History Boys

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Michael Lyons
"Fab has politics-- they're just hidden."
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Brainpower & Boys

The hidden politics of Fab's 19-year run


I first walked into Fab’s offices on a boiling summer day in 2010. I was sweating, my hair a mess, and I didn’t feel very fab. I sat down with editor Drew Rowsome, who looked over
my resumé and a copy of the Excalibur Queer & Trans Supplement I’d coordinated in my fourth year at York University. He’d coordinated the same supplement during his studies and seemed pleased with my activist background. “Fab has politics,” he explained. “They’re just hidden.”

Michael Schwarz, in the inaugural “Publisher’s Letter” of the July 1, 1994 issue, describes how “we’ve grown tired of all the anger, tired of the politics, we just want to have some fun!” The cover page of the same issue contradicts this sentiment: beside two gorgeous men, one shaving the other, the magazine’s name is superimposed over an inverted pink triangle, the symbol used by Nazis to identify homosexual prisoners, reclaimed by the gay community in the late 20th century. Not exactly apolitical.

Considering Fab within the political landscape of Canada in the 1990s and into the new millennium, it’s apparent these boys (and girls: holla, Eleanor Brown) had a difficult time keeping off politics. For example, a half paragraph was sneaked onto a back page of #21 (1995, the Swimsuit Issue, one of many) describing the Supreme Court ruling that said gays were protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights. This development foreshadowed one of the most prominent gay issues of Fab’s lifespan: the path to same-sex marriage.

Starting in 1999, a series of legal rulings across the country (and a sneaky Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto move in 2000, reported by Fab, that took advantage of an obscure loop  hole in religious laws to officiate same-sex marriages) led to the 2005 Civil Marriage Act — and the inevitable Fab Bridal Issue. As the retroactive reader of an issue dedicated to gay-owned or gay-positive wedding businesses, filled with pages of caterers, florists and honeymoon destinations, I thought, “Well, I guess we literally bought same-sex marriage.” Though, surprisingly, near the back of that issue is an essay by Rinaldo Walcott about the complicated, exclusionary, conservative values of same-sex marriage. He wrote, “As queers rush to marry, we aren’t calling marriage into question, but rather we are upholding it as an institution worth maintaining.”

It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. The publication had a strained, sniping relationship with Pink Triangle Press — which purchased Fab in early 2008. Editors and writers sometimes took antagonistic or denigrating attitudes toward activists or politicians: in Issue #8, November 1994, the writers of an article about municipal elections advised Jack Layton to “get a real job.” Layton and his spouse, Olivia Chow, would later end up on a cover, both doing quite well for themselves.

In Issue #69 (1997) a writer explored cruising culture. I’ve never heard of most of the places; I know that Queen’s Park, Cherry Beach and Cawthra Square have long been the subject of policing initiatives and are now only a sliver of their former cruisy glory. The loss is symbolic of a bigger one; corporatization and loss of public spaces to big business is not the end of the gay community, but rather makes us commodities. When gay people’s money is more important than gay people, and business is more important than community, those who hold the money control the space and, ultimately, our identities. Losing pieces of our community — a cruising park, a bench to sit on, a youth organization, a theatre or a publication — means we lose our autonomy.

Fab has been a number of different, often wonderfully contradictory, beasts. Politics and parties, brainpower and boys, sex and sexual politics. Despite the contradictions, it has always been unapologetic, flamboyant and extraordinarily gay. Fab will soon takes its place in Canada’s history, but regardless of the loss, one thing is certain about the future: it’ll give the anthropologists something to think about.

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