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May We Speak Indirectly?
Jaime Woo: "I want Ford to say aloud the things he must say in private while at the cottage"

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Credit: Facebook

Words–like people–can be slippery. If I told you that the National Post should “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering,” would you perceive that as a negative take on the publication? More to the point, is there space for relativity in that sentiment–as if two people could read that same sentence and conjure up wildly different interpretations? When a Wildrose electoral candidate writes that I, as a queer man, will suffer in a place of eternal suffering (overkill much?) there’s not much nuance in that sentiment. So I love the tip-toeing that goes on from the Post in its endorsement of the party: “The Wildrose is running a slate of largely untested candidates, some of whom have received increased media scrutiny, due to comments that were perceived as racist or homophobic.”

Ah, perception. Are there truly people out there who wouldn’t have found the aforementioned language homophobic? Or that there’s not a trace of racism when another Wildrose candidate says: “I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage,” and elaborating that “[w]hen different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speak, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community.” To see what tickles me most here let’s play a little logic game: Sikh is to Sikhism, as Muslim is to Islam, as Caucasian is to… If you squinted your eyes and went a little fuzzy in the brain, you had the same reaction I had.

This brings me to the local charade that is our mayor yet again not attending the Pride Parade, and, with great probability, skipping all 10 days of Pride celebrations. He is choosing his cottage over the parade because they both happen to fall on Canada Day. What, of course, he’s saying is that he prefers to spend all of his day at his cottage and none of his day near Church Street, since, given our knowledge of Rob Ford’s love of cars and basic understanding of time and space, he could finish the parade and still make a late dinner at the cottage. Going to the cottage and attending Pride aren’t really oppositional, but that’s how Ford wants to frame it.

This is even more ludicrous when you realize that “going to the cottage” is in fact his code-words for not attending a single event during the 10 days of Pride. Last year, Ford wouldn’t even go to the flag-raising that happens right at city hall. Taking that old maxim that “actions speak louder than words” and his non-engagement of the queer community, we can translate how Ford perceives his role as mayor: when choosing between personal discomfort and his job, it is fine to act unprofessionally.

The media has done some tip-toeing of its own surrounding Ford’s behaviour, using language such as his being “uncomfortable” around queers, so that people might “wonder if he is homophobic.” Heck, I’ve hedged using that language too, in part because it’s awkward to flat out say that Ford, mayor of the largest city in one of the prosperous nations in the world, is totally, absolutely afraid of the queers and, subsequently, dislikes them. And, slowly, we find ourselves at the depressing conclusion that Ford is homophobic. (Or as the Post might put it, is perceived to be homophobic.)

Luckily, since Ford has never said such a thing directly, we all get to dance around the fact, a luxury of the indirect speech, a concept made most known by Steven Pinker. Voters get to shake their heads at Ford’s dismissal of Pride, but get the comfort of shrugging, coddled in the justification of family first. The media and political Twitterati get to pat themselves on the back by asking–demanding!–Ford to go to the Parade, but casually ignore the broader consequences of a homophobic mayor. Queer activists, always on edge for when the tide may turn and reverse progressive gains, sit uncomfortably, hedging how to react, since something like a full-on protest would seem disproportionate to what’s actually been said or done.

So much for the straight-shooter (so to speak) and salt of the earth type Rob Ford was supposed to be when campaigning for mayor. Certainly, I’m glad he’s not the type to evoke brimstone and fire, but I want Ford to say aloud the things he must say in private while at the cottage. For now, at least there are the rogue electoral candidates who openly think queers will burn in hell and the catharsis that comes with being able to tell them directly where they can go as well.


Jaime Woo is a Toronto writer, storyteller, and Gamercamp co-creator. Follow him on Twitter at @jaimewoo.

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