Sunday, June 15, 2008

The other queers

pride week sort of sneaked up on me this year. mo and i went to the march yesterday and planned to go to the dance (or at least a pre-party) last night. when 7 and then 8 PM rolled around, though, we didn't really feel like going out again. we didn't have very good excuses: i wanted to try a new noodle recipe, mo didn't want to drive all the way to the city's southeast, i can't really dance on my knee and wouldn't want to be tempted, and anyway greece and russia were playing each other in the UEFA tournament .... and so we made the decision to stay in fairly easily.

we did, however, get up this morning and head off to the "mayor's pride brunch for camp fyrefly." we hadn't been planning to go, but we ran into michael phair in churchill square yesterday and he had two extra tickets, so i put on a dress and heels, mo grabbed a commuter mug of coffee, and we got to the crowne plaza by 11. walking into the room, i had to wonder: when did we become these queers? -- the ones who skip the party but make the fundraising breakfast, the ones on friendly terms with the mayor and MLAs, the ones who make small talk with strangers over waffles and eggs? and as for the small talk: there's the obligatory wink to partying like only queers can, as in "yes, 11 does feel early after last night..." but for the most part the chat was solidly un-queer middle-class stuff: how we feel about vancouver or toronto and where we've all traveled recently.

things are equally disorienting at the other end of the age spectrum. no doubt about it: camp fyrefly is amazing. in its third year, this four-day experience for queer youth from across canada is something i can't even imagine having experienced when i was in high school. these young people actively celebrate their differences (from each other, from their families, from all the other people/posers/losers at their high schools) and, once the camp is done, support each other through the year. when i think back to high school, i remember feeling unrelievedly miserable, lonely and isolated because i was desperately uncool, being too brainy, too brawny, and insufficiently feminine. i bought something resembling respect through establishing a cottage industry of fake IDs and porn, and i defended my reputation with fist fights and blackmail. god, though, wouldn't it have been easier to go to gay camp? the idea of having your freak cherished is -- well, i don't know what to think of it, really. it sounds like a disney movie with a helping of self-esteem on the side. and can you imagine what it would mean, on any given day of high school, to get a text from outside? your cell phone'd be a frickin' genie.

mo and i were struck, yesterday, by the number of young people at pride. at first i wondered whether it was just me: when i was 18, everybody over 35 fell into the undifferentiated category of "old." am i living the obverse of this, where anybody short of graduate school is "young"? but i don't think so. the concept of "youth" seems to be a significant twenty-first-century phenomenon. stretching from 16 to 25, in most usages, "youth" refers to that no-longer-a-kid-but-not-yet-comfortable-being-an-adult stage of life. it's probably a consequence of minivan parenting (or whatever they're calling it these days), and i'm sure it has to do with post-secondary tuition rising so ferociously that students have to live at home to go to school.

sometimes i balk at the new youth concept. my first objection: youth runs to 25? i was finished my doctoral coursework by 25! by 25, mo had been living on her own for a decade! also aggravating: when you're involved with the arts, it's clear that "youth" is a magic word, an open sesame that other terms -- say, "mid-career," "experimental" or, the real death knell for funding, "feminist" -- can never even approach. finally, like a typical old fart, i find myself thinking, oh fer chrissakes get over yourself and get a real job.

at the same time, i understand the need for such a term. whatever i might think about recent socioeconomic shifts and their causes, i know from my experience in undergraduate classrooms that your typical student doesn't see herself as an adult. she doesn't want to call her classmates "men" and "women"; they're "guys," if not "kids." part of this is simply germane to university education, of course: part of our role, as i see it, is to bring students through this transition and to model them as adults for each other. but what i fail to take seriously is that it is a transition, and a big one. if you don't see yourself as a grown-up, you're not going to magically change just because i see you that way.

at this morning's brunch, one of the fyrefly youth leaders spoke briefly. she looked about 17 -- young -- and she referred to herself as a "youth." i wouldn't have pegged her as queer if i'd run into her at a bus stop, which is a whole other puzzle to me about kids (sorry, youth) these days. she said to a room of 250 mostly middle-aged queers, "you know what pisses me off? people always ask us youth what we want to do when we grow up. well, i want to do things now. i am doing things now! part of being a good leader is learning how to lead yourself. we at camp fyrefly are building a better world for ourselves and for each other -- and for you, too. and if the world we build threatens to backslide, well, that's just too bad, 'cause we won't let it!"

and then, as if that weren't enough of a high, they did the 50/50 draw and my girlfriend won $400. right there at the front of a crowne plaza ballroom, she hugged michael phair and winked at laurie blakeman. i think the mayor waved a little, and i know fern snart gave her the nod. then mo came back to the table where our new friends congratulated her and we all made jokes about how she could fill the car for a week on that money.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your entry brought up my own issues of wanting to maintain some idea of an outsider status even in the face of acceptance.

My being was based on being different and strength came from that. It is my issue now to have to integrate my differences with what makes me now the same....