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My Gay Toronto - Bellini's 8 1/2

Putting queer history into perspective


“I was talking to someone about your book,” I told author Tim McCaskell of his ambitious new work Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism. “And the first thing they said was, ‘Oh, I don’t agree with his politics’.” McCaskell laughs. He’s heard it all before. “I’m assuming it has to do with your involvement with QUIA,” I suggest. “Could have been, or Lord knows whatever else I’ve done that they don’t agree with.” 
A lifelong activist, McCaskell’s Queer Progress is full of things you might not agree with. Around 500 pages, it sets out to do nothing less than provide a chronological history of queer activism in Toronto since 1974. That was the date that young Tim started hanging around the Body Politic Collective, launching a career in activism that also includes AIDS ACTION NOW!, Queer Nation, and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. In other words, Tim McCaskell has always been close to the center of the action.

“I wanted to write about where LGBT communities are today as a history, as I’m finding that younger people really have no idea of that history and have misconceptions about it,” he tells me. “We live in a much more polarized society than we did in 1974 when the book begins. We are a microcosm of society as a whole. If we understood the kind of mistakes that were made in the past, hopefully we will be able to approach our politics in a more nuanced way.” 

Indeed. Lately, I am annoyed that white gay men are often dismissed for having ‘privilege,' an absurdity because any type of person can be subject to discrimination. It would be a shame, for instance, for anyone to categorize McCaskell’s work merely as the memoirs of a ‘white man of privilege,' a put-down that has no place in a truly equal society. We need to stop treating our allies like enemies, and we also need to listen to what shrill organizations like QUIA and BLM are actually trying to say. The problem is, activists always operate from a ‘victim’ position, and most people find sanctimony to be disingenuous and self-serving. McCaskell’s book is a reminder to open both our hearts and our minds to the needs of others, despite our competing agendas.
There’s a paragraph in McCaskell’s book that puts it all in perspecive. In the beginning, there were only fags and dykes, and they formed an alliance to fight discrimination from heterosexuals. But their needs and issues were actually quite different. 

"When gay men thought about the right to control our own bodies, we thought of our right to have sex. When lesbians thought about their right to control their bodies, they more often thought of abortion and birth control and the right not to be treated as sexual objects . . . When gay men thought about age of consent, they remembered the suppression of early sexual desires. Lesbians were more likely to think about protecting children from male sexual coercion."

As someone who came out in 1983, I was familiar with many of the names and events McCaskell chronicles, and reading his book helped me make sense of the last 40 years in the gay village. More importantly, it helped me appreciate what various activist groups are demanding today. Queer Progress puts it all in perspective, and deserves to be a textbook at colleges and universities.

Queer Progress is published by Between the Lines. Signed advance copies are now available at Glad Day Bookshop. 


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