I grew up in Etobicoke, in the West End of Toronto. Toronto has been called a queer city, but Etobicoke is a desert. Growing up, and still today in some respects, queerness was not spoken about very often. Not in positive terms, at least. As a queer kid, it meant a lot of hiding, being careful about what I said, else the Pandora’s box would be opened. It was not until university that I was able to start exploring my identity and face my queerness. Those old haunts have imprinted on me, helped to form my queer life. Crossdressing in lectures at Convocation Hall, only to walk home along St. George and pass impassioned protesters in front of Sid Smith for or against the latest thing Jordan Peterson has said. I would not be the person I am today if I had not walked these streets.
There is something magical about local history, where the places and spaces feel familiar. When you recognize the streets mentioned and can place them in your head. This is what I feel when I read Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer. There’s a queer history to this city, one that flows under the official stories the city likes to tell. Learning these stories and seeing the locations mentioned makes me feel more connected to them.
Toronto is not always the best when it comes to telling its queer history. During my undergraduate degree, I lived with friends at Brunswick and Bloor, a short walk away from the Brunswick House. The Brunny, as it was often called, was a local pub that was renown among students and graduates of the University of Toronto. It was not until after I graduated and moved away that I discovered the story of the Brunswick Four, a group of lesbians who were arrested in 1974 for singing “I Enjoy Being A Dyke” during an open mic night. These arrests resulted in one of the largest gay liberation protests the city had seen. There was a queer history right under my feet, and I was none the wiser.
Any Other Way lets you in on these stories that were hidden from view, and tells them in incredibly personal ways. The book is an anthology with over 100 authors giving their stories, their experiences, their lives in this city. Sometimes, the voices even contradict and present differing opinions. It all comes together to present a multifaceted image of Toronto. It is hard not to feel reflected in some way.
those stories as well, but they are not presented as the narrative they so often are. Some of the authors even call out these “official” histories, describing events like the Bathhouse Raids as a “brief period of white queer antagonism with the criminal justice system” (220) rather than a continued effort towards abolition. The resulting collection feels appropriate for a multicultural city like Toronto.
I adore this book. It makes me feel like I am part of this history, just for walking the same roads as those that came before me. It reveals aspects of this city’s long queer history that do not seem to be discussed often. The secret worlds of previous years, the remnants of which only exist in the memories of those that lived them. Familiar spots are painted with a new, queer brush. It is through this book that I discovered the queer history of Allen Gardens, where Oscar Wilde spoke in 1882 and has been a cruising spot for decades. This book introduced me to Rough Trade, the queer new wave group that had a hit with the sexually charged “High School Confidential” whom I have come to love. There are hilarious stories like the one on a lavender marriage between Bob Gallagher and Chris Bearchell, two prominent queer activists, so Bob would be able to stay in Canada. The marriage only succeeded because they managed to get a butch immigration officer who knowingly did not probe into their details. There are moving stories about AIDS victims, told from their loved ones as they passed away. All of them pull back the curtain and reveal new aspects to life that you might not have been familiar with before.
There’s one last feature of this book that I appreciate immensely. It is the perfect transport book. I do not have a car, so I get around by the TTC. The subway does not take too long to ride before I have to get off. This makes reading less than ideal, as it means I would be starting and stopping frequently. This is not an issue with Any Other Way as each entry in the anthology is fairly short, most only a couple of pages. On a twenty minute trip, I can get through a few entries, whereas I might get part way through a chapter in most other books I read. It is perfect for those little moments of downtime where you just need something to do.
Any Other Way is a fantastic book. It should be clear from this write-up that I love it in so many ways. I simply cannot recommend it enough for those interested in queer Toronto.
I grew up isolated from the queerness that runs through the pages, but it makes me feel like I am connected now.
Trying to bridge the gap between transgender studies and museum studies.