For Nelson poet Jane Byers, coming out as a lesbian was one thing. Coming out as a vegetarian was something else entirely.
“I used to work for the City of Toronto as an ergonomist, and I worked with the Toronto fire department doing their safety stuff. I did an overnight shift with them to see the physical demands of their job. I ate more meat than I’ve ever eaten in my life,” she said.
“They just have such a strong sense of social conformity. To tell them I was a vegetarian at that point would’ve been crazy, let alone coming out as a lesbian,” she said.
Byers turned the experience into a poem called Coming Out, which has been selected to be included in Vancouver’s Poetry in Transit series.
She will be one of six poets introduced by Vancouver writer Evelyn Lau at the Word Vancouver festival in September.
“As a former commuter in downtown Toronto, I spent a lot of time on transit and I loved being able to read poems that I wouldn’t have otherwise known or had exposure to. The daily grind of the commute was always made a little easier.”
She said she was thrilled the jury chose her work.
“You toil away for a lot of years and you never know how you’re going to be received. It feels great that I’m getting out there and it makes me excited, motivated to keep writing,” she said.
Byers released her first book, Steeling Effects, with Caitlin Press this year. She’s already halfway through completing another manuscript, this one exploring lesbian and gay history.
“I’m looking at seminal moments in North American post-World War II history, some of that is explored through my own experience.”
The theme of coming out will be explored, she said.
“When you think you’ve come out and you’ve done it, you think it’s sort of like you’ve gone to university and now you’re done. But it becomes a thing you have to do over and over again,” she said.
Byers, who has lived in Nelson for eight years with her partner Amy Bohigian, has two children.
“It was a whole other level of coming out when my partner and I had kids. We were this family. We couldn’t pretend we were two friends when we’re walking through the airport and they’re calling us Mom and Mama.”
She said many people don’t understand what coming out actually entails.
“It’s probably something a lot of people have never given thought to. They’ve certainly heard the term but they haven’t considered what it means,” she said.
“I want to give them something to think about other than getting off their ten-hour shift.”
For more information on Jane Byers’ work, visit janebyerspoetry.com
By Jane Byers
They made me fire hall pasta with ground beef
and spicy sausages,
more meat per square inch
than a slaughterhouse.
Four am stomach revolt
the meat, or adrenalin coursing at the chirpy alarms,
burning holes in my sleep,
as I studied their job demands on the nightshift.
The firemen are polite, as if
cadet training includes how to treat the ladies.
When “woman in the hall” is blared over the PA,
they’re all chivalry and smiles,
business as usual—
donning their bunker suits for an incident.
As I cut jicama and tempeh
into matchsticks for a salad,
I wonder what the boys at the hall would think.
I have to hope that some of them would like it.
On shift, I never came out as a vegetarian.