Teenage Bouncer at the Dyke Bar

Personal reflections after another shooting in a queer bar. Colorado Springs, in 2022.

Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

So much changes and also stays the same. Some queers have incredible reach and inclusion in mainstream media, increased positive representation & visibility and (geographically depending) legally protected human rights yet queer bars are still the most sacred & deeply needed community spaces especially in small towns.

I forgot until last week while I was chaperoning a group of Berkeley High School students on a field trip to the movies that at their age I was the bouncer for a dyke bar in my town.

It was 1993 and I was 18 years old. The drinking age in Québec is 18 so I could legally work at the only dyke bar, Le Clubhouse, which was a tiny room above Le Club, the only Hull gay bar. Ottawa and Hull are different cities in different provinces (Ontario and Québec) with distinct drinking ages (19 and 18) and bar closing times (1am and 3am). They are separated by a mere 10 minute drive across a bridge that spans the impressive and beautiful Ottawa River. Many gays back in the day would party in Ottawa until last call and then cross the bridge to keep the fun going.

As a queer teen I’d started my nightlife journey at the GO (Gays of Ottawa) community center which held all ages dance parties on weekends and it was the place to be if you were under the legal drinking age, occasionally 19-25 year olds would fraternize with us there. Perhaps they appreciated the sober space or maybe they enjoyed my crowd-pleasing DJ sets 😉.

Being a second generation queer, I grew up spending significant amounts of time in gay bars, a childhood filled with running in the halls at women’s dances which took place in community gymnasiums where my mom organized political protests and “Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves” was on high rotation in her DJ sets. Physical spaces for gay community were precious, often tucked away where no one else wanted to be. They were multi-purpose, used for nighttime bump & grinds but also providing safety for daytime activities like planning political activism and coming out support groups. These spaces also might sometimes include lending libraries for queer books, community message boards (pre-internet AND post) as well as the tools for creating gay media like Ottawa’s local gay paper, “GO Info”.

They marched hard and then later, they danced hard.

Between the GO center and the youth drop in a few blocks away I could, as a queer youth already living on their own at 17, get free food, a listening ear, and connection to an inter-generational community of “my people”. Dancing together in bars was the number one way to spend time with other queers – to make friends and ex-lovers. It was also the catalyst for burgeoning activism. Being together as a group gave us power to speak out, agitate for change. There was a mini-zeitgeist in those years about queer youth being out in high school. What would become a robust network of GSA groups was in its seed stage. Queer youth finding each other was such a huge part of my history.

Working the door at Le Clubhouse was mostly about collecting the cover charge and check IDs but also to dissuade men from coming upstairs unless they were accompanied by a woman. Very few men tried to come into our space – an occasional gay friend from the larger, rambunctious club downstairs might come up for a breather – but once in a while if a str8 man was “curious” I’d have to stop them at the top of the stairs and turn them away. If there was ever conflict about this policy our 5′ tall bartender & manager Berta would hop over the bar and dress down anyone until they were backing down the stairs apologetically. I was tall and big but completely useless in confrontations.

Stairs up to the GO Centre

This was Canada in the 1990’s so there wasn’t fear of someone coming for us with automatic, high powered rifles. Canada tightened up a lot of gun rules after the 1989 Montréal Massacre with Bill C-17. The violence we feared then came from our bars being off the main drags, tucked away in dark corners, buildings with no walk-able options for after hours food or taxi pickups. The Coral Reef in Ottawa, with a Thursday night dyke party, had a dungeon-like entrance that was only accessible via a deserted underground parking lot. Gay-bashing was a very real and daily threat and I’m thankful I never personally experienced physical violence for being queer but it was an ever-present presence in my immediate circle of friends. After the tragedy that was the Oakland Ghost Ship fire in 2016 I realized that many places I spent time in during my youth would have been devastated had there been a fire since many locations did not have fire exits and were off the beaten path – easy targets.

These obfuscated, single-entrance spaces were second homes for queer youth back then just as they are now. Bartenders, coat-check attendants, DJs, bouncers — all held space for regulars and visitors alike. Creating a family through time spent together and also accepting each other’s flaws and fabulous-ness in equal parts. Once I drove with friends to Chicoutimi, QC to pick up our bandmate who had done a summer French immersion program and we set out to locate the gay bar in that 40,000 person town — it was behind their single block of str8 dance clubs, side by side with biker shop with a swastika on display in the window. The tiny bar was called “L’Eccentrique” which is French for “Eccentric”. When we entered we counted (by visual assumptions) 2 dykes, ~30 gay men, and a single drag queen running a bingo game. The patrons were happily engaged their night of gambling and while they glanced at the strange punks walking in they went back to what they were doing quickly, neither fearful nor freezing us out. If a queer person had moved to that town in 1995 chances are that L’Eccentrique could have become your regular haunt and connection to the handful of others like you.

Me (left) and friends at Queers Take Back the Night circa 1993

My teens and early 20’s were full of weekends out with a ragtag groups of queers, driving groups of drunk kids home in the bed of my truck at 4am and going for breakfast at the 24hr diner in downtown Ottawa. My best friend and I would borrow her parent’s minivan and cruise the streets collecting our other teen friends then sprinting the 1.5hr drive up to the more impressive queer bars of Montréal. This opened up access to a new crew of francophone dykes in our 16-20 year old age range and paved the way for my move there when high school ended. At 22 I impulsively moved across the country to Victoria, BC (pop. 300K). The only gays I knew there were my moms at first. One night while working my job at Subway I served two young men who were wearing rainbow ring necklaces and I blurted out “YOU’RE GAY! WHERE ARE THE GAYS?!”. They shared with me that there were two bars in downtown, Rumours and BJs (gay bar names 😂). The first thing I did the next day was go to those locations to collect flyers and figure out which night I should show up to, flagging my Bearded Lady shirt to find other queer punks. Going to those bar nights eventually connected me to one person who introduced me to her friends and within a few months I was a regular in the queer social community of this sleepy town. We even created a softball team, the Big Gay Team.

Found my BFF of 25+ years in Victoria’s small town gay scene

This pattern repeats itself. When I moved to Toronto at 25, even with existing queer friends to socialize with, the larger community is accessed via the nightlife. Find the queer bar, find the queers, build your home. That time it was in a major city (by Canadian standards) of nearly 5 million people and the ‘mainstream’ queers had a ton of options in the Church & Wellesley neighbourhood downtown while the artists & weirdos were creating exciting gallery and bar scenes in Queen West. Bars can feel & function like a home, a launching point, a networking space. Queers gathering to celebrate, dance, and show our love for each other will never stop.

Early days Vaseline crew @ The El Mocambo – the best queer night in Toronto in 2001 – Photo by John Caffery

My heart aches for those in Colorado who had to run, hide, scream and watch their community be shot up that night or who got shot themselves. I have to send two kids to schools every day, as someone who now lives in the U.S., and knowing that this type of violence could happen at their schools since those are frequent targets. In a few years our oldest kid might be out with friends in a queer bar somewhere in this country, adding another risk vector to the equation. Intersectionality in the U.S. is layering on risks of death from other people’s hate and the ease with which the haters can access guns meant for war on foreign soil.

I hate that the folks who wish us dead are more likely to have guns to follow through with and they seem willing to use them regardless of potential legal consequences.

This shooting will be added to the litany of violent acts that queer communities endured as they pressed on. Many thanks to Richard M. Fierro for using his army training and bravery to take down the shooter in this particular incident. Standing ovation for the trans woman (name currently not known) who punctuated the take down with her heels on that hater. May we continue to have the capability to minimize the damage and stand up to attackers until they someday stop trying.

First one kid, one dog, “solo” backpacking trip — Part 1: Planing and Preparing

It’s been 4 years since the last time I went backpacking and I’ve been itching to do it again ever since. Three summers ago I had a plan and a permit for a week-long trip to a different piece of the JMT but that year had seen a ton of rainfall and my intended route was still covered in snow late into July. Much as I love sticking with my plan, I recognize that I do not have the skills or experience to navigate without clearly marked trails. The following summer I was deep in the new-to-me experience of parenting a 3 year old and last summer that same small person was only 4 and we did other trips; to Maine for a week and we visited Canada a couple of times.

Now we’re (still! deeply!) buried in Covid, quarantining, and there’s been so much at-home time so going to the mountains with a now-5 year-old is actually one of the lower risk activities available to us. He’s ready for adventure, has strong legs, boundless energy, and has the ability to wear his own hydration pack so it’s on.

This post will outline the (current) plan and preparations for the trip. When we return I’ll share the actual experience as a comparison against what was planned for. I enjoyed thoroughly documenting my big solo trip back in 2016 and I’ll continue to do this for future trips since it might also be helpful to other newbie backpackers and/or parents trying to share the backpacking bug with their kids.


The goal is to have a trip that is a manageable distance for the 5 year old (and anything he can do, the dog can also do) that gets us into the mountains for a taste of what the solitude and beauty found up there can feel like. Bringing a dog already limits the locations and Desolation Wilderness is my go-to for dog friendly backpacking so I looked there to find a good route. When I returned from my bigger trip the Sequoia/Kings Canyon I immediately set out the following weekend to Desolation for a quick overnight as I was missing the mountains desperately. Unfortunately I didn’t plan that trip well and went up a jeep road which turned out to be very actively used by… JEEPS! Me and my low-riding dog ate dust for over 5 miles uphill while continuously crossing paths with the same Trump-loving (there were stickers, I’m not just making assumptions) ATV and 4w drive enthusiasts throughout the day. They’d get stuck, I’d walk past, they’d drive past and get stuck a little further up. The only good news was that once I reached the end of the Jeep trail there was a quick trail past the rambunctious camp to a quieter lake which could only be hiked in to. I got to rest peacefully and I booted it home the next morning bright and early to avoid crowds on the path. One of the many things I learned about on that trip was that Wrights Lake has a great campground that I’d love to return to just to car-camp, and there are better trails along Rockbound Pass that are hiking-only and end up at beautiful mountain lakes.

For this first kid’s trip I have waffled between doing a 1 night or a 2 night trip. If it wasn’t Labour Day weekend we could have done a night at Wrights Lake and a night out in the wilderness but the campground is completely packed so I’ve had to come up with a plan that gives us some flexibility. We’re going to hike from Wrights to Maud Lake on day 1 and, as long as things are going smoothly the next day, we’ll go in a little further to a second location for night 2. If for any reason there’s a need to bail after that first night, we’re less than 4 miles from the car. If things are going great, we do about 2 miles more and have maybe 6 miles max to come back out to the car on day 3. That will be a long walk but I feel confident that I am bringing enough gummy frogs and chocolate drops to encourage a steady pace as well as the promise of getting home to play some Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

map of desolation wilderness - section from wrights lake to maud lake
First day – less than 4 miles from car
hiking map of desolation wilderness from maud lake to lake lois
If all goes well, we can pop over to Lake Lois for a second night


First of all, I’m carrying EVERYTHING* for two people and one dog. My pack for what I thought was going to be a 10 day trip back in 2016 was 55lbs. This time I’m aiming for 40lbs which will get lighter as we eat our meals. I have to carry two sleeping bags and that takes up a lot more space than I imagined it would. The kid sleeping bag is not ultralight, it’s not even light! It’s a Kindercone and it weighs 3lbs. I have compressed the shit out of it in a compression stuff sack to make it smaller. For comparison, my sleeping bag for a full grown person is only 2.2lbs. If we do this often enough I guess I should just get him a grownup bag.

Weight: LighterPack is still around (yay!) so I made a duplicate of my previous trip list and am updating that to track my pack’s weight. I haven’t input all our food items yet but I get a sense of where I’m at and also it offers an excellent checklist for making sure I’ve packed everything. Tomorrow I’ll finalize the food, make sure it fits in the bear canister, and do a final weight tally.

Shelter: We did a practice run with all three of us lying in the 2 person tent – this was also an opportunity to test the air mattresses after not being used for 4 years – and it went well. The kid wants me to set up the tent every day now just to chill out in. Shortstack also seems to enjoy tent life.

The cone of shame will not join us on the actual trip

Food: I’m bringing my Jetboil Flash, dried food, and a bunch of snacks. While it can look like fun on other people’s blog posts to bring more ‘regular’ or even ‘fancy’ food on a trip, I need the lightness of dehydrated dinners and I’ll keep both of us full of calories with a combo of trail mix, bars, and cheese/meat. On trips like this I’m more interested in what’s around us than what’s going into us. Here’s what the menu looks like:

  • Breakfast (2)
    • Flax & chocolate chip muffins & berries
  • Lunches (3)
    • no real ‘meal’ but a mix of cheese/salami/crackers and then bars/trail mix and apples
  • Dinners (2)

I’ll also bring miso soup packets for me as a warm option, hot chocolate for the kid and then electrolyte tablets, assorted gummies, chocolate drops, and astronaut ice cream for dessert and just the delight of eating real ‘space food’. Finally I need to carry kibble for the dog – 3 days worth. Thank goodness he’s a small dog and we’re talking less than a pound!

Clothing: Not much to say here – we’re going to be wearing the same clothes each day with only an extra set of underwear for me and a few pairs for him in case he has an accident during the day (unlikely, but I’d regret not being prepared). Both of us have wool thermal underwear to sleep in as well as beanies and puffy jackets for warmth at night. We’ll each have a light pair of shoes to slip into at the end of the day and also hats for sun protection.

All the gear, half the total food

Gadgets: First, one big ticket item — I invested in my own Garmin inReach Mini for the safety of having satellite communication. Previously I had borrowed a similar but larger unit from a coworker, only had to pay for the activation fee and a month of service, then returned it. Now that I’m a parent and plan to do this more often over the years it makes sense to have one of my own as well as the peace of mind. It’s half the weight, at 3.5oz, and a solid investment. For pictures I’ll use my phone’s camera (airplane mode) and we have a little digital camera with a waterproof protective housing for the kid to capture his own experience. I also have downloaded tons of bedtime stories onto my phone thanks to the library and Hoopla. Because I don’t know the impact on my phone’s battery of reading stories I will carry a battery charging pack with me just to be safe.

Activities: Mostly walking, taking pictures, and enjoying our surroundings but this trip will also introduce the kid’s FIRST POCKETKNIFE. I got him an Opinel as I love mine to bits and the one for kids has a rounded end which reduces the risks of *stabs* and leaves only the risk of *cuts*. I’ll take that 50% reduction in risk and to try and further reduce we watched some kid knife safety videos today. Based on YouTube’s current offerings I plan to make a few videos with him on our trip to increase what’s available since there wasn’t anything with this Opinel knife or with kids his age. I’m torn about whether or not to bring this magnetic chess set I got for us. When I was ordering I didn’t notice how big it was – weight and space are at a premium and we just started playing a few weeks ago. Perhaps we’ll fashion our own pieces from sticks at camp instead. Stay tuned for the report when we return!

* The kid is carrying a hydration pack and his air mattress for a total weight of 5.6lbs

How Things Change – Part 3

This is the third and final installment detailing my Kings Canyon/Sequoia first-timer, solo backpacking trip – the original plan was here and here are the first and second posts about what actually happened.

Day 4

Remember what I said in the original planning post?  That part of my interest in doing this trip was that I had heard “once you hit day 4 or 5 your body acclimates to just hiking all day, every day”.  Well.  It’s true.  On Day 4 I was hiking the John Muir Trail, I was going to be climbing a “Golden Staircase” as well as a significant mountain pass, Mather Pass, and yet I was no longer worried about the physical aspects of taking on such tasks. I packed a few too many clothes for the temperature, I would not need the emergency cold hunting clothing I packed.

This is a day with some climbing, but only 3865' of elevation? Bring it.
This is a day with some climbing, but only 3865′ of elevation? Bring it.

There are many cute names for badass things on this trail (Devil’s Washbasin, for example) and the “Golden Staircase” is a 1200 vertical foot wall with some 90 switchbacks carved out of it.  It was a few miles into my morning walk, which started at 6:40am, and wasn’t that bad – you know why?  Because it wasn’t 5400′ of solid ascent!

This was followed by some relatively flat walking along next to the beautiful Palisade Lakes and then by the early afternoon it was time to climb Mather Pass.  Around 1pm I started up and boy was I pleased that there were clouds covering the sun during my ascent, as well as adorable marmots, but also the trek up to 12,047′ was no big deal – you know why?  Because it wasn’t 5400′ of elevation in hot sun.

This is more the kind of trail I imagined hiking on before getting here.
This is exactly the kind of trail I imagined hiking on before getting here.

Getting to the top of my first significant mountain was fascinating.  I really hadn’t thought until that moment that I was going over the TOP of mountains. The word “pass” had conjured in my mind the idea of a valley between mountains, but nope – I went to the tip-toppest rock on that trail and then peeked around to see…

Peeking around the pass to see what I need to walk towards - oh, a thunderstorm!
Peeking around the pass to see what I need to walk towards – oh, a thunderstorm!

More mountains!  And yes, that’s a thunder (and lightning) storm in the direction I’m supposed to head.  Thanks for coming up the cloudy side of the mountain, tiny human, now it’s time for a 2800′ descent completely in the open.  There’s really nothing else to do but start walking down, so I do.  As I maneuver down switchbacks and into the open valley, I end up putting on my pack cover for the first time and also my poncho as it is drizzling on me a bit.  Magically the thunderstorm keeps moving away from me as I walk toward it so the rain never got too bad.

The open valley below Mather Pass.
The open valley below Mather Pass.

That night I stopped to sleep for the night at 5:30pm, a full hour earlier than usual.  I set up my tent in the rain with ease, and had time to bathe in the river before enjoying lasagna out of a freezer bag.  It was a magical day, actually.  The first where I started to feel the fun of the adventure and confidence in my routines & gear getting me through it.  I slept well that night and stayed dry.

Day 5

Once again I was on the trail before 7am.  By this time I had become pretty skilled at breaking down my camp (even when wet), my skill with a folding shovel to make a rain trench has vastly improved, having my water treated and my breakfast eaten within an hour of waking so I could take advantage of  the early morning’s lower temperatures & less harsh sun.  Today there would be another mountain pass, Pinchot, later in the day and my goal was to get to the junction with Woods Creek so that I’d have two easier days of hiking left – maybe 7/8 mile days each – and Sunday I would sleep in before going back to the car.  7 days, 75 miles.   I was in the homestretch.

Day 5: Just a regular, over a mountain kind of day.
Day 5: Just a regular, over a mountain kind of day.

An hour or so into my hiking on Day 5 I started meeting people on the trail.  First, a young couple who were friendly and upbeat.  Then an older man solo hiker who within 5 minutes of chatting I decided to pair up with for the day’s walking.  His name was Dennis and he was doing the JMT – had originally had a partner who bailed out earlier in the month – and he had just turned 64 on the trail.  He was a few days out from summiting Mt Whitney and feared that if the weather delayed him, he’d have to pop out for supplies.  I told him how I’d shaved my 11 day trip down to 7 and that I had some extra food to spare.  It was a match made in heaven.  I was very glad to be useful to helping someone else’s journey with my excess.  Later in the day we ran into another hiking pair – a young woman and her dad.  The six of us ended up at the top of Pinchot at the same time, and got to know a bit about where everyone was from.  The young couple were both science teachers in a Sacramento middle school and were on their honeymoon, this was their first major hiking/backpacking experience, they were doing the JMT.  The young woman was from Oakland and worked at TJ’s in Berkeley, her dad was from Nevada and they had come in over Bishop’s pass a few days before.  She had experience with both JMT and some PCT, but this trip was going to be 7 days for them and they planned to head out at Kearsarge Pass.

A little bit of snow going to Pinchot Pass.
A little bit of snow going to Pinchot Pass.

This day was a fun change up compared to the previous 4 days of deep solitude.  Meeting people on the trail and having short & excited interchanges, having conversations all day made moving the miles towards the goal so much faster.  Not only that, we had amazing weather and while there was the hint of another thunderstorm building up in the distance – it never came close to us. We got to our Woods Creek junction camping – which involved going over a cool suspension bridge – at a still-sunny 4pm which was my earliest end time to date.  Not only did I get to bathe, I was able to dry my gear out in the sun before setting it up and for the first time I washed my base layer shirt which was very salt & dust impregnated by that stage.  Thank heavens for wool though, cause it didn’t really smell bad after 5 days of no washing and constant wear.

Unpaid ad for Icebreaker - 5 days in the same shirt and I didn't smell like a monster.
Unpaid ad for Icebreaker – 5 days in the same shirt and I didn’t smell like a monster.

That evening I ended up making a plan with Kristen (the young woman from Oakland) to do the next day’s miles all in one go so we could get back to Oakland on Saturday night instead of Sunday.  It would mean 15.5 miles in one day, but it would be almost entirely downhill and I sure got excited at the idea of a burger for dinner instead of the freezer bag meals.

Day 6

You know how my original plan involved about 8 days where I would do more than 15 miles?  Well today I learned what 15 miles feels like and I now know with certainty that I’m not going to be one of those backpackers.  12-14 miles is plenty and I had a couple of those days.  15.5 miles, even when almost entirely downhill, left me walking on STUMPS  by the end of the day.

It's all downhill, except for the times when it's not. Gotta keep the trail interesting for day trippers.
It’s all downhill, except for when it’s not. Gotta keep the trail interesting for day trippers.

I packed up and got on the trail at 7:30am and started booting it toward Road’s End, I was so excited it was my last day.  Kristen caught up with me midday and we hiked the rest together.  As we got closer to Mist Falls, we were both dying to get in the river for a cool-off.  It’s such a tease to hike next to a roaring river for 13.4 miles but not jump in.  Passing through upper, middle, and lower Paradise Valley gave glimpses of beautiful, natural swimming pools, but we held out to Mist Falls so we’d be closer to the end of it all.  At a certain point in the descent I started to feel like I was returning to being a mere mortal – no longer one up on the mountain tops – and there was some sadness.  I was reminded of how I used to come out of the woods in Michigan after a week of hard work in the festival bubble.  We’d roll up to do laundry on a Sunday all covered in dirt & bruises, feeling feral and invincible – unreachable by the norms of the regular world.  I found that feeling again in the mountains and I didn’t realize it until I started passing day trippers on the trail. People who smelled strongly of detergent. People who didn’t know what I had just seen & been through for the last 5 days. We’d see babies and small children, or people with nothing but a tiny water bottle in their hands and start laughing to ourselves “if they’re here, we must be close to the trailhead”.  We were a little bit delirious from sun & constant descent.

We spent some good time together, mountains. I'll be back.
We spent some good time together, mountains. I’ll be back.

Around 2pm we got to the promised bottom of the falls and rushed to the water, leaving our packs, tearing off clothes and then sitting in the rushing river, in the sun, cooling off and refreshing our feet. Eventually it was time to get back on the trail – maybe 30 minutes later.  Those last 4 miles from the falls to the parking lot were the hardest.  At 2 miles to go, we were on a wide, flat, gravel trail to Road’s End that was completely sun-soaked.  The two of us were zombies by then and our river time felt like a totally different day.  Funny enough, I ran into the same ranger I had picked up my permit from a week before (Ranger Sailor!) and had a short chat with him about how I had changed my route.  When I said my original plan was overly ambitious for a first time solo trip he expressed that he’d thought so too (even without knowing it was my first time) and it makes me wonder to what degree rangers will interfere with people’s plans…like, how intensive would it have to be for someone with experience to interrupt and say “No, you actually can’t do that”.  Doesn’t matter in my case because I found my own way to create a transformative instead of destructive itinerary, but I’m just curious. I took an 11 day, 156 mile plan and reshaped it into a 6 day, 75 mile experience and I learned a ton figuring that out on my own.

We got to the car around 4:30pm and hit the road to Fresno.  In n Out burgers were had and Kristen ended up deciding to go to her parent’s place in Nevada so I dropped her at the Greyhound station and then did the 2.5 hour drive back to Oakland alone, with music and a call to my moms.

I think I’ll make a separate post at some point about how I’d adjust my food planning for future trips.  I have leftover food and it beckons to be taken out. I’m wondering how late in the season one can still do short trips because maybe in October I can go visit those mountains again…there’s a ‘popular’ loop around Rae Lakes that’s only 42 miles…

Only 42 miles?  Count me in.
Only 42 miles? Count me in.