It's always a great day in Egypt, Ont.

EXCERPT: Comedian Shawn Hitchins felt like an outsider growing up gay in a tight-knit southwestern Ontario farm community
By TVO Current Affairs - Published on July 27, 2017
guests on The Agenda in the Summer
Nam Kiwanuka interviews Shawn Hitchins about his book, 'A Brief History of Oversharing.'

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The following excerpt is from A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger's Anthology of Humiliation by comedian Shawn Hitchins. The book, published this year by ECW Press, is the basis for the author's interview with Nam Kiwanuka on The Agenda in the Summer.

I am from Egypt, Ontario.

My heritage is an intersection.

Two country roads carved a path through rolling hayfields, lush pastures, and low swampland, and at their crossing families gathered. The surrounding cattle and sod farms caught in its radius created a border that was upheld and defended by proud farmers who agree, “It’s always a great day in Egypt!”

photo of comedian Shawn Hitchins on the cover of his bookEgypt is not a town (you must drive 15 minutes to get to town) but a mindset. It’s an amalgamation of family clans, where it’s easier to flat out accept everyone as a cousin than it is to map bloodlines and calculate generations of separate family trees grafted together and struck by lightning. This is my poetic understanding of what it means to be groomed like an inbred without actually being genetically inbred: you’re either a cousin or you’re an outsider.

While I won’t give you a full and detailed account of the slack-jawed terrarium in which I was raised, it is important for me to establish that, like a veal calf, I was nurtured and raised with a specific fate. When my Rockwellian existence soured — as did the childhoods of many young gay men from small towns who came into their sexualities in the shadow of the AIDS crisis and before the advent of Ellen and Will and Grace — I became an outsider, no longer part of some greater whole, which can only be explained in farm speak.

There is a copacetic relationship between the farm animals and the barn that houses them. The shelter provides a safe refuge for them, and the heat and moisture created by the livestock maintains the structural integrity of the foundation. The hay loft above stores food for the animals while insulating the interior wood from harsh winters. When you remove the animals from the barn, and with them their stored food, the foundation dries out, the wood rots, and the structure falls to ruin. My exodus from Egypt triggered neither plagues of frogs nor did it turn water into blood, but Egypt could no longer provide me shelter and I could no longer sustain it.

Having lost the intense sense of belonging, the blind sense of comfort, I was raised with, I’ve since desperately tried to regain it. This is the reality of the stateless. We push to create a space for ourselves and, often to our detriment, we are both the barn and the cattle. And sometimes we burn it and everything down like a nineteenth-century lunatic.

In the common-sense world of Egypt, where the golden rule was “don’t put your foot in the thresher,” life is rife with comedy. I was never privy to intellectual banter peppered with wit and bon mots, but to a bucket of harsh stories filled with obscenities, slopped and delivered with the cheer of a tole painted duck wearing a lace bonnet and smoking the pipe of Jean-Paul Sartre. There is a tipping point to this type of humour, a danger that you might reveal too much. Learning to navigate this line was essential, because only by laughing at our situation were we given permission to complain, to express profound dissatisfaction, to show vulnerability, or to admit fear.

The world of Egypt seems lives away, but I am a farmer through and through. I eat when the harvest is bountiful, fast during droughts, and laugh in the face of hardship. While there is no going back, my legitimacy to the land cannot be denied.

Excerpted from A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger's Anthology of Humiliation by Shawn Hitchins. © 2017 by Shawn Hitchins. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd. www.ecwpress.com

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