Arts·Queeries

The year in queer: An A-Z guide to 2019's LGBTQ arts and culture explosion

In this special video edition of Queeries, Peter Knegt gives the alphabet a very gay makeover.

In this special video edition of Queeries, Peter Knegt gives the alphabet a very gay makeover

Clockwise from top left: Billy Porter, Andrew Scott, Lil Nas X, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Orville Peck. (Courtesy)

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.

So I know there's been a lot of celebratory lists about the fact that we are in the midst of completing an entire decade (CBC Arts is certainly doing the same) — but what about 2019? The December cyberspace, typically devoted to endless reflection on the year past, seems to be being bogarted by the 2010s as a whole. And I think I need to do my small part to thwart that by offering you all an A-to-Z countdown of the year in queer arts and culture (in both video and written form!). Because despite 2019 generally being a pretty dark year for this world, LGBTQ excellence shined its way through anyway — and that must be celebrated.

Queeries columnist Peter Knegt recaps the year in LGBTQ arts in culture. 4:42

A is for Are You The One?

Bear with me, but may I declare that one of the most revolutionary depictions of sexuality on any screen in 2019 came...from a MTV reality dating show. The eighth season of Are You The One? — where 20 sexually fluid folks of various gender identities are taken to a tropical island to try and match up — is both wildly entertaining and tremendously insightful in terms of how it depicts what it's like for queer and trans folks to try and find love. I mean, reality dating shows are usually ground zero for problematic heteronormative fantasies, but instead we get discussions of transphobia, femmephobia, toxic hyper-masculinity and sexualized racism? Never thought I'd want my MTV so bad.

B is for Booksmart

Olivia Wilde's heartfelt and hilarious high school buddy comedy both feminizes and queers the R-rated teen raunch genre in a way no film released in multiplexes across North America ever has. And it's also just a really great movie that should have made $100 million at the box office but didn't because you all don't know how to have good things.

C is for Chosen Family

My favourite additions to the CBC family this year have to be Montreal BFFs Thomas LeBlanc and Tranna Wintour, who moved the second season of LGBTQ-themed podcast Chosen Family under our umbrella in June. And with it came really thoughtful conversations about the queer experience both from the co-hosts themselves and from their conversations with folks like Margaret Cho, Xavier Dolan and Tegan and Sara. Add this to your podcast rotation if you haven't already.

D is for the dinner scene in Tales of the City

There was so much amazing queer television in 2019, but few scenes resonated as much as one in the fourth episode of Netflix's Tales of the City reboot. If you've seen the show, you know what I'm talking about: it's when Ben — a 28-year-old Black man — joins his white boyfriend Michael — a 50-something white man at a dinner party that is otherwise exclusively attended by older white men. An intergenerational confrontation explodes, and while I won't spoil anything for those who haven't seen (and if you haven't, you can watch below), it's representative of conversations we all need to be having in our communities.

E is for the Emmy Awards

The Oscars might have the reputation as being the "gay Super Bowl" but they've got not nothing on the Emmys in terms of actually rewarding queer excellence. In the acting categories alone this year, 11 openly LGBTQ folks were nominated and four of them won, including Pose's Billy Porter becoming the first openly gay Black man to win a best actor prize. Compare that to the fact that only three — three! — openly LGBTQ actors have ever even been nominated for Academy Award in their 91 year history and honestly I think it's time we start throwing some more aggressive shade Oscar's way.

F is for Fleabag

Beyond being pretty much the unquestioned greatest achievement in storytelling in 2019, the second season of Fleabag also gave us both one of the year's most entertaining flirtations in the episode in which Pheobe Waller-Bridge's title character tries to get in bed with a power lesbian played by Kristen Scott-Thomas...and let gay actor Andrew Scott become the most lusted after man across various sexual orientations thanks to his perfectly sexy portrayal of "Hot Priest."

G is for Gwen Benaway

Alongside CBC Art's very own Amanda Parris, poet Gwen Benaway was one of the many female-identified winners of Canada's generally way-too-male-centric Governor General's Literary Awards. Her gorgeous collection of work Holy Wild won the poetry prize, making her the first trans woman to ever do so. And when she accepted the award earlier this month, she gave a rousing, confrontational speech calling out colonial violence and transphobia (watch around the 36:00 mark here). Congratulations, Gwen!

H is for Heloise and Marianne

One of the best movies of the year — queer or otherwise — was French filmmaker Celine Sciama's Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And with it came an instantly iconic onscreen romance in the relationship between Heloise (played by Adele Haenel) and Marianne (played by Noemie Merlant). Basically, it's the end of the 18th century and Marianne has been hired to paint Heloise's portrait so that her mother can use it to find her a husband. Except Heloise don't want no husband...and as it turns out, what she does want is...Marianne.

I is for The Inheritance

OK, so the hottest thing on Broadway right now is sitting down for playwright Matthew Lopez's seven-hour play that's essentially about gay trauma...where by the end you and literally every other person in the theatre will be sobbing. It's called The Inheritance and it will only cost you a trip to New York and $300 US but think of what you'll save on therapy!

J is for Jonathan Van Ness

Jonathan Van Ness continued to prove why he is an absolute international treasure both on the third and fourth seasons of Queer Eye (which somehow both were released in 2019) and when he came out as HIV positive through his memoir Over The Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, helping reduce what remains a significant stigma for millions of people around the world.

K is for King Princess

Who had a better 21st year than Mikaela Mullaney Straus? The artist known as King Princess released their acclaimed debut album Cheap Queen, played Lollapalooza, Coachella, Glastonbury and Saturday Night Live and was announced as the opening act for Harry Styles's 2020 global tour.

L is for Lil Nas X

OK, someone did have a better 21st year: Lil Nas X. After ascending to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on April 13 — just weeks after that very magazine disqualified his song from its separate Hot Country Songs chart for reasons that reeked of racism — Lil Nas decided to do something that's sadly still taboo in mainstream music (particularly country and hip hop, the genres "Old Town Road" straddles): he came out, the first person to ever do so while having a #1 single on that chart. Instead of that preventing him from continuing to dominate the charts (as I'm sure many a handler or record exec told him it would), Lil Nas X stayed at number one for a record-breaking 19 weeks before going on to receive nominations for a ton of Grammys (including best new artist and both record and album of the year). 

M is for "Must get rid of toxic in community"

If you don't know what I'm referencing when I say "must get rid of toxic in community" or "destroy me king," please find your way to the Saturday Night Live sketch "Sara Lee" and bow down to the comedic genius of both Bowen Yang and Harry Styles in one of the gayest, most hilarious SNL sketches maybe ever. Eggplant emoji, eggplant emoji, eggplant emoji, raindrop emoji, train emoji, ghost emoji. 

N is for 1969

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of a revolutionary moment n the history of LGBTQ rights: 1969. We celebrated that here at CBC Arts with a project called Super Queeroes, which combined essays and videos and gorgeous illustrations to pay tribute to 69 LGBTQ artists who have changed Canada for the better. Check it out.

O is for Orville Peck, Ocean Vuong and Jeremy O. Harris

Oooo-K I know this is a cheat but 2019 saw 3 different queer "O" artists onto the scene and if you don't know their names or their work, I suggest you change that. Musician Orville Peck, poet Ocean Vuong and playwright Jeremy O. Harris made it clear they will be creative forces to be reckoned with well into the next decade with Peck's acclaimed country album Pony, Vuong's New York Times bestseller debut novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous and Harris's explicit and controversial Slave Play.

P is for Pose

Perhaps the crowning achievement in both depictions of self-love and LGBTQ representation in 2019 was the second season of FX's Pose. Every Tuesday this past summer, I'd ready myself for an hour of education, perspective, heart, soul and (a lot of) sobbing, as the series gave us a powerful and urgent window into Black queer and trans experiences in early 1990s New York City. Creators Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy — with a lot of help from writers and directors like Janet Mock and Our Lady J, as well as a cast of staggeringly talented actors, most of them Black trans women — put together something so elevated on so many levels it's astounding. And to witness the resilience, strength and love Pose's characters manage to find for themselves and each other in the face of HIV/AIDS, poverty, racism, ageism, homophobia and transphobia is a viewing experience that makes it very challenging to not want to walk back into your own relatively problem-free world loving yourself and others as hard as you possibly can.

Q is for Queen of the North

Canada finally got to represent on RuPaul's Drag Race this year, as our queen Brooke Lynn Hytes fiercely competed her way to a deserved secnd place finish. This capped off an extraordinary decade for Canadian drag on and off screen, as burgeoning Toronto drag icon Allysin Chaynes explains in detail in this essay from CBC Arts's 2010s retrospective.

R is for Rocketman

Starring Taron Egerton in a seismic performance that should shame any Academy member who voted for Rami Malek (not only did Egerton give actual soul to Elton John, but he actually sings!), Rocketman depicts John's life from childhood through his rise to fame, culminating with the drug and alcohol spiral that led him to get sober in 1990. This could feel like an all-too-familiar approach to the same "fame corrupts" narrative that Rhapsody mangled so badly, but Rocketman rises above the constraints of the standard biopic in part by also being...a full-fledged musical. While Queen's music was incorporated throughout Rhapsody with rehearsals, performances and a non-diegetic soundtrack, Rocketman's characters regularly burst into Elton John's songs. And as someone who has historically been pretty indifferent to his music (save a few tracks here and there), I found myself unexpectedly into every minute of it.

S is for Special

Ryan O'Connell's semi-autobiographic series Special (which thankfully was just renewed for a second season by Netflix) is a very charming look at a gay man with cerebral palsy discovering himself and his sexuality. Andrew Gurza wrote this piece for CBC Arts about why the show is so important: "Ryan O'Connell's Special is a game-changer — full stop. With this show, O'Connell has put sex, queerness, disability and comedy onscreen in a way that has simply never been done before. Most importantly, though, he's shown that when you produce a show using a disabled eye, you can create something that we all can come home to — disabled and non-disabled viewers alike."

T is for Tegan and Sara

Queer heroes Tegan and Sara Quin blessed us twice in 2019 by revisiting their roots in both the memoir High School and the open-hearted album Hey, I'm Just Like You, which rerecorded songs the twin sisters initially wrote as teenagers. What lucky folks we are to be entering a fourth decade of Tegan and Sara soundtracking our lives.

U is for Uncover: The Village

Justin Ling's CBC podcast is so much more than an investigation of the horrifying Bruce McArthur murders, going deep into the history of violence in Toronto's gay village and showing why it is so important that we keep telling our stories. The podcast gives voices to so many people — friends, family and the community of the victims — that felt so ignored during the near-decade it took for anything remotely resembling justice to take place. He also goes back much farther into the horrifyingly deep history of LGBTQ folks going missing from Toronto, many of them still unsolved (23 cold cases of missing queer folks were re-opened after McArthur's arrest).

V is for Vida

Mexican-born playwright Tanya Saracho — whose few TV credits before this included writing four of the best episodes on HBO's dearly departed Looking, itself a pioneering queer show — assembled an all-Latinx writers room to create Vida. The series only soared further in its second season this year, tackling complicated intersections of humanity — and a lot of queer sex — like nothing else that's come before it.

W is for Wiggle

Michael Venus's drag and "wearable art" extravaganza Wiggle turned 25 in Montreal this year — and it remains one of Canada's most vital queer art festivals. Looking back on Wiggle's legacy, Venus told CBC Arts earlier this year that the thing he's most proud of is the community the event has helped build — "that and the fact that it's been a launching pad for so many young, creative people," he adds. "And it's also a place for them. We are the misfits and we are the people that society says no to. I think as queers, we have to form our own community and that's, I think, the biggest thing I'm so happy about. We've created a legacy in Canada because, like I said, there aren't events like this, sadly. There needs to be more."

X is for Xavier Dolan

Speaking of Montreal, Xavier Dolan marked a decade of being Canada's cinematic golden boy by showing us a stripped down, softer side in his eighth film in just 10 years: the queer love story Matthias & Maxime. An ensemble film following a group of 30-something male friends, the film centres around the emotional aftermath of a kiss between the titular characters. Lifelong friends Matthias (Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Dolan) both are forced to consider whether there's been something else lying beneath the surface that whole time. Tonally and stylistically, probably his gentlest film yet.

Y is for Yovska

Brooke Lynn Hytes wasn't the only Canadian drag performer making waves on international television this year. Toronto's Yovksa slayed on the underrated reality show Dragula, which searches for the world's first drag...supermonster. This came only a few months after Yovska was among the many highlights of the second season of CBC Arts's very own drag-centric series Canada's a Drag.

Z is for Zendaya and Hunter Schafer

The Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards might have both just shamefully neglected to nominate Euphoria and its incredible cast of young actors, but let us end off this by trying to make up for that by celebrating the women behind its LGBTQ heroines — one of whom blessedly has a name that starts with a Z — Zendaya and Hunter Scafer.

And that's our A to Z. Happy new queer, everyone!

What were your favourite moments in LGBTQ arts and culture this year? Tweet me at @peterknegt and let me know!

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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