50 years. 50 queers.

John Paul Kane / Fay Slift

John Paul Kane / Fay Slift

May 6, 2014

Name: John Paul Kane / Fay Slift
DOB: October 5, 1970
Occupation: Elementary School Drama & Music Teacher
Favourite Book: J.D. Salinger, ‘Catcher in the Rye’
Favourite Movie: ‘The Eyes of Laura Mars’
Favourite Music: Dance music, disco, anything pop
Favourite Queer Person At/Over 50: Carole Pope
One Word About 50: Fabulous

John Paul Kane could be the Clark Kent of Queerdom: Mild-mannered school teacher by day; shock-and-awe drag superhero saving people from the mundane by night. For the uninitiated, one would never imagine the affable Kane has an alter-ego who is not only a drag anomaly, but a mega-wig-festooned inspiration for queers of all walks of life with a message of joy, fun, and inclusiveness.

At 43, Kane is at a place in his life he didn’t imagine a decade-and-a-half ago. “My first attempt ever at doing any type of drag happened 15 or 16 years ago,” he recalls of his early days in drag. “It was the roughest looking shit. It looked like I’d taken a burnt match and put the makeup on my face. I shaved off my facial hair. I did keep my chest hair. It was back before the Dufferin Mall actually had a makeover. There was a booth in the middle of the mall that sold weave by the yard. I got a bag of hair for $10. A friend of mine who was a window dresser for Le Chateau gave me a wig, it was like a giant afro. It was all for a ’70s-themed disco party,” he says with a laugh.

His outfit was made up of three tube tops he’d purchased from Urban Behaviour, sewn together to make a long dress. He topped off the eye-popping ensemble with a gorilla jacket and hit the clubs. And so the first twinklings of a drag icon emerged from the weaves and faux fur. However, it would be several years before his inner goddess emerged. “Years passed, my partner David [Hawe] and I were going out for Hallowe’en and he thought we should go in drag,” Kane elaborates. “It was inspired by Jane Fonda in Barbarella. We went like that. David knew somebody who was in the Court [TICOT] who did wigs, so we got matching wigs. Even back then I took the beard off. I tried to conform, so I shaved off my beard. As soon as we hit Church and Wellesley it took us almost two hours to walk down to Woody’s because so many people who wanted our photos.”

I used to love when the carnival came to town…I would gravitate to the bearded lady…I am now the bearded lady.”

555262_10150985834780973_336742875_nIn November of 2007, Fay Slift gave her debut performance at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre at an event called The Gaza Strip Club. It was a night of big hair, shocking performances and a little controversy. “The day before, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid had just started and they showed up the night of our event and had leaflets they were handing out that we were encouraging the oppression of Palestinians,” Kane recalls. “No we weren’t! It was a play on words. We were well aware of the atrocities in the world. We invited them in for the event, but they refused. I have no ill feelings toward their group. All of a sudden it blew up from there.” Soon the clubs and the media came calling: Xtra! Now Magazine and the now-defunct Fab Magazine couldn’t get enough of this totally unconventional performer.

When the Gaza Strip Club came to a quick end, fate intervened in the form of club owners in Toronto’s queen west area. The burgeoning queer mecca was filled with artists and people who wanted to create a scene. And a scene they got! “When the Gaza Strip Club was over, I thought that was the end of Fay,” Kane says. “Then I met people like my friend Andrew Awesome, who asked me to do a thing in Kensington Market at Supermarket. So, I did that. I had almost met Christina Zeidler, who owns the Gladstone Hotel, and she is amazingly creative and a performer. She loved what I was doing as Fay. She had a band called Ina unt Ina that she wanted me to perform with. All of a sudden InsideOut was contacting me and Gentleman Reg had me in his video. I worked with Will Munro, who wanted me to perform at Vazaleen.”

We need to embrace the older members of our community, they’re the ones who really allowed us to have the lives that we enjoy today.”

Quite by accident, Kane had created a character who has become emblematic of fun, laughter, outrageousness and inclusiveness. Not bad for a something that began as a lark. “As a kid, one of the most exciting things that I used to love was when the carnival came to town. There would always be a bearded lady! I would gravitate to the bearded lady! This prophecy has come true and I am now the bearded lady,” he declares with a laugh. “I find beauty in it. I remember always finding beauty in that masculine and feminine thing. I remember the first time David ever put me in makeup I saw feminine beauty for the first time in myself. I thought it was amazing to have that with this big beard on my face.”

At 43 I have this amazing creative outlet on top of a job as a school teacher that I really love, and have been doing for 16 years,” Kane continues. “Often times the music and costumes I come up with [for Fay] are inspired by the kids that I work with. Their ages are four to seven and they are completely fearless. They’ll tell me music they like and I’ll download it. When they have drama and dance class, I’m pulling up music they love, then I love the song too and before I know it I’m performing it as Fay at some event. I just want what I do to be light and fun and not to take things so seriously. I love people like Paul Lynde and Carol Burnett. You’d watch variety shows and laugh. Things were campy.That’s what I am; I’m campy. Let’s not limit ourselves in our community as to what is possible and can be appreciated. Let’s open our minds to the reality that we have a lot of creative folk in our midst. Let’s showcase it as much as possible.”

To that end, Kane finds himself in the company of other community members who are dedicating to integrating generations of the community in a variety of facets. “I did this thing with Vanessa Dunn who is in Vag Halen, it’s a band of hard core rockin’ chicks who cover hot rock music from the ’80s. It’s sexy as fuck! Vanessa was working in a program with connecting and reconnecting with the older part of our community,” Kane explains. “She asked my friend Caleb Robertson and I if we would do something. It was a night for older queers to come out, they were 65 plus. We played music, we did drag. It was the best night ever. When they came out, they would have been going to the discos in the ’70s. It was an amazing night,” he continues. “We need to have more programming like that in our neighbourhood and elsewhere in the city.”

I’m just going to keep busting my ass to be as social as I can be. Even if they don’t want me to come in, I’m still fucking coming in!”

Kane believes that the obsession some members of the community—and by extension the greater society—has with aging is not only detrimental, but is actually creating barriers that leave our elders isolated. “When I first came out we had Bar 501, Boots, and Colby’s. Fly will be shutting at the end of Pride. I understand that there is a shift and a change, but we all are very social people. We need spaces that are embracing to all aspects of our community, regardless of age,” he says. “I hope as I age that I am still able to create space for myself in this neighbourhood [Church Street Village]. I just think that we need to make sure that there are more places that are social and that there are supports in place for people so they don’t feel isolated, so everyone can be welcome. I know that sounds like pie-in-the-sky bullshit, but I really believe that.”

One of Kane’s dear friends, Malcolm Ingram, recently did a documentary on New York City’s legendary Continental Baths. While the impetus of the film was to look at the phenomenon that was the Continental, it also became a story about its founder, Steve Ostrow. “He [Ostrow] runs and organization in Australia for queer men who are in their 70s and 80s and they have meetings, nights out, they do all sorts of stuff,” Kane explains. “One of the most touching parts of the documentary was when Malcolm got to be invited in to watch one of their meetings. At the end of every meeting everyone would embrace and hold each other. I was sitting there watching this and I was balling my eyes out. What this man is doing is so important. Just because somebody is older doesn’t mean that their value is less because they don’t look like someone on the cover of Men’s Health or whatever,” he says. “We can’t just discard people, we need to embrace the older members of our community, because they’re the ones who really allowed us to have the lives that we enjoy today. We need to know their stories, we need to celebrate them and have a fucking laugh with them and dance with them.”

Kane believes there is always a risk for queer people to slip between the cracks since many have experienced hatred and homophobia within their families—not to mention society. It’s a double-insult to find yourself excluded by your own community because of age. To that end, he believes it’s vital that people try hard to participate and be active in some form. He certainly plans to. “I’m so fortunate to spend my day with kids. Generations of kids are still coming back and visiting me, they’re in high school or university, they’re still visiting,” he states proudly. “I’m so grateful for that. I am an extremely social person, so I’m just going to keep busting my ass to be as social as I can be. Even if they don’t want me to come in, I’m still fucking coming in!”

Photo credit: As John, by Dan Rodger
Photo credit: As Fay, by David Hawe

6 comments

  1. Alasdair Hooper /

    Fabfuckingtastic. We are unworthy.

  2. Andrew Carlyle /

    Am glad to have met you and can call you a friend ! and will support you always .

  3. Tanya Picanco /

    one of the most awesome teachers ever I bet!

  4. Phil Chisholm /

    What an amazing article. Thanks for posting and sharing your story !

  5. Jeffrey R Smith /

    Fantastic my friend!! you rock!!! xoxo

  6. Tawny Darbyshire /

    JPK! JPK! JPK!

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