Gerald Hannon had a hand in every issue of The Body Politic but one. He bought the premier TBP at a gay dance in the winter of 1971, joined the paper’s collective soon after, and wrote an article for the second issue. That one he hawked on street corners in Toronto. “Gay liberation!” he hollered, giddy with the times and his own daring. “Gay liberation newspaper! Twentyfive cents!”
Last September, it was difficult to imagine that joyful shout. At an editorial meeting for the November issue Hannon’s 131st-he could barely be heard. Sitting at one end of a long pine table in TBPs meeting room, he was pale and still, and the startling green of his contact lenses did little to add a spark to his eyes. Around the table, five editors of TBPs ailing reviews.and features section shifted uneasily in their chairs.
“Any ideas?” Hannon whispered. The editors avoided the emerald eyes and said nothing. They seemed to be waiting for the truly brilliant idea to spring from someone else’s coffee cup or page full of doodles. Hannon scanned the table impassively. “We have to move fairly quickly,” he said finally. “You should know we could be bankrupt in a very short time.” Just shy of TBPs fifteenth anniversary, a collective that had fought hard for the liberation of gay men and lesbians was fighting for its life.
Although many of the collective members were fairly new, the three men on the front lines each had devoted a decade or more to the paper: Rick Bebout, 37, a thin, bespectacled stick of dynamite; Ken Popert, 39, the cool and stubborn common sense of TBP; and Gerald Hannon, 42, the paper’s enigmatic heart.
They called themselves the dinosaurs of The Body Politic but it was their paper that became extinct.
In the tenth anniversary issue Qanuary/February, 1982), Hannon explained what the paper had set out to do and why he’d stuck with it for so long: “I got hooked, I guess, on empowerment, the transformation of The Helpless Queer with no history and an unlikely future into Someone, into a group of Someones, who uncovered a history, who found heroes, who grabbed today and shook it till tomorrow fell out of its pocket and there was a place in it for us.”
It was on June 27, 1969, that gay men in a Greenwich Village bar decided to grab the day and shake it. To the shock of New York police-who paid regular visits to the bar to harass them-customers in the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street fought back: they threw things at the cops and, later that night, distributed flyers and demonstrated. The modern gay liberation movement marks Stonewall as its symbolic birth; over the next four years, as the movement bloomed, gay journals sprang up over the world.
In October, 1971, 13 men and two women came together in Toronto to start a paper that would speak for Canadian lesbians and gay men. “At that time in the movement,” Paul Macdonald, one of the founders, has written, “there seemed to be a kind of revolutionary hangover from the hippie student radical days.” The 15 founders organized as a loose collective; everyone had a say and since no one had any newspaper experience, they learned as they went.
The premier issue-a 20-page newsprint tabloid, primitive in design-hit the streets and bars barely a month later. “Page after page of political harangue,” Herb Spiers, another of the founders, wrote of it in retrospect. Some welcomed TBP; many did not. Peddling the paper, the collective encountered more hostility from gay men in bars than straights in the streets. “It was perceived as too radical,” Hannon recalls. “The conventional wisdom at the time was: keep your mouth shut, lead a quiet life, don’t rock the boat.”
Launched with a shout, The Body Politic refused to shut up. Along the way, it learned more eloquent ways of urging homosexuals to affirm their identity, fight oppression, and get involved in the movement. Political harangue gradually gave way to an investigation of the real lives of gay people past and present.
Ken Popert joined TBP in 1973. What he and Hannon most remember of the early years is the sheer labor, unpaid and exhilarating. “We often worked 24 hours a day, with catnaps here and there,” says Hannon. “We were steeped in the world view of the ’60s and we thought the workers could really control the workplace. It was an absolute necessity in those days. It had to work. And it did.”
The year 1975 was a watershed. TBP hired its first full-time, paid staffer and organized as a non-profit corporation. They chose the name Pink Triangle Press in honor of men who had died in Nazi concentration camps-men identified as homosexual by the pink felt triangles sewn on their uniforms. The words of Kurt Hiller, a German gay activist writing in 1921, were placed on the masthead: “The liberation of homosexuals can only be the work of homosexuals themselves.”
By the end of 1976, with five years of publishing under its belt, the collective was doing its work remarkably well. The Body Politic had evolved into a successful blend of news, columns and editorials, and historical pieces-tempered by cartoons and reviews, photographs and personal stories. “The combination of men and women vitalized the paper,” says Hannon. “A lot of gay male magazines turned into bar and sex rags.”
Over the next five years, part- and full-time staff grew to seven, including Hannon, Popert and Rick Bebout. “We worked crazily long hours for peanuts,” Bebout, who joined TBP in 1977, has written, “but it never occurred to us to think we were crazy. This wasn’t a job, it was our lives.” (Of the three dinosaurs, Bebout alone left staff -in 1985.)
With the help of a large pool of volunteers, the collective turned TBP into a paper with an international reputation. (In 1978, Martin Duberman, a New York playwright and historian, called it “the most sophisticated, courageous, and incisive gay news periodical in existence.”) TBP attracted such high-calibre writers as Canadian novelists Jane Rule and American historian John D’Emilio to supplement the work of the collective-despite an inability to pay them. Though critically acclaimed, the paper was never quite “popular”: circulation hovered stubbornly around 7,000. TBP failed to attract much of the large num ber of gay men not involved in the movement. “They disliked our finger waving element,” says Ed Jackson, who came to the paper with Hannon and left in 1985. Many lesbians, on the other hand, resented TBP’s predominantly male concerns. Gays and lesbians alike often complained that it was too literary, too shrill, too intellectual. “It wasn’t for everybody,” says Tim McCaskell, who joined the collective in 1974 and left last summer. “We were speaking to the leaders of the community.”
Determined to probe all aspects of sexuality, TBP refused to steer clear of such controversial (and to some, distasteful) topics as transvestism, sadomasochism and pedophilia. In 1977, even those readers who applauded the collective’s brashness hoped they would play it safe: Anita Bryant was on the road, painting a lurid picture of gay men as child molesters and ruthless recruiters. In this hostile atmosphere, most gay people felt it was a time to be silent-or to choose words that would not provoke.
Gerald Hannon did not. In the summer of 1977, he wrote “Men Loving Boys Loving Men “-a sympathetic and explicit article on three men who loved boys. Hannon attacked the popular notion that pedophiles are either psychopaths or pathetic losers, and their victims “hapless children diverted from the straight and narrow by the corrosive touch of some predatory homosexual.” The relationships in “Men Loving Boys Loving Men”-presented as loving and based on consent-had nothing to do with child molestation, Hannon argued: “Every homosexual’s sexuality has been interfered with-impeded, strangled, diverted, denounced, ‘cured,’ pitied, punished. That is molestation.”
Anticipating controversy, the collective put “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” on hold. Then in August, four Toronto men were charged with the sexual assault and murder of Emanuel Jaques, a 12-year-old shoeshine boy. In the months ahead, press coverage seemed to implicate the entire gay community in the murder. The climate for the sexually explicit “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” could not have been worse; yet after much debate, the collective decided to run it in the December issue to open up a dialogue. On the eve of publication, Hannon was “excited and apprehensive. But it had sat so long it seemed old hat by the time it was printed.”
Old hat to Hannon, but not to the gay community in Toronto. “Many of us were upset,” recalls George Hislop, who ran as an openly gay candidate in the municipal election of 1980. “The community was so insecure and the article was like throwing gasoline on a fire.”
If gays were angry, Toronto Sun columnist Claire Hoyan early nemesis of TBP-was incensed. In his column of December 22, 1977, Hoy described “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” as “filthy garbage, not only sick but criminal.” Two days after Christmas, the Sun dubbed TBP “The Bawdy Politic” and the following day, then attorney general Roy McMurtry told The Globe and Mail that he was “appalled” by the article.
On December 30, the police raided TBP’s office and seized records, manuscripts and subscription lists. On January 5, 1978, charges were laid against Pink Triangle Press and three of its officers-Hannon, Popert and Jackson-for “possession of obscene material for distribution” and “use of the mails for purpose of transmitting anything that is indecent, immoral or scurrilous.” “The life of The Body Politic changed abruptly and forever,” Jackson later wrote in Flaunting It!, a 1982 anthology of TBP pieces. “Where once the worst we could expect was low-level media harassment and a bland refusal to acknowledge our existence, we now faced palpable risks. Our right to publish had become an issue.” Many in the gay community felt the paper got what it deserved; in the months ahead, the collective had its hands full convincing them that freedom of the press-their press-was the issue, and pedophilia was not.
Through 1978, messages of support poured in from gay groups around the world, and from Canadian broadcasting and publishing figures. And money: a TBP defence fund, set up to cover legal expenses, would raise $110,000 over the four-and-a-half years of hearings, trials and appeals that were to follow. (As the collective’s notoriety grew, so did the paper: with the October, 1978 issue, TBP expanded to a 48-page tabloid-with a modified format, more photography and a crisper design-and called itself a magazine.)
On February 14,1979, Pink Triangle was acquitted after a flashy, much publicized trial. “That trial was symbolic,” says Jackson. “We represented the little guys against a constellation of forces wanting to bring us to our knees.” It was a happy Valentine but the elation of winning was shortlived: then attorney general McMurtry appealed the acquittal in March, and a year later, Pink Triangle was ordered to face a new trial. (Appeals by Pink Triangle to overturn this order would delay the retrial for 27 months.)
On February 5,1981, Toronto police conducted a series of brutal, senseless raids on four bathhouses: 266 men were charged as found-ins and 20 others as keepers of common bawdyhouses. The following night, more than 3,000 pro tested in downtown Toronto, their rage building to near-riot level. It was a year of rage; it was a year in which Pink Triangle worked overtime-organizing demonstrations and producing pamphlets as well as publishing-and proved its mettle. Never before was TBPs readership so assured and its role so clearly defined. “We were like Grand Central Station,” says Jackson. “Everything was orchestrated from TBP.”
In November, 1981, The Body Politic celebrated its tenth anniversary. The best years of the paper had come to an end. In TBPs eleventh year, the collective continued to fight for its right to publish-but with less support. In May, 1982, three weeks before the retrial of “Men Loving Boys Loving Men,” the entire collective was charged with “publishing obscene material” in the April issue. The charge referred to “Lust With a Very Proper Stranger”-an article on the etiquette of fist-fucking, written by the pseudonymous Angus MacKenzie. In June, a provincial court judge acquitted Pink Triangle and its officers of the charges against “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” a second time; acquittal came for “Lust With a Very Proper Stranger” in November. “It was a fabulous show,” Ken Popert recalls, “but by then we were out of the ratings.”
Times had changed. “After the bath raids and trials,” says Jackson, “the steam seemed to go out of the movement.” Although gay life had been brought to the public consciousness, hoped-for law reform hadn’t followed. (Of the provinces, only Quebec had amended its civil rights act to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination.) After a decade of fierce lobbying, gay and lesbian activists were disheartened; some directed their frustrations at TBP. “There was a lot of bitterness,” George Hislop recalls. “Time, money and energy had been diverted from the movement to fight for The Body Politic’s right to publish. People thought TBP was out of control-doing its own thing-and out of touch with the community.”
Out of touch with a more secure, varied and complacent community than before, with a host of organizations to turn to, and less passion for the cause of gay liberation. A community soon to be battling a mysterious new foe which, by the end of 1982, had been given a name: AIDS. A community served by other magazines, gay and straight, covering its issues and its interests. As Rick Bebout has written, “the clear historical moment when a single magazine could try to be all things to all lesbians and gay men, to touch them with the spirit of something wonderful and new, seemed to have passed.”
In its final years, The Body Politic attempted to change with the times. “We decided we wanted to get out of our readership ghetto and show we were ‘one of the guys’ out at the bars,” says Jackson. A slicker TBP covered more pop culture than before and printed more personal stories. Still, circulation fell.
To many, TBP would always remain that goddam magazine with a shit-disturbing collective that published “Men Loving Boys Loving Men.” A magazine short on humor and long on bad news. “People wanted to hear success stories,” says Jackson. “We were always looking at things going wrong.” AIDS magnified the problem: since many gay men would rather not think too much about that dark cloud, TBP-obliged to reflect it-became something to avoid. Many lesbians, on the other hand, stopped reading it when the anti-porn debate of the 1980s heated up: TBP, resolutely anti-censorship, had little to give-and much to anger anti-porn, lesbian feminists.
The collective, drained from the years of legal battles, wrote less. At the same time, many of TBPs most valuable contributors were drifting away. “I didn’t have time to stroke them anymore,” says Bebout, who edited many of the best, “and for whatever reasons, they weren’t as interested in writing for us.” Some were contributing to other magazines; others, who had used TBP as a training ground, had since become professionals-with neither the time nor the desire to work for free. The younger writers the paper attracted lacked a sense of history, in Bebout’s mind, and “didn’t seem to be able to write propaganda in the positive sense-that is, to affect how people think and maybe what they do.” He grants their task was more difficult: earlier writers had the advantage of speaking out for the first time, and it became increasingly unclear in the ’80s what needed to be said, how, and for whom. “There’s only one real issue right now-AIDS-and it’s difficult to say anything challenging about that.”
The collective realized the need for Pink Triangle to diversify and, in 1984, launched Xtra!-a free, biweekly guide to gay life in Toronto. A bar rag, and slightly embarrassing to the dinosaurs until Popert took over in 1985 and began adding more news. As Xtra! improved and found an audience, The Body Politic deteriorated. Although the collective had retained a pro-sex stance, the writing to illustrate it was frequently “rhetorical and shrill,” according to Jackson, and TBP failed to develop a clear response to AIDS, often ignoring all but the statistics. And although the news section remained valuable, reviews-and-features-once TBP’s drawing card became a ghost of itself. Too often, flabby and under-worked articles found their way into the paper to fill pages. Editorial meetings became exercises in inertia and frustration: if original ideas were elusive, writers to carry them out were even more scarce.
The largest controversy stirred by TBP in these years came not from the publication of an article but a classified ad. In the February, 1985 issue, a gay white male requested a “young, well-built BM [black male] for houseboy.” The ad not only enraged non-white gay groups but sparked a debate within the collective on racism, the role of TBP and the nature of gay liberation. Ken Popert believed (as did Hannon and Bebout) that although he regretted offending oppressed groups, the ad should continue to run. “Sexual desire is just there,” Popert wrote in the April; 1985 issue. “It is not there to be morally evaluated and either glorified or condemned Desire is inviolable.” Chris Bearchell-involved with BP on and off since 1977 and often its sole lesbian voice disagreed. So did Tim McCaskell. “What The Body Politic is about is gay liberation,” he wrote. “That means we must respect all sectors of our community and see to it that the ‘desire’ of dominant sectors does not run roughshod over the sensitivities of others and contribute to further fragmentation and division.”
The debate neatly illustrated a split in the collective between those who thought TBP was a community mirror and those who thought it was, in Popert’s words, “a catalyst, free to go off in any direction.” When the collective decided to monitor ads, Popert went on “an intellectual strike”: he remained on staff but left the collective and did not return until August, 1986. “They were making sure that no one frowned on us,” he says. “In a sense, our trials scared people away from anything controversial.” With the internal split, the dynamics of The Body Politic changed. Collective meetings became more of a chore than a challenge.
If the group was no longer unified, it was also not regenerating. Wary of outsiders, the dinosaurs rarely took time to welcome new volunteers and fill them in on TBP’s mandate and history. “We expected people to drop off the trees politically developed,” says Bebout, “and of course nobody does.”
Many found this attitude icy or arrogant and left after a time. Those who stayed-and were able to mesh with the dinosaurs-were invited to attend collective meetings; after six months of religious attendance, they were invited to join. But in the ’80s, fewer volunteers expressed an interest in doing so.
By 1986, circulation of TBP, never more than 7,000, had dropped by a thousand. Xtra!, on the other hand, had tripled its initial circulation of 3,500. However shaky, the real body of The Body Politic was still the collective-supported by a shrinking number of volunteer editors and envelope stuffers, typesetters and writers. In June, 1986, the body doubled over. It was Hannon who delivered the blow.
Hannon had taken over subscriptions, promotions and finances in 1981, as a break from editing news. Covering the bathhouse raids and trials-65 hours a week, with only a day off each month-he’d nearly snapped. He hadn’t intended to stay away from editing long but “you take these things over and then they have babies.” The budget Hannon drafted for 1986 was an optimistic one, setting total revenue for Pink Triangle at close to $374,000-an increase of $60,000 over 1985. The $60,000 would come, Hannon planned, from more advertising sold in both TBP and Xtra!, and an increase in TBPs newsstand sales. Pink Triangle’s expenses would also rise by $60,000, due to higher production costs and the expansion of full-time staff from five to seven to keep up with Xtra!
The budget was highly unrealistic. Only an increase in advertising lineage in Xtra! was likely: it was luring Toronto advertisers away from TBP. And in December, 1985, the press sold 3,117 copies of TBP on the newsstands-about 300 less than in December, 1984.
No one thought to question the soundness of the budget. If the collective had always been hot for the cause, it had always turned a cold shoulder to the details of business; the staff kept absurdly informal books, not adhering to any recognized accounting principles. This lax financial management was part of a larger flaw in the set-up of Pink Triangle Press. “With a collective,” Hannon says, “there’s a lack of a sense that anyone individual holds all the strings and no real job descriptions or management strategies. It was easy for us to get into trouble. And we did.”
Hannon first realized something was wrong when Pink Triangle’s accountant, Robert Brosius, failed to deliver his first-quarter report last July. Staff wanted to press Hannon but did not. “You don’t go poking into other people’s jobs here,” says Popert. Accordingly, no one thought to poke into Brian Flint’s affairs as Pink Triangle’s advertising manager; advised that TBPwas top priority, Flint concentrated on it and was slow in collecting owed ad revenue from both papers.
At the end of June, Brosius delivered his report and Han:’ non delivered the blow: in the first three months of 1986, Pink Triangle’s operating expenses had outstripped its income by $12,000. (Advertising revenue from TBP was $6,000 short of its mark; Xtra! had brought in only $10,000 in ad revenue of an expected $67,000 for the year; and newsstand sales of TBP were $2,500 less than expected.) In September, Pink Triangle’s new accountant, Marvin Blackstien, delivered the second-quarter report: the press’s operating expenses for the first half of 1986 were $23,000 over Income.
Through the summer, .the collective met to discuss the uncertain future of Pink Triangle Press. Plans included expanding Xtra!, replacing TBP with a new national publication, lighter in tone, and-most radical of all-moving the press to a more formal structure. Blackstien’s report in September gave them further cause to believe that maybe collectivity had had its day. With no line of bank credit to go into overdraft, Pink Triangle was in serious trouble: it was not bankrupt on paper-assets exceeded liabilities by $22,000-but if deterioration continued at the same rate, it would be by the end of the year.
At the end of September, the collective gathered at Chalmer’s House in Toronto”ln an emotionally charged meeting, they voted to drastically scale down the operation and start a restructuring of Pink Triangle Press. Two staff members would have to go and a drive to solicit advertising begin.
A new structure devised by Bebout called for a publisher (appointed by a board of directors chosen from the general membership of the press) and an editor (appointed by the membership itself); both would be clearly empowered to hire and fire and decide policy. Hannon, silent and still through most of the meeting, sounded a note of regret. “In the past,” he said sadly, looking at no one, “our fingers were into everything. We felt much more plugged in to the operation.” TBP editor John Allec lingered after the meeting. “Do you get the feeling,” he said, “that The Body Politic has done what it set out to do? That it’s dying a natural death?”
Two nights later, the collective assembled at the long table in TBPs office. Popert, appointed interim publisher, presented a proposal for spending cuts amounting to $5,000 per month. The day before, Brian Flint and production staffer Ian King had volunteered to resign by the end of October and continue part-time without pay. “We knew we had to do something dramatic to save the paper,” King said quietly.
After the meeting, Popert sat with his feet up on his desk and talked of TBP’s reputation. “We’ve always had a coterie of people who hate us. They see us as powerful. And we are.”
He smiled slightly. “You know,” he said after a beat, “people would be terrified if we closed, especially those who hate us. We’re like parents-they count on us to be around to kick. Our real value is not that we publish but that we’re here.”
And if TBP did fold?
“No one would leap into the gap,” he said, “because the expertise doesn’t exist;” He mulled it over, frowned, and then brightened. “I don’t believe we won’t be here next year. Too many of us care too much.”
By the end of October, the one who had cared the longest seemed like a different man. “We’re getting better at dancing on the edge of the abyss,” Gerald Hannon said. “We’re executing ever more graceful pirouettes.” Pink Triangle’s debt had stabilized-it wasn’t getting any larger-and TBPs creditors were surprisingly sympathetic. Plans included a fundraising drive and a redesign of Xtra! to accommodate more advertising. Though it was too early to tell, there was a sense that Pink Triangle would pull through.
As morale improved-less so of a tired staff, soon to be reduced to five-doubts about the new structure set in. “What remains of the tattered collective?” asked Popert, a dinosaur reviving an old debate. “Are we still to have a plurality of faces? I would hope so.” Hannon worried that “without the collective, there will be no particular incentive for people to come here. Yet I’m willing to give it a try.”
Sitting in the meeting room, his eyes alternately sad and
devilish behind his glasses, Hannon reflected on his 15 years at The Body Politic. He had many fine memories and no regrets. “Yes we’re called dinosaurs,” he said finally. “But you know the thing about dinosaurs? They lasted a long time.”
They wanted to last a little longer. By the time the collective presented plans for restructuring at the annual general meeting in November, the role of editor had become a collective. They had invited about 200 people as members of the press and observers; only 20 or so attended. That was disappointing but Popert’s news was not: revenues of Pink Triangle were now exceeding expenditures, allowing the press to whittle away at the debt.
Near the end of the meeting, an observer cut through the mood of somewhat shaky optimism: “People buy The Body Politic as a gesture of faith. No one reads it anymore. There aren’t that many new things to talk about.”
On December 2, there was something new to talk about and to celebrate: the Ontario legislature voted to pass an amendment to the provincial Human Rights Code, protecting lesbians and gays from discrimination in housing, employment and services. (The amendment was the most controversial part of Bill 7, bringing Ontario statutes in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.) This boosted staff morale only briefly: exhaustion had set in.
On December 9, Hannon tendered his resignation, effective at the end of June, 1987. “I’ve been vacillating for several months but have finally decided it’s the best thing to do,” he wrote to staff and collective. “It’s money mostly. [Hannon made only $16,000 in 1986.] I have lately been wondering what I would live on in my fifties and sixties-and they’re not so far away.” In the next week, two other staff members expressed a desire to leave.
On December 16, Bill 7 officially passed into law. That same day, the January, fifteenth anniversary issue of TBP came back from the printers. “Reason To Celebrate!” the cover line read. “Ontario Says Yes To Rights! We Turn Sweet Fifteen!”
That night, the collective met. With staff’s urging, they decided to reduce staff to three-Hannon, Popert and production manager Dale Bolivar-by the end of January. Pink Triangle Press would continue to publish Xtra! and, with hope, something else down the road. It was time, they realized, to “stop trying to put a tutu on a hippo,” in Hannon’s words, and let go of The Body Politic. The February issue would be the last.
Later that night, Gerald Hannon wept.