We spent the winter holidays rooting through archives, books, and interviews, looking to surface Calgary’s transgender history. If one considers gay and lesbian history hidden and underground, trans history seems to exist in the sub-basement. For that reason, it is crucial to discover. Our history is complex; we need to hear diverse narratives to generate a fulsome understanding of our community’s story.
January 18th, 2019, at the Calgary Central Library, 800 3 St. SE
That is why we are so delighted to be working with One Voice Chorus to present Transformation: A History of Calgary’s Transgender Community on Saturday, January 18th at the Central Libary, 7:30 PM. Part live music, part history presentation, we are mixing it up in the cold mid-winter. Tickets are on sale online: here, and there is a sliding scale option at the door. Come out for inspiration and history; please join us!
One of the delights in the Calgary Gay History Project is being connected to other queer history researchers across the country. Last month I was in Halifax for work but managed to squeeze a meeting in with Robin Metcalfe, Nova Scotia’s unofficial queer historian/force of nature.
At that meeting, Robin gave me a copy of Out: Queer Looking, Queer Acting Revisited, a book that was launched this past February. It is, in fact, a reprinting of a collection of queer history essays originally published in 1997. The decision to publish a second edition with new commentary came about for a few reasons. Robin described a renewed sense of queer activism in Halifax led by a younger generation. He noted that the community’s locus of activism has shifted from sexual orientation to issues of gender identity. He also explained that these younger activists have an expressed interest in seeking out queer elders and forming a deeper connection to a history that has been relatively unknown to the larger community.
It is a good read too. I particularly liked the story of the Turret (1976-1990), Halifax’s gay social venue and bar run by the community group Gay Alliance for Equality (GAE). The Turret’s success made GAE one of the wealthiest lesbian and gay organizations in North America. In 1977, GAE has the Tits’n’Lipstick controversy: a mural painted by a gay male artist in support of lesbian pride on a back wall of the Turret. The mural – not universally loved – ended up getting defaced by angry feminist members of GAE, and eventually painted over.
Reproduced Mural by Genevieve Flavelle, 2013
The history of the Turret is inspiring. Robin talked about how young queer activists in Halifax, and in particular the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) Queer Collective, have re-inspired him. Last year, in collaboration with artist Emily Davidson, they hosted a Turret Resurrection event and redecorated the space based on archived images, held a disco, a cabaret and a community discussion with older activists. Artist, Genevieve Flavelle even reproduced the 1977 Tits’n’Lipstick mural for the resurrection.
We see profoundly similar trends at work in Calgary – just look at our sold out Club Carousel Cabaret this past January. We also are grateful to connect with queer history peers across the country to share our findings, and see our current and past narratives come into focus.
Thank you Son Edworthy, from CommunityWise (part Calgarian, part Haligonian), who connected us to Robin!
Posted in Gay history
Tagged Club Carousel, CommunityWise, gay, Gay history, gender identity, Halifax, history, human-rights, lesbian, queer, Robin Metcalfe, trans, Turret
This week’s post is a bit of a departure from the standard queer history snippet. I am not keen on the word “faggot” especially used as an insult. We have not repatriated it like “queer,” and I wonder if in a generation I would feel the same way about “faggot” as many of our elders do about “queer” having a permanent taint.
Until this week, however, I had not heard that insult thrown at me for a good long time – perhaps not since the 90s. Yet I was verbally assaulted with “f@$%ing faggot” TWICE in the last few days: Monday on the C-Train and Tuesday on a downtown street. Both times I stood there in disbelief after the parting verbal blow was delivered. It seemed so unlikely to have happened, that it took me a long moment to process – no witty or angry retorts – just stunned silence.
There is a national congratulatory theme in some of my queer history presentations, when we compare how far Canada has come in 45 years with respect to human rights after the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969. Now I am having a rethink of tone.
In April, I met Scott Jones on an anti-homophobia panel at Knox Presbyterian Church. He suffered a physical homophobic attack last year in Nova Scotia that left him in a wheelchair. He is transforming his tragedy into a public anti-homophobia campaign – called “Don’t Be Afraid” – but the fact of his attack is appalling.
I have no immediate remedy for homophobia and transphobia in Canada – or Calgary for that matter. However, these events have redoubled my commitment to the Calgary Gay History Project. We have an immediate need to get our history recorded and our archives preserved.
To this end, my job at the Alberta Media Arts Alliance (AMAAS) is quickly wrapping up this month. AMAAS is a great organization: I enjoyed the work, the camaraderie, and it was very good to me. But, I am leaving to devote more time to Calgary’s queer history – my new priority. It is my hope that we will be able to incorporate more volunteers into the project, as we aspire to create a history community.
Finally, support your local queer organizations, like Third Street Theatre, whose fundraiser is tomorrow night. Queer non-profits and community groups do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to social change. We obviously have further to go…