Queer View Mirror: My Gay Grandpas
My article from BeatRoute’s November issue.
Though scientists and academics have pondered the notion of a gay bloodline for almost as long as gays have walked this mighty Earth, the findings still feel hazy, or at least my limited-at-best research has come up with more questions than answers. In traditional families, these stories trickle down the family tree to give us a sense of who we are and where we’re from: of the bigger picture. But without some kind of bloodline, how are the stories of our queer ancestors passed on? Where do young queers get a concrete sense of what came before? The Internet and popular culture do not legacy make.
I’m not saying life revolves around our queer experience, but we can’t deny that our experiences are shaped by our queerness. If we want to learn from our community’s rich history and get a sense of where we fit in the landscape of queer activism and social understanding of queer issues, it’s pivotal for us to make contact. So what can we do? To start, we can say hi. Just hi. Our queer elders are all around us — At the bar, in Jim Deva plaza, at Pride. But we need to be willing to connect. We have to be open to the possibility that we want to share our stories and that we’re not hitting on each other, but just trying to genuinely connect. (Though by all means, hit on each other if that’s your jam.)
When I lived in Toronto ten years ago I had gay grandpas. These were men who I’d seen at the bars so many times that I thought I should at least say hello. One was a drag queen, decked out in heels, even at 76; the other was his partner of 50 years. I found that inspiring, both the heels and the longevity of their relationship. I didn’t know them well. We never spent time together outside of the bars, but I also spent a hell of a lot of time in the bars, so it felt like quality time. As a bright-eyed little homo, these men opened my gay eyes. Hearing about the early years of their relationship, about their unwillingness to actually admit to one another that they were in a relationship together as a result of the turbulent world around them, made me deeply grateful for how far queer rights have come.
Through the work my husband and I do through his company Zee Zee Theatre, we have been fortunate enough to meet a huge spectrum of queers from various generations, and we’ve been welcomed into the fold of many a dinner party where we were the youngest by 30 or, at times, 45 years. What a gift. Through these dinner parties we were able to meet two gentlemen who we consider some of our dearest friends. There are decades that divide us and we have had very different life experiences, and we take the time we have together to share these untold stories from our gay lineage. These incredible men, at 65 and 85, have become our gay grandparents, though they would kill us if we ever said that in front of them. They’re dear friends, but the notion applies. It’s through them that we get a better understanding of our queer selves and certainly of the great strides that have been made in queer liberation, and the luxuries and privilege that our generation holds.
Let me be clear: These men are not our daddies. They are not picking up the cheque. They are beautiful and kind men who have a wealth of life experience that they’re willing to share over a glass of wine and a lot of belly laughs.
A few years ago we asked our gay grandparents if they’d allow me to write a play about them, and we were thrilled when they said yes. They were very candid in what they shared and I’m so proud to be able to share their life story, of sorts, in the form of a Technicolor gay musical at The Cultch’s York Theatre this March. It’s called Elbow Room Café: The Musical and it’s about their legacy, about the stamp we want to leave on this community, this world once we’re gone. How people will tell the story of who we were.
Lucky me to have found gay grandparents whose story I can help tell.