After 20 years in Ontario, it's time for my second coming out
Coming out was easy for me. When it was finally time to announce to my friends and family that I was gay, I did it without much fanfare. And immediately I felt liberated — finally, I was able to live without shame.
And yet, here I am again. It’s been bubbling under the surface for some time now, but I’m finally ready for my coming out. This time, however, I will make some noise…
I am Franco-Ontarian!
I have lived in Ontario for 20 years now. I love Toronto, and most of my friends here speak French. Still, at first, I had a rather snobbish attitude toward these Franco-Ontarians. Even though many had been speaking French since birth, it wasn’t how we speak French in Quebec. I tolerated nasty jokes about their accents, and arrogantly judged their strange choice of words.
Even worse, I laughed about the linguistic differences. I noticed that Franco-Ontarians would also translate many English expressions word for word. For instance, “What are you talking about?” would become “De quoi tu parles de?” Back home we’d just say, “Que veux tu dire?”
In total, there are more than 500,000 francophones in Ontario (about 4 per cent of the province’s population). We also make up 50 per cent of the francophones living outside of Quebec, which makes us Canada's second largest francophone community. But still, facts are facts: We are inundated by the English language.
For two decades I had the privilege of talking to colleagues on about life in Ontario. At first, I took great pleasure in it — but then that stopped. I found that just by living in Toronto my own brain began to alter my French sentences to mimic the structure and cadence of the English around me.
Soon, I began to speak like Justin Trudeau. You may not realize this but, while our prime minister’s French is quite good, he often starts a sentence in French only to realize that, structure-wise, he’s copying the pattern of an English phrase, which is very different from French. He rarely gets out of it gracefully. All this is familiar to me. In English, we can start and end a sentence in any number of ways that won’t offend writers of syntax manuals too much. Not so in French.
After a while, I quietly stopped accepting most Radio-Canada invitations. I went into a hole and didn’t return researchers’ calls. I was ashamed. Even though I was still dreaming in French, and it was the language spoken at home, I couldn’t face the microphone. I felt judged and no longer considered myself worthy to appear on air. It wasn’t the Mother Corp that made me feel this way, but me. How could I sound like a Franco-Ontarian?
Then last fall everything changed. From North Bay to Hawkesbury to Toronto, thousands came together to denounce plans to eliminate the province’s French-language services commissioner and scrap a proposed French-language university.
It was a beautiful sight: the streets of many of Ontario’s cities lined with green and white, the colours of the Franco-Ontarian flag, at about 40 gatherings. Watching from my computer, I yearned to publicly confess my own identity: I’m one of you!
It took seeing my community in the spotlight to lure me out of the shadows. And after all these years, I finally understand the importance of these kinds of protests — the pride and the right to claim the language of our home.
When I hear about Paul Martin, Katherine Levac, Damien Robitaille, Chantal Hebert, Denise Robert, Dominique Demers, Jean Marc Dalpé, Véronic DiCaire, Luce Dufault, Roy Dupuis or Amanda Simard, I now remind everyone that they are Franco-Ontarians.
Today, March 20, on this International Day of La Francophonie, I make the promise to never again be silent about who I am. There’s nothing to laugh about. I can say that from now on I am a proud Franco-Ontarian!
Mathieu Chantelois is the VP, Marketing & Development for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.