evades the topic.’’

Gilbert saves the real vitriol for Toronto’s self-dubbed ‘’national’’ media and also has several choice words for that city’s local gay press.

‘’The result is that the press must drag out old reliable adjectives - like flamboyant - to describe him (we all know what flamboyant means, eh?),’’ Gilbert writes. ‘’After his appointment, the Toronto Star could only bring itself to mention that Graham was a member of the ‘’pink caucus,’’ which supported changing the definition of spouse to include homosexual relationships. Unbelievably, even [gay newspaper] Xtra! could only manage to describe the cabinet minister as ‘’gay friendly.’’

Then Sky goes in for the kill.

‘’The tabloids have not been so shy,’’ he writes. ‘’You see, fab (the magazine for homosexuals who hate themselves) published an interview with an ex-boyfriend of Graham’s last year, featuring the spurned lover’s lurid accusations against the respected MP. In my opinion, this was a disgusting piece of yellow journalism. I remember thinking - after using the article to drain the grease off my breakfast bacon - that fab had finally sunk as low as any supermarket tabloid. And Frank [magazine], true to sleazy form, reprinted fab’s bilge after Graham’s appointment.’’

Those I have spoken with agree with Gilbert when he concludes, ‘’The newspapers have finally got an admitted homosexual in a position of enormous power, and they are just itching to destroy him.’’

Well, I too graduated from the Malcolm X school of rhetoric and, quite honestly, I think Sky gets a passing grade.
No, I don’t believe there is a Christian-right conspiracy to destroy everything and everyone gay. I do, however, believe that homophobia is so deeply ingrained in Canadian society that few Canadians have paused to sit back and consider that what Graham does in his private life is his business, and his business alone. That 15-year-old hustler Graham paid 20 years ago for sex took Graham’s money because he wanted to. In other words, it was consensual sex. End of drama, end of story.

Meanwhile, I too had to sit back and reread another op-ed twice before I realized it wasn‚t anti-gay. In his ‘’Hahvud Gets Sillier: Queer Studies Comes To Romper Room’’ rant on, writer Fred XXX laments Harvard University’s new Queer Studies courses. The Bill Graham story is an example of how Queer Studies can help explain how homophobia created gay culture and queer theory, so at first I resisted Fred’s rant.

‘’Why, you might ask, does Harvard want to study queers?’’ Fred asks rhetorically. ‘’It doesn’t, methinks. I suspect that the adolescents of Harvard, a category which also includes many of the students, merely want to behave disagreeably - to shock their partners or, in the case of the faculty, society. Queer Studies serves nicely. Next year it will be S&M Studies, Pedophile Studies, or a Department of Cannibalism.’’
Feathers ruffled - Pedophile studies, my ass - I read on ready to be fully offended.

‘’Which brings us to an important point,’’ Fred says. ‘’The objection to Queer Studies is not that queers are reprehensible - I think they are not - but that the subject is too narrow for a major. Queers are a tiny group of a few percent of the population and of no great importance as a group. Yes, they have contributed much to civilization. So have people with warts. We do not have Wart Studies. Yet.’’

I guess even bleeding-heart liberal ‘’I love gays more than they love themselves’’ straight folk can’t admit queers got it going on.

But Fred does strike a chord.

‘’As best I can tell, the quality of study, and of faculty, in departments varies inversely with the degree of politicization,’’ Fred states. ‘’Black Studies and Women’s Studies are scholastically absurd, as many know and few say. (They are also wildly militant, which is why they continue to exist.) Departments of Literature and of ‘’social sciences’’ (as in ‘’cosmetology science’’) are nearly as political, and as vacuous. Schools of chemistry and engineering remain healthy: No one has yet suggested that all equations should have the same answer so as to avoid invidious distinctions.’’

But I bet straight folks would suggest just that if it would keep those studies, well, heterosexual.

Because, bottom line, most straight folks just want to read about themselves and a world that is, for the most part, straight as an arrow. Which is also why I’d rather read an entertaining columnist like Sky Gilbert dissect gay issues in a thoughtful, well-reasoned rant, especially in an alt-weekly where most readers are probably straight.
Then I came across a Sydney Morning Herald op-ed (March 1) on Mardi Gras by a straight middle-aged woman, Julie Fewster, who states, ‘’I hate Mardi Gras time. I hate it even though I live in the Cross, in hissing distance of Oxford Street, and I avoid it like the plague. I hate that while trying to get a leg wax the week before march day there are more men than women at Ella Baché getting the apparently infamous march day special ‘’back, sac and crack.’’

Fewster also hates ‘’that normally boring straight suburban people ask their boring straight friends (like me) to babysit ALL night so they can go to the ball (and could little Sarah and Justin stay for lunch the next day so we can get some sleep, please?).’’

Fewster goes on and on, but in her final graphs admits what’s really eating at her. ‘’So, yes, I really hate Mardi Gras,’’ she says. ‘’Because I’m jealous. Really jealous. I want smooth skin, smooth, tanned skin, Botoxed or otherwise. I want to know where to get such a good haircut and what hair product is best for this humidity. I want good abs (actually, I’d be happy with good pecs), I want to be looked at and yes, even whistled at. I want to be part of something exciting and fun. And I want to look the part.’’

Now that’s why straight folks have always hated queers - they’ve always wanted to BE us.

Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine as well as on the web at and (click on the ‘’issues’’ link and scroll down to Three Dollar.