Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer

Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer is a compilation of short essays about the city’s gay history. The book was divided into subjects such as Spaces; Emergence; Resisting, Sharing, Organizing; Sex; Rights and Rites; and Pride, among many others. Essays were indeed short–most of them either two or three pages–which I found on many occasions would abruptly end just as the story became interesting. How disappointed I was to turn the page only to find a few remaining lines. Because of these frequent abrupt hatchet-job endings I got the idea that the contributors must have submitted more than their maximum word count, leaving the editors to make the cuts whenever that quota was reached. While I am not ignorant of local gay history, it still would have been nice to read more about the 1981 bathhouse raids or the obscenity charges brought against Glad Day Bookshop. In spite of the haphazard way the essays were edited I have to consider that this might have been the intent. What better way to entice readers to learn more about gay history than by titillating them with only a snippet of a story?

My favourite essay was by Kate Zieman about a lesbian couple of 47 years, nicknamed Queenie and Ted. I would have loved to learn more about them and seen their bequest to the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. These two women lived in the Broadview and Danforth area. I know this part of Toronto and since their past addresses were given, I was able to use Google Maps to plot their moves from apartment to apartment. Queenie and Ted weren’t celebrities but just one of the many lesbian or gay couples that lived under our noses in pre-Stonewall Toronto. Sadly, such were the rigid rules about sex-appropriate clothing in the 1950’s that Ted was “banned from working in the front office with the rest of the women because she refused to wear a dress.”.

As a conservative I have a problem with gays who try to jump through hoops in order to justify their predilection for having sex in public parks. Jake Tobin Garrett tries, and fails, in his essay Desire Lines. It doesn’t help his case that the page layout placed his line “Public sex in parks is illegal” as the first line on a new page. What a way to shoot yourself in the foot when you’re trying to convince others–especially straight people, police and judges–that you have a right to use a public park to engage in illegal activity.

The only essays I found to be lagging–and at three pages, they had to be really boring–were the ones about fringe political causes. As the LGBT+ label grows ever longer (doesn’t anyone else see how patently ludicrous it is to keep adding letters to this dissonant string which is not even a pronounceable acronym), people who are not attached to this string of letters and numbers are going to feel excluded. Fringe politicos with self-given names tend not to be the best writers. They are annoying.

Andrew Zealley wrote one of the most enjoyable essays, Chalking It Up to Experience, about the bathhouse scene. Too bad the editors misspelled his surname as Zeally in the contributors’ profiles. I also liked Fiona MacCool’s essay on the women’s bathhouse scene, The First Rule of Pussy Palace.

Any Other Way excelled with its essays on early Toronto queer history, sharing lesbian and gay bar life and the stories of the social scene. I enjoyed the accompanying photos, mostly in black-and-white, and the diverse scope of history, showing that queer history in Toronto encompassed all ethnicities and religions.

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