As this summer’s Pride festivals and festivities are set to get underway, we’re in conversation this week with three of the editors of the seminal (and fabulous) volume on Toronto queer history—Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer. It’s a pleasure to be in conversation with John Lorinc, Rahim Thawer, and Jane Farrow.*
Published by Coach House, the anthology draws on a range of voices to explore how the residents of queer Toronto have shaped and reshaped one of the world’s most diverse cities. Any Other Way includes chapters on Oscar Wilde’s trip to Toronto; early cruising areas and gay/lesbian bars; queer shared houses; a pioneering collective counter-archive project; bath house raids; LBGT-police conflicts; the Queen Street art/music/activist scene; and a profile of Jackie Shane, the trans R&B singer who performed in drag in both Toronto and Los Angeles, and gained international fame with her 1962 chart-topping single, "Any Other Way."
Rahim Thawer is a registered social worker, consultant, post-secondary instructor, and mental health counsellor. He has worked at multiple HIV/AIDS service organizations in Toronto as an outreach worker, resource writer, program coordinator, tester, and counsellor. Rahim continues to work in direct practice settings with newcomer, racialized, and LGBTQ communities. Rahim is an active community organizer with Salaam: Queer Muslim Community and is the co-founder of Ismaili Queers: Advocates for Pluralism.
Jane Farrow was the first executive director of Jane's Walk. For ten years she worked as a CBC Radio One host and producer on such programs as The Sunday Edition and Q. Spacing Magazine named Jane one of the 10 People We Love in their 10 Year Anniversary Issue, The Toronto Community Foundation recognized Jane's contribution to urban resiliency with a Vital People Award in 2010, and in 2014 she was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement LGBTQ Inspire Award.
John Lorinc is an award-winning journalist who has contributed to Toronto Life, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Saturday Night, Report on Business, and Quill & Quire, among other publications. He has written extensively on amalgamation, education, sprawl, and other city issues. He is the recipient of two National Magazine Awards for his coverage of urban affairs. His first book, Opportunity Knocks: The Truth About Canada’s Franchise Industry, was shortlisted for the National Business Book Award. He lives in Toronto.
*The full editorial team on Any Other Way comprises Stephanie Chambers, Jane Farrow, Maureen Fitzgerald, Ed Jackson, John Lorinc, Tim McCaskell, Rebecka Sheffield, Tatum Taylor and Rahim Thawer.
Trevor Corkum: Any Other Way is an incredible work of nonfiction. It’s sprawling, cacophonous, moving, and completely engrossing. How did it come together? What were you hoping to achieve?
John Lorinc: The book came together through a highly organic and dynamic process with the editors talking about how to get their arms around a sprawling and complex history in a way that extends from deep history to much more contemporary events. The collection aimed to be inclusive and mindful of the stories that have been historically overlooked. We also sought to provide the reader with a great diversity of voices and narrative approaches. There’s no one single history. There are histories.
Rahim Thawer: I was invited to the table of co-editors following conversations about inter-generational networks of queer activism and community spaces. I didn’t have much experience with writing projects but felt welcomed by Tim and Ed, whom I knew from my work in Toronto’s HIV sector and activist communities.
Jane Farrow: I think of this editing assignment as being a "gay enabler." Like being given a magic wand to wave over the city to show how much more gay, more fierce, more brave we have been. So much hidden history ready for prime time.
I think of this editing assignment as being a "gay enabler." Like being given a magic wand to wave over the city to show how much more gay, more fierce, more brave we have been. So much hidden history ready for prime time."
TC: One of the most striking features of the work is how fiercely it resists speaking for a homogenous “queer community” in Toronto. We hear from voices across gender, sexual, racial, religious, class, and other lines. Can you speak more about how you went about ensuring a diverse representation of voices?
RT: Our process for soliciting proposals and submissions included numerous discussions on aspects of queer histories that needed to be captured (resistance, spaces, projects, bars), as well as which groups were creating and cultivating community movements beyond the mainstream. It’s important to remember that queer history as a whole is not widely documented but we recognized that even where it has been, there have been omissions from the margins of mainstream queer communities. For a number of authors, we approached them with the openness of what they wanted to write about with interest in what piece of historical memory/space they thought needed to be documented.
JF: The broad sweep of queer history in Toronto is known to many—early emergence, gay clubs, bath house riots, resistance and organizing, human rights, gay lib, gay marriage – and an annual glitter bomb known as Pride. But there’s so much more to say, to savour, to love about queer history in Toronto. Its hyper-diverse, multi-generational messiness and complexity is what I was really wanted to shine light on—and I knew that was core for the other editors. We reached out as best we could—it’s far from encyclopaedic—but it’s an important contribution to the formal and vernacular queer history of this town. Can you say sequel?
TC: What’s an essay piece that stands out for each one of you, as emblematic, surprising or moving?
JL: Jennifer Coffey’s piece about Fran’s in the early 1970s is my favorite essay in the whole book. I was very taken with Marvellous Grounds for their provocative and insightful essay on how a city remembers or erases different communities. I also think one of the most intriguing works was the conclusion, by Rahim and Tatum Taylor, which brings us to the present and challenges the statement in the subtitle. I like a book that can disagree with itself.
RT: Rachel Epstein’s piece that takes us through a personal account of Pride needing to be politicized to be meaningful; Andrew Gurza’s account of navigating the Village and queer scenes from a wheelchair, with a sharp disability lens; El-Farouk’s interview on creating the Unity Mosque; Anu Radha Verma’s essay that shows a commitment to creating space in the suburbs—something I commend her for and would have had difficulty doing myself.
JF: karen bk chan’s mischievous diary entries exploring youthful butch lesbian Asian identity and flirting in the 90s. Former Mayor John Sewell’s recounting of the back room manoeuvring around his decision to publicly support queers facing unprecedented police and legal harassment in the early 1980s. Two love letters to a couple pivotal queer cultural high points in Toronto—Sara Liss’ "Hidden Cameras" and Alex McLelland’s "Vazaleen."
TC: Any work of history is by nature incomplete, hinting at what’s been erased, what remains hidden, what stories are yet to be told. What’s still missing from our history of Toronto’s queer communities? Where do we find these stories?
JL: We could have done more on drag, for sure, and trans women.
RT: We had a number of pieces that didn’t quite “make it” beyond a proposal stage from POC and academic contributors because of the other demands on their time. The publication of this book will hopefully get people thinking about what a second edition could include, such as the diversity of movements within Black queer communities, Toronto’s vibrant drag culture, stories from asylum seekers about first arriving in Toronto, funding shifts and cuts in a changing landscape of HIV prevention services, experiences within and beyond the gender binary such as navigating centralized gender identity services in mental health institutions. I’m also curious about small but significant events within enclaves of queer communities, such as same-sex parents of interfaith orientations having a Bay’ah ceremony for their child in an Ismaili Muslim context—a piece of history I’ve been privy to but has not yet been documented.
The publication of this book will hopefully get people thinking about what a second edition could include ..."
JF: More on dyke music scene, dyke bars, dances and the connection between the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and Toronto—in all its complexity. The interplay of feminist organizing and lesbian activism – like International Women’s Day and the Lesbian Mothers Defense Fund. Early days of the dyke march. Inside Out Film Festival and queer theatre-making like Anne Marie MacDonald’s earlier works (remember Nancy Drew?). More on caregiving and political organizing around the HIV epidemic. Early recounting of the dyke march. More more more.
TC: One of the key conversations within and outside Toronto’s LGBTQ community in the past year is the relationship between racialized members of the community and the police, particularly in relation to Pride. Given the history of resistance, defiance, celebration, and protest that mark the book, how can we contextualize the current political and social struggles within the broader history of Toronto’s LGBTQ communities?
RT: I think Any Other Way serves as a useful medium to hold in print many of the abuses queer and trans folks have faced by the police and other arms of the State. Unfortunately, current rhetoric around “inclusion” of gay/queer police officers erases this history of tension and abuse, ignores actual dynamics of power imbalance and State-sanctioned homophobia, and fails queer people of colour, particularly Black communities. Black Lives Matter, comprising numerous queer people, have spoken out about the ongoing surveillance and police brutality faced by Black people in Toronto, only to be faced with anti-Black racism and us vs. them characterizations. I do wonder if issues of racism and intersectional identities will ever be understood widely in gay/queer communities where basic rights have been won and some people have the privilege to not think about who has been left out.
I think Any Other Way serves as a useful medium to hold in print many of the abuses queer and trans folks have faced by the police and other arms of the State."
JF: What Rahim said – perfect! Thanks.
Excerpt from Steven Maynard’s “A New Way of Lovin’: Queer Toronto Gets Schooled by Jackie Shane” in Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer
It’s just about that time for the star of our revue, ladies and gentlemen, Little Jackie Shane!’ It was the fall of 1967, and Jackie, backed by Frank Motley and the Hitchhikers, was recording an album live from the Saphire Tavern in downtown Toronto. Jackie packed the house, appearing in a shimmering sequin pantsuit, full makeup, false eyelashes, and a fabulous do. ‘I sing sexy, too,’ Jackie tells us. ‘That helps.’
For the last number of the evening, Jackie performed ‘Any Other Way.’ Originally released in 1962, the record climbed to #2 on the local CHUM chart and was a ‘regional breakout’ in places like Baltimore, St. Louis, and Washington, reaching #124 on Billboard’s ‘Bubbling Under the Hot 100.’ Jackie started in, slow and seductive, with just the right quaver. And then that enigmatic hook: ‘Tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay, tell her I wouldn’t have it any other way.’ This night, Jackie punctuated the song with several spoken lines: ‘Tell her that I’m happy...be sure and tell her this...tell her that I’m gay.’ A moment later, Jackie interrupted again: ‘I hear them whisper, they say, there Jackie goes with a broken heart...but they’re wrong, darlin’, I’m having a good time, me and my chicken.’
Jackie’s Black-fem fabulosity, the winking double entendre, rhapsodizing about chicken, all in nominally straight clubs in Toronto of the 1960s – the brazenness and bravery astound and impress even today. How many in the audience caught Jackie’s references? Russ Strathdee, a straight white saxophone player active on the city’s thriving R & B scene during the sixties, saw Jackie perform several times, even snapping some pics of Shane at the west-end dance club Ascot Hall. ‘When Jackie made reference to the word gay,’ he recounts, ‘none of the people I knew back then were using that word in connection with the “homosexual” scene, including one of my friends of that persuasion.’ Surely, though, others among the ‘gay set’ who flocked to Jackie’s shows got the reference. There’s a reason gay gossip columnists in the local tabloids kept tabs on Jackie, their interest peaking in the year ‘Any Other Way’ debuted.
It’s tempting to read the song as autobiography. The liner notes on the Jackie Shane Live lp invite this: ‘You’ll be inspired as Jackie tells you his life story in “Any Other Way.”’ And what was that story? As Jackie tells it, ‘You know what my woman told me one night? She said, “Jackie, if you don’t stop switchin’ around here and playing the field and bringing that chicken home, you gonna have to get to steppin’.” I said, “Uh huh,” and I grabbed my chicken by one hand, baby, and we been steppin’ ever since that night.’
The popularity of ‘Any Other Way’ and how it spotlights ‘gay,’ then and now, has overshadowed other aspects of Jackie’s identity. Today, Jackie lives as a woman. In many of the historical sources, as well as people’s reminiscences quoted in what follows, Jackie is referred to as ‘he.’ I leave these as is, because they capture important features of transgender historical experience. When I refer to Jackie, I’ll take my cue from her. While I believe Jackie properly belongs to a Black-trans past, we need to keep in mind that throughout her courageously unconventional life and career, Jackie moved across a range of gender and sexual identifications, always in complicated relation to race and class, in ways that fascinated many and mystified others.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.