My family is from Calgary: my father was born there and before him his father was born a little further south, to my great grandfather, first missionary to the great Blackfoot tribes: the Blackfoot burnt his house to the ground, and his church, and his missionary school, and he fled north to Calgary, where the Sarcees were said to be less warlike. And there my father was born to my grandfather, and brought up on the reservation. My father ran away from home when he was fourteen, and worked as an assistant to a cook in a logging camp; and then after a few years became a cowboy on the range, chewing on a wisp of straw, just like one of the stars of Brokeback Mountain. When the war broke out, he became a pilot in the air force, and bombed Cologne for the entire duration of the war, a handsome Canadian with his copilot, a handsome Frenchman: they were always together, like lovers, my mother used to say. My mother was married to the Frenchman, and when he was shot down over Cologne one day (my father had been sick that day, and decided not to fly), my father and mother turned to each other in their grief, and married six weeks later. That’s the story as best as I’ve been able to reconstruct it. My father and mother were both good at keeping secrets.
Keith asked me to write this text as a kind of Invocation of the Queer Spirits: an invitation to queerness to reveal itself here in Calgary in 2009. And I began to think about the queer histories that collide in Calgary: the all-male populations of cowboys, loggers, and trappers. The railway men, too, and the military, and the priests, and the wandering artists, cooks, and male nurses who watched over them all. And before them the shamans and medicine men, keepers of the doorway between the living and the dead, between the gendered and the ungendered.
In the mid-70s I had a friend, Ralph, who moved to Calgary because the sex there was hot and wet. I never heard from him again. I heard a rumour that he died there in the 80s, like so many, not only in Calgary. Let’s not forget their spirits either.
I invoke the queer spirits of Calgary, where the plains and mountains meet: the spirits of the medicine men and shamans, the explorers and trappers, the loggers and cowboys, those who built the railways, the military men and the clerics, and all the men who supported and served them: all these inhabitants of an all-male world, I invite you. And those who followed: the rodeo riders, and the oilmen, and the queer boys of the 70s and 80s, those who were outcasts and rejects, those who were beaten because of their sexual ways, those who were murdered and those who killed themselves, those who died of AIDS. I invite you each to join us, to return the power of your collective queer spirit to this place and time.
AA Bronson (New York, NY)