I knew that title would get your attention, but now that I have it, settle in and let me tell you about my trip to the Naked Heart conference in Toronto this weekend.
This one really couldn’t have come at a better time for me and my family. We were feeling damn near despondent after last week’s election. I lost 8 pounds through sheer grief. Tears flowed freely. Fear ran rampant. And while intellectually I knew we’d get through, that we’d pick ourselves up and start to fight back again, I had yet to figure out how.
As soon as I crossed the border, I started to feel a little better. I’ve always enjoyed going to Canada, and we’ve made the trip across the Peace Bridge many times over the years. This time felt different. It felt like entering a safe haven. The evening got even better when we got to Toronto and made a beeline for Chinatown (per my son’s request). I ate dumplings in a packed house and didn’t throw them up. Then we got crepes for dessert (also my son’s idea), and while I didn’t eat those, I did get to spend some time chatting with one of my former students and her husband, who are in the process of moving to Toronto. We cried a little and laughed a lot, and I left feeling better than I had in several days.
The next morning the conference began at Glad Day Bookshop. And let me tell you, if the regular Canadians are nice and lovely and supportive, the book-loving Canadians are even better! The audience was packed even at 10 a.m. on a Saturday for the Speculative Brunch reading I attended. The moderator welcomed us to “Science fiction, fantasy, and horror–otherwise known as the next four years.” It’s funny ’cause it’s true. Then we were treated to readings from David Demchuk, J.M. Frey, James K. Moran, Michael Lyons, ‘Nathan Burgoine, Stephen Graham King, and Steven Bereznai. Afterward I got to meet Steven, James, and Nathan, all of whom were lovely to chat with both then and throughout the rest of the weekend. If you read M/M spec fic you should go look them up!
The next session was a Lammy session with Felice Picano, Hasan Namir, Jeffrey Round, and Trebor Healey. This was such a wonderful and diverse set of readings. It’s clear to see why the authors are big award-winners, and they ran the gamut in style and content. After that panel I got to meet a couple of readers and also talk to Trebor for a little bit. Everyone was beyond nice, and they all offered sympathies about Trump’s election. Several people offered to help in any way they could, and I breathed a little easier with each show of support.
Finally, it was my turn to read. I got to share a sneak peak reading from Close to Home along with Christopher DiRaddo, Jessica L. Webb, Liz Bugg, and Sheila van den Heuvel-Collins. Once again I was really pleased with the quality and diversity of work being shared in this session. I was also really happy with the audience, which was a good mix of men, women, and gender non-conforming folks.
Several readers and writers hung around to chat after our reading, and we had to step outside to make way for the next session. This put us on the sidewalk and inevitably talking about Trump and what his election meant for the queer community. I did the self-conscious thing I’ve gotten used to where I look over my shoulder to see who might be listening in, but what I saw this time only made me smile.
You see, Glad Day Bookshop is in the heart of Toronto’s gayborhood. As we stood there chatting openly about gay books and fears and making art in time of turmoil and dreading holiday conversations, we were completely surrounded by wonderful, caring, exuberant gay folks and allies. The conversations were much the same as I’d had at home, but the setting had changed so much it shook some of the sadness out of them, at least long enough for me to begin to rebuild my shattered senses.
This is where I have to stop and put in an all-out sales plug for Toronto, because getting through the next four years won’t be easy. The fight will be long and hard. We will need breaks to recharge our bodies and our souls along the way. Travel is one of the best ways I have found to do that kind of recharging. I’ve heard it said that travel is one of the few things you can spend money on that makes you richer. I also think that travel can help ward off a sense of isolation and desperation. Getting outside of what we know disrupts the limiting notions of what’s “normal” and shows us viable alternatives. And over the course of the next four years when those experiences become life-sustaining, I vote we spend our vacation dollars on supporting places and people who support us. There are progressive hubs in every state and progressive states throughout our country, but the Toronto folks in the gayborhood surrounding Glad Day Bookshop are among the best I’ve yet to meet, and they support our community at every level. The people, city, province, and country are all amazing. Go visit them.
Okay, moving on. The next morning I was on the first panel of the day at a place called Buddies in Bad Times Theater. They seem to do some really cool productions there, so when you visit Toronto, look them up. The panel topic was Too Queer/ Not Queer Enough”: Publisher Pressure and Reader Expectations. Joining me were authors Elizabeth Ruth,
Christian Baines, and hip hop artist Nari. I have to admit that I was nervous about this one. I had no idea what I was going to talk about. Hell, I couldn’t even tell if I was one of the ones who was too queer or not queer enough, but our moderator, Katie Sly, did a fantastic job and our audience was so wonderfully open that this ended up being my favorite session of the whole conference. I wish I could have bottled the energy in that room and brought it home to all of you.
By the time we crossed the Peace Bridge that afternoon, I was sad to leave such wonderful company, but I felt a lot better about the work I would return home to do. It wasn’t easy to come back across the border into the US, but I felt a lot strong than I had 48 hours earlier. It’s time to get back to work, and I have. I’ve made a pledge to write 8 book in the next four years. I commit to telling our stories, love stories, to the best of my ability for as long as you all will keep reading them. That’s my job, that’s my fight, that’s how I rage against the dying of the light. It’s what I have to do, what we all have to do, but I will be the first to admit that doing so is a littler easier because I know there’s a safe retreat filled with wonderful people and beautiful book lovers just three hours north.
So thank you, Canada. Thank you, Toronto. Thank you, Glad Day Bookshop, and thank you to every conference organizer and volunteer who helped to make the Naked Heart Festival possible. I owe you a deep debt of gratitude, and I have a feeling I’ll be back to visit you all again sooner rather than later.
For real. I’m not kidding. No matter what happens today, I’m leaving the country. I’m going to a place where people are liberal and nice and have a sense of human decency.
You think I’m kidding?
Well, I’m not!
I am honestly going to the Naked Heart Literary Festival in Toronto, Ontario this weekend.
All election-day stress aside, I am really excited to spend my weekend in a beautiful city surrounded by literary queers. I can’t wait to meet some new readers and writers, and the program looks amazingly diverse in ways we don’t often see in the states.
I am doing a reading on Saturday with the Sneak Peeks and Previews group from 2:00-3:15 at Glad Day Bookshop. Then on Sunday I will be part of the Too Queer or Not Queer Enough: Publisher Pressure and Reader Expectations panel from 10:30 – 11:45 at Buddies in Bad Times. If you want more information, you can check out the website here https://nakedheart.ca but all in all it looks like a great event with some fascinating topics and awesome writers. Plus it’s sponsored by Glad Day Book Shop, which is the world’s oldest LGBT bookstore. How cool is that?
If you are in the Toronto area or looking for a Canadian road trip, I sure hope you’ll join us!