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Marc Lalonde was the perfect fit for this series. That’s what the editor said. “Girls will want to talk to you because you’re gay. It’ll be easy for them.”

Not exactly subtle. But then, what else could you expect. The editor was the perfect embodiment of what, by the end of the 2000s, we’d call white heteronormativity. He didn’t even realize he was speaking from a position of privilege. That’s how fortunate he was.

He went by the name of Victor Henderson. It didn’t fit him at all. Victor is a sexy name. Close your eyes and imagine Victor, in his dark navy suit, his monogrammed Harry Rosen shirt over his sculpted pectorals, a new silk tie over his flat tummy. His shoes are shiny, but not too much. Just like his briefcase. They both have the exquisite patina that makes expensive leather glow. He has a car and driver. He’s senior vice-president of a Fortune 500 company. He commands, and we obey. Sometimes we even obey before he commands.

Now open your eyes and behold newspaper guy Victor in all his lack of splendour. Sure, he’s a mid-level editor at a big-city newspaper and people have to do what he says. But only reluctantly. He has very little power, because he strains so hard to exert influence he thinks he should have. The difference between his imagined ego and his real-world self makes the veins on his temples pop, and raises everybody else’s shackles. Not a happy combo. People can sense when you try too hard, and they resist. Real leadership doesn’t need strong words or barked commands. It makes others want to please. It’s natural and easy, like a pretty little girl in a field of flowers.

Victor Henderson was neither easy nor pretty though in his own way he was quite natural. For one thing, he refused to use soap or deodorant, preferring to let his mildly rotund body to cleanse itself the old-fashioned way, and he had the shirt collars to prove it. His hair was parted neatly down the middle, but it was a bit too long for the style he was aiming for. The result was not entirely as flattering as he imagined. Sort of like his personality. His glasses were never free of smudges, his pudgy fingers were constantly manipulating some object or other. He cut a distinctly WASPian figure. He was old-fashioned personified.

“You know it doesn’t say ‘gay’ on my forehead, right?” It was all Marc could do to remain polite. “I’m not that obvious. Why not send a woman?”

“Because I don’t have any that are good enough writers for this job. All the women are interested in,” Victor said, “are the home pages, horoscopes and crosswords.”

“But,” Marc fumbled to get the right words out without getting himself in trouble for suggesting his boss was unduly sexist, “what about Mary, or Lesley? They’re great writers, and wouldn’t women prefer to talk sex with other women?”

“Mary’s going on leave next month to look after her sick mother, and Lesley says she’s too busy to take on a new assignment. She’s also much too uptight. She’d get nobody to talk to.”

“Hmpf. But just so you know, I like crosswords. It’s in my nature. I’m Aries…”

“Get out of here!”

Marc had to agree his editor had a point. Lesley Chapman was an excellent writer, but her politics were too socially conservative for this assigment. She was so strict she made Billy Graham look depraved. “For all I know, maybe he was depraved,” Marc thought. It wasn’t uncommon for prominent conservative church leaders to exercise a little droit de seigneur here and there. He’d seen that before, and not just from his priest uncle he’d caught fondling a classmate back in 1974. The incident that earned him the strap when he mentioned it to his parents.

Marc left the cluttered corner space his editor called an office feeling like someone had dropped a partition wall on his back. Interviewing prostitutes for a series of columns — what could he possibly find to talk about that would justify killing so many trees? Assuming he could find anyone, that is. Montreal was a pretty loose city, when it came to sex. But that didn’t mean escorts would be lining up to talk publicly about their illegal work…

Marc thought the idea was stupid. But he was unaccountably drawn to it. He liked uncommon characters and had a sweet spot for the sexually deviant. Not because he was gay; as these things went he was pretty straight — if you get my drift. He was a very quiet man who felt zero sexual attraction to women, that was all. But where he grew up, in the suburbs of Quebec City, he was considered a freak by the other boys, who beat him up any chance they got.

Sissy, they called him. Barbie boy. Cry-baby.

Marc had always been a reserved child. Sensitive, too. He had flowing blond hair and blue eyes, and always spoke softly. The incessant taunting he suffered hurt his feelings much more than he wanted to admit. It wasn’t the kicks and punches that left scars — as some did. What pained him the most was that he couldn’t understand why the others wouldn’t just leave him alone. So he didn’t fit in with the other guys. Couldn’t they just ignore him?

“You have to fight back, what’s wrong with you, don’t you have fists?” his dad, a man who’d worked construction jobs all his life and had hands the size of Marc’s head, would ask every time his son showed up with a bruise. “Do you need me to show you how a man fights?”

As you can imagine, this wasn’t the most helpful response Marc could have hoped for.

“Charles,” his mother would feebly interject. “Let him figure it out on his own, OK?” Lucille Lalonde wasn’t much of a mother, but Marc always suspected her of knowing he was gay, and wasn’t particularly sympathetic. Certainly not enough to object when her husband threw their only son out of the house. It’s just that she never thought fighting was something Marc would ever be good at.