What A Drag…Show

I actually didn’t entirely know what to expect.

I had never been to a drag show before; and I’d certainly never been to a drag show in Fort McMurray.

In fact, I haven’t given drag much thought in my life except after my daughter came home from University for Christmas break. She said: “I need to show you what I’ve been watching to relieve stress during exams”.

And that’s when she introduced me to RuPaul’s Drag Race.

It took exactly one episode to get me hooked. Yes, it was about the glamour and the drama and the drag queens, but it was also about much more than that. It was about a group of men who have experienced tremendous discrimination in their lives based on a variety of factors, from their sexual orientation, to the color of their skin, to the fact that they chose to dress up as women and perform on the stage.

One of the things I have always taught my child is that despite our differences as people, we are all so very much the same. The things that make us different should be celebrated, because they are the things that give life flavour and make being alive interesting; how dull the world would be if we were all exactly the same.

I am happy to say that my daughter has embraced this, and in fact has taken it so much further. As some know, when she was in Grade 10, she cofounded the region’s first GSA. The GSA – or gay straight alliance – was formed to ensure that all kids in her school felt welcome and safe, no matter their sexual orientation or how they identified. She was passionate about the cause, because she felt keenly that not all kids feel safe in our community, and she wanted to address this inequity.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the Oil Royals Amateur Hour Drag Show. When show co-host Billi Gold welcomed us to the show, “he” commented on how this was a positive, safe space.

And when he did, I thought about how the term “safe space” has somehow become an insult in our world. You often see comments online telling people to retreat back to their “safe space”, as if this is some tremendous insult when truly nothing could be further from the truth.

After all, as humans we have struggled for thousands and thousands of years to establish safe spaces. In a world in which we have always been vulnerable, whether to other people, other species, or the weather, we have built structures, built entire communities, and found ways to make ourselves safe. And yet somehow when we suggest that work still remains to establish “safe spaces” for all, there are some who seem to think that somehow this threatens them and choose to use this term in a derogatory way.

My daughter and the flag I brought her to hang in her university residence; the flag was originally on display at the Pride YMM event in Fort McMurray.

One of the reasons my daughter formed a GSA is because she felt a lack of safe spaces in our community for people who identify as LGBTQ. Things have come a long way in our community in just the three years since then. Pride YMM celebrated their first event last summer, a rainbow sidewalk celebrating diversity has been painted (although this sadly attracted some controversy) and there has been a sudden surge of positive and supportive events taking place in our region, including last night’s drag show.

Last night wasn’t really about how anyone identifies or sexual orientation; it was about men and women dressing up as the opposite gender and performing on the stage to an appreciative and supportive audience. It was a place where everyone felt not only accepted, but welcomed.

And perhaps at the end of the day that is what a safe, positive space, or a safe positive, community is about. It isn’t really about acceptance, because that implies that we are “tolerating” or “accepting” something that isn’t the norm. Perhaps it is more about not only welcoming but celebrating our differences, and focusing not on those differences but rather on what makes us alike.

Last night as I watched all of the performers I thought about how I wished this had existed when my daughter had grown up here. Maybe she would have felt there was a supportive, positive place in this community where everyone could simply be who they are without judgment and without fear.

All drag show photos credit: Paul Jen

Because this is what I want for my community and where our children will grow up. I want them to know that their community welcomes them, embraces them and celebrates them. Not “regardless” of anything, not “despite” anything but just because they are our children and they are perfect just as they are and who they are.

Last night it was a pure pleasure to sit in a room filled with fellow community members who knew the value and need for positive, safe spaces for every single person. There were moments of laughter – a lot of laughter – and there were moments when I couldn’t help but reflect on how far this community has come in the 18 years I’ve lived here and yet how far we can still go.

My sincere thanks go to the Oil Royals for creating this event, which I know took so much work, and to all those who attended and celebrated diversity in our community. I sincerely look forward to the next drag show and the upcoming Pride YMM events as we continue develop positive – and yes, unapologetically safe – spaces in our community for everyone who calls this home.

The Oil Royals

The Bus

How many times did I wave good-bye to her as the bus drove away?

I sit in my office and ponder the answer; over the 18 years of her life I have lost track of the school trips, ski trips, sport trips…all the times I watched as the bus rolled away.

And that’s when the tears that had been hovering in my eyes since first hearing the news finally began to fall.

15 lives lost, several of them young men not much older than my own child. A strip of road in a province I know well, the province of my birth and still in possession of a large piece of my heart. A tragic accident that every parent fears and which we all know could have happened to us, as in this vast country travelling by bus for school or work or play is a simple factor of life.

I spent a good part of the weekend wondering if I would learn that one of those lost was somehow related; that’s how Saskatchewan is, you know, deeply interwoven and the smallest big province you’ve ever seen.

But in the end them being related by blood didn’t matter, as when I heard the news of the misidentification of one of the victims, that cruel final twist of the knife, all I could think was how it must feel to be the parents of hope found; and the parents of all hope lost.

I kept thinking back to an accident that occurred over thirty years ago, in another small Saskatchewan town where I was friends with many of the students in the Grade 12 class. A late Saturday night, some alcohol, no helmets, two dirt bikes; two dead on impact when the bikes collided, one lingering in a coma for months before life support was removed, one with devastating injuries.

That town was never the same, and the impact of that crash rippled far beyond town limits, changing the lives of every person it touched.

It changed me, as death entered my life when I was seventeen, and it altered the way I saw the world forever.

I think about the survivors from the accident this weekend, and how they too will be forever changed. I think of all that lies ahead for them, and how what lies behind them will never seem the same, either.

Because one single moment in time can change absolutely everything.

All those times I put her on a bus.

It could have been her.

All the times I was that kid on the bus.

It could have been me.

Perhaps that is why this touches us so deeply; we know it could be any of us, at any time, and the tragic reality that it was fifteen of them at one single time is almost unfathomable.


As I sit in my office and allow the tears to fall, I reflect on the fragile and fleeting nature of life. I think about how someone close to me once said I was far too sensitive to these things, how they didn’t understand how I could feel so deeply about tragedies that aren’t my own. And I remember questioning what the point of life was if you couldn’t feel these things; and knowing that for me being able to feel these things is the very point.

I have experienced personal sorrow and sadness; and I have experienced the kind of sorrow and sadness you feel deep in your heart and head when it has moved into the realm of almost unbelievable.

On Friday, twenty nine people boarded a bus. For fifteen of them, it would be their final act.

How many times did I put her on a bus? I try to remember, but it is all too far away in memory and to be frank it is too hard to think about just now.

I put on my coat and head out the door. I will call her, I think, and tell her that I love her.

Live life, I will tell her. Laugh more than you cry, praise more than you criticize, celebrate more than you despair and live every single fucking day like it could be your – or their – last. Never take it for granted.

And I will remind her of all the times I watched the bus roll away.


My heart is with a hockey team,

a small prairie town,

the families and friends of those who have been lost,

the survivors who continue to fight for recovery,

and an entire country in mourning.



(Liam Richards/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Accidental Kitten

He says he will go for treatment but he’s worried about trouble, she texts.

“I couldn’t figure out what he meant about trouble until he sent a picture”, says the next text.

It seems Trouble comes in the form of a small kitten.

I sit for a moment at my office cubicle contemplating. There are already three cats at home. Plus one dog, three ferrets and a hedgehog.

Affectionately I refer to them as the triple MMM zoo, because they are quite the menagerie.

It is a moment of pure impulse undoubtedly. She asks if a shelter might take a kitten for a indeterminate period of time; I say I think it’s possible but that it’s not necessary because I will take Trouble.

There’s room at the inn, I text, and my daughter is home right now on spring break from University.

Trouble can come to stay for as long as he likes, I text, fingers flying across the iPhone keyboard even faster than I can think.

I realize I have agreed to take a kitten I’ve never seen. He could be any colour, any personality and he could have myriad health problems. I have no idea but I’ve agreed to take him.

And then she texts a picture of Trouble – a small orange and white tabby curled up asleep, and the synchronicity of the of the universe strikes me.

I text the photo to my daughter and say “this is Trouble, he’s going to come live with us for a while”.

She texts back: “What do you mean – I thought we talked about getting a kitten this summer when I’m home for longer?”

I respond that I know we had but that sometimes the universe makes other arrangements. The funny part is she and I HAD talked about getting a kitten and I had expressed my preference – an orange male tabby. How unusual it was for suddenly an orange male tabby kitten to drop into our laps.

When Trouble arrived, he came in a soft sided carrier and you could hear the noise before it was even open. The noise was a loud kitten purr.

While my daughter and I quickly came to see how his name was Trouble, as he is a rambunctious kitten, we decided to rename him after one of her favorite podcasts: Nightvale.

And so Cecil Gershwin Palmer, or Cecil for short, has joined the zoo.

Cecil is a remarkable cat. Even though my other cats don’t always get along and two in particular become quite fractious with each other, Cecil has integrated completely and did so within a matter of hours.

He is friendly with all the cats.

He seems to enjoy the dog, coming nose to nose with her, her tail wagging and his little orange and white frame vibrating with purrs.

In fact it hasn’t taken long for Cecil to become a fixture in our household and in some ways a bit of an inspiration. He is the kind of cat who trots around the house purring at top volume. He’s the kind of cat who is curious about everything, pre-judges nothing and seems to love everyone.

He is the most cheerful little character I’ve ever met.

He’s been in my home for just over a month now and he greets me whenever I arrive no matter how long I’ve been gone. His rough little tongue licks my face and he purrs every single time.

My daughter went back to university after spring break but we FaceTime regularly and I text her pictures of the cats including little Cecil. And Cecil is growing both in physical form and personality.

We call him the accidental kitten. I hadn’t planned to get a kitten that day and there is a chance that one day Cecil’s owner will reclaim him. But for the period of time that he resides with us, whether for months or a lifetime, we will enjoy this cheerful little character and celebrate the accidental nature of life. That his time with us may be impermanent is a reminder to enjoy every moment of wonderful you have in life, because none of us know how long they will last. And you never know when something remarkable will simply drop into your lap, as if the universe has planned it.

And sometimes that bit of wonderful and remarkable will come in the form of a tiny orange and white accidental kitten.