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September 19, 2017
The Word On The Street Toronto will be hosting the authors and editors of all five finalists for the 2017 Toronto Book Awards at this year’s festival on Sunday, September 24, at Harbourfront Centre. As a special treat, we’ll be posting reviews of the nominated books in the weeks leading up to the festival from a panel of writers, reviewers, and editors working in Toronto today.
Our next review is of Any Other Way, edited by Jane Farrow, John Lorinc, Stephanie Chambers, Maureen FitzGerald, Ed Jackson, Tim McCaskell, Tatum Taylor, Rahim Thawer and Rebecka Sheffield, reviewed by Joshua P’ng. Joshua is the last of five 2017 Toronto Book Awards reviewers. The editors of Any Other Way will be reading at The Word On the Street at Harbourfront Centre on September 24, from 3:00pm – 4:00pm at the Toronto Book Awards Tent. This year’s Toronto Book Awards will be awarded on October 12, 2017.
When Justin Trudeau made history as the first PM to walk in a Pride parade, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Canada supports LGBTQ+ rights. After all doesn’t Toronto take the gold medal for being the most LGBTQ+ friendly city in North America?
Yet how Toronto arrived at this conclusion is built on history—the individual stories, the fading photographs, and dimming memories. It’s a full-spectrum of history that Any Other Way attempts to explore within 351 pages. (Spoiler: it succeeds)
Most historical works would use a singular narrative story of how Toronto the ‘good,’ the once bastion of Victorian morals, now hosts one of the biggest Pride festivals in the world. Authenticity would come from the most prominent members of the community, offering quotes leading to a likely uplifting and hopeful conclusion.
Instead Any Other Way shuns this exclusive and straight-forward method of narrating history for a scrapbook-like anthology. The book offers everything from anecdotes as short as a paragraph, to essay-length reflections on queer life, with photos tucked in throughout. As made clear in Krysten Wong-Tam’s forward, “Only by pulling back the lavender headlines will we truly reveal the hyper-diversity and immense intersectionality of Toronto’s full queer community and history.”
The book’s title comes from the first story in the collection, about Jackie Shane (“A New Way of Lovin,” Steven Maynard), the Black Trans musician, best known for her hit song “Any Other Way.” The Jackie Shane story thrusts her out on stage in full “shimmering sequen pantsuit, full makeup, false eyelashes, and a fabulous do” and as a constant lover of ‘chicken.’ (old slang for young gay men). The piece is thick with loud descriptions and held together by quotes from Jackie and those who knew and admired her. It’s a perfect preview of what to expect for the rest of the book.
Any Other Way lives, cries, and laughs with Toronto through rainbow-coloured lenses. It touches frequently on Church & Wellesley, the heart of the the LGBTQ+ village, but also stretches out to the memories made in some of Toronto’s oft-forgotten haunts. Unfortunately a heavy-handed assumption is found in most of the pieces that readers would already know the landmarks and street names that are name-dropped all over the book. Torontonians will certainly have a struggle catching on, and only the oldest will remember extinct locations (probably turned into condos). It can be irritating for those unable to put places to names and whose enjoyment can only rely on the personal anecdotes and delectable writing. Thankfully, that’s often enough.
Any Other Way excels in exploring a lot more more than what most people would recognize to be a part of LGBTQ+ life. From recollections of “cruising” and the wariness of good-looking undercover cops (“Route of Heroes,” Keith Cole), to the awkward struggles for marriage equality. Tales of resistance are loud and proud. The origin story of the oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore in North America (“A Literary Breakthrough,” Jearld Moldenhauer) is placed right next to the loud legal fights against homophobic cops (“No Cop Zone?,” Chanelle Gallant).
Living under homophobia is a frequent theme threaded throughout the work. In (“Headline Homophobia Tops Tabloid Treatments!,” Christine Sismondo) sensational news articles are explored about gay men being arrested for having sex in public spaces. Yet despite the homophobic bias in said articles, they could be read as a warning to men familiar with these places as cruising sites to stay away. It highlights the indirect ways the LGBTQ+ community has persisted and sometimes thrived under homophobic attitudes.
Some stories balance the tightrope of hilarity and anxiety such as a when a gay man and a lesbian decide to “marry” as way to bypass heteronormative restrictions to immigrate to Canada. Unfortunately any attempt to hide queer affiliations is put to rest when the question of social/political affiliations on the immigration form comes up: “we put our lists [of social or political organizations] in alphabetical order, the Gs and the Ls dominated three additional sheets of paper.” (“It Seemed like a Gay Wedding to Me,” Bob Gallagher)
It’s in these pieces that Any Other Way shines. Stories that go beyond a mere recollection of old facts that historical writings usually are. The writing varies, but every piece feels like the well-worn laughs between old friends or the local legends that shape a city’s identity.
This is a declaration from LGBTQ+ Toronto to Toronto as a whole, vocalizing the once unheard stories of the city. Yet, in the same parade that Trudeau marched, Black Lives Matter were also present, highlighting the need for recognition for black queers and transfolk. Even as LGBTQ+ can look back to achievements that were dimly dreamed about decades earlier, the stories, and struggles, are not over.
Name one of the editors of Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer who will appear at The Word On The Street.
Read the review above and send the answer to email@example.com to be entered into a draw to win a signed copy of Any Other Way!