A Celebrity Interview by V.N. Winnick (From GayCalgary® Magazine, September 2016, page 14)
GayCalgary: For artists of about our age, it can be really tough to balance a creative passion, and more mundane things like eating and having a place to live. How did you walk that line, and what made you jump to full-time musicianship?
Jeffery Straker: My job-job... I had an office job in Toronto and I worked in marketing for a big company, and in all honesty, it was a pretty good job... I probably could have done it for a very long time, but I guess I became really self-aware, and I was doing some deep diving of myself, and I was like, ‘I think there’s something else I could be doing that would make me even happier’, and that would be trying to do music full time. I started to see that the more I did it, the more ears were perking up, and I thought, ‘Oh, there is something here’, but the million dollar question is, how do you make that leap? What’s going to make you make that leap from the paycheque and the dental benefits to nothing? There’s no security on the other side!... So something has to be a catalyst to make that happen, and I had a really specific thing – long story short – I visited a great aunt in an old folks’ home... and she had Alzheimer’s, and that was my moment. I was like, ‘Aw, man; that might be me’. And it very well might be, and I just want to enjoy the road to wherever it is I’m heading, and I quit my job.
GC: As someone who is unapologetically out, did you ever have anyone telling you, early in your career, ‘write songs this way’, or ‘don’t sing about this or that’?
JS: One person did pull me aside, early on in the curve, and their advice was, ‘don’t be too gay; that’ll ruin your career’. I was kind of like, that seems a little lacking in integrity: to go up on a stage, or write a song, and hide who you are. Like, the whole thing seemed kind of ridiculous, and I kind of surveyed the crowd of other peer musicians, and most other people were like, ‘are you kidding? That seems like stupid advice’. In truth, one thing I have noticed, is that if I’m doing a show in, say, some arts council tour through rural prairie provinces, that are stereotypically less quote-unquote accepting, what I have found is that, A, that’s not true, and B, what people tend to gravitate to is honesty. The second I step on stage people can tell that I’m gay. Everything just connects a lot better when people feel like they know the [artist]. And it’s a weird thing out there in the air, but if you’re hiding something, even if people don’t know what it is, they can sense that you’re hiding something, and I think it’s absolutely pointless.
JS: OH, it drives me insane! And there [are] a few out there who are doing it... One thing I find kind of crazy, too, is that there are some fairly well-known, major-label Canadian artists who are clearly gay or lesbian, who have never officially come out, and that also drives me crazy, because I think it just does a huge disservice to anyone in the LGBTQ spectrum – it sends this big signal that ‘it’s not okay’, you know what I mean? Not saying it isn’t, but by not coming out, by not being forthcoming, it sends a weird signal. Obviously commerce plays into it, and people’s bank accounts play into it, but the whole thing seems weird. I don’t have an answer.
GC: When it comes to dating, it’s kind of expected that gay men will put themselves out there, whether on Grindr or in another way – do you find that tough to manage when you have, for lack of a better term, a ‘brand’?
JS: I do have a profile on Grindr; I’m a pretty garden-variety gay in that regard. That’s where the dating’s at – and I’m single – so I am looking to date. I have been sort of striking up chats here and there as I tour, but it is funny... often like three questions in, it’s like, ‘Oh, I know who you are’. I was on a date on Sunday, and we had a chat about this – he said that he thought it was odd that I had a profile but, thinking about it, figured well, of course – this is how people date. [But] I have noticed over the last, say, five or six years, the more you become known, let’s say, I think people become less and less forgiving. I have run into a couple instances on Facebook, where people have seen my Grindr profile, and have commented on Facebook with weird remarks. And if I wasn’t doing music, this would be a complete non-issue; no one would care. But because there’s this tiny ounce of people knowing me, it becomes a thing.
GC: It seems like, whether we want it or not, the world has put the onus on us – as queer people – to stake out our right to be who we are. Do you feel that more strongly as someone with this sort of platform?
JS: I’ll go to places in Canada – I have played small towns and big cities – and sometimes I’m the first gay or out gay performer that some of these people have seen... I do find that those small gestures are doing something. If they’re opening a few eyes, a little bit, I think that helps. All that inching everything forward in tiny steps, all those tiny steps added up, make a leap. I think everyone has a job to make a tiny step. Yeah, I have a bit of a platform, and I do what I can do with it, but I also think everyone on our side has a bit of a job... I hear things like, oh, ‘walking down the street I feel nervous to be holding my partner’s hand’, or leaning into the kiss and, the truth is, if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be an issue... I know it’s hard, but it also wasn’t easy for the people in the Stonewall riots to do what they did. And of course, on the other side of the equation, of course straight people have a duty to be more open, but I kinda think the ones who are open to that sentiment are open already. There’s certain people that – no matter if you hit them with a rainbow-coloured baseball bat – they still wouldn’t get it.
GC: But as you were saying, there are those people for whom you are their first exposure to a real live gay person. Don’t you think that there’s a group in the middle, for whom it’s just not on their radar?
JS: It’s a survey of one, but every now and then, I get an email from such a person... Usually the way it’s worded is ‘thank you for being you, in the concert I just saw’. There are those people who are ignorant – not in any bad way of the word – but literally ignorant from lack of experience. So I have the opportunity; but I think many people have the opportunity to be a first positive experience, for them to see, ‘Oh, actually these people aren’t monsters’.
Read more on Jeff and other LGBT news and entertainment at GayCalgary.com