“Torontonamo Bay”

Toronto just finished hosting the G20 Summit, which literally lasted about eight hours in our city. The meeting got started at around 9am on Sunday and by 5pm leaders were already on their way out of town. An eight-hour meeting sure cost a whole lot and wreaked a whole lot of havoc.

I was glued to live news coverage on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday I skipped out on plans and watched the news from about 5pm until midnight. On Sunday, after participating in the completely peaceful, happy, and fun bike rally protest for a couple of hours, I was glued to the TV again from about 5:30pm until 11pm. I want to say that CP24 did an amazing job…for those two days…covering the vandalizing and police standoffs. It would have been nice if they had also provided wall-to-wall, commercial-free coverage of the demonstrations that took place all week—thousands of people in the days before the summit peacefully demonstrating on the streets of Toronto, getting their message out. That wasn’t so interesting, you see, because there were no assholes lighting police cars on fire.

Where were the media for the “Shout Out For Global Justice,” which took place at Massey Hall and featured Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, and Maude Barlow (among others)? And when Naomi Klein led the entire audience on a peaceful walk to the temporary “tent city” at Allen Gardens in solidarity with the homeless, where were the media? And when Allen Gardens became a peaceful dance party? That wasn’t so interesting to the media since there were no assholes smashing store windows.

What occurred this past weekend in Toronto was nothing short of a clusterfuck. These meetings should not be held in densely populated urban settings. They should not cost, for two days, what the United Nations spends in an entire year. They should be held in places that are already fortified and secure enough to protect the heads of state that reside in them—the White House, Parliament Hill, Downing Street, the Palace…or the freakin’ UN! And they should not pick the pockets of cities, small-business owners, and residents when it’s the federal government making the decisions.

There’s a lot to say about the G20, the politics, and what happened in Toronto on the weekend. There is a vast echo chamber now and there’s little chance I’ll say something that hasn’t already been said. Except for one thing.

Yesterday there was another demonstration, an extremely peaceful and massive “jail solidarity” demo for the 900+ people who were arrested and detained in the makeshift detention centre. I heard two or three people who were interviewed on the news refer to the detainment facility as “Torontonamo Bay.” And today I read the report of Cameron Fenton, a 24-year-old who was arrested and detained for 17 hours; he referred to the detention centre as “tantamount to torture.”

No one is denying that the conditions at the detention facility were bad—they probably were terrible. I would have been miserable if I had had to stay there for even 3 hours, let alone 24. I would likely be complaining about it to anyone who would listen. I might even be seeking legal representation. But let’s be reasonable and respectful. There are innocent people at Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities overseas who have been held—without charges, without lawyers, without habeas corpus—for many, many years. There are innocent people in these facilities (and some who are likely not innocent) who have been tortured. Truly tortured. To compare your treatment for 12, 17, or 24 hours at a makeshift detainment facility in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to a military-run torture centre that exists in a legal no-man’s land is completely ignorant. It’s akin to comparing Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, or anyone besides Hitler, to Hitler. It’s like Gretchen Carlson comparing her job as a talk-show host to that of the President of the United States.

People who have been held in a legal abyss and who have truly been tortured would likely have a thing or two to say about your experience versus theirs. So no more of this “Torontonamo Bay” and “tantamount to torture” bullshit. If you want to have your issues taken seriously, then be serious.

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Tidy, friendly garbage

The Toronto city workers strike is over! Yay!

I didn’t personally feel any of the effects of the month-long strike: my neighbourhood and neighbourhoods I frequent aren’t near a temporary garbage dump, weren’t over-run by garbage, nor did they smell like garbage. I don’t have children, so I didn’t need city-run daycare. I don’t live on the Toronto Islands, so I didn’t need the ferry. Except for having to hold my pee during my baseball games because the washrooms were locked up and not being able to use the library, my life has been pretty much the same. But I do have empathy for those who have suffered from the strike and I’m happy it’s over.

This has got me thinking, though. I wish there were some way that government workers could show their displeasure and frustration with their employers that wouldn’t make the public suffer. Strikes are supposed to hurt the employers. If you work in a factory and have sub-standard working conditions or pay (and are a member of a union), you go on strike. The factory won’t be able to make its widgets and the company will suffer financial losses.

But when you’re a public worker and you go on strike, your employers don’t suffer all that much (if they do, it’s mainly in the polls), but the public suffers immensely.

People who couldn’t collect their welfare cheques, or who depend on city-run daycare/day camp for their kids in the summer, or who had to pay someone to cart away their garbage because they don’t have a car to drive it to the temporary dump—those are the ones the strike hurt the most.

Why should we, the public, have to pay the price for the employers (the government) not meeting its employees’ standards?

I know it’s practically an irrelevant complaint because this is how it works and there is no other way. But what if there were?

What if the government officials and the striking individuals had to pay out-of-pocket for “scabs” to keep all of these services going during a strike? What if they couldn’t dip into the government budget, nor simply shut down these services, but had to keep them going and pay for them personally? Say a “strike tax” on their paycheques, which they’d get back at the end of each year if no strike occurs. If a strike does occur, then that money would be used to keep vital services going, both sides of the dispute would have to deal with the financial loss, and the tax-paying public wouldn’t suffer? Don’t you think that would resolve a strike situation more quickly?

Unrealistic, I know. But dare to dream.

By the way, I thought I’d mention a cute American-commenting-on-Canada remark I heard a couple of weeks ago regarding the garbage strike.

I went to see the amazing singer-songwriter Neko Case at Massey Hall. Neko commented that you wouldn’t really even know there was a strike going on if you weren’t told, that it was the cleanest garbage strike she’d ever seen. Her back-up singer extraordinaire Kelly Hogan added (I’m paraphrasing a little): “I know. Even your garbage is clean! Tidy, friendly garbage.”

Cute.

Hyper-machismo and homo-eroticism

I watched Lucha Libre (Mexican) wrestling at the Mexico Festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront this weekend. I don’t know why. I guess because I’ve never seen wrestling in real life before and was curious. Mexican wrestling is essentially the WWE (previously the WWF) but with masks. Watching it, a few things struck me.

One is that although everyone (I hope, but I doubt it) should know by now that wrestling is fake, it looks so much more fake in person that on TV! Laughably so. The athleticism of what these guys do is undeniable, but it is essentially just like tumbling or gymnastics. Flying through the air, flips, and jumping over their opponents’ heads requires the same athleticism as gymnasts have. The only difference between wrestling entertainment and gymnastics is the injection of hyper-machismo and ample homo-eroticism. The fact that those two things co-exist—and are indeed as important a part of wrestling as the athleticism and fake rivalries—is quite a paradox. How do you have the ultimate in male bravado paired with the ultimate in homo-eroticism? Sweaty, buff, waxed, nearly naked men hug each, perform complex coreographies together, and stick their crotches in each others’ faces while simultaneously claiming to want to annihilate the other guy. Again, the word laughable comes to mind. Many of these men act like they are or at least would purport to be homophobes, yet they are participating in an activity that is so gay!

And the acting is pretty terrible. These men are clearly athletes and body builders (and perhaps closet cases), but actors they are not. The way they played up each fake hit was so cartoonish I almost expected stars and tweeting birds to circle their heads. I commented to my friend at one point that the whole thing was very Three Stooges.

I was also struck by the reaction of the crowd. The men and boys were completely into it, oohing and aahing, ouching and sucking in their breath, fist-pumping and jumping up and down, yelling and macho-posturing. A few elderly ladies, while not so caught up in it, seemed to believe it was real, saying things like, “Ooh, that must have hurt!” But the women? The women were in on the joke together—the joke being the wrestlers and the men in the audience.

I wish I could thank the women around me for making the experience so enjoyable. Their quips were priceless; here are some paraphrases:

  • “Wow, they really wax everything! I wonder if that guy will give me his waxer’s phone number.”
  • “Come on, kiss! Kiss!! Or at least just caress one another!”
  • “Does that guy think he’s a cave man?”
  • (Dubbing in the wrestler’s voice who had his crotch in another wrestler’s face): “Ooooh baby. Yes, right there! Oh yeah, that’s how I like it! You’re soooo good!”

And general laughter and merriment at how ridiculous the whole display was. Again, I am not claiming that the athleticism required is ridiculous (it’s very real), just the macho posturing, pseudo-rivalries, and fakeness of it all; it’s almost insulting that we’re meant to buy it.

I had to wonder whether this is the only acceptable way for men to experience the athleticsm of tumbling and gymnastics. Watching other men doing flips and other athletic feats solo in the realm of gymnastics would be far too gay, but watching nearly naked sweaty men in duos or groups doing flips and other athletic feats under the guise of beating the crap out of each other is somehow okay; it implies nothing. Or so they think….

(I should add that I don’t think only men enjoy wrestling. My friend pointed out that she knows multiple women who are very into wrestling. Personally I have never met any, but I don’t doubt that they exist.)

Happy Pride!

PrideThis year’s Pride marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots (Pride month is generally June).

In the United States in the 1960s, gay bars were raided by police regularly, and anyone found within was alternately beaten or arrested, or both.

But on June 28, 1969, the people fought back. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted the police and as many as 2,000 people took part in the ensuing riot, which lasted several days.

The Stonewall riots are often credited with sparking the modern equality movement of the GLBT community.

It is worth remembering and thinking about this as we celebrate Pride this year. Gay Pride events around the world celebrate the movement’s progress towards equality for queer people, and it’s hard to imagine “the movement” without Stonewall.

We have come a long way in 40 years, but full equality is still elusive. The Gay Pride movement is as important as ever. But some argue that events like Pride parades mar “mainstream” society’s perception of the queer community, doing more harm than good.

Non-queer or non-queer-friendly people may look at the display with disdain, imagining that the nudity, Dykes on Bikes, leather daddies, bears, drag queens, and drag kings are a representative depiction of the queer community as a whole. And these people would be hypocrites who haven’t taken a moment to really think about it.

Do Americans have to struggle to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Mardi Gras? Does the rest of the world imagine that all Americans are always drunken, vomiting fucktards in elaborate costumes who get naked for some cheap plastic beads? Do Brasilians have to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Carnival? What about teenagers and twenty-somethings after Spring Break? Do they all have to go back to their respective high schools, colleges, and home towns and prove that they aren’t always drunken freaks who will fuck and suck anyone or anything in front of a camera?

Do people who participate in Mardi Gras, Carnival, or Spring Break relinquish their politics?

Pride, like Mardi Gras, Carnival, Spring Break, and probably most weddings you’ve been to, is a celebration. It’s a liberation. Once a year, queers and queer-friendly straight people come together to celebrate and party. And on Monday they all don their normal clothes and go to their normal jobs, come home to their normal spouses and make a normal dinner for their normal kids (or what-have-you).

You needn’t look hard to see that the political/social struggle for equality and resistance against discrimination and oppression are still alive and well within Pride events: signs, booths, petitions, flyers, buttons, flags, and statements from stage are ubiquitous. Members of the queer community who bemoan Pride events as lacking politics are perhaps missing the point. Gay Pride is a celebration first and foremost, but it is also a political statement by the very fact of its existence.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a group of friends while watching one of the early season one episodes of the lesbian show The L Word. The conversation was about whether or not The L Word was a political show. Someone asked me my opinion and I said that I thought the existence of the show itself is a political statement.

Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.” In this case, the Pride parade itself—that thumping beat, that rainbow flag, that naked body, that cheering crowd—is the message. That is the politics.

Millions of people from all over the world travel to some of the biggest Prides, in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Sydney, etc. It’s a celebration, but the message is that it’s okay to be queer and proud of it, that it’s okay to celebrate sexuality. These are still political messages.

The sexual liberation of Pride owes a lot to the feminist and “free love” movements, advocating that it’s okay to be sexual, to enjoy sex, to talk about sex (as long as it is between, or among, consenting adults). The queer community embraces and celebrates queerness, sexuality, and the body. That’s political.

Not that Pride is all about sex. Far from it. It’s about community, family, politics, music, kids and dogs, water guns and stickers, drinking and dancing, open-mindedness, acceptance, celebration, and…pride.

Pride is a confluence of politics, community, and celebration. Maybe the overt politics do come second to the celebration. But it is a celebration after all. Some 363 days of the year most queers live their politics, constantly fighting for equal rights. Two days out of the year they celebrate because they are not ashamed of who they are; they are proud to shout it from the back of a flatbed truck.

If Pride were a three-day conference with political speakers and action groups, do you think anyone in the mainstream public would care? Would municipal governments, business owners, and the media clamour to be a part of it? Would we be all over the television, internet, and newspapers? Not a chance.

The gay rights movement, like any equality movement, is about the socio-political struggle for equal rights. Pride is about celebration.

The two can, and do, converge.

Happy Birthday Toronto!

Aaah, the smog-purple sky. Beautiful, isn't it?

Aaah, the smog-purple sky. Beautiful, isn't it?

It’s probably hard for most people to take pure joy in unseasonably warm weather because in our heart of hearts looms the shadow of climate change. But today will be a record high temperature in Toronto for this date, and it is Toronto’s 175th birthday, so I say get out and celebrate. Let spring fever infuse you. Walk with a spring in your step. Spring into action and…okay, these puns are not amusing. Just enjoy this day.

Happy birthday to the city I love!

Published in: on March 6, 2009 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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