How the Murder of a 12-Year Old Boy Shaped My Queerness
On this day 43 years ago, on August 1, 1977, I was 11-years old. It is a significant moment in Toronto queer history and it was most certainly formative of early queer identity, albeit not in a positive way at the time. Looking back, this incident may have been the root cause of what made me intent on making a difference in the world, especially for other queer people.
“The body of 12-year-old Emanuel Jaques was found wrapped in a green garbage bag on the roof behind a Yonge Street body-rub parlour on August 1, 1977.
The young boy worked shining shoes at Yonge-Dundas Square to make extra money for his family, Portuguese immigrants who had arrived in Canada three years earlier.
Jaques had been missing for four days, when, after an excruciating long weekend of frantic searching, police detectives found his lifeless body above the ramshackle three-storey building.
He had been lured inside, injected with needles, sexually assaulted, and drowned in a sink.” — Torontoist
I was afraid.
I read the headlines and the news, “Homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit.”
I saw the news in black and white about Anita Bryant and her “Save Our Children” campaign in Dade, Florida.
Do homosexuals like little boys?
I was 11-years old when Emanuel Jaques was murdered. I was just a little boy.
The news described the places on Yonge Street, the seedy heart of downtown Toronto, where men could go to be naked.
Could they be naked with other men? Are the addresses listed?
My dad and I were walking along Bloor Street near University Avenue. We were passing time until going to the McLaughlin Planetarium. He’d sit with me as I listened to science lectures about the stars. I had no clue what they were saying, and neither did he, but I felt safe in the Planetarium with the stars projected on the underside of the dome.
Two or three men were walking towards us dressed in leather chaps, jeans, and leather caps. Dark, heavy moustaches and hairy faces. The men were clearly gay.
Were they like those killers? Where are they going? Do they like boys?
I turned around to look; curious, afraid, self-conscious. My dad made a comment. What did he say? Something that acknowledged that the men were gay. Was it hurtful? I didn’t feel hurt. Did he wonder back then? About me?
I never wanted a daddy.
I wanted to be with other men.
But not men loving boys loving men.
Years later I met Gerald Hannon, Pink Triangle Press board member, regular contributor, and founding member of The Body Politic. He was also the infamous author of, “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” published later that same year as the murder of Jacques and the cause of a lot of controversy.
It was easy to grow up hating myself and afraid. Afraid I would turn out like Emanuel or like one of his murders. Unfounded fears developed in an 11-year-old’s mind. A closet of shame and silence.
“The love that dare not speak its name.”
In 1977, I was 11-years old. It’s been about 43 years of having to consciously justify that it’s right, being who I am. All those years of having to swallow hate, slurs, and outright homophobia exacerbated by the media and people like Bryant.
Better of dead
AIDS is god’s cure
We don’t bake cakes for gays
“Silence equals death.”
I gravitated to speaking out, loudly, helping launch the Ottawa chapter of Queer Nation to confront homophobia. But shouting wasn’t the answer. Shifting gears I began work on my Master’s thesis to investigate the possibility of a queer syntax in the language of select German authors, who were out or suspected of being gay. Unable to prove my thesis I withdrew from the Master’s program.
“Gay and lesbian people daring together to set love free.”
I started working at Pink Triangle Press in 1993, ecstatic to be part of a larger mission to fearlessly create a dialogue which celebrated being gay. Setting love free needed money. I moved into the management of 966-ORAL (aka Cruiseline), the all-male adult personals and chatline system I managed at PTP for close to 10 years.
In 2004 I left PTP. I took out my earrings — the medium-sized silver hoops in each ear — in 2007 when I started working at a fitness club with a dress code. I gave up a part of my identity by taking out those hoops.
Even though I came out of the closet, step-by-step at 18, I still keep parts of me hidden — selective about when to close the door, when to leave it ajar, or wide open. The closet still exists because there are forces (people) who won’t let us blast the door off its fucking hinges. And then there is gay shame.
There are countries that threaten free speech demanding they see your phone and Facebook posts to enter their county. Faggot on Grindr? Left-leaning? Openly speak your mind? Not a chance of crossing this border! It’s one of the reasons I’m choosing not to enter the United States.
“First, I was afraid. I was petrified.”
When I read the headlines and the news, I realize that fear solves nothing. Neither does shouting. Discussion is a good start. Debate is how we grow and evolve with foreign ideas and concepts. Actions sometimes do speak louder than words. And silence — when you keep silent against prejudice of any kind and crimes against humanity — that is when silence equals death.
It’s easy to feel hopeless when you’re 11-years old. But I’ve witnessed the progress, the rights and freedoms won over the years. This is the result of never losing hope, taking continuous and conscious action, and never giving up.
Never again should an 11-year old human being have to read or watch the news and have a similar experience to what I did.
Originally published at https://darrenstehle.com on August 1, 2020.