January 4, 1996

Rick Bébout

Danny Cockerline, 1960-1995

I don't much like Christmas, all that bustle and froth, obligatory sentiment spread too thin. I try to treat December 25 like any other day, looking for gifts not bought and wrapped but simply found by chance - alive, engaging, delicious.

I spent this past December 25 with Danny Cockerline. I know: He died December 11, a suicide. But I have a tape, made in August when I asked him to talk and let me save it, talk about our time together at The Body Politic and times since. So I lolled in bed and listened to Danny. I was hoping he'd tell me what to say about him now. Now that I have to: Yet another obit - and Gerald Hannon in Now has already said the best things. But Danny didn't tell me. It hadn't been planned as an exit interview, after all, just a yak in that sunny and self-described "femmy, nasal voice."

He came to The Body Politic (Xtra's parent publication) at 21, out of North Bay via the gay group at Ryerson to "hang around like a little puppy dog," learning. I taught him to do layout; Chris Bearchell taught him to write news - and do politics. He was already too queer for the conventional gay-male world (then late-clone: "Everybody looked right off the rack," he said; only after AIDS made facial hair an unfashionable mark of Seventies sleaze did Danny, in solidarity, grow a moustache). When cops busted a 1984 TBP party as a booze can, Danny mouthed off enough to get arrested, dragged out into the cold in nothing but a little blue dress. He did look great in it. He looked great, period: We put him on three covers.

The news Danny wrote he eventually lived. After a big January 1984 piece on prostitution he started turning tricks - "to be more authentic. It's important to talk about what you know." The activist-turned-prostitute became a well-known prostitute activist - if most pressing and persistent with other whores, doing street outreach as a safe sex slut. The work outgrew him (too many "fuckhead social workers," he said) but at his memorial Councillor Jack Layton said it would be remembered, Danny's life honoured by a resolution in Metro Council.

The suburban politicians, of course, won't know what they're talking about. Danny's life will be truly honoured on streets they don't often walk. It was honoured at the funeral chapel (Pet Shop Boys on tape, not warbling organs) by his lover David Pistilli and by more hookers and hustlers than, I'm sure, have ever gathered under that fake-church roof. One of them, young, tattooed, wearing a "Safe Sex Professionals" T-shirt Danny had given him off his own back, said in tears: Without him, I wouldn't have survived.

Now we are all without him. I can understand why he decided to go, still strong and beautiful, with AIDS and Mike Harris - both mentioned in his final note - no great future. Not for any of us. But we will survive if, without Danny, on streets now much more mean.

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Created: May 31, 1996
Last modified: April 4, 1998

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