Author: Sky Gilbert

For Gay Men Who Came of Age in the 1980s, a Grim Sense of Déja Vu

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of AIDS—or even what term was being used to describe it at the time. (Some of the first reports in 1982 referred to “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency” and “Acquired Immunodeficiency Disease.”) I’m Canadian, and most of my friends thought the phenomenon was confined to New York City and a handful of other large American cities. They refused to be concerned about it. To the extent it made news in the local media, it was in reports about the sudden appearance of a rare “cancer” in older gay men. By 1983, documented deaths were occurring in Toronto, where I live. We were told that it was passed on through sex—and, more specifically, through “mucous membranes.” I exhibited the complete ignorance of such matters that is typical of young men. It seemed to me that a penis was not a membrane, but I wasn’t sure. In 1985, when I was interviewed for one of the first Canadian documentaries on AIDS (No Sad Songs), I decried the lack of clear information, …

By Seeking ‘Safer Spaces’ for Actors, We’re Creating a Hostile Environment for Art

It was a difficult time with a difficult actor. I was directing one of my own plays, and the lead actor wasn’t acting. Yet I knew he was more than capable of executing the part. Finally, I confronted him. “Why aren’t you giving anything in the scene?” I asked. The actor was exasperated: “You know, when you gave me this play to read, I was hoping for once I wouldn’t have to play a screwed-up character. Why are all the characters you write so screwed up?” That was the last time I hired him. What kind of play do you want me to write? Drama emerges from conflict. And I honestly have no idea why any actor would want to appear in a serious play featuring protagonists who are not, in some way, “screwed up.” I mean, aren’t we all just a little bit screwed up? And isn’t that what we need to see on the stage: reflections of our deeply conflicted, neurotic selves? What I didn’t know was that this actor was ahead of …

The Rise of ‘Drag Kids’—and the Death of Gay Culture

Last month, the CBC—Canada’s public television network—ran a lavishly publicized documentary about “four kid drag queens as they prepare to slay on Montreal stage.” This was marketed as child-friendly content. Indeed, the CBC promoted the documentary, titled Drag Kids, on its “CBC Kids News” channel as a fun look at children who “sashay their way into the spotlight.” For me, as a gay man, watching the documentary was traumatic. The interviewed parents defend themselves against accusations they are abusing their children by encouraging them to dress up in drag. But to do so, the parents must purport to separate drag from sex and sexuality, which is simply ahistorical. They define drag as “a way of expression,” and assure everyone that “there’s nothing sexual to it” (a premise that the CBC clearly embedded in the marketing around the documentary). The kids themselves are very much on message. One remarks, “I was called gay-boy, but I did nothing but dress up.” That last remark actually brought tears to my eyes—though not for the reasons you might think. …

Watching My Own Excommunication—on a Facebook Video

I was officially excommunicated by the woke left on November 19, 2018. There is a Facebook video of the event, which anyone can watch. The social-justice left often is described as a manifestation of ideological, political or cultural forces. I no longer believe that to be an accurate description. The behavior on display in that video didn’t originate in a place of reason, but rather the realm of spiritual passions. I’ve already related to Quillette readers some parts of my story. In 1979, I founded Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, which for many years was Canada’s preeminent professional gay and lesbian theatrical company. However, the queer Buddies that exists today was truly born in 1985, when my friend Dr. Johnny Golding (a female philosopher and queer activist) became its president. Dr. Golding spearheaded Buddies’ 1994 move to its now permanent home on Alexander Street in Toronto, a 300-seat theatre (with a licensed cabaret) near the city’s large queer village. I resigned from Buddies in 1997 and handed over the creative reins to Sarah Stanley, a …

Homophobia and the Modern Trans Movement

Two and a half years ago, I spoke in Vancouver at Q2Q: A Symposium on Queer Theatre and Performance. After I delivered my paper, I became a focal point for criticism—though not because of my the content of my presentation. The controversy emerged in the Q&A, when I mentioned the fact that I was not only a gay man, but also a drag queen. Members of the audience stood up and opined about the apparently problematic practice of a white drag queen (like me) lip-synching to “appropriated music”—by which they meant music originally written and performed by non-white artists. It is undeniably true that drag queens (of all races) have a special affection for the work of divas of colour—and pay homage to these idols by lip-synching. It’s also true that gay and drag entertainment culture is centered in large part around pop music more generally. This is an industry that owes much to musicians of colour, who often have had their work used or co-opted without adequate compensation. But while this was a fair …

If That’s What It Means to Be a Writer, I Quit

Back in 2009, I wrote an article for Canada’s Globe and Mail titled If that’s what it means to be gay, I quit. “If you speak to the leaders of most gay and lesbian political groups about what it means to be gay today, they will probably answer using the words ‘love’ or ‘family’ or ‘caring,’” I wrote. “Well, the world of pretty rainbows, church on Sunday, monogamy, respectability and good citizenship is not the world I signed onto when I filled out my gay card.” I have been an out gay writer and activist in Toronto for nearly 40 years. For some time, I have complained about gay assimilationism—our cultural identity switch from gay sexual revolutionaries to obedient corporate citizens. Perhaps that’s because I come from another time. I remember the day I figured out I was a homosexual. I was at my grandmother’s house and I picked up a copy of Life magazine (June 26, 1964: Volume 26, #6). I was 12 years old. It was an article called Homosexuality in America, by Paul Welch. …