I entered Stock Bar, one of the premier male strip clubs in the Gay Village, just after 7 p.m. to see Diction: Readings by Gay Men Jazz music played throughout the bar, which was lit by soft red-and-pink lights. The centerpiece of the establishment was the stage about three feet off the ground, boasting a runway and a shining pole at its centre. When I first took my seat, I felt a level of discomfort that began to turn into a feeling of intrusion. As a heterosexual man, this event wasn’t directed at me, and I felt as if my presence there was an attempt at immersion into a culture that I could never truly understand.
Despite this, the kind of statements that the stories made and the images they painted were hypnotic. From the tongue-in-cheek humour of Brian O’Neill’s fictional tale of an awkward threesome in Paris, to the candidly analytical nature with which Vincent Doyle spoke about dealing with a reviled homophobe, the readings consistently impressed. The vastness of the varied styles, perspectives, and subject matters in the relatively sparse number of only five readers made for for a fulfilling range and depth of readings.
The ability of the readings to be implicitly political was also markedly impressive. Puelo Deir’s reading of “Old, Fat & Fucked! Now What?”—a one man play that details the strains of aging—explored the nature of his sexuality as an aging homosexual man, with the aid of dark humour and a buff male stripper story. Deir notes the humiliation that follows the search for “cheap romance” as he is forced to pay part of his overdue credit card bill to the straight stripper who watches over his shoulder as he plucks $20 notes from the ATM.
H. Nigel Thomas read from his book, No Safeguards, choosing an excerpt about two gay men who are caught having sex on the beach in St. Vincent and are put in jail. The concept and the subject matter were far cries from Deir’s reading that had come 10 minutes before, yet the profound ability to turn a politically-charged issue into a form of entertainment remained. Thomas and Deir’s statements on the positions of gay men in our contemporary society exemplified the range of the show as a whole. The inclusivity of gay voices and attention paid to a series of issues made the show a rich showcase of voices without being disjointed in any way.
After all of the readers had finished I had a quick chat with the organizer of the event, Chris DiRaddo who was donned in mock sailor attire.
“I wanted to do something outside of the box,” DiRaddo explained. “I wanted to attract people who might find traditional readings too stuffy. I wanted something in a bar where you can also get a drink and socialize a bit more. I wanted it in the Village, because I wanted to reach out to gay men and lesbians.”
Diction, for all of its literary brilliance, was an event that exceeds simply a reading. It succeeded in promoting the hugely underappreciated gay and lesbian literature scene that thrives in this city. For a group of people that have been so disenfranchised, Diction feels like part of a movement that continues to strive for queer empowerment in the arts.