50 years. 50 queers.

Maggie Cassella

Maggie Cassella

Nov 21, 2013

Name: Maggie Cassella
DOB: The 20th Century
Occupation: Writer/Performer/Producer/Activist
Favourite Author: David Rakoff
Favourite Book: ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ by E.L. Konigsburg
Favourite Movie: Schindler’s List (“Best I ever saw that I don’t want to see again.”)
Favourite Music: Everything but heavy metal
Favourite Person At/Over 50: My wife, Josée
One Word About 50: Irrelevant

Writing, performing, producing and ranting can really take up a lot of a person’s time. It takes up much of Maggie Cassella’s time, which is one of the main reasons she doesn’t break a sweat when it comes to the prospect of getting older. Co-owner of Toronto hotspot, The Flying Beaver Pubaret™, Cassella is a human zephyr. When she’s not entertaining her own fans with her cutting social and political commentary, she provides an intimate venue for a slew of singers, comics and other artists to shine in the spotlight.

I am an age,” Cassella says while coyly avoiding assigning digits to herself. “I’m like Popeye, I’m always a 12-year-old in my head. It doesn’t really gel with me. That’s the problem with numbers and age. There was a point where I thought, ‘Oh, can I stop dressing any way I want to?’ I don’t know when that happened, and I’m not sure if it happens to men as much as it happens to women, but nobody wants to see an old lady in a miniskirt.”

Not one to rest on her laurels, Cassella is a perpetual motion machine when it comes to her life and career. “I have busy head. I can’t really stop and think any one thing for any great period of time. I guess I try not to think about it,” she says of the concept of age. “I have too much going on in my head to dwell on that one thing. It occurs to me sometimes when I look at certain parts of my body. I’ve always had old-looking hands. When I was in grade seven I always thought I had the hands of an 80-year-old. Now that I’m getting older and I have old-looking hands and I’m actually getting older, that’s odd. So, there’s stuff that you’ll be forced to think about it if you look in a mirror.”

Lea DeLaria who is 55-years-old and a bull dyke and is making it big, it helps allay the fears.”

Although Cassella is not one to obsess about getting older, the entertainment industry has its built-in reminders that the clock is indeed ticking more so for women than men. “There’s a British show called Hello Ladies, and it’s Stephen Merchant and an actress in her 30s and of course she’s trying to cram herself back into her 20s because she’s in LA. Basically if you’re out of your 20s in LA you’re no longer and ingenue. In my business I think that’s always been a concern. It’s more of a concern now, for sure, because I’m farther away from being in my 20s by a lot.”

That being said, there are more and more examples of women having long and successful careers despite—and sometimes because of—their age. One is a dear friend of Cassella’s who is enjoying major success while being non-conformist in a stringent industry that puts women in very tight boxes. “When you look at something like what happened to my friend Lea DeLaria who is 55-years-old and a bull dyke and is making it big, it helps allay the fears.”

Bea Arthur once put her hand on me, on my arm, when we were having lunch after she did my talk show [Because I Said So], and said, ‘Don’t worry honey, I didn’t get Maude until I was 47’. I thought, ‘Uh oh, she thinks I’m not doing well,’ Cassella says with a laugh when recalling the words of the comedy icon. “She thinks I haven’t made it and here I am with my own show and all that stuff and she was patting me on the arm saying, ‘You have plenty of time.’ I think that’s a very real fear for people in my business.”

Cassella has built a name for herself in Canadian entertainment over the past couple of decades and has garnered a devoted following both inside and outside of the queer community. And while she does not consider herself an arbiter of all things queer, she does take note of different nuances and issues within the community. “I don’t think dykes give a shit so much,” she says of the issue of aging in the queer context in comparison to gay men and the Daddy culture. “Lesbians are trying to take on that whole Cat and Kitten thing or that Cougar and Kitten thing. There’s always been younger women dating older women,” she continues. “They just probably never put a label to it. I knew a woman who was dating a much older woman and everybody thought it was her mother. I’m sure it was on some level.”

Where are the queer historians? How do you know about a generation of queers?”

I think people in their middle age now aren’t quite as obsessed with it as say people who might have been in their middle age 20 years ago,’ Cassella posits of the changing attitudes about aging in the community. “When I was young I would say ‘she’s an older lesbian’. I get that vibe off some younger women sometimes which makes me smile because it’s like, ‘touché Maggie’. I used to think people were older when they were in their 50s and I was in my 20s. Now I don’t say anyone’s older. They appear to me in their 70s or whatever. My parents are 89 and 92, knock on wood, and I don’t see them as elderly. We can say whatever we feel but at the end of the day if you’ve lived 90 years, you are a tad old,” she concludes with a laugh. “Elderly is a state of mind. It’s an energy thing.”

While Cassella isn’t concerned with the usual angst that society generates about aging, she does admit that we don’t recognize our elders the way we probably should. “I don’t know if it has as much to do with being queer as much as it does with being young,” she says of this oversight. “I think there are feminists who would say that about women. They take a lot of stuff for granted but I also think that I pretty much have seen that on 1950s sitcom re-runs, ‘These kids don’t appreciate what we did for them’. I kind of think that’s something that might just be about people getting older and not feeling appreciated for what they did in particular. I think that I agree that it’s particularly not celebrated in the queer community. I think people should know. But is that our fault? Where do they go?”

Where are the queer historians?” she continues when pondering queer culture as custodians of its history. “How do you know about a generation of queers? How do you know that Lea DeLaria was the first out comic on US national television? How do you know that Bob Smith was the first gay guy on the Tonight Show? How do you know Stonewall? How do you know about the Mattachine Society? How do you know about bars in the 1950s? If you don’t read Stone Butch Blues, which is out of print, how do you know that guys and women in the bars in the States had to have on a certain amount of under garments that were of the same sex or they would get arrested? How do you know any of that? I know they teach that stuff in university, but you’d have to be active enough to want to find that stuff in university.”

I feel a lot calmer now. I feel a lot less like I have to put up with people’s bullshit.”

Another issue that is a bit of a burr in her saddle is the way the queer community over-celebrates celebrities. As someone who helmed the highly successful We’re Funny That Way! queer comedy festival, Cassella has made it a point to recognize the unsung heroes along with the more noted figures. “We gave an award posthumously to a woman who was active forever and died suddenly in her 50s. We once gave one to Anna Travers, to people who are on the front lines and will never be famous but their lives and work are dedicated. I find it incredible how the community rewards people who have done little work, but have high profiles. They miss the people who have done the hard work,” she says with a tone of exasperation. “I also I don’t like that whole, ‘we want to make money so we’re going to invite a celebrity’ and give them an award for doing the right thing. That started a long time ago.”

It’s not like Elizabeth Taylor didn’t do the right thing,” she continues. “She did the right thing. But giving Elizabeth Taylor an award from the queer community, what did that do for the queer community? It made a successful fundraiser. That kind of stuff really gets up my ass. In the meantime there’s somebody Elizabeth Taylor’s age at that time who probably was still alive who’d done all of this amazing frontline work and, well, they’re not Elizabeth Taylor. I get why you do that for a fundraiser. With it you get notoriety. If there’s no notoriety with it, have you done a good job? I think you can just do the work and not have to be known for it. That’s something that bothers me for sure.”

Always outspoken—and proud of it—Maggie Cassella is having a blast touring her comedy shows, dismantling n’er do well politicos and turning our increasingly zany culture on its ear. She is enjoying a time in her life that she has worked hard to arrive at. “I’ve got to say, I do like being in this age range. I always said 36 was my best year because that’s when I met my wife and I had a great year. Having said that, I feel a lot calmer now. I feel a lot less like I have to put up with people’s bullshit. I feel a lot more sure of actually saying to someone, on my own behalf cuz I’ve always done it on other people’s behalf, ‘that’s not okay’ and not agonizing over the consequences of it. I’m less patient, but really more happy. There’s a point when you know what the truth is, or what your truth is. Then you have to move along.”

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