Arianne Tong
U of T Scarborough alum Arianne Tong uses humour to talk about sexuality as it relates to politics, identity, family life and personal relationships. Photo courtesy Arianne Tong.
Friday, June 19 - 2020
Michael McKinnon

Arianne Tong has learned humour is often the best way to spread a serious message.

“Comedy is a special tool because — if used correctly and responsibly — you can disarm people just enough to enlighten them about something they thought they didn't care about,” says Tong, who earned her honours bachelor of arts in English, philosophy, anthropology and cinema from U of T Scarborough in 2011.

“My hope has always been to express myself to the fullest, inspire others like me to do the same and to demonstrate to straight people (let's face it, mostly straight men) the issues queer people face on a daily basis.”

“My hope has always been to express myself to the fullest, inspire others like me to do the same and to demonstrate to straight people (let's face it, mostly straight men) the issues queer people face on a daily basis.”

She’s a resident writer for Toronto’s queer culture hub YOHOMO, and her writing — such as her recent COVID piece “Women rejoice as men mandated to stay 6ft away” — is often also found at The Beaverton, the popular Canadian news satire publication.

Tong writes and produces the Group Therapy podcast and hosts Girl Gang Cabarets, a Toronto-based variety show that supports queer, female and non-binary artists of all disciplines. She hosts comedy and trivia nights at spots around Toronto and braves the stand-up stage herself.

Arianne Tong
Photo courtesy Arianne Tong.

“I think it's super important for LGBTQ2 people to tell their stories because it humanizes us, and the best way to tell a memorable, likeable story is by using humour,” she says, adding that young people need to see themselves represented in performers.

“Growing up in a West Indian family and having gone to Catholic school until my university years, I had so few examples of what it could mean to be a lesbian in our society and stayed closeted in fear. There's something funny about being so afraid for so long and building it up to a final crescendo where you finally tell your family, and literally no one cares. In fact, they are 100% supportive and asked why I didn't come out sooner.”

Tong has found humour helps to talk about sexuality as it relates to politics, identity, family life and personal relationships. There are many overlapping issues that people fiercely care about on all sides, and humour can diffuse the tension momentarily when it is measured and deliberate. The critical thinking skills she developed at U of T help her look at issues from all sides and develop sound, well-reasoned — and humorous — arguments.

“I use my sexuality to make a point about how easy it is to make assumptions about people and use my personal experiences to shed light on how ignorant certain people can be without even knowing,” Tong says. “Being out and open as an 'other' is always a political statement as it differs from the dominant narratives we see in the media, and I am proud that I get to express an alternate and equally legitimate storyline in various mediums.”