The year in queer: An A-Z guide to the LGBTQ arts and culture watershed that was 2017
We were mostly certainly here, queer and getting people used to it in not-so-sweet '17
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
2017 was nothing if not endlessly eventful, occasionally for better but most often for worse. Focusing on the former is always a healthy way to close out a year, and to do so you don't have to look further than how remarkable 2017 was when it came to LGBTQ arts and culture.
From movies to TV to music to books, we were mostly certainly here, queer and getting people used to it in not-so-sweet '17 — so much so that I can go full alphabet on those narratives without overextending and offer you all an A to Z of LGBTQ to close out your years with some pride.
A is for ANOHNI
In 2016, ANOHNI became the second transgender person to be nominated for an Academy Award, only to rightfully protest the ceremony because they didn't invite her to perform, despite offering that invitation to three of her fellow Best Original Song nominees. A year later, ANOHNI continued to prove herself an essential voice in troubled times, releasing the remarkable EP Paradise — a poetic call to action against ecocide and systemic violence timed to Trump's inauguration.
B is for BPM (Beats Per Minute)
ACT UP stands for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, a moniker adopted by multiple direct action advocacy groups around the world in the late 1980s and 1990s that fought against the system to save countless lives. The stories of the people behind these groups should have already been adapted into a dozen movies at this point, but at least in 2017 we got BPM (Beats Per Minute), French filmmaker Robin Campillo's staggeringly affecting tribute to the heroes behind ACT UP Paris. Despite winning multiple major awards at film festivals, BPM came and went very quickly from theatres. I strongly advise helping make up for that when it's released on iTunes next month.
C is for The Con X
The very first edition of this column waxed very sentimental about Tegan and Sara in honour of the 10th anniversary of their album The Con, which re-issued in October as an innovative covers album called The Con X. The album features the likes of Lauper, Ruth B., Ryan Adams, Bleachers, Hayley Williams, Chvrches and Vivek Shraya offering their own reinventions of the album's tracks. All proceeds will go toward the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which they launched in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election to fight for "economic justice, health and representation for LGBTQ girls and women." And all the artists involved — who donated their time — are either outspoken allies of the community or LGBTQ-identified themselves.
D is for Daniela Vega
While the likes of Saorise Ronan, Sally Hawkins and Frances McDormand are rightfully getting a large share of year-end awards attention in best actress categories (for Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectfully), a major oversight has been the lack of attention being paid to Daniela Vega for the film A Fantastic Woman. In the film — a Chilean import that won awards and acclaim at the Berlin and Toronto International Film Festivals — Vega plays Maria, a trans woman reeling from the death of her boyfriend. In first acting role, Vega is stunning as Maria and more than deserves a shot at becoming the first transgender actress nominated for an Oscar. And even if that doesn't happen, do yourself a favour and go see her work when Woman finally opens in theatres across Canada in February.
E is for Elio & Oliver
Speaking of Oscars, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are well on their way to nominations for their performances as Elio and Oliver in Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name. A profoundly stirring love story between two men (and maybe a peach) set in 1980s Italy, Call Me essentially made Elio and Oliver instant icons of queer cinema the second the film debuted at Sundance this past January. Go see it in theatres now (it's expanding across Canada this month) and you'll understand why — just don't expect to come out of it dry-eyed.
F is for "feyness"
"Feyness" is defined by Merrian-Webster as "campy" and "precious," which is why Dan Levy started a welcome uproar when the word was used to negatively described him in John Doyle's Globe and Mail review of The Great Canadian Baking Show, which Levy hosts. Essentially, the review used coded language to suggest Levy was "too gay" to host the show, and Levy called it out "as offensive, irresponsible and homophobic." A chorus agreed, and TV became an ever-so-slightly safer place to own your feyness.
G is for Glad Day Bookshop
LGBTQ bookstores have had a rough decade. In 2009, New York's Oscar Wilde Bookshop — the first store devoted to gay and lesbian authors — closed after 42 years. A year later, Washington, D.C.'s Lambda Rising (which opened in 1974) followed suit. And then in 2011, the last branch of A Different Light — a chain of American LGBT bookstores originated by Canadian attorney and businessman George Leigh — closed in San Francisco. But 2017 shone a hopeful light on the few remaining examples, most notably Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop, which after almost shutting down last year moved to a new space and expanded to become not just a bookstore but a cafe, bar, performance space and art gallery. Nearly a year into its new digs, to call Glad Day's move a success story would be a huge understatement. It hasn't just simply given a much-needed new cultural space to the Church-Wellesley Village but also brought a blast of diversity to a neighbourhood historically dominated by bars for cis gay men. Support Glad Day and Vancouver's Little Sister's Book & Art Emporium to help keep these spaces alive.
H is for Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
"This body is resilient. It can endure all kinds of things. My body offers me the power of presence. My body is powerful." Those are words from Roxane Gay's Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, which she has described as "by far the hardest book I've ever had to write." But the world is a better place for her efforts. While not the easiest read either, it's a staggeringly raw and honest examination of shame and self-loathing that will alter the way you think of your relationship with your body. Read it.
I is for "I just wanna see you smile through all the hate"
These are lyrics from an unexpected highlight from Jay-Z's masterful 13th album 4:44,"Smile." Poetically revealing his mother Gloria Carter is a lesbian, Jay-Z raps: "Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take / Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don't matter to me if it's a him or her / I just wanna see you smile through all the hate." Continuing to help progress hip hop into a safer place for LGBTQ people, it's hard not to smile when you think about "Smile," especially when Jay-Z gives Gloria the mic tell her own story in a monologue. "Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be," she says. "No harm for them, no harm for me. But life is short, and it's time to be free. Love who you love, because life isn't guaranteed."
J is for Jia Qing Wilson-Yang — and trans literature in general
"These are groundbreaking times for trans literature," Gwen Benaway wrote for in this piece for CBC Arts, which is an essential entry point for people looking to get their trans lit on this winter. Benaway lists Vivek Shraya's even this page is white (more on her later), Casey Plett's A Safe Girl To Love, Kai Cheng Thom's Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars and Zoe Whittall's Holding Still For As Long As Possible as more than a dozen examples of trans lit to add to your Amazon wish lists, though we're going to single out Jia Qing Wilson-Yang's Small Beauty. Following a mixed-race trans woman growing up in Southern Ontario who confronts the history of trans women, lesbians, migrants and Chinese-North Americans that have shaped her, Small Beauty won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for trans fiction.
K is for Kate McKinnon
Saturday Night Live's first openly lesbian cast member continued to be the show's MVP this year, winning her second consecutive Emmy for best supporting actress after leading the program through the waters that were the U.S. election. (She was also, for what it's worth, the best thing about summer comedy Rough Night.) While it's hard to imagine Kate will stay on SNL for too much longer (she is now the longest serving female cast member), we're grateful she'll at least be around for the first half of 2018.
L is for Lido Pimienta
When CBC Arts profiled Lido Pimienta back in February, the queer-identified, Colombian-born artist and musician had been a regular name in the Toronto arts community ever since releasing her sophomore record La Papessa last year. But then in September, she took it to a whole new level when Pimienta beat out Leonard Cohen, Gord Downie and Feist (among others) to win the 2017 Polaris Prize, awarded to the best Canadian album of the year regardless of genre. You can watch her speech here.
M is for Moonlight
Moonlight may have come out last year, but it sure did have a big moment in 2017. After La La Land was erroneously named best picture at the February 26th Oscar ceremony, Moonlight became the first LGBTQ-themed film to take the prize in perhaps the most dramatic fashion possible. While it's unfortunate the film just couldn't have its moment without all the onstage chaos that overshadowed its win, it's still pretty magical to say these words out loud all these months later: "Moonlight won best picture."
N is for No Shape
Seattle musician Mike Hadreas is better known as Perfume Genius, and did he ever live up to the latter half of his alias in 2017. In May, he released No Shape, his follow-up to the 2014 breakthrough album Too Bright, which he gloriously promoted on Letterman wearing bondage gear and lipstick. Bolder and (oddly) brighter than its predecessor, No Shape is the kind of album that feels like it can breathe you back to life, which we all might have needed from time to time in 2017.
O is for Orphan Black
After five seasons of offering a myriad of LGBTQ representation from Cosima Niehaus to Felix Dawkins, one of Canada's greatest TV offerings came to an end this past summer. And while we will never be able to clone it, Orphan Black will certainly live on for more years than there are characters played by Tatiana Maslany on the series.
P is for Pre-Drink
Quebec filmmaker Marc-Antoine Lemire made a big splash at the Toronto International Film Festival this year with his wonderfully surprising short film Pre-Drink, which stars Alex Trahan and Pascale Drevillon as a gay man and a transgender woman whose longtime friendship is complicated when they decide to have sex. It would go on win the award for best Canadian short film at the festival, and was just named one of Canada's 10 best shorts — meaning it will be screening around the country in the new year.
Q is for Queer Songbook Orchestra & Vivek Shraya
For Toronto's Queer Songbook Orchestra, the songs wouldn't exist without the stories behind them. The group performs everything from old standards to contemporary hits, but the narratives used by the singers to contextualize their ballads are what make a night with the QSO as much about catharsis as it is about music. In addition to multiple memorable shows in 2017, QSO collaborated with Vivek Shraya to give us one of 2017's greatest gifts:the album Part-Time Woman. (You can join QSO for their third annual holiday fundraiser next week in Toronto.)
R is for RuPaul's Drag Race
Nine seasons in, RuPaul's Drag Race has become an institution. What other reality show can still pack bars week-after-week with heavily invested fans (or maybe I'm just not paying attention to people who still watch Survivor)? Even more important is that as Drag Race continues to push further into the mainstream, with it comes thoughtful messages of self-acceptance and empowerment that — despite general tendencies of the reality genre — always feel genuine and sincere. Please never sashay away, RuPaul, OK?
S is for Shawn Hitchins
A year ago, Shawn Hitchins wrote this essay for CBC Arts that reflected on a 2016 that was all about the insane process behind trying to write a book of personal non-fiction. In 2017, that book — A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger's Anthology of Humiliation — finally made it to the bookshelves, and was it ever worth Hitchins' efforts. A hilarious, thoughtful collection of essays that ultimately offer a collective message to accept ourselves, Hitchins' Anthology of Humiliation is the perfect way to add one of Canada's wittiest voices to any holiday gift exchange.
T is for "Thanksgiving"
Calling something the best episode of TV in 2017 is the tallest of orders given how endlessly fantastic the medium was this year. But the "Thanksgiving" episode of Master of None, written by Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari and directed by Melina Matsoukas, sure is tough to beat. Set over an evolution of Thanksgivings between Denise (Waithe) and her mother (Angela Bassett) as the latter comes to terms with her daughter being a lesbian, the episode is about as brilliant a coming out narrative as they get. Emmy voters agreed, making Waithe the first LGBTQ woman of colour — and woman of colour, period — to win their award for comedy writing.
U is for Ulrike's Brain, The Misandrists and "Refugees Welcome"
After taking a few years off, queer Canadian icon Bruce LaBruce had quite the 2017, debuting an ecclectic trio of new films in 1960s B-movie spoof Ulrike's Brain, lesbian separatist terrorist cell-set The Misandrists and erotic short film "Refugees Welcome" — the latter produced by feminist pornographer Erika Lust. 25 years after his feature debut No Skin Off My Ass became a cult classic and launched his career, LaBruce is showing no signs of slowing down...or moving into the mainstream.
V is for vampires
A few months ago, I had no idea that a certain phenomenon known as Carmilla even existed. But then this article began to make the CBC rounds, and I was schooled in what the kids are up to: one of Canada's most notable recent media exports is a web series about a lesbian vampire with the same name, and as per some 70 million YouTube views, it's a really big deal for a certain demographic. And this past October, it got the feature film treatment with The Carmilla Movie, which I attended on opening night as part of an effort to give myself a proper Carmillian education (which I documented here), discovering a pretty extraordinary breadth of LGBTQ representation. There's not just a lesbian vampire, but a whole world dominated by characters who are queer and/or female. They even have a non-binary character, and the lone cis male is basically there for occasional comic relief and not much else.
W is for Will & Grace
If you're asking yourself if I accidentally mistook 2017 for 2002 in a haze of writing too many of these blurbs, you'd be a wee bit correct. While Will & Grace is indeed back for a ninth season over a decade after it went off the air, the revival doesn't exactly reinvent the representational wheel. But it's provided nostalgic comfort food in times that need as much of it as possible and, well, "W" is a really hard letter.
X is for Xavier Dolan
Like the Oscars, the Canadian Screen Awards also gave their top prize to a LGBTQ-themed film, Xavier Dolan's It's Only The End of The World. And while Dolan himself took most of the rest of 2017 to finish a film that won't be out until next year (The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, which stars Kit Harrington as a closeted Hollywood star, no less), he did find time to offer up a very candid interview for the first season of CBC Arts' film talk show, The Filmmakers. You can watch the whole interview here, which includes a few tidbits about John F. Donovan.
Y is for Yorkshire sheep farming
Not an inclusion you'd expect on a list with this name, but Yorkshire sheep farming was the context of one the year's best queer love stories: Francis Lee's film God's Own Country. The opening night film of Toronto's Inside Out Film Festival, God's Own Country depicts a pastoral romance between a disengaged rancher's son named Johnny and Gheorghe, the Romanian migrant who takes up work as his farmhand. Johnny and Gheorghe might have a slightly less sultry landscape to work with than, say, the Italian countryside of Call Me By Your Name's Elio and Oliver, but their story is just as worth your time.
Z is for Zachari Logan
Last year, CBC Arts profiled Saskatchewan artist Zachari Logan and his quest to investigate queer spaces in the Prairies. In 2017, he continued that quest, among many others: he had shows all over Europe and North America; he was the artist in residence at the Tom Thomson Shack; and currently, Torontonians can escape the cold and take in Nocturne, a collaboration with Ross Bleckner that includes. paintings, ceramics and works on paper.
What were your favourite moments in LGBTQ arts and culture this year? Tweet me and let me know: @peterknegt