The wisdom of iconic Toronto bartender Patricia Wilson...is now a book of Facebook statuses
The guardian angel of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre has put her poetry and beloved status updates in a new book
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.
Like so many folks, I first encountered Patricia Wilson when she poured me my first drink at the bar at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. It was actually my first drink at any queer establishment ever (I had just moved to Toronto from Trenton, Ont. the day before), and I would come to find out that having it handed to me by Wilson should have been taken as a sort of queer badge of honour — for Wilson has essentially been a guardian angel to Toronto's LGBTQ community for decades, welcoming so many of us into our new lives.
In 1993, Wilson rode into town from Windsor, Ont., where she had transitioned while working as a welder before becoming an arts administrator (with a stint in the Los Angeles rock scene in between). Hired immediately as a bartender by Buddies when she arrived in Toronto, Wilson quickly made herself a community pillar. And by the early 2000s, in addition to tending the Buddies bar (which she does to this day), she also became well-known as a poet, the lead guitarist of the band Crackpuppy and...an iconic Facebook status writer. With time these candid, often gloriously long-winded statuses became celebrated daily doses of Wilson for Toronto's queers — so much so that many among us suggested that Wilson turn the posts into a book. So she did.
Edited by poet and Wilson's longtime friend David Bateman, Musings From The Bunker and Slouching Towards Womanhood combines dozens of her statuses with a collection of her poetry.
"I'm a very active Facebook person," Wilson tells CBC Arts. "I post every day. It's almost like my journal. And over the years people have asked me to write a book with Facebook posts. And I decided that, OK, maybe it's a good idea."
Wilson says she doesn't write thinking about what somebody else is going to take from it.
"I think I write what I feel is happening at that moment," she says. "You always write for yourself but you always hope somebody will read it. It's like getting dressed in the morning. I just try and blend in, but I know I look a little different, right? So it's the same thing with Facebook posts. You get up, you do it...and you hope that it touches somebody."
As for who her work might touch, Wilson hopes to inspire a younger generation of LGBTQ folks.
"I would say to always be true to yourself and always make sure that you're aware that you're not in this world by yourself, especially to survive as somebody outside of society — gay, lesbian, trans, genderqueer," says Wilson. "You tend to draw in, really, and you miss everybody else around you because you have to survive. And so I think with my posts I want people to realize that, yes, it's hard being queer. But you still have to acknowledge those around you. The worst thing that happens is when you get so precious around something and you quit doing the good work for the world that you live. So if you're precious, you don't do the work. You have to work for society because you're in society. You get to choose the society you want to work for but you can't be precious. So that's kind of what I'm thinking. Be kind — that's the catch line, isn't it? Be kind and peace."
Wilson also says she's sure she learns as much from younger generations as they do from her.
"I'm learning so much from the kids of today because when I came in there I thought, 'OK, I know fucking gender, don't talk to me about gender and gender politics.' I mean, back then I did, but things have changed. And when they started to change, I was very resistant...very like, 'What are you talking about?' You know, non-gender specific, they, them. But then I thought, it's the passing of the torch. And I learned — not easily — that everything that's going on now is just as important to them as it was to me back then. So for me, it was a growth period. Really hard to teach a 65-year-old tranny anything, right? It's hard, because I think I know everything. I'm like an 18-year-old."
So what's the next era look like for Wilson's 65-going-on-19 self?
"I got in my mind I want to move to Turks and Caicos," she laughs. "Take my old lady with me. But no, seriously, I'm not retiring or anything. I'm cutting back. I'm 65. I got bad knees and can't be behind the bar as much as I used to. So I'm going to maybe try and promote good drag there at Buddies and good late night events. We're doing really well."
Wilson also says that one thing that will definitely continue to be on her agenda is the connections she's been making with the Toronto queer community since she joined it.
"You asked me what's next? What's next is to maintain the connections with, you know, that young boy or that young girl or the trans child or the gender non-specific child that gets beat up at breakfast by their parents in Brampton, and the only place they can come to is Buddies — come by themselves and feel safe, and know that they'll be safe while they're there and safe when they leave. Because they don't have anything at home for them. They have to live there; they don't have the finances to leave. But they can have two hours at our club night and be as queer as they want to be. And I've got to make sure that I'm still part of that on some level in the future...I don't know, maybe I can phone it in from Turks and Caicos."
Selfishly, there are a whole lot of folks in Toronto that really hope you stay put, Patricia.
Musings From The Bunker and Slouching Towards Womanhood is having a book launch this weekend as part of Naked Heart: An LGBTQ Festival of Words, with Wilson and Bateman sitting down with journalist Gordon Bowness for a conversation that is assured to be as singularly wise and wildly entertaining as Wilson's book.