Pride & Prejudice: LGBTQ Writer Roundtable
LGBTQ Pride season offers a moment of reflection about the place of queer and trans people in Canadian society—and in Canadian arts and literature, for that matter. On the one hand, we have a sitting Prime Minister parading at Toronto Pride for the first time ever—on the other, queer/trans folk and our allies reel in shock after the recent mass shooting in Orlando that ended 49 lives, predominantly LGBTQ people of colour.
It’s no longer completely outré for queer titles to appear on the lists of Canadian presses large and small—but do those stories really reflect the diversity of our lives, or primarily those most palatable to the mainstream (read: conventional form and content by white male authors)? Are LGBTQ literary writers really operating on a level playing field these days? The Winnipeg Review associate editor Shawn Syms put these questions to a diverse group of queer and trans authors.
Shawn Syms: Has being queer and/or trans made it easier—or harder—to be published in Canada? Or have you had to—or chosen to—seek publication elsewhere? Has acceptance shifted over time?
Vivek Shraya: Absolutely. Before my literary career began, I was seven years into a music career that wasn’t really going anywhere. It was writing about queerness and connecting to trans and queer audiences that resulted in getting published.
Zoe Whittall: I’ve found it harder to get published in the States. I actually had an American editor backchannel me to say she loved my second book and wanted to buy the American rights for it, but that their marketing department said no because it was too gay and too Canadian. Two strikes of irrelevancy, haha. When I was starting out, I assumed it would be easier to publish queer content in the States because there’s such a rich culture of indie queer presses or small queer-friendly places to publish. But even in the smaller scenes, if you’re not an American, you’re not on their radar. In talking to an editor in the States recently about publishing my newest book (that isn’t out yet), she referred to me as a debut novelist several times and I had to interrupt eventually and say that I’ve published six books, including my last novel which was published (by a Canadian press) in the States and won a Lambda there. But she called me a debut novelist again in that same conversation.
As far as the Canadian literary scene is concerned, I feel about as welcome as a fart in church. —Alec Butler
Marnie Woodrow: There’s always unseen discrimination. We love to pretend we are above it here in Canada, but we’re not. The kind you can’t quite see or point to with certainty. I call it The Tsk Factor: The Drawing Room Set Does Not Approve… or Feel Sufficiently Titillated. Years ago, a closeted friend working in media warned me about the lavender ceiling: the supposed ghetto limitation reserved for out LGBTQ authors. The older I get, the more aware I am of systems and patterns, but I guess I am too driven to write down all my ideas to let it all drive me mad. Still I feel very confident, sending my work out, that it will find its proper home. I’ve had amazing editorial experiences as a writer and somehow, I find the readers who truly get what I’m doing. The long game is not for the faint-hearted. When I started writing and publishing, I never dreamt I’d be able to get married.
Alec Butler: As far as the Canadian literary scene is concerned, I feel about as welcome as a fart in church.
Casey Plett: I’m not sure I could’ve published my book in the form it ended up in with anyone but my Brooklyn-based publisher, Topside Press, which is run by and for trans people. I don’t know though, because I didn’t try! Like: I’d sent mainstream publishers some stuff when they approached me after my McSweeney’s column but none of them were interested in the weird shit I was trying to write about at that time. So when I finished my book, I didn’t think of giving it to anyone but Topside. Luckily, they accepted.
I do feel that my publisher has been exceptionally successful—through sending me on massive tours and other community involvement—in making sure my book got out to its intended audience of trans people, which I doubt anybody else could have done. As far as publishing articles and reviews—I get some work, I get a lot of rejection. The bind, of course, is that sometimes it’s not entirely clear whether the rejections come because all writers face rejection or because they don’t like who you are or what you want to write about. I still feel pretty new on the scene though, I’ve only been out there for six years. So I dunno. I am probably more interested in how everybody else will answer this question.
There is an assumption we should be grateful to be asked to be a part of the mainstream literary world, instead of complain about how long it took for that change to happen. —Zoe Whittall
Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco: I think the things I write about make all kinds of people uncomfortable, and those who read them are not the faint of heart. I used to think having a difficult time getting published was purely an issue of identity, but there are many nice, clean-cut queers/trans people out there competing. Let me put it this way—if I describe anal sex, I am also mentioning the anal warts and the faint smell of shit. There is an Anglo-normative way of using the language and describing things; this has been the challenge for me. Those who are open to quirky, non-normative voices have welcomed me always.
I have published more in the U.S. simply because the queerest of the queer are more in number there, there is a bit more of a market and interest and money there. In Canada, as a poz queer, I have been warned by funders and employers to keep my lit separate from my work. I have been told horrible things about being a poor role model and not having a linear and rational point. Both might be true but I grew up in Latin America with the idea that writers are the subconscious of others, that we give voice to what others can’t say or speak in tongues, in unconventional ways. Writers are not role models; we are shit disturbers. Only the AIDS non-profits and public health would be pious enough to chastise someone for writing a story without a condom. In this respect, I think there is a space for reactionary hateful very white gay queer writers, but political correctness has squashed all of this. A challenge for me has been to break through the convention that “AIDS writing” is about tragedy, heroes and victims.
I spend lots of time shifting personalities; this dissociation comes easy to me. I grew up in a dictatorship and we pretended to be straight while everybody knew we weren’t. In my corner of the woods, when I am a researcher, my writing as poz queer does not have an easy place. When I am a writer, I bite the hand that feeds and critique the stultified social-science research on gay men (all our “MSM” bullshit). But I don’t think I am alone in this dissociation, probably many writers live this conundrum. We still have to “pass” or “cover.” It is a challenge to integrate non-normative poz queer in the traditional academic manuscript in the social sciences in AIDS; that’s a challenge for me. I get toned down often. It is such an archaic machine to produce knowledge that only a few privileged eyes read. I have had much more acceptance and freedom writing and publishing the richness of poz queer issues and the poz queer self in chapters for books; they give you more latitude. Now, getting published might be a challenge, that’s one thing, but getting read by those I think should care about intellectual issues is a huge challenge.
Shawn: Is it harder for someone queer and/or trans to get coverage for their work and recognition amongst literary peers?
Casey: Of course it’s harder, of course there’s less cred, of course there’s less money. Queer and especially trans literature does not sell like other lit does, except maybe when the author is famous for other reasons. I worked in bookstores for years; I can count the experiences to contradict this on one hand with fingers left over.
Alec: [I’ve produced] plays, films, poems, novellas, academic pursuits—and all the mainstream media wants to know is what’s between my legs, and where I use the bathroom.
Francisco: I think queers are as strident as heteros and as normative as hetero-normatives. The space might be there, but the quality is not. It is easier to be Kardashian queer than Camille Paglia queer. I am no paragon of queer excellence in writing but, oh my, there is as much queer and queer-poz crap in the arts and literature as there is hetero/mainstream crap.
It is easier to be Kardashian queer than Camille Paglia queer. —Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco
Do our queer kids get a fair start? I have taught young emerging queer writers in the U.S., I have befriended queer kids starting in Canada. Young queer upstarts in literature don’t get, or will get, a fair start. Writing and publishing is a dying business with an ever-expanding format with Twitter and blogs and self-published books. There needs to be more funding, programs, retreats, mentors, contests, etc—all the stuff that supports queer kids to write in many formats and genres; I don’t see us having that in Canada.
All of my breaks and support to write have come from queers, queers of all stripes and colours—I owe every word, sentence, punctuation and page to them. Many of them are dead of AIDS but they encouraged me to write and I do.
Zoe: Yes, it is still hard. It used to be harder, and it’s becoming easier for newer writers. There is still a lot of pressure for younger writers, especially in MFA programs, to avoid what is assumed to be identity-based writing, even though a book about straight relationships would never be considered political or identity-based. But it used to be more difficult and I’m seeing some shifts. There are newer, younger book-section editors, publishers, booksellers and librarians replacing boomer-aged gatekeepers, who had more hang-ups about which books were worthy to review, stock, give prizes to. I look at the way the literary world embraced The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, or the way Eileen Myles’ work has blown up this year, and it’s truly amazing to me—this is completely unusual.
For a long time, we had our own world in a way. For example, everyone my age fifteen years ago who was in the queer female world had almost the same library. We all owned at least one Michelle Tea book, for example, but if you said Michelle Tea to a straight person no one would know who she was. It’s great that no one feels like they have to remark on the fact that a book like The Argonauts having mainstream appeal is new, but it does feel strange sometimes. The bulk of queer and trans lit is still being published by presses with a mandate to publish queer and trans content, but the mainstream is starting to have fewer hang-ups. Of course not acknowledging that this is new is part of what straight culture does—not acknowledge history and pretend that they are discovering these cool new people, who queer and trans readers have been following for a long time.
Of course for the last ten years it’s been totally cool to have queer and trans content if the author is cisgender and straight. I sound like a cynic, but sometimes I get sad about the older generation of queer authors who forged ahead writing queer work, whose work is still marginalized or ignored, and a younger crew of queer writers are (sometimes) allowed a place in the spotlight in the mainstream world, at a reading series they wouldn’t have been asked to be in even five years ago, for example, but there is no discussion. There is an assumption we should be grateful to be asked to be a part of the mainstream literary world, instead of complain about how long it took for that change to happen, and then not talk about why it took so long.
Of course it’s harder, of course there’s less cred, of course there’s less money. —Casey Plett
Marnie: I think Canada is pretty open in this regard, possibly even still a little excited in a provincial way by the concept of fully out queer and trans people. You hear people say all the time “Oh I don’t care who so and so sleeps with!” but we all sort of do. Gossip is huge, scandal is a universal delight because it’s about unexpected revelations, stories. If it departs even slightly from our own experience, we take notice, even if we refuse it. And then of course there are all sorts of ways and levels of outness for LGBTQ artists. Some are out when it suits the occasion (easier to pull off pre-internet, I imagine) and then there are degrees of what is palatable to the construct of a “public.” If you don’t “ram it down everyone’s throat” on the page or in the hospitality suite you will likely be more successful, but there are even (rare) exceptions to that, thank god. We’re moving from being amusing eccentrics on the fringe to something more effective. Sexism and gender prejudice do fly into play pretty heavily when you think of a marketable LGBTQ author: I don’t mind if he/she’s gay as long as he/she looks like someone I’d like to have sex with; she’s okay with me, she wears makeup/has cleavage; what the hell gender is that person, that’s kinda exciting, eh?
Vivek: Mainstream coverage, in particular, for trans and queer writers is definitely challenging to acquire. It often seems mainstream press has limited room for what they determine to be strictly “queer content,” which is unfortunate because work by straight writers isn’t categorized by their sexuality—work by straight writers is simply the norm. This is why queer outlets and indie blogs are so vital.
Shawn: How reflective is contemporary CanLit of the daily life you lead and the people you know? What might you want to see more of—or less of?
Casey: I don’t know how to begin to answer this question, and I’m going to pass on it.
Vivek: CanLit has a long way to go still in reflecting Canadians, let alone my daily life. I would like to see more Indigenous, Black and writers of colour being published and celebrated. Less straight white male writers, please.
Zoe: Well, there are a lot of books about white women in their 30s and 40s living in cities doing their things, but as for queer/trans content, it’s still on the rare side in fiction. I still think that all of the Canadian queer and trans fiction writers could fit at one of those tables at Banff in the cafeteria.
I’m all about the elders: We would not be here without them. —Marnie Woodrow
Alec: Two-Spirit Indigenous writers, queer writers of African descent. I would like to see writers published with an upbringing that was not the Canadian version of a cottage in the country. Most of us cannot even get to the country. The beautiful vistas our country is famous for are inaccessible to most of the people I know.
Francisco: Oh, I am a troglodyte in this respect. I rarely read books. I read some social theory and burn my brain reading tons and tons of HIV social-science research for work. A great deal of it is derivative crap with no imagination whatsoever and reflects on aspects of queer folks in Canada at a time. I read a bit of current queer Latin American literature produced in Latin America (not in the U.S.); this keeps my nostalgia at bay and lets me know how things are changing in Latin America.
Marnie: I think we have an incredible roster of extremely talented queer writers in this country writing both urban and rural stories, drama and humour. People writing at the very top of the craft, writing beautifully and with power, and not only about the same old painful coming-out story we’ve heard 4,500 times. If I read CanLit these days, it’s either by one of my versatile LGBTQ peers (out or not), or by an honorary queer like Barbara Gowdy or Michelle Berry. As an editor, I am definitely excited about the future of queer/trans Canadian writing. To be honest, the writers who excite me most as a reader are (so far) American and Australian and Scottish, no defined orientation. Janice Galloway and Patricia Highsmith and James Baldwin and Toni Morrison and Patrick White are my current thrills. Find me a lesbian Canadian Dashiell Hammett who echoes Toni Morrison and I’m in… the U.K. humorist Alice Sanders is my happiest new discovery—she makes me laugh like mad, and I so appreciate her brain.
Shawn: Tell me about your experience with funding bodies and/or literary publications in Canada? If you had any recommendations to them vis-à-vis queer/trans representation, what would it be?
Casey: I’ve applied for funding and gotten rejected, except when the Winnipeg Arts Council gave me two grand in 2014, which helped me kernel the novel I’m now trying to finish up for sure (thanks, WAC). Recommendations? I mean, I dunno, it’s not rocket science, the groups of people whose work goes for less probably need the money more. Look at who you’re funding. Look at who doesn’t get book deals, don’t get the grants and awards…publish those people and give them money? My recommendation probably ends there.
I would like to see more Indigenous, Black and writers of colour being published and celebrated. —Vivek Shraya
Marnie: I’ve had a few happy grant-acceptance days and a few not so happy grant-rejection days; I’ve sent my work out and been accepted and rejected. I think that being a writer requires amazing guts and there is always going to be some box you don’t tick with grants or publishers or magazines at any given time, and then fortune or trends smile on you and so it goes. It really isn’t about your sexual orientation or gender identity on some level: it really and truly boils down to: Can you write like no one else? Do you give a damn about being exceptional? Because a good writer is a laser in the dark: they will smash any existing barrier with their persistent voice. True, the content and storyline may isolate you with a certain book: some super-straight stories don’t interest me either, so I don’t buy them. It really depends on whether you have the stomach for the long, often discouraging ride. Queer writers are used to bullies: we seldom cave at first shove.
Vivek: I only started receiving grant funding about ten years into my career. I am not sure I have recommendations for funding bodies but to fellow writers: apply for everything, be persistent and patient, ask for feedback from grant officers and try to remember that grant decisions are seldom personal.
Alec: The real cultural producers in this country are the “bottom feeders,” we constantly have our ideas stolen, used by the mainstream or in the case of queer and trans, the “gaystream.” The first pioneers are not recognized till after they’re dead. I feel like I am in a life-and-death battle right now to see that it doesn’t happen to me. I just might lose. I am not getting any younger.
Zoe: I’ve been lucky the last few years with getting arts council funding and I’m very grateful. I still mainly get funded for work that doesn’t have much or any queer content, because I pick my excerpts with that in mind and I’m quite strategic about it, because I went years without getting any funding, except for once, and I found out there was a queer woman on that jury. I once heard a straight guy say that he wrote a lesbian short story in order to get funding because white men don’t have a chance with grants juries, but that’s really not true at all. I’ve been on many juries now, and it’s really never the case. And also, when you admit that kind of thing, word gets around and some people will think you’re an asshole forever (FYI, guys who think this is a good idea).
Francisco: I was only published once in Canada, Arsenal Pulp. Based on that success I only asked for money from Canada Council once, and didn’t get it. I asked from a B.C. Council grant once, and I didn’t get it. When I had my manuscript for Giving It Raw ready, I wrote to many Canadian publishers—and no one said yes. Maybe AIDS is too much of a downer and also too yesterday, it seems done. I decided to Kickstart my book. My intention: to get a few copies to give to my friends so they would know the richness of my life. One transgender American publisher took notice and published it. AIDS is not over in the U.S.
I am aware that what I write is very specific, mostly non-fiction that can be categorized as autopathography or the patient’s tale. I am concerned with the most irreducible experience of those living with HIV today, not only with the medical system, pills and criminalization—but how the everyday of our bodies must be ripped off the pages of the medical charts, written in jargon and told to everyone in language that can be both poetic and brutal. I am concerned with the narratives in which we are caught as “patients” of any illness and how we can disrupt them; they need to be disrupted. I expect my stuff to not have a mass appeal. Next time I write a book, I might not bother to try to place it in Canada.
Shawn: We’ve just come through another season of Pride and another one, thanks in part to Black Lives Matter (BLM) [who briefly shut down Toronto’s Pride parade to highlight struggles of black queers with Pride Toronto], with a focus on free speech and the politics of direct action. Do you have any thoughts on the current state of Pride and on its relevance or inspiration to you as a queer and/or trans person involved in literary and cultural production in Canada?
Casey: Toronto Pride was spineless and horrid to turn its back so rapidly on BLM and admit it just lied to move the parade on! BLM gave them an opportunity to do some good things, literally handed it to them! If you’re claiming to want to know how to help out marginalized communities, well guess what, there it is. So start that engine. I know you can’t wave a magic wand, but you can do what you can to get the machine moving. And Pride decided instead their biggest priority was making a parade go and covering their own asses—and they publicly backpedaled at the first opportunity. That’s shameful. Steinbach Pride expressed solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Toronto Pride, when given the opportunity to put money where mouth, did not. Steinbach, Toronto. Steinbach, Toronto. That should tell you a lot about the state of Pride today.
It’s strange to think about the last part of your question, what relevance Pride has to me. I mean, I’m really young and I’m a trans woman… I didn’t start going to Pride until five years ago. I have fun at it, I have little experience with a Pride that is okay with direct action and making people feel uncomfortable because it is the right thing to do. I’m 100 percent in support of BLM and their tactics and demands. I don’t have anything else to say.
I once heard a straight guy say that he wrote a lesbian short story in order to get funding because white men don’t have a chance with grants juries, but that’s really not true at all. —Zoe Whittall
Vivek: The backlash to Black Lives Matter’s action at Pride in Toronto really highlights anti-Black racism in LGBTQ communities. As a non-Black writer, this is a reminder for me to not only keep pushing and writing about racism and white supremacy, but to ensure that these conversations occur in LGBTQ spaces.
Zoe: Sorry, I’m burnt out on talking about Pride! I went to the trans march and then got out of town. I’m happy about the BLM protest though and think the racist backlash is really troubling.
Francisco: I am all for free speech but does it really exist? Isn’t free speech an ethical ideal tempered by laws, hate speech laws, regulations and politics? Show me one published queer author who writes her mind unfiltered and edited through allegiances!
I was raised Catholic. I hate the Catholic church but there is something inside of me that is still regrettably Judeo-Christian, as in the Alien movie. By the same token, I am poz queer proud, but I do not have to agree with the corporatization of capital P pride. I think Pride might have joined the bread-and-circuses majority. I am still very proud, and poz proud.
I tell you what inspires me, the odd man or woman who walks up to me after a reading and tells me one thing from my writing that resonated with them. It inspires me when I am in an orgy and a young good-looking guy tells the other one perched on a sling that he has one of my books by his bedside. Writers might be the voice of the people, but we are just as vain as any other artist. We crave the applause.
Alec: Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade is a capitalist capitulation so far from the Queer Liberation I fought for in the 1980s that it badly needed a reminder of its revolutionary roots. Black Lives Matter was that reminder. I thank them for putting their lives and freedom on the line to give us this wake-up call. Whether the parade will allow a police float is the symbol, they brought into sharp relief the conversations that more of us Canadians need to have, the conversations about white supremacy and colonization. Unfortunately it takes guts to have these conversations, and I doubt if Pride is even there yet, still many might never clue in.
In the meantime the trans march that happens on Friday night of Pride weekend, founded seven years ago by a handful of trans folks and their allies, is now the largest in the world. The trans march is political, and I hope it stays that way—because that is where my pride is.
Try to remember that grant decisions are seldom personal. —Vivek Shraya
Marnie: I read with wonderful writers at She Writes, a Proud Voices event at the Yorkville Public Library as part of Pride 2016. It made me feel so proud to be in the company of other out queer women writers, a long legacy that really began, I think, with Jane Rule and Marie-Claire Blais. In many ways, it made me feel quite excited about the book I am working on, quite different from anything I’ve done so far. I was very emotional about Pride this year, because the Orlando massacre was a striking reminder that we are still, LGBTQ people of all races, targets of hate. But we could not attend because of a family medical emergency.
Reading about the Pride march after, after not being there in person, there was a lot to digest and contemplate regarding Black Lives Matter. I saw a lot of racism ripping across comment threads on social media. Nobody liked the first die-in that was staged mid-parade years back either, but this year we saw the bleak heart of racist rhetoric beating loud in the queer community chest and it was a wake-up call.
Pride has lost its way just as society at large has: money is the main concern. I’ve spent many hours mulling things over, having hard, honest conversations, re-thinking a whole lot of shit about what it means to have a certain colour of skin. And we live in the world, it’s not just about our queer concerns. The world is raging with money-worship and we need to settle the whole kingdom down, soon. Things like Facebook make it seem very easy to be an expert, to have the proper answers, to “debate” or drown one another out with anger, but in fact, a good long walk with your own uncomfortable thoughts seems more useful to me lately.
All the mainstream media wants to know is what’s between my legs, and where I use the bathroom. —Alec Butler
Shawn: Setting aside your own work for a minute, who are the queer and/or trans artists and writers you wish everyone knew more about—including queer and trans artists and writers of colour?
Alec: Trish Salah, Gwen Benaway, Billy Merasty, Leanne Simpson, Robin Jarvis Brownlie, Spy Dénommé-Welch, Vanessa McGowan. I love these writers because they are decolonizing our minds with their work.
Vivek: I am currently obsessed with Michael DeForge.
Zoe: I’m really happy that Vivek Shraya is getting so much support for her work, because it’s great. And I’m a huge fan of Amber Dawn.
In terms of who I wish everyone knew more about, honestly think that Greg Kearney is one of Canada’s sharpest, funniest, dirtiest writers and observers of culture, but he’s of the generation that really had to fight to get attention and whose work was too dangerous for readers to accept – even though, content-wise, it’s not much different from the territory of what Russell Smith takes on, for example. Or Stephen Marche in his short stories that The Walrus loves to publish. Except Greg is a far better writer than Marche, he actually takes real risks in both form and content, and not just for the sake of it. I use Greg’s work as an example of how homophobia, and specifically fear or disgust with gay male sexuality, still allows for writers like Greg to be marginalized in CanLit, because it seems really black and white to me, that homophobia and puritanism in CanLit has really done him wrong. When straight writers stood up for Raziel Reid’s GG controversy, my gut reaction was, that’s great, but where the eff have you been for other writers, who may not have been up for a GG, but have been ignored for years? I suppose there is also an element of class, too.
Marnie: I’m all about the elders: we would not be here without them. Baldwin, Lorde, Rich, Bishop, Findley, Edmund White, Genet, Rule, Tennessee Williams and Hart Crane and Capote and Alice Walker and Colette to name but a few. Of course when we read the older novels and plays and stories we will stumble across some serious self-loathing, some coding that’s volcanic and some that weakens the story. Some of it may seem dated and a lot of it is racist and yet right now, we need to understand the whole sexist, racist and homophobic journey more than ever, and subvert it with respect and rebellion. Now we can look back and hear the chorus of voices that led to us being here, writing today with such confidence and relative safety. It was hard-won and we lost valuable voices along the way and we really need to really soak that in.
Francisco: Ha! This might go over weirdly…Patricia Highsmith; her writing is captivating, economic, unnerving without gimmicks. I envy that. The creator of Mr. Ripley was ahead of her time and showed us that queer writers can be fucking twisted.
When it comes to unabashed queer politics, I like Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, she doesn’t take any prisoners. My friend Erica Meiners is a queer academic with teeth involved in radical pedagogy, prison abolition and transgender causes, a great writer. A notable historian of queer desire in Canada is Thomas Waugh from Concordia University, his work is steady, ultra thorough and thoughtful.
Casey: Just for starters, limiting to Canadians: Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Trish Salah, Gwen Benaway, Chandra Mayor, Kai Cheng Thom, Morgan M Page, Sybil Lamb, Nancy Jo Cullen and Zoe Whittall. (I know. We all know Zoe, I wish all of Canada did.)
Alec Butler is an award-winning playwright and filmmaker whose play Black Friday was a finalist for a Governor General’s Award for Drama in 1991. His film trilogy about growing up Trans/Intersex/2Spirit, Misadventures of Pussy Boy, was awarded the Best Short/Audience Favourite Award at the International Transgender Film Festival in Amsterdam. Butler lives in Toronto. His novella Rough Paradise was published in 2014.
With a mission to inspire and connect, Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco, PhD (Education, SFU 1999), is the Director of the Education & Training Unit at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN). He has lived in Canada and with HIV since 1986. Francisco started working in the HIV movement in 1989 and specializes on the role of education in research using new media and technologies. Francisco is the driving force behind the Universities Without Walls, an e-Learning for HIV Research program (www.unversitieswithoutwalls.ca). His current research focuses on HIV in the contexts of rehabilitation, aging, stigma and mental health. His fiction and non-fiction has been widely published and his latest book is Giving It Raw: Nearly 30 Years with AIDS (Transgress Press, 2015). He lives in Toronto with his husband and his fat cat Orion.
Casey Plett wrote the short story collection A Safe Girl to Love and has been published in The Walrus, The New York Times ArtsBeat, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Plenitude, Rookie and others. She is currently co-editing a forthcoming anthology of speculative fiction by trans writers with Cat Fitzpatrick. She is from the Canadian Prairies and the Pacific Northwest.
Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films and books. Her first novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of the Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2014. Her debut collection of poetry, even this page is white, was released this spring. Vivek is a 2016 Pride Toronto Grand Marshal, a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist and a 2015 recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction. Vivek’s first children’s picture book, The Boy & the Bindi, will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2016.
Marnie Woodrow is the author of two short fiction collections: Why We Close Our Eyes When We Kiss and In The Spice House, and two novels, Spelling Mississippi and Heyday. Spelling Mississippi was shortlisted for the amazon.ca First Novel Prize. Heyday is a 2016 Goldie winner for General/Dramatic Fiction from the Golden Crown Literary Society and is currently being adapted as a feature film. Marnie is also a busy freelance editor and well-regarded writing coach.
Zoe Whittall’s novel Holding Still for As Long as Possible won a 2011 Lambda Literary Award, was shortlisted for the ReLit Award and is being made into a film. Her critically acclaimed first novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, was named one of the top ten essential Canadian novels of the decade by CBC’s Canada Reads, a Globe & Mail Best Book of the Year, was translated into French and optioned for film. Her latest novel, The Best Kind of People, will be published next month by House of Anansi.