Miss Chief’s memoirs, ‘Next Goal Wins,’ drag kings, gay bar history and more

Looking for a happy cry? S. Bear Bergman has you covered

Greetings, my lovelies, from under my parka, decorated with a beaded Progress Pride flag pin from queer non-binary Michif artist Dani LaValley at Deadly Beads because looking as queer as possible in all weather is even more critical in Saskatchewan. Welcome to another edition of Queer Culture Catch-Up, where the delights just keep on delighting, and the haters don’t matter. Sometimes this column is a collection of whatever I get excited about and sometimes, without planning, a theme emerges—as it has this time. Our theme today is “Unexpectedly Made Me Happy-Cry,” so grab a handkerchief and let’s go!

Next Goal Wins, featuring fa’afafine actor Kaimana playing Jaiyah Saelua

Soccer player Jaiyah Saelua.

I’ve noticed for a long time that, sometimes, when a certain kind of straight cis person who can therefore feel zero concern about anyone ever suggesting that they’re “too niche” just goes ahead and makes truly celebratory queer work, it’s magic. Taika Waititi is a sterling example of this phenomenon. His new movie, Next Goal Wins, in addition to being a classic misfit/underdog sports story (somewhere between Mighty Ducks and The Replacements), features the heroic arc of an out, powerful, talented fa’afafine soccer player, the real-life Jaiyah Saelua, portrayed in the film by Kaimana. (Fa’afafine is a genderqueer identity unique to Samoa.) Next Goal Wins has released a short film, Fa’a Samoa, featuring Saelua, and I have to tell you that in this moment of utter bullshit regarding trans people in sport, even just the short made me cry—not just because Saelua is talented and adorable, but because the short situates fa’afafine in a place of obvious respect and cultural standing, giving lie (still, again, endlessly) to the notion that trans and non-binary people are somehow a new fad. The feature as a whole is very pleasing, to be sure, but the short gave me the happy shivers.

The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Vols. I and II, Kent Monkman and Gisèle Gordon

Miss Chief, aka artist Kent Monkman.

If we’re being honest, friends, I knew this was going to make me cry. I had a few early glimpses of The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Vols. I and II, and I had the privilege of watching an inside-baseball view of how thoughtfully and tenderly Monkman and Gordon, along with their friend and Cree language collaborator Gail Maurice, navigated the language questions around how Miss Chief would refer to people whom today we might call Two-Spirit in English. When I saw the phrase “niwīcewākanak pikwisi ka esi wīkicik” (My friends who live however they want to live) on the page in Vol. 1, followed on the next page by Monkman’s joyful, complex and sexy painting “Wedding at Sodom,” I instantly flashed to the horrific Theodor de Bry engraving of the colonizer Balboa, in Panama, murdering several dozen men he described as “young men in women’s apparel, smooth and effeminately decked” in the name of his G*d and, oh hello to the tears again—not just for the murdered, but also to be in this story with Monkman and Gordon and therefore to feel held safe as a queer and trans person. The books, taken together, are the kind of tale that has cracked open the facts to reveal the truth, and Monkman’s Miss Chief stands in the middle of it, welcoming readers on the journey. To be sure there are parts of both volumes (which are, as physical books, absolutely gorgeous) that made me cry in other ways, but the overall sense of story, of joy, of the frank alchemy of turning feelings into words that turn back into feelings when someone else reads them make these works a triumph. A triumph, I tell you.

The Bars Are Ours, Lucas Hilderbrand

I am old now, and I came out young for the time (now we are positively awash in out queer teens, bless each and every one of their particoloured heads, but in 1990 that was … not the case), which means I have been going to gay bars for more than 30 years and have worked in a few, besides. I have deep memories of the days before apps, just as the World Wide Web was getting up on shaky legs, when meeting fellow queer people pretty much required going out and talking to people in person (someone fetch me my Geritol and some prune juice, please). I have a soft spot for gay bars, which are dwindling fast for some good reasons and also for some difficult ones, and Lucas Hilderbrand’s book The Bars Are Ours tickled the sweet spot in my nostalgia, while also being pretty clear about the ways that gay bars have historically been complicated—racist, gender-policing and often unwelcoming to people who are considered too old, insufficiently fancy or not commercially attractive. Hilderbrand, a professor of media studies, is my favourite kind of smartypants—he knows an absolute ton and still manages to write interesting, vibrant prose with some of the sparkle still on it, not weighted down with jargon and internal politicking of the discipline (Marlon Bailey’s absolutely stunning Butch Queens Up in Pumps is another great example of this). 

Queers in STEM

It is evidently LGBTQ2S+ People in STEM+ Day on Nov. 18 according to my inbox and confirmed by consultation with some of my friends in the Worldwide Trans Girl Tech Elite, with assorted observances taking place both in person and online across North America. If you’re a queer or trans STEM nerd near a university, there may be discussions, lectures or snacks for you to enjoy in person (I am advised that other flavours of nerds are also more than welcome to go and admire the science and math nerds, should they feel so inclined). Online, the University of Regina is hosting marine scientist and climate activist Mckenzie Margarethe to give a lecture called The Gayest Place on Earth—And Why We Need to Protect It!, which you can either attend in person or watch online on Nov. 17 at 2:30 CST, using this handy link. Pair it with a couple of these interviews at LGBTQ+ STEM for some pretty great reflections from a wide variety of locations and disciplines about queer and trans people working out and proud in STEM.

Venus Boyz, by Gabriel Baur

This isn’t remotely a fresh or new film; it premiered in 2002, but all this talk about drag and bars and alternative histories, about striving and succeeding in the company of your fellows, about the facts and the truth and the ways we tell those stories made me remember that this beautiful little documentary exists and is available to stream for free in the Kanopy app with your library card (you have a library card, right? If not, sign up for one—even if you don’t really use the library very often. More users means more library funding and I think we can all agree that’s a good thing). We’ve had 15 seasons of Drag Race, plus the spinoffs and the special series, but drag kings—just as hot, just as talented— don’t really grab the limelight very often. This 2002 doc features some spectacular kings from what I think of as the great golden age of drag king-ing, including Dred, Mo B. Dick, trans and transformative queer photographer and performer Del LaGrace Volcano and more, and the sweet familiarity of the film still gives me all the feelings. Directed by Swiss auteur Gabriel Baur, it was the first movie to feature kings and it leaves absolutely everything on the floor.

And there you have it, my regents and monarchs, my jesters and fools, a collection of things to please your eyes and ears, and hearts and minds and souls, here in the waning days of the light. Tuck in, cozy up, find a cuddle buddy or a cup of tea, or both, and bask in the beauty of our history, along with the promise of the future it informs. In the meantime, if you’re making something new and queer, drop me an email or send a DM? I’d love to hear your news.

Correction: November 20, 2023 10:29 amIn an earlier version of this story, soccer player Jaiyah Saelua was misidentified in the caption.

S Bear Bergman

S. Bear Bergman is a writer, educator and advice columnist. His ninth book, Special Topics In Being A Human, was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall of 2021.

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