Will Munro is so over the rain bow. Sitting across from me in his art-crammed studio, monochromatic in his black DIY Drop Dead Gorgeous shirt with a macabre skull grinning from the front, the local art-rock-action provocateur is explaining why he's proud to be queer. Not gay, mind you, but queer. In a pink triangle way.
"Rainbow-fication is a pretty picture: 'All the colours of the rainbow! We all fit in!'
"The pink triangle is something people had to wear. It's a historical symbol of the most devastating thing that could ever happen to a culture. It's innately radical and political to be proud and own that, to say, 'We'll never let this shit happen again.'
"That history speaks louder than a rainbow flag ever could, and it's a reference we've lost within mainstream and pop culture.
"The connections between young and old people in terms of talking to each other and sharing knowledge, they're eroding. Instead, it's all about fucking. That's great. That's fine. But if you don't have anything else, then what's gonna happen to our culture? Is our culture gonna become Queer As Folk? How can you look to the future if you don't know the past?"
All that may stun those who only know Munro as the force behind ridiculously popular party nights like Vazaleen and Peroxide (see sidebar, this page) or the dude who did for tighty whities what Dada daddy Marcel Duchamp did for urinals (see sidebar, this page).
But scratch the glossy surface of his camp-inflected art or those raunchy rock fests and you'll realize Munro's pushing a political agenda.
He's far more than a pretty-faced scenester. Few are aware of how much he's done as a grassroots community activist. After escaping the oppressive suburbs, Munro began volunteering for the Lesbian/Gay/Bi Youthline in his first year at OCAD; he still puts in hours there every week.
"I had to do it for my own peace of mind and for the teenage years I didn't get," he confesses.
"When I started making art, I was a very suburban person. I very much needed to meet other queer people, I needed to have a sex life. Being a suburban queer kid, as anyone who's grown up in that environment would understand, it's one of the most isolating things you could go through. An organization like the Youthline was a way I could reach out and network with other people."
Soon after hooking up with the Youthline, Munro started working with TEACH (Teens Educating Against and Confronting Homophobia), an organization that facilitates anti-oppression workshops in high schools. He co-authored a pamphlet guide for the group and was won over by their in-your-face contact approach.
"It's something I never did in high school. I didn't get up on a platform and shout, 'I'm fucking gay!' I love challenging people's assumptions. When I was growing up, people thought I couldn't be gay because I was a skateboarder or a punk kid.
"I love that TEACH puts stuff out there in a way that you can make the connections to exactly how people are discriminating against."
Munro credits his older brother's punk rock library with introducing him to critical thinking. Punk's zines and DIY aesthetic, its manifesto of networking and creating communities on a large scale and its emphasis on self-sufficiency are all crucial components of his current philosophy.
And that outsider perspective still defines Munro, who shuns mainstream Pride festivities and the pet causes of gay culture trumpeted by the mass media.
"To me, marriage as an institution isn't a cool thing in the first place. Sure, there's something wrong with systemic forms of oppression, but I feel like mainstream activist intentions these days are geared toward a more well-off portion of our community.
"There are things that are more important to people out there, like having a fuckin' place to live. Like being able to get some kind of work.
"There are people in our community who are so heavily discriminated against that it's just a basic issue to get a job. Like health care. Like basic needs. I don't see how these things can be overlooked."
For example, he says, look at how the straight press dealt with the issue of street kids hanging out on the steps of the Second Cup at Yonge and Wellesley - as if the merchants were being victimized.
"How apathetic do people have to be not to understand why those street youth are there? There are a lot of queer youth on the streets. There are a lot of people whose gender doesn't allow them to fit into society so neatly."
The party animal
Vazaleen, Will Munro's brain-child of a party idea, is one of a kind. It's the only place you'll see dykes and fags and cool straight people dancing together to Joan Jett while vintage gay porn is projected overhead and unconventional go-go dancers wiggle onstage.
It all started back when Toronto's scenesters were content to sit in the corner and complain about the state of the city's nightlife. Munro decided to do something about it.
Drawing from his past as a hardcore kid, he brought together his appreciation for punk with his admiration for the underground house scene and the creativity of art parties to create something completely different. Monthly queer rock party Vazaleen has become an unexpected success, shaking up local nightlife and becoming known around the world.
"Being a music kid and being involved in a lot of music scenes, I found it was a very one-way street: the band plays for you, and you stand and absorb it as opposed to being part of the show.
"At Vazaleen you're going to dance and you're going to take off your clothes and you're going to have fun and do interesting things. Maybe you'll participate in a photo shoot and then be projected on the screen at the next event. This is an event, not a show."
More recently, Munro has taken his love of new wave and started Peroxide, possibly the sweatiest, sexiest electro and new wave night in town. Like Vazaleen, it's also a queercentric mixed night outside of the ghetto, a choice that's very deliberate.
"Everything I do in nightlife is a critique of mainstream gay nightlife. We need a space that's not exclusively gay white men. We need a space where our straight friends can hang out. We need a space where cool, interesting people can mingle, get down, network, have sex, get dressed up.
"I gave it a good chance, but neither gay nor straight nightlife culture gave that to me."
The art fag
It's hard to disagree with will Munro when he refers to his art work as "fully loaded."
He's constructed a sparkling career for himself out of men's y-front briefs.
Fresh out of the Ontario College of Art and Design (he's unsure about whether or not he officially graduated), he picked the sensible undergarment as his primary medium.
"I first became interested in underwear when I was young. I realized I was interested in boys in underwear," he says. "I was coming out."
Munro began to gather second-hand briefs from friends, stores and lovers.
"When I first started, it was hard to find that perfectly clean pair," he says. "I didn't use shit-stained underwear, because I didn't want to be viewed as a scat artist, but if it had a pee stain I'd put it in the show. That was relevant. Our bodies have fluids, and that's OK. But some people didn't want to go near the work because of that."
He began stripping the elastic from the briefs and rebuilding them using other found objects from the thrift-store archives - Superman bedspreads, tacky afghans, rock concert or Hooters T-shirts and so forth - to make his wry briefs. Whether they're stained, butch, fey or childish, Munro's underwear challenges ideas of gender, sexuality and intimacy. He says it's about exposing private things in public places.
And the work is getting exposure in public places. Last year he orchestrated a legendary runway performance at queer strip club Remington's and followed that up with two excellent gallery shows at Zsa Zsa and S.P.I.N.
Back at his studio, Munro hovers over a table covered with material. Beside the table sits an old Singer sewing machine - his mother's - outfitted with a spool of hot-pink thread.
"I'm into making stuff that's more performance-oriented now," he says, picking up a white bundle from the multi-coloured piles and unfolding it into two pairs of briefs joined at the crotch by a shared, stuffed sock-like cock. "Like y-fronts with penises that are Siamese."
See Will Munro's underwear and photographs at www.willmunro.com.