The outside walls of the circus tent are painted with many images and words, none more appropriate to describe this man as “The Amazing Spencer J. Harrison in his titillating incomparable achievement.”
His achievements are numerable. He has been an anti-homophobia activist for the past 16 years, speaking at schools, churches, police stations and hospitals, but this past year he has taken on a unique mission: he is Canada’s first-ever academic to paint a PhD dissertation — and he’s doing it on a 19-foot wide, 15-foot high circus tent, which he titled Freak Show, a metaphor for his life growing up a gay youth.
“That was my nickname in high school,” says Harrison, now 48, speaking to Samaritanmag at a Starbucks in Toronto’s “gay village” on Church Street. “I was called that affectionately — and negatively. People didn’t call me fag; they called me freak show.
“So I’m painting this tent as my dissertation. The outside images are the negative ways that gay men are assumed to be, interwoven with images from Barnum & Bailey freak shows to talk about how bizarre some of the ideas are that people have about gay men. And then you step inside and I’m painting the story of my life, growing up from age 3 to about 15.”
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.