About two months ago, Paul Aguirre-Livingston, a 24-year-old writer and blogger, approached The Grid with an idea for a personal essay about what it’s like to be part of the first group of gay men to come of age in Toronto in the era of legalized gay marriage. He had coined a term—the Post-Mo—to describe himself and the extended group of men he socializes with in downtown Toronto. This group of people, he said, has never had to fight its government for equality. Thanks to the internet, they were able to explore their sexuality as young men—ask questions, get answers and meet like-minded youth—from the safety of their bedrooms. They don’t feel the same connection to the city’s annual Pride festivities or the Church-Wellesley Village that previous generations did. In fact, he saw it as a mark of success and progress that young gays in Toronto had spread out into the city, east and west, and rejected the notion that there was a designated strip where the bulk of their socializing should get done. Other writers have expressed similar feelings of disconnection from the Gay Village in the past, but Aguirre-Livingston’s was a point of view we hadn’t heard before, and one we thought would be of interest to our readers. We knew that not everybody would like or agree with what Aguirre-Livingston was saying, but the gay community, like any large group, is not a monolith—it contains multitudes of perspectives and we believed there was room for one more.
Since we had never worked with Aguirre-Livingston before, we asked him to spend some time thinking about exactly what he wanted to say and come back to us with a more detailed proposal. Six weeks later, when he produced his first draft, it was a 3,000-word, unflinchingly honest, articulate essay about his own personal experiences—the pop-culture influences that shaped him, his life as a “sexually ambiguous” high-school student and his struggle to form real connections as a young adult in a digital age. He expressed gratitude to the activists who came before him and who had granted him the freedom to live as a person first-and-foremost, and as a gay man second. It was a brave piece to write and, from our perspective, a fascinating account of the city and a culture as one man sees it.
The weekend before the piece appeared, we shot the accompanying photos at a Royal Canadian Legion. Aguirre-Livingtson invited people he knew to come and be part of the Post-Mo shoot. He asked them via email to “Please read the details about the piece first…If you don’t feel this way, please feel free to decline.” Here’s how he described his piece:
“[It’s about] the new generation of gays who feel they shouldn’t be so radically defined by their sexual orientation, choosing to live their lives outside of the village, how they want, and who do not feel forced to define anything or be hyper-political and ‘I’m here, I’m queer’-ish. We’re just guys who want more than just to be ‘the gay guy’ because that doesn’t inform our place in society or what we do—just who we sleep with. You may be on one end of the spectrum or the other, but you can’t deny [that] we definitely don’t share the same ideals or battles as the previous generation.”
Nine men showed up. Nobody was pre-selected for race, height, class, personal style or anything else. They brought their own clothes and got into the spirit of what was intended to be a fun shoot. (For complete transcripts of their answers to our Post-Mo questionnaire, click here.)
When the essay was published last Thursday, early response on Twitter was measured. Dave Scrivener, a self-described designer and activist, wrote: “Picked up @TheGridTo ready to get angry, put it down thinking the cover story was a thoughtful look at gay men born in the ’80s.” Others took issue with Aguirre-Livingston’s tone and his reading of the state of gay rights. They felt he sounded flip, entitled and naive. In a tweet addressed to Aguirre-Livingston, journalist Scott D’Agostino said, “Glad you wrote it, hope you take the coming shots with grace, but I violently disagree. ‘Post-Mo’ is an excuse for apathy.” Among other responses, there were clear signs of a generation gap.
As the day wore on, however, the tenor of the feedback turned hostile and, very suddenly, centred on issues of class, race and inclusivity. Readers wanted to know why Aguirre-Livingston didn’t speak to life as a gay visible minority. Others derided him for not speaking to the lesbian, bi, trans experience or the small-town gay experience. (It should go without saying that Aguirre-Livingston didn’t speak to those groups because he was writing on a different topic. Moreover, to do so would have been disingenuous and presumptuous.)
There were some extremely thoughtful letters in the mix. But there was also an onslaught of vitriol and gratuitous name-calling. People began to attack not the content of the piece, but Aguirre-Livingston’s right to have written it at all. The Grid was attacked for publishing it. Some swore they’d never read us again. One reader called for a mob to TP our offices (okay, but only if we can play, too). We stand by our belief that his point of view, opinions and experiences are valid. To say that it was irresponsible to have written them—and for us to have published them—is missing the point. It’s just as irresponsible to ignore them.
We also feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the response. Amid the mud-slinging, we have received dozens of intelligent, diverse and worthy critical responses to our “Beyond Gay” cover. We will devote a special section of the next issue of The Grid to publishing your reactions.