50 years. 50 queers.

Don Collymore

Don Collymore

Apr 1, 2013

Name: Don Christopher Collymore
DOB: March 23rd 1971
Occupation: Customer Service Representative at the LCBO
Favourite Book: Why Are Faggots Afraid of Faggots
Favourite Movie: Die Hard
Favourite Music: 70’s, 80’s, 90’s Retro Pop
Favourite Person At/Over 50: RuPaul
Words About 50: Looking forward to it!!!

As Don Collymore takes his first few steps into his 40s, he’s feeling more energized and empowered than at any other point in his life. As a matter of fact, he sums up being 42 in two words: Queer and Fabulous! “Queer and fabulous because I just feel that I’m at a point of a lot of positive energy and I feel momentum to push forward,” explains the ever-ebullient Collymore.

However, this empowered attitude is relatively new to Collymore, who spent much of his 30s fearing getting older. “I think my biggest worry was coming out, because I came out in my late 20s and I slowly sort of found my tribe, which was the Bear community at the time, and did a lot of volunteer work and had some ups and downs and met people which was important because that helped develop me inside myself,” he says, harkening back to those days of insecurity. “Those were life lessons I needed to learn. And now at 42, compared to 24, when I was first questioning, or even 32 when I was in the midst of it, I feel a lot more energized and I feel like it’s time to move forward in my life.”

Along with this new sense of confidence comes an even stronger sense of community and connecting with people in the community, not only to build support but also share our common history, a situation he was recently confronted with when trying to educate a younger friend. “There was this guy I was tricking with, he was about 33 or 34 and he had no idea what Stonewall was all about, he had no idea about the bathhouse raids in Toronto, Quebec and Vancouver, he had no idea that he could have been fired for being gay,” recalls Collymore with incredulity. “It’s not to say that people forget but I think it’s our job to instruct them and each other.”

Collymore sees a distinct lack of knowledge when it comes to queer history with a lot of the younger generation, and he would like to do something about that. He recalls a seminal moment in his coming out process years ago while watching a documentary about queer youth. “I remember seeing it on CBC late at night. It was a documentary about gays and lesbians. One of the people in it I found really fascinating was Kristen Wong-Tam, who was at the time 16- or 17-years old, and really involved in the gay community,” he says. “I think part of me related to her because she was one of the few visible minorities featured. There was this, what I call divine strength that emanated from her. Years later when she was running for city council I was like, ‘Girl, I’m gonna come and help you!’ because of what she had done.”

“More of us have to address the homophobia, more of us have to address the racism in the gay community.”

This sparked a streak of community activism in Collymore that landed him squarely in Toronto’s burgeoning Bear community many years ago. “The Bear community was very important for me coming out, it was a whole group of us, being part of Gen-X Bears for example, the things we did, we laughed, we cried, we played together, we did stuff like Take Back the Park where we did picnics, we fund-raised, we marched in Pride,” he recalls. “There were a couple of reasons I pushed for that, one was that people could see the next Black person coming out, or who was lesbian or bisexual or transgender, could come out and see another Black person standing there strong saying, ‘it’s okay to be gay!’”

Connecting the cultural dots was—and still is—important to Collymore whose Caribbean heritage is not typically embracing of homosexuality. This sent him on a quest to find role models and people who could help give him a sense of community empowerment. “Marlon Riggs’ ‘Black Is, Black Ain’t’ opened my eyes and helped me come out as a queer person of colour,” says Collymore, “because he was talking about Black culture and homosexuality and homophobia. I could recognize that in me.”  Another role model whom Collymore thinks made a huge difference both inside and outside the Black community is RuPaul. “RuPaul was fabulous, he broke a lot of barriers and was gender-fucking. There was a big, tall Black man dressed as a blonde woman and saying, ‘just love yourself and be fabulous!’ I think that opened up a lot of our eyes.”

With all of the positive messages he has managed to find over the years to inspire and push him forward, Collymore believes there is still a lot of work to be done to foster understanding and wrest bigotry in both the Caribbean community and the gay community. “Being part of the Afro-Caribbean culture, [homosexuality] is still seen as being a ‘white man’s disease’,” he explains. “Homosexuality do not exist in the Black community, we’re more pious than that, which is not true. It happens everywhere. So you have all these people on the ‘down low’ who have double lives and turn around and lie to their wives and their girlfriends and taking all sorts of risks. Attitudes are slowly changing,” he continues. “But I think more of us have to be out. More of us have to address the homophobia, more of us have to address the racism in the gay community.”

As Collymore has gotten a bit older, he’s seen some definite changes in the community—both welcome and alarming. While acceptance of queer culture and queer people has improved much in Toronto, causing the community to spread out to different sections of the city, he also sees more loneliness and vulnerability. “The root cause of so much of our troubles is self-loathing and self-hatred,” he posits. “If you don’t love yourself and you don’t have a strong sense of self, then you can’t develop healthy relationships. For me, what I call divine strength, through my experiences meeting people, learning to be a lot more open, questioning my own prejudices, learning to just talk to people.”

“As gay people we have to reach out, we can’t just be satellites,”

“I had a friend who was struggling with crystal meth and the issue behind that was depression, and knowing someone who committed suicide and the shock of that, but also seeing the good in people and seeing people getting together,” he continues. “I keep reminding people that we have these great Bear parties and to be out there and promoting, but remember at the core of this we have to try to build a community and we can’t just do that online on Growlr and Scruff and all the chat sites, there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s one way for communities to interact, but the other way is we have to connect on a personal level. Ironically, we have all of these ways to connect but we’re more and more alone.”

Collymore sees plenty of need and opportunity to rebuild bridges and tighten the community’s bonds—and he heralds activism of the past as examples and inspiration for today and the future. “I think as gay men and lesbians, we have to uplift one another. Let’s face it, there is still a lot of negatives out there,” he maintains. “The group [of gay people] in the 70s and 80s did so much for us. They fought battles for us, the battles they won to get pensions for same sex couples, and then there’s the generation that fought the bathhouse raids, and then there’s a whole generation that’s been lost because of AIDS. Now, there is us. We have to redefine it, but how do we redefine it?” he asks. “Do we continue being catty, bitchy? Do we cling to a materialistic nature which is happening everywhere which on the one hand may make you feel fabulous, but being fabulous isn’t wearing the latest clothes, being fabulous is feeling good about yourself and emanating that and reaching out to other people.”

Aging can be a real challenge—and fear—for queer people. It’s one thing to be 40, 50 or even 60 in an urban centre with various groups to belong to, but for many aging queer people, there is a sense of alienation from within the community. It’s here Collymore sees opportunities for grassroots action that will serve our aging population. “I would like to see the queer community in 20 years have certain establishments,” he says. “I think having old age homes for queer people, I think having a museum or at least talk about how we came to being in Toronto. I think we’ll have an opportunity to do that with World Pride, to show the world what we did in Toronto.”

“Embrace it. Don’t fear it…continue being queer and fabulous as you get older!”

He also sees in the here-and-now how we can use our years of activism and political successes as an example to help queers who are facing real danger in other parts of the world. “Our struggles over the years could help people, for example, in Uganda or Eastern Europe,” Collymore explains. “We had this discussion about the queering of Black History Month, we had this talk about light skin versus dark skin, good hair versus bad hair and people who were very light skinned who could ‘pass for white’ had an easier time than me who is very dark skinned. It’s the same with passing in a culture where effeminate men are targeted. If you can pass for ‘the norm’ you’ll have an easier time. As gay people we have to reach out, we can’t just be satellites,” he asserts. “Even within the subgroup there is discrimination. We can’t afford to do that to one another in the queer community. We have a lot to learn from lesbians. We have a lot to learn from transgender people.”

“I remember an old preacher once told me that to help somebody you have to have one foot in the water and one foot on land,” Collymore says of a very sage piece of advice he received. “If you have both feet in the water, you’ll get swept away with the tide and if you have both feet on land you can’t reach in and help anybody. I think I’m starting to understand that, as I get older. If you get swept away and angry and just protest for the sake of protesting without reaching out, then you’re just swept away.”

Don Collymore is a gay man who is looking ahead to 50—and beyond—with great zeal. He has found his personal power and what he calls his ‘divine strength’ and is using it to propel himself into a meaningful future. If there is any message he would say to younger queers who may have trepidation about getting older it’s this: “Embrace it. Don’t fear it. The grey hair represents wisdom. Things change, values change, it’s part of life. Continue being queer and fabulous as you get older!”

4 comments

  1. Kyle /

    brother so glad you are keeping up the good fight, wish we had kept it all together but like we said when you had 6 jobs and i got hiv and sick….i will all work out if we dont carry the oturch someone will , so happy you still got a pinky finger on it, I am so glad you and I and the others from gen x made stuff happen….which ack is history now. I do think I will join you in the streets for World Pride 2014…..

  2. Brent /

    Awesome article!

  3. Chris /

    You rock, Don. I’m proud to call you a friend.

  4. Paulina /

    Great stuff, Don… Keep our history alive!

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