glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Greyson, John (b. 1960)  

Internationally recognized as an avant-garde filmmaker and video artist, John Greyson was born in Nelson, British Columbia, but spent most of his childhood and teenage years in London, Ontario. He lived in New York for a brief time during the 1970s, but moved to Toronto in 1980, where he wrote for The Body Politic and local art and cultural magazines.

Greyson began as a video and performance artist before taking up cinema as a full-time vocation. Although he was a resident at the Norman Jewison Canadian Film Centre in 1990, he is largely self-taught as a filmmaker.

Greyson has never flinched from confronting contentious topics. The vast majority of his work, the earliest of which dates from 1978, boldly presents socially relevant themes, especially issues related to homosexuality, gay rights, and AIDS activism.

His films document the trials and tribulations of Toronto's gay community, while also dealing with such topics as race (A Moffie Called Simon [1986]), censorship and copyright (Uncut [1997]), police harassment and surveillance (Breathing Through Opposing Nostrils [1982]; Urinal [1988]), and the AIDS crisis (The ADS Epidemic [1987]; Angry Initiatives, Defiant Strategies [1988]; The World Is Sick (Sic) [1989]; The Pink Pimpernel [1989]; and Zero Patience [1993]).

Recently, Greyson has begun to deepen his already wide repertoire of themes to include focused studies of love and relationships (Lilies [1996]; Law of Enclosures [1999]). Stylistically, his work runs the gamut from the whimsical (Zero Patience) to the poetic (Lilies). His films often interweave multiple story lines and are exceedingly involved compositionally.

Greyson's work may best be understood in terms of the drama theory advanced by Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), who believed that the goal of drama was not to evoke an emotional response or identification with the figures who appear on stage, but to cause an audience to think critically. Brecht thought that the use of historical characters in contemporary drama would prevent an audience from overly identifying with characters and induce them to contemplate the underlying message of a work.

Thus, Greyson features historical figures in many of his films and videos. For example, Urinal, the story of police control of public washroom-sex in Ontario, features such historical and fictional figures as Dorian Gray, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle, Langston Hughes, Frida Kahlo, and others.

In Zero Patience, Greyson confronts the topic of AIDS through an unlikely genre, the musical comedy. In this feature-length work, the filmmaker responds to the sudden glut of death by navigating a plethora of emotional and intellectual concerns and pronouncements regarding individual and media representations of AIDS, while also attempting to maintain a critical distance from other films that sentimentalize the disease.

Critics have not always responded positively to Greyson's films. However, Lilies, based on a play by the openly gay Quebec playwright, Michel Marc Bouchard (b. 1957), is the exception.

A historical dramatization of a schoolboy love story, it is set primarily in a Quebec prison in the 1950s and tells the story of Bishop Bilodeau, who, having gone to hear a dying convict's confession, is held captive by conspiring guards and prisoners and forced to reveal his own sins. As the bishop watches through the confessional's key hole, scenes from his past are brought to life, including his love for a fellow classmate and the tragedy that followed.

The film received four Genie Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, including one for Best Picture.

Greyson's most recent feature, Proteus (2003), is based on the transcript of a 1735 sodomy trial. It explores an interracial relationship in the South African prison on Robben Island.

In addition to his film work, Greyson has also directed for television, including an episode of the American version of Queer as Folk.

Eugenio Filice


Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts
Popular Topics:


Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee

Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance

Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female

Feminist Literary Theory

American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography

Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio

Sadomasochistic Literature

Beat Generation
Beat Generation


   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  AIDS Activism

In the United States, glbtq people have played an integral and often leading role in AIDS activism, greatly influencing AIDS treatment and advocacy.

arts >> Overview:  Canadian Art

Since the rise of the homosexual emancipation movement three decades ago, a handful of Canadian artists have confronted issues of gay and lesbian sexuality in their work.

arts >> Overview:  Music and AIDS

A number of musical works in various genres have responded directly or indirectly to the AIDS crisis, generally focusing on expressions of grief, anger, or sympathy rather than on the personal and social consequences of the disease.

arts >> Overview:  New Queer Cinema

Independent films that aggressively assert homosexual identity and queer culture, the New Queer Cinema can be seen as the culmination of several developments in American cinema.

arts >> Overview:  Screenwriters

Although film may be a director's rather than a writer's medium, gay and lesbian screenwriters have made significant contributions to both mainstream and independent film.

literature >> Hughes, Langston

Langston Hughes, whose literary legacy is enormous and varied, was closeted, but homosexuality was an important influence on his literary imagination, and many of his poems may be read as gay texts.

arts >> Kahlo, Frida

Bisexual Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was a masterful exponent of cross-dressing, deliberately using male drag to project power and independence.

literature >> Peck, Dale

Novelist, short story writer, and critic Dale Peck has been praised as "one of the most eloquent voices of his generation" and has been self-described as "the most hated man in literature."

arts >> Praunheim, Rosa von

One of Germany's leading gay activists and chroniclers of queer life, filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim makes films intended to foster self-examination by gay people and to advance gay rights.


Gever, Martha, John Greyson, and Pratibha Parmar. Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1993.

Greyson, John. Urinal and Other Stories. Toronto: Art Metropole + The Power Plant, 1993.

Klusacek, Allan, and Ken Morrison, eds. A Leap in the Dark: AIDS, Art and Contemporary Cultures. Montreal: Artexte Information Centre and Véhicule Press, 1993.

Miller, James, ed. Fluid Exchanges: Artists and Critics in the AIDS Crisis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.


    Citation Information
    Author: Filice, Eugenio  
    Entry Title: Greyson, John  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 11, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.