Tuesday, 28 June 2011


I have wanted to interview Elliot Tiber for years because I have loved everything about Woodstock – especially the world’s first woman rock star, Janis Joplin – since I was an ugly-duckling teenager in high school.

“Richard Burnett is a faggot!” someone once scrawled in huge black-marker letters on my locker door at Montreal's south-shore MacDonald Cartier Memorial High School in 1982 when the sprawling complex had over 4,500 students.

Bugs : Class of 82
The schoolyard was a war zone. But Janis – who’d been nominated for “The Ugliest Man on Campus Contest” at the University of Texas 20 years earlier, back in 1962 – was queer too. So I felt better.

And it turns out Elliot Tiber, the man who made Woodstock happen, is a fabulous gay man too.

“Just before I came out [in the early 1960s] there wasn’t even the word ‘gay’ and you were alone in the world, a freak of nature,” Tiber, now 76, recalls. “In New York I used to go to Lenny’s Hideaway, which was a speakeasy in a basement, and The Stonewall [Inn], and they were mobbed up. It was all very scary."

Not only did Tiber – born Elliot Tiechberg (“My parents hated when I changed my name. My mom said, “Good riddance – I’m renting your room!”) – go to the Stonewall, but he was there when the Stonewall Riots broke out in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.

Stonewall 1969 (Photo from Wikipedia)

“We barricaded the doors to keep the cops out, but when we realized we outnumbered them, we unblocked the exits and ran out onto the street,” Tiber writes in his 2007 memoir Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life. “A group of us started yelling, ‘Gay power!’ Within seconds, the Stonewall Riot was underway...A bunch of us rocked a cop car back and forth, then overturned it. More people, gay men and lesbians, showed up to join us.”

“It gave me some feeling of power,” Tiber tells me. “I had never felt power.”

Ang Lee based his 2009 movie Taking Woodstock on Tiber’s memoirs. The film picks up where Tiber (wonderfully played by comic Demetri Martin) moves back home to help his parents run their dilapidated Catskills motel, The El Monaco.

Tiber thought he could drum up business by introducing Woodstock’s producers to Max Yasgur, and offers the organizers the El Monaco as festival headquarters. When the festival’s permit is revoked, he gives them his own permit for his White Lake Music and Arts Festival.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“The whole town hated Woodstock and they hated me,” Tiber says. “They still do.”

While we don’t see any of the era’s iconic rock stars in Lee’s movie, Tiber met many of them backstage, including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Tiber in 2009 (Photo from Wikipedia)

“I went backstage one night and there was Janis,” Tiber says. “She was an idol. Her her music played in gay bars all the time. She was falling-down drunk and stoned. So I helped her up. I also saw Hendrix and Joan Baez. All of them came to the El Monaco to shower and eat food.”

Incidentally, festival organizers invited The Doors to perform at Woodstock, but the band turned them down. Robby Kreiger would later say, “We never played at Woodstock because we were stupid. We thought it would be a second-class repeat of Monterey Pop Festival.”

Jim Morrison, meanwhile, was busy making many enemies, including Joplin: One night at a party in NYC, he kept yanking her hair, bringing Janis to tears until finally she left. He followed her outside, stuck his head into the car and yelled at her. So Janis pinned him in the door with the window and broke a whiskey bottle over his head.

Tiber also met Morrison – who, like Joplin, was bisexual – at another NYC party. “Morrison was stoned and he and I messed around a bit,” Tiber says. “He definitely strayed.”

In that summer of Stonewall Tiber says there was also a visible gay presence at Woodstock which, of course, the mainstream media has ignored right up until today.

“There were [tens of thousands of] gay kids there,” Tiber says. “You could see them. There was no housing, there was nudity and lots of sex going on. There was no homophobia that I was aware of.”

In fact, in Ang Lee’s movie, Tiber’s character kisses “Paul” (played by Darren Pettie), a hunky carpenter helping build the Woodstock stage. The kiss happens inside the packed El Monaco bar and is one of the hottest on-screen smooches in Hollywood history. “That really happened!” Elliot says.

Culturally, the sixties didn’t really end until 1972 and by that time Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison were all dead. But that era’s generational war has morphed into today’s cultural war, one that the Woodstock Nation – anti-war and pro-abortion, and supportive of women’s rights, black civil rights and gay civil rights – has more or less won.

Bugs at the Stonewall
(Photo by Jamie O'Meara)
So I thank Tiber. He was there for both Stonewall and Woodstock.

“I didn’t put the two [events] together until years later when they became iconic,” Tiber says. “Both Stonewall and Woodstock gave me self-esteem and self respect. Before I was just a freak of nature.”

Elliot sighs. “When my dad died a year later, he held my hand and gripped it and told me, ‘You go on and lead your own life.’ It was amazing to hear that. Woodstock had also changed my father.”

Monday, 27 June 2011


Official portrait of President Barack Obama, who insists his views on gay marriage are still "evolving" (Photo by official White House photographer Pete Souza)

(June 27) The day New York state legalized same-sex marriage on June 24 will likely be remembered as the turning point for America's same-sex-marriage movement – no thanks to U.S. president Barack Obama.

"We're here, we're queer, we're fabulous, don't fuck with us!" hundreds of gay activists chanted in celebration outside the Stonewall Inn – home of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that kickstarted the global gay-civil-rights-movement – in Greenwich Village, shortly after the New York state senate vote 33-29 to legalize gay marriage in that state.

But just the night before, at a gay and lesbian fundraising gala in Manhattan that raised $750,000, Obama told 600 guests – who paid up to $35,800 each to see the president speak at his first fundraiser geared specifically to the gay community –  “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.”

Obama still refused to endorse gay marriage – saying his views are "evolving" – and insisted yet again the issue should be left to individual states to decide.

As New York Times pundit Maureen Dowd wrote afterwards, "Obama is “evolving” on the issue of gay marriage, which, as any girl will tell you, is the first sign of a commitment-phobe."

Obama is no LBJ
Dowd also notes, "Obama’s reluctance to come out for gay marriage seems hugely and willfully inconsistent with what we know about his progressive worldview. And it is odd that the first black president is letting [New York governor] Andrew Cuomo, who pushed through a gay-marriage bill in Albany on [June 24], go down in history as the leader on the front lines of the civil rights issue of our time... As with “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Obama is not leading the public, he’s following. And worse, the young, hip black president who was swept in on a gust of change, audacity and hope is lagging behind a couple of old, white conservatives — Dick Cheney and Ted Olson."

After over two years in the Oval Office, do I believe Obama thinks gay people deserve 100 per cent full equality?

Yes, I do, without a doubt.

But I’ve also been screaming about Obama and his cronies ever since Obama realized he really could be the first black president of America – as long as he played his cards right.

So Team Obama ripped a page straight from the Bush campaign playbook with his October 2007 "Embrace the Change" barnstorming tour of black churches to shore up African-American votes in South Carolina. That tour featured rabidly homophobic, Grammy-winning "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, a deliberate anti-gay wink from Obama to homophobic black churchgoers and voters.

If a white politician hired someone who denigrated blacks the way McClurkin trashes gay people, they’d be crucified, and rightly so.

Then America’s first "black" president – Obama is really a person of mixed race, like me, since his parents are also a zebra couple – added insult to injury when he chose the virulently anti-gay Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

Empire State building lit up
 in Rainbow colours last week

When the gay community went ballistic, Obama invited an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, to give the invocation at the Jan. 17, 2009, inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Except no one heard Robinson’s invocation because his microphone wasn’t turned on.

Not that it mattered because the guests of honour, the Obamas and the Bidens, arrived 10 minutes after Robinson’s invocation – as scheduled.

I’m telling you, while African-Americans were sent to the back of the bus during the days of segregation, on this day gays were thrown underneath the damn bus.

Over the coming months Obama was led kicking and screaming by public opinion when it came to Proposition 8 in California (Obama DoJ lawyers in court even compared same-sex marriage to pederasty) and later the U.S. military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. Now, when it comes to gay marriage, Obama says he is "evolving."

Well, Mr President, evolve already.

What this all really boils down to is, unlike U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson – when he gave America the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Obama won’t do anything about it if it costs him any political capital.

So let me remind you what a president is supposed to do: The Democrats lost their grip on the South beginning in 1964 after LBJ rammed through the Civil Rights Act – and he did it despite the looming presidential election that year. From the beginning, LBJ knew that he was on the right side of history, the election be damned.

"It was the right thing to do," he said.

Ironically, it was LBJ – who also rammed through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – who helped lay the groundwork for candidates like Obama to run for office. But will Obama himself do the right thing and legislate gay civil rights in America?

"I think it’s pretty clear where the trend lines are going, the arc of history," Obama told gay reporters in the White House during last November's mid-term elections.

But then, as now, Obama's public stance on the civil rights issue of our time is nothing short of disgraceful. Quite frankly, at the end of the day, the only thing Obama has in common with LBJ is his continuing insistence on fighting an impossible foreign war. And he’ll lose that too.

Friday, 24 June 2011


Buju Banton gets 10 years in jail for his role in setting up a cocaine deal in 2009 
(Publicity still for Banton’s Unchained Spirit CD)

(June 24) Five years ago Time Magazine called the sun-splashed island nation of Jamaica the "most homophobic place on Earth." That was until Uganda’s parliament tabled its Anti-Homosexual Bill which – if passed in that country’s next parliamentary session –  will authorize the execution of all gay people, and imprison heterosexuals who don’t report their homo neighbours to authorities.

But ground zero in the war over anti-gay dancehall reggae music is still Jamaica, and nobody personifies this “murder music” more than whom I call the “Unmagnificent Seven” – dancehall superstars Beenie Man, Capleton, Sizzla, Bounty Killer, Vybz Kartel, Elephant Man and – last but not least – Buju Banton.

The international Stop Murder Music campaign (the term was coined by British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell in the mid-1990s) accused these artists of promoting violence against LGBT people through the lyrics in their music.

Let me remind you that Buju’s song Boom Bye Bye calls for the gunning down of gay people with Uzi machineguns. When I challenged Banton over these lyrics back in 1996, Buju mockingly replied, “Boom Bye Bye means judgment, do you understand? Nothing don’t change because my feelings about family don’t change. Besides, the song has a good message.”

So I have felt nothing but antipathy for Banton (now 37) ever since. Then, on June 23 this week, Banton was, the BBC reports, “sentenced to 10 years in jail in the US for his role in setting up a cocaine deal in 2009. The singer, whose real name is Mark Myrie, was told at Tampa federal court that he must serve five years probation following prison.”

The vicious anti-gay lyrics of reggae’s dancehall dons have made the lives of countless gays and lesbians miserable over the years. So, as far as I’m concerned, Banton – who won his first-ever Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album of 2011 for his 2010 LP Before The Dawn – his going to jail is poetic justice. 

In fact, I hope he becomes some other prisoner’s bitch.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


kd lang headlines Salle Wilfred-Pelletier on June 27 at the Montreal International Jazz Festival  (Photo courtesy FIJM)

(June 23) It's true that one photo can change everything. Take Vanity Fair’s historic August 1993 cover shot of bathing-suit beauty Cindy Crawford giving the suit-clad kd lang a shave. That one snapshot launched the 1990s lesbian-chic era that climaxed with the public coming out of Ellen DeGeneres.

"I’m very proud of that picture," kd lang told me a couple years ago. "It stands the test of time."

These days lang is back in the news, cross-promoting her new album Sing It Loud on a tour that brings the Canadian crooner back to the Montreal International Jazz Festival on June 27 (she last performed at the fest in 2005 with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal). Lang gives few interviews today, though when she performed two nights at Montreal’s Olympia Theatre back in 2008, she told me, “I love that I’m still a Canadian citizen [and] I still try to travel to Canada as much as possible."

Lang – who performed at the inaugural 2006 World Outgames opening ceremony in Montreal, as well as at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver – is also proud she was part of the pop culture that led Canada to become the gay-positive nation it is today. After all, Canadians still remember that the butch lang accepted her 1985 Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist wearing a wedding dress!

"I think being queer was an asset," lang says. "Being very alternative was my secret weapon prior to coming out."

Over in America, Nashville wanted little to do with lang or her cow-punk ways until Owen Bradley, the producer of lang’s idol Patsy Cline, produced lang’s 1988 breakthrough album Shadowland. "I was going into unfriendly waters. But at the same time I truly respect country. When you try to fuck something up, it’s an aggressive policy that doesn’t work."

Then came lang’s historic August 1993 Vanity Fair cover. Says lang, "The Vanity Fair cover is one of my proudest moments. I didn’t suffer as much as Cindy did. Vanity Fair is an icon of pop culture, and to be on it at that time is an indelible mark in the evolution of gay culture. But at the time of the shoot, [photographer] Herb Ritts was a friend of mine, and we had a very gay life in LA. We were having fun and we didn’t think about [that photo] having a lasting impact."

Today lang bemoans the violence against LGBT people at Pride marches in Eastern Europe, in cities like Moscow. “I can remember some early Pride marches in Edmonton and they weren’t much different," lang recalls. "It’s really just a matter of education and integration.”

As for the digital revolution that has up-ended the music business, lang – whose lead single from Sing It Loud is the song I Confess (you can watch music video above) –  she tells me, “You know, I’m all for downloading. I love not having to go to a record store anymore. But you definitely have to pay the musicians. The way the music industry is today, I tell you what it all boils down to: It’s all about how good you are live in concert. If you can’t do that, you have no career. At least not a long one. So I’m happy I’m still going strong."

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


 Canada's famed transsexual Nina Arsenault (Photo from Wikipedia)
(All other The Silicone Diaries publicity stills by David Hawe, courtesy Nina Arsenault)

(June 21) - NOTE: Canada's most celebrated transsexual, Nina Arsenault, is being honoured tonight (June 21) by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which "believes that Canadian freedom is worth celebrating. What better way than honouring individuals whose achievements make our democracy more vibrant, rich, and diverse?"

Other honourees include Deepa Mehta, Sarah Polley, Joseph Boyden and former Saskatchean Premier Allan Blakene. So I am rerunning this interview that originally ran in Three Dollar Bill in December 2010 when Nina brought her terriifc one-transwoman show The Silicone Diaries to Montreal.

Congratulations, Nina!
 O O O
(Dec 9, 2010) - It is pure synchronicity that I am blabbing with Nina Arsenault – the most celebrated transsexual in Canada – on international Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside each Nov. 20 to memorialize those murdered because of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

Nina, star of her critically-hailed, autobiographical one-transwoman show, The Silicone Diaries, is very aware of this too.

"The hardest part of my transformation was when I was living as a woman but still looked very masculine and people would make fun of me on the street," Nina says. "They’d yell things out of their car. I realized there is a double standard for transsexuals, because if you’re a beautiful transsexual, people will accept you more easily. If you ‘pass’ you will be more accepted. You may not even be noticed. But if you don’t pass… That’s what really hurt me – people don’t see you as human."

Truth is, after 60 cosmetic surgeries over eight long years, Nina doesn’t look very human.

Similarly, last winter when I asked famed NYC tranny (and photographer Dave LaChappelle’s muse) Amanda Lepore what she thinks she looks like, Lepore replied, "There is something alien about my face – there is something spacey about me. If I dressed like Lady Gaga, [my face] would get lost. But because I dress retro, vamp and classic, the [alien] qualities come out more."

Nina Arsenault is equally frank. "I look like a cyborg," she says, unafraid to showcase her eye-popping 36D-26-40 bombshell body in her first play, the aptly-named I Was Barbie, which was a hit during Barbie’s 50th anniversary at Toronto Fashion Week in June 2009.

But it wasn’t always so.

The first scene in The Silicone Diaries is set in the Golden Horseshoe Trailer Park of Beamsville, Ontario, where Arsenault lived with her parents and brother until the age of six. In this scene, young Nina (then Rodney) and the local trailer park boys gather to look at a stack of Penthouse magazines. Today, 30 years later, it is Nina who looks like she could pose for Penthouse.

"My parents are generally supportive, though my mom thinks I’m too sexy," Nina admits. "She thinks I didn’t need to get my breasts done so large and my lips so big. And she thinks I wear too much make-up. She’s worried about my life being difficult but now that they’ve come to see my plays, they get a kick out of how audacious I am."

While Disney-style drag queens now entertain the masses (I felt gay life was neutered in the hugely-popular, Broadway-bound Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical I saw at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre two weeks ago), trans is – as America’s one-man gay-AP Rex Wockner told me last week – "the new way to terrorize the bourgeoisie. Gay is so passé."

Or as Nina says, "I don’t differentiate between gay people and straight people anymore. I differentiate between queer people and normative people. Normative are those who buy into mainstream ideals of beauty, of where they should live and what is an acceptable lifestyle. Because gay people can now get married and adopt kids, a lot of gay people have become [conservative] too – and in some ways just as judgmental as straight people used to be. That’s an unfortunate development in [today's] gay community. I just don’t fit in."

Still, post-surgery Nina continued to make headlines as a hostess in Toronto nightclubs, then as a columnist for the Queen City’s Fab magazine. She took it to the next level, selling out I Was Barbie at Toronto’s We’re Funny That Way comedy festival and Halifax’s Queer Acts Festival, all the while keeping her name in the news with high-profile TV appearances (including on Fashion Television, OUT TV’s The Locker Room and Kink on Showcase). Then came The Silicone Diaries in November 2009, Arsenault’s tour de force retelling of her life, from the Golden Horseshoe Trailer Park to becoming a sex worker to pay for all of her surgeries (which so far have cost her $200,000).

Silicone Diaries‘ 90-minute monologue – which will be published in an upcoming anthology of queer plays by Borealis Press – also recreates Nina’s infamous "Crying Game-style collision" with Pamela Anderson’s ex-hubby, rocker Tommy Lee. "One night at Toronto’s swanky Ultra Supper Club he was in the sectioned off VIP area and the place was packed with star fuckers, silicone-enhanced women with bad extensions. These wanna-be Pamela Andersons were intentionally trying to capture his eye. I just happened to be there and he picked me out of the pack to come over and sit on his lap."

Needless to say, the meeting ended quickly.

"Was he polite?" Nina asks rhetorically. "I think he’s a laidback guy who’s seen it all. I had the sense that he’s an adventurous guy with a wild sense of humour and a really big heart."

"Among other things," I crack.

Nina laughs. "Yeah, he’s really cocksure!"

In another scene from The Silicone Diaries, Nina the former sex-worker slinks onstage in a transparent dress that pretty much reveals everything cocksucking did for her (Nina hasn’t had the chop but is castrated). The way Nina has reshaped her body reminds me of Pete Burns of the 1980s Brit-pop band Dead or Alive, who says his body is an ever-changing piece of art.

"I feel the same way," Nina says. "And from my body, I spin off other arts, like photographs of my body, or this play about my body. The next phase of my work will document the signs of aging. I don’t really see myself ever stopping. I’ve always taken pictures of every stage of my life and videotaped all of my surgical procedures."

When I ask Nina if she still goes for touch-ups every now and then, she laughs heartily.

"Well, I didn’t go for five years! I got really sick of it, [especially after] putting all those strange dicks in my mouth [to pay for it all]!" Nina laughs again. "So I took a break. People were beginning to think I was addicted to plastic surgery and I thought I looked as good as I could possibly look. But I don’t think I could let my face age naturally at this point. Because I don’t have a natural face. Once it starts dropping I won’t look like an old woman. I’ll look quite strange, I think. We always say, ‘Once you’ve had this much work done, you’re always in the game.’"

Just like Cher and Joan Rivers. "Yeah, they’re in the game," Nina agrees. "Imagine if Joan Rivers let that face fall and those cheeks started sliding down? It wouldn’t look right."

This transition is at the heart of The Silicone Diaries. It’s not so much about a boy becoming a girl as it is about beauty. "My story has now become about a transition from being ugly to becoming beautiful, even if beautiful means looking plastic. At some point looking beautiful became more important than looking like a woman. It became more important than looking natural. And I don’t think my transition will ever end because my body is always changing, always aging. Losing beauty, faded beauty – I don’t think my transition will ever be over. Maybe one day I’ll even decide to get my pussy."


Monday, 20 June 2011


Cantelli - headlining here at Cleo's on The Main - does the fiercest Tina Turner impersonation east of Vegas (Photo by Richard Burnett)

(June 20)  When Prince Charles pitstopped at the Black Watch on Montreal's Bleury St. during his December 2009 visit to Canada, local burlesque dancers greeted His Royal Highness with posters that screamed "Save our Queen, Cleopatra!" and "Save the Queen of the Main!"

The Queen of the Main is, of course, Café Cleopatra, the last remnant of Montreal’s mythical red-light district that was slated to be expropriated and bulldozed to make way for new Montreal city council-approved Hydro-Québec offices.

While Café Cleopatra owner Johnny Zoumboulakis challenged the city expropriation in court, the strippers continued to gyrate downstairs. And the drag queens continued to ply their trade upstairs, which has been a showbar since 1895.

"When I first arrived in Montreal, I witnessed some legendary drag queens perform here," Brazilian drag queen Cantelli – who does the fiercest Tina Turner impersonation east of Vegas – told me in a 2009 Hour magazine cover story.

Cantelli follows in the footsteps of such Montreal drag legends as Vicki Lane, Lady Brenda, Vicki Richard, Twilight, Farrah, Black Emmanuel, Gerry Cyr and Michel Dorion. "Just look at this place, at these dressing rooms – it would be terribly sad to see this living history disappear."

Cantelli also told me, "I challenge [Montreal] Mayor Gérald Tremblay and his team to visit Cleo’s on any night he wants and I’ll perform a command performance to show him why Montreal must save Café Cleopatra."

Tremblay never took Cantelli up on her offer but, as my colleague Marty Patriquin reports in the June 20 issue of Maclean's magazine, "That Cleopatra’s sign still advertises strip-teaseuses and spectacles continuels between glimmering lights (along with two stark naked lasses beckoning patrons to come inside) is a testament to Zoumboulakis, who recently fought off a two-year expropriation campaign on behalf of developer Société de développement Angus. Already, SDA has bought out all the businesses (save for an electronics store and a Chinese restaurant) on the west side of what is known as the Lower Main, and plans to turn the area into condos, office towers and an entertainment complex where strippers and drag queens won’t likely be on the marquee."

Johnny & Bugs
More importantly, Patriquin points out, is Cleopatra's "was something of a saving grace, and the idea of appealing to both a straight and gay clientele is revolutionary, says queer issues columnist Richard Burnett. 'Having both clienteles is pretty unique,” says Burnett, who writes the blog Three Dollar Bill. “Even today, venues in the gay village aren’t that open. It was also an important venue for transsexuals, who weren’t made to feel welcome, even in the gay community.'"

It’s clear Cleopatra’s has seen better days, but owner Johnny Zoumboulakis – a fabulous guy who buys me a shot every time I walk into the joint – refused to let Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay do to the Main what NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani did to Times Square.

But even by the 1970s, it was already the end of an era. The legendary Casa Loma, a popular hangout for the Montreal mafia that stood on the corner of St-Laurent and Ste-Catherine, was closing. As early as 1959 the Casa Loma presented legendary drag queen Guilda (she’s now 87), who was billed on the marquee, "Guilda & Sa Troupe – La Reine Des Immerdeuses."

Meanwhile, no author has done more to spread the Main’s grimy, no-holds-barred reputation to all four corners of the globe than the late bestselling American spy novelist Trevanian, whose 1976 novel The Main has sold millions worldwide.

"The Main – a honky-tonk world of pimps and hookers, runaways, hustlers and thieves!" the paperback cover screams. "A world where violence and brutality are a way of life – and death."

Cleopatra’s is the last hold-out from that era. That building is living history.

"It was one of the first underground places I ever went to, and for [drag] extravaganzas it was the place," Montreal pop and drag icon Mado La Motte, whose Cabaret Mado in the Village is now this city’s undisputed drag emporium, told me back in 2009. "Cleo’s is a little quiet today, but it used to be the place to impress your straight friends!"

But now that Johnny Zoumboulakis has won his fight – with the very vocal support of such local groups as Save The Main, STELLA, Glam Glam Productions, Club Sin / Fetish Weekend organizers and such wonderful burlesque performers as Velma Candyass – another generation will get to experience the thrill of what Montreal's old red-light district used to be.

Friday, 17 June 2011


 Royal Phoenix GM Val Desjardins
(Photo courtesy Val Desjardins )

I wrote here last month that the term "post-gay" was coined to describe a world where Gay Pride and Gay Villages no longer matter. In a widely published 2007 Associated Press story headlined "Gay Villages disappearing," NYC author Don Reuter, researching a book on the rise and fall of a dozen U.S. gay neighbourhoods, rhetorically asks, "What makes these neighbourhoods gay? Not much."

Reuter predicts that outside large gay meccas like New York, San Francisco and Montreal, neighbourhoods with a significant gay presence will not survive - including, Reuter contends, gay communities in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Seattle.

But even in Montreal the times they-are-a-changing. The reason? Entire cities have finally become our playgrounds. Nowhere is that truer than Montreal which because of its enormous number of gay citizens, has both a healthy Gay Village and bustling gay scene outside the Village.

And as of today, Montreal can list The Royal Phoenix Bar (5788 St-Laurent, corner Bernard) as its first gay bar in the city's bohemian Mile End district.

"We felt the need for a queer venue in Mile End, a daily watering hole, a drop-in kind of place in a neighbourhood where there are a lot of gay parties," says Royal Phoenix GM Val Desjardins (she also co-ordinates the Faggity Ass Fridays night at nearby Playhouse). "We wanted to create a stable place for the community outside the Village."

This is how much the gay scene has changed and grown up. "We're opening up the definition of what queer means. We've also got plasma TVs for sports fans, we clear the tables for dance parties, we're teaming up with other neighbourhood [gay event] promoters to create new nights, not just at Royal Phoenix. This is not just for 'hip' people. We're here for everybody."

Royal Phoenix's grand opening is June 17 beginning at 5 p.m. They will then be open seven days a week from 5 pm to 3 am. They also have a terrasse that fits 30 that's open until 11 pm nightly.

Tonight's deejays are Montreal nightlife legend Plastik Patrik and Lynne T, beginning at 10 pm.

Email bookings@royalphonexibar.com to book events.


Terry Berg debuted in Green Lantern #129 ("Something Old, Something New") in October 2000

(June 17) Canadian heartthrob Ryan Reynolds may be stealing all the newspaper headlines as the Hollywood blockbuster Green Lantern opens in movie theatres across North America this weekend, but a decade ago a Green Lantern gay plotline was making sensational headlines as then-DC Comics writer Judd Winick introduced Green Lantern’s gay personal assistant Terry Berg.

Berg is a seventeen-year-old intern at Feast magazine where he is an art assistant for Kyle Rayner (a.k.a. Green Lantern). The teen first appeared in Green Lantern #129 in 2000. But Winick made superhero-comics history when a couple of years later DC Comics released Green Lantern #154, in which Berg was nearly gay-bashed to death.

Judd Winick at Midtown Comics East
in Manhattan (June 2004) Photo 
by Luigi Novi (from Wikipedia)
“I created Terry when I took over the book because basically I wanted to introduce a gay teen,” Winick –  a former cast member of MTV’s Real World 3 back in 1994 – told me at the time.

Winick, of course, became good friends with the late Pedro Zamora, his gay Real World cast mate. Zamora died of AIDS in 1994 and Winnick documented their friendship in his award-winning graphic novel Pedro and Me.

Winick would also go on to win major awards for his groundbreaking work on Green Lantern. “My editor Bob Schreck [who would edit DC’s Batman comics and their All Star titles until 2009], myself and young creators [at DC] wanted to create a more diverse landscape for comics, which have basically been male, white and straight. But our real world includes people of colour, women, and gays and lesbians. So we wanted to introduce a gay teenager, more so than a gay superhero.”

Terry Berg came out when he fell head over heels for Kyle. “Who can blame him?” Winick, now 41, asks rhetorically. “Kyle is six feet tall with muscles, and if you prefer men, who wouldn’t want Kyle?”

The genesis for Terry came not just out of Pedro, but also Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay university student lynched in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998.

“I was horrified and outraged by the sheer brutality of Shepard’s murder,” Winnck says. “And having a lot of people in my life who are gay, there was a certain amount of shrugging and head-banging that this happens all the time.”

So Winnick wanted to create dialogue about gay life, and especially where it would do the most good – among the mainly young, male readers of comic books. “Terry had a very positive coming out, but [with his gay-bashing] we also got to see the worst part of gay life.”

In issue #154 Terry and his boyfriend are gaybashed, Terry falls into a coma, and all his father can say is, “If he hadn’t been gay, if people hadn’t been so accepting, then none of this would have happened!”

Terry would survive the gay-bashing and today continues to appear in the DC Comics universe. “Just because Terry gets beat up doesn’t make him a hero,” Winnick told me. “But I hope he will be inspiring to young people.”

And on that score Winnick – who left Green Lantern in 2003 for another DC book, Green Arrow where he would reveal that Green Arrow’s 17-year-old ward, a former runaway-turned prostitute named Mia Dearden, was HIV-positive – has been hugely successful.

Says Winnick, “I got a wonderful email about six months after [Terry’s gay-bashing plotline in Green Lantern No. 154 was published] and it read, ‘I’m 12 ½ years old and I’m gay and reading Green Lantern is the first time I’m not ashamed of being gay.’ Now that’s pretty fantastic.” 

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Mado La Motte hosts her annual Drag Race at Montreal Fringe Festival on June 18

(June 17) Few drag queens on Earth are in the same league as Montreal’s famed (and infamous) Mado La Motte, so-called because patrons at Poodles’ nightclub on The Main in Montreal in 1987 thought she was so ugly they dubbed her “The Mutt.” Thus, Mado ‘La Motte’ was born.

When that other great drag queen, Lady Bunny of New York (she co-founded Wigstock), attended the bastard child of Wigstock, Mascara (which Mado founded 14 years ago and which has since become the biggest drag show on the planet at Montreal’s Divers/Cite Festival), she told Mado backstage, “What a fabulous show, darling!"

Mado – a.k.a. Luc Provost – the marketing genius got her start as a shooter bitch and cigarette girl at Poodles and Club Lézard, but has (like me, bless her) written a column for the monthly gay glossy Fugues magazine for over 20 years, appeared on countless TV programs and morning shows and was colour commentator for live French TV coverage of Divers/Cité’s original Pride parade for several years; was a spokesmodel for a major potato chip company, sold out the much-lamented Spectrum five times ("It was sad to see that venue close"); and nine years ago opened her own nightclub, the phenomenally successful Cabaret Mado in Montreal’s Gay Village, where her statue doubles nicely as the nightclub’s marquee and is something of a beacon in a neighbourhood now hailed as one of the planet’s great gay meccas.

Then 11 years ago she began – scooch over RuPaul – the world’s first-ever Drag Race, hands-down the single most popular event at Montreal’s Fringe Festival.

So this bitch sat down with this city’s other bitch for the Drag Race low-down this weekend.

Are you excited about this year’s June 18 drag race?
Of course I’m excited! I’m excited every year because drag queens are the best runners in the city! And we prove to the world that [being] ridiculous never killed anyone!

Would our world be best off worshipping our drag queens?
Of course! Drag queens are the new religion! Praise drag!

Your career began on The Main and, 25 years later at the Fringe, it’s like you’ve come full circle!
La Main was the craziest street in town 25 years ago. This was where everything was happening, where every youth current was born, where the underground was located. You could find everything there. It’s not like that anymore. I don’t know if I bring anything back [here]. All I know after all these years is being normal is not good –  no way, honey! Don’t be a follower, don’t follow shit. Being different is superior.

You starred in the fabulously trashy play Saving Céline at the Mainline Theatre back in 2007. Have you got another play in the works?
I got the taste to do more theatre but then drag is also the biggest form of theatre. Personally, I’d like to do another really big Mado show at the Just For Laughs festival for my 30th anniversary [in 2017]. But I’d also like a real play about the creation and evolution of Mado. Unless someone offers me a bigger role!

What can we expect at Mado’s Drag Race this weekend?
Irreverence! Don’t expect Mado to be nice to anyone – even to you! [This reporter will be a judge at Mado’s Drag Race this weekend.] Besides, we already have an alcoholic judge!

Mado La Motte hosts her 11th annual Drag Race at the Montreal Fringe Festival starring a who’s who of Montreal’s all-star drag constellation versus a bevy of Fringe fest beauties in a knock-down Battle Royale of skill-testing obstacles! Saturday, June 18 beginning at 4 pm at Parc des Ameriques (corner Rachel and St-Laurent). Free admission.

Mado La Motte also  hosts and performs most nights at Cabaret Mado (1115 Ste-Catherine St. E.). Surf to http://www.mado.qc.ca/.


The Debbie Reynolds Collection goes on the auction block on June 18

(June 16)  The Debbie Reynolds Collection is arguably the most significant collection of Hollywood costumes and props since the liquidation of the MGM and FOX studios in the 1970s -- and it all goes on the auction block at the Paley Center of Media in Beverly Hills on June 18. 

After painstakingly collecting Hollywood memorabilia for decades -- including Marilyn Monroe's "Subway" dress that blows around in the movie The Seven Year Itch, Judy Garland's test dress and ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz , and Elizabeth Taylor's gold headdress from Cleopatra -- Reynolds is putting it all on the auction block because her dream was never realized.

"I wanted to build a museum for the public which I was never able to raise the money for," the Hollywood legend and gay icon told NBC Los Angeles. "That's why you are seeing this auction. I think it's sad, but I think it's the only way it can happen. It's the only way I can save it. I can't maintain it anymore."

The Profiles in History auction is the first of two -- the second will be held in December 2011. This entire collection contains over 3,500 costumes, 20,000 original photographs, several thousand original movie posters, original costume sketches and hundreds of key props from film history. You can downlaod the (frankly amazing) catalogue for free at this website.

"I am really sick and tired of it. I feel that I must call it a day now," the 79-year-old star of such classic films as 1952's Singing' in the Rain tells the LA Times. "Over the years, I have literally spent millions of dollars protecting it and taking care of it. If you were me, wouldn't you give up after 35 years?"

Monday, 6 June 2011


The National Enquirer outed New Kids on the Block’s Jonathan Knight in February 2009

(June 6) When 1980s teeny bopper star Tiffany outed New Kids on the Block’s Jonathan Knight on Bravo this past January, was anybody really surprised?

Tiffany revealed on Bravo that she’d had a relationship with Jonathan when they toured together some 20 years ago. “[He’s] the quiet one, the shy one,” Tiffany said. “[He] became gay later. I didn’t do it. I had issues with that. I was thinking maybe I did. Now looking back when we were dating, he was so much fun. We used to do facials together. He was so easy to talk to.”

Tiffany later apologized for “outing” Jonathan, although The National Enquirer had first outed him in their pages back in February 2009. After Tiffany re-outed him, Jonathan Knight himself issued a statement nine days later on the NKOTB website, on Jan. 29 (although you’ll have to cough up $39.95  to access it yourself). Only fan club members can view the post, but Towleroad posted a screen capture.

“I have never been outed by anyone but myself!” Knight stated. “I did so almost twenty years ago. I never knew that I would have to do it all over again publicly just because I reunited with NKOTB! I have lived my life very openly and have never hidden the fact that I am gay!”

 NKOTB video for their song Please Don't Go Girl

Knight added, “My belief is that you live your life by example, not by a caption on a magazine! If there has ever been any confusion about my sexuality, then you are someone that doesn’t even know me!”

I guess that means millions of NKOTB fans had no idea who their idol really was. What a chump.


 Drag queen hostess Kris Kneivel works the crowd at Jacque's Cabaret in Boston 
(All photos by Seb Oran)

(June 6) "Look at all the vagina here tonight!" big, blonde and buxom hostess Kris Kneivel said from the sparkling stage of Jacque’s Cabaret, a fabulously trashy drag bar in the heart of Boston’s downtown district.

On this night the seedy gay nightclub is packed wall-to-wall with all kinds of straight women – young and old, white and black – celebrating the raucous hen nights of their best girlfriends. And I’m here with my old buddy Seb because we were simply looking for a fun night out in a city that’s better known for its sports teams and museums than it is for its loudmouth drag queens.

Kris Kneivel and Bugs
"We get a lot of hen night parties!" Jacque’s manager Kristin Turillo explained to me as she stood behind the bar slinging drinks (and poured me another double-vodka soda). "This place can get real crazy!"

So – in my best strip-bar imitation – I stuck a whole lotta dollars in the cleavage of Jacque’s finest drag divas, like the big, black and beautiful Mizery, Destiny (the Asian Beyoncé) and Katia, who looks like a dishevelled, dizzy Lady Gaga.

I don’t think this is quite what one of Boston’s leading citizens, the late William Tudor – co-founder of the 195-year-old North American Review (New England’s pre-eminent magazine until The Atlantic came along) – meant when in 1819 he dubbed Boston "The Athens of America."

But Tudor would have approved of the amazing John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a gorgeous building designed by I.M. Pei, the famous master of modernist architecture who also designed Montreal’s Place Ville Marie in 1962. You’ll discover everything – from documents to gifts and treasures given to JFK by foreign leaders and dignitaries – at this museum.

At the JFK museum
But while Kennedy is one of the most studied and written-about presidents of the 20th century, few knew that his best friend of 30 years – Lem Billings – was a gay man until my esteemed colleague Charles Kaiser revealed the truth in his critically hailed 1997 New York Times bestseller The Gay Metropolis: 1940-1996 (now a Grove Press softcover).

I explored much of Boston on foot when I visited the city recently, but a couple of my personal highlights were visiting the Paul Revere House on the Freedom Trail that snakes through Boston, and a Saturday night dinner at one of the finest Italian restaurants I’ve ever dined at, the trendsetting BiNA Osteria (581 Washington Street).

Boston harbour cruise
And when it comes to hot tickets, there is also more to this city than the NHL's Boston Bruins who are playing the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals this week. Like Bean Town's pretty good theatre scene. Seb and I ducked into the Charles Playhouse (on Warrenton Street, just a couple blocks away from Jacque’s Cabaret) to see the very gay murder mystery Shear Madness, the longest running non-musical play in the history of American theatre.

There is crowd Q&A participation with the homicide cops on stage in this two-hour play, so the audience decides who the murderer is. Meaning the ending can change every night of the week. If you’ve never seen it, don’t miss it.
Salem's Old Port

On our drive home, Seb and I skipped the gay resort Provincetown but stopped for breakfast in Salem, Massachusetts, then checked out the Salem Witch Museum. Very creepy. Also, while in Salem, check out the small town’s famed Peabody Essex Museum which is currently hosting the blockbuster exhibition Golden Evenings: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, which closes on June 19.


Sunday, 5 June 2011


 Bavaro stars (with Penny Hogan) in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Montreal punk-rock club Katacombes beginning June 12 (Photo courtesy Antonio Bavaro)

(June 5) “I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch in theatres the week it opened on a first date back in 2001,” says actor Antonio Bavaro (a.ka. Montreal drag queen Connie Lingua). “I have no idea where the guy I was with ended up, but I am still in adoration of [Hedwig creator] John Cameron Mitchell.”

Bavaro stars in the upcoming Montreal production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Montreal Fringe Festival that will be performed beginning June 12 at local punk-rock club Katacombes on The Main.

“We are staging it to make it truer to Hedwig’s punk roots by having the perfect environment at Katacombes,” Bavaro explains. “The show itself was created after performing at several different venues around NYC, and having it a bar/club venue forces us to live in that world. Our version has been shaved down a bit to be able to fit in our 80-minute time slot, but all in all, it will be a pretty hardcore and intense version of the work, with some Montreal specific references.”

Hedwig really began back in 1994 at NYC’s famed drag-punk nightclub Squeezebox where  Stephen Trask – who would write the music and lyrics for Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell wrote the text) – headed the house band and Mitchell’s boyfriend, Jack Steeb, played bass.

Mitchell worshipped the rock’n’roll singing drag queens at Squeezebox. So he began to rewrite covers of such songs as Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well, Cher's Half Breed, David Bowie's Boys Keep Swinging and All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople, incorporating them into Hedwig’s original concerts.

In fact, Mitchell’s second gig at Squeezebox also featured singer Debbie Harry on the bill, and Hedwig’s trademark wig was famously created that night with toilet paper rolls wrapped in synthetic blonde hair! (Which is also why I love the pic I snapped of Bavaro as Hedwig in the men’s toilet at Montreal’s boozy Fringe-For-All at Café Campus last week.)

Bavaro in Fringe toilet
(Photo by Richard Burnett)
By 1998, Hedwig and The Angry Inch debuted at the gloriously rundown Jane Street Theatre in NYC’s West Village a fully-fledged original punk/glam rock musical about a lonely girly-boy named Hansel from Communist East Germany who, after a botched sex change (which leaves him with the titular angry inch) flees Germany before the wall comes down. Hansel morphs into Hedwig, who is neither completely male nor female, but a glam rock’n’roll queen reduced to playing dives while her former protégé and lover Tommy Gnosis performs in stadiums across America.

After Hedwig won a Village Voice, Obie and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, the film adaption won an award for best direction and the Audience Award for Best Drama at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001.

Bavaro has not seen Canadian entertainer Seth Drabinsky’s pretty good touring production of Hedwig that pitstopped at Montreal’s Le National theatre this past February, but this restaging has Bavaro’s imprint all over it, along with Mile End resident Penny Hogan who co-stars Hedwig’s sidekick Yitzahk.

The Angry Inch band also consists of  Mathieu Lobraico on bass, Kevin Moquin on guitar, Max Lazich on drums and Willis Smith on keys. “I have a great band of fellow Concordia students who eagerly jumped on the project,” Bavaro says. “They all have different influences, and that made the learning of the songs with their own rock styles really fluid. We've been having a lot of fun with the music and joking around about the lyrics. I am so proud to have such a strong band supporting me. And they're really sexy, too.”

Meanwhile, Alberta native Bavaro created his alter-ego Connie Lingua in October 2002 (a month after his 18th birthday) for an Edmonton fundraiser. Now a drag veteran himself, Bavaro says, “I love drag and I hate it. I adore becoming someone else but I also dislike being taken on a superficial level because of how fierce I may or may not look. Drag is a very complicated passion, and for me I see it as a means to fully express some intimate and often hard-to-touch-upon issues. Empowering one's self with a female spirit enables a performer to either attack or console an audience without alienating them. Hearing a roar of laughter or applause from an audience after baring myself in such a vulnerable manner, that's the best part about any performance.”

With the huge Walt Disney-esque successes of La Cage Aux Folles and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical on Broadway, Bavaro has mixed feelings about the current mainstreaming of drag. and

“Gender illusion comes in and out of fashion throughout history & I'm very glad that it's becoming more accepted in mainstream society,” he says. “But it worries me that we now have a standard of drag in pop-culture. So I’m glad there's also a backlash against more traditional drag as of late. More people believe we should look a certain way, behave a certain way, be a certain way. But drag is so diverse, it can't be codified, really. Like all cultures, it's scary that Lady Gaga and RuPaul, for example, are appropriating jewels from regional subcultures like the drag scene. But I wonder, what do our communities lose when this happens?”

The newfound success of Broadway rock musicals like American Idiot and the new, rejigged Spiderman – unfathomable before Hedwig – reportedly has John Cameron Mitchell back in the gym getting his 48-year-old body back into shape for a future Broadway run of Hedwig with original producer David Binder and original director Peter Askin at the helm. The New York Post also reports Stephen Trask is writing new songs for the production.

Bavaro as Hedwig, with Bugs
The diverse, mixed audiences that Hedwig still attracts always turned on John Cameron Mitchell.

“It just makes for a more interesting party,” Mitchell told me years ago. “You know, I think I needed to be more with gay people when I came out, in a more monolithic way. But then you grow up and realize you want a little variety. A lot of gay people only hang out with people who listen to the same music and have the same body and same gender. That’s boring and quite annoying. [It only makes me] feel like a freak among a majority.”

Which is another reason why Bavaro was attracted to John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig in the first place.

“Contemporary drag has always taken pop divas and made these personalities accessible to the public – Diana Ross' I’m Coming Out was just as much a marketing ploy as Lady Gaga's Born This Way,” Bavaro says. “It saddens me that many people still feel the need to portray the status quo and rejoice in it to feel accepted in society, when we have so much wealth in our own rich identities.”

Antonio Bavaro stars in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Off-Fringe at Katacombes (1635 St-Laurent, corner Ontario Street) at the Montreal Fringe Festiva1. June 12-13-14-15-16-19. Admission: $12.

Antonio Bavaro and the cast of Hedwig and the Angry Inch will also perform at the Punk Rock Drag Show at The Playhouse (5656 Parc Ave) on June 11.
Bavaro’s alter-ego Connie Lingua will co-host the event with Igby Lizzard.
Doors at 9pm, show at 11pm. Admission: $5 at the door (18+)