A Not So Gay World

“What does the future hold for Canada’s homosexuals?  Will the time ever come when a gay couple can mix as freely in society as their heterosexual counterparts?”

These were questions posed in the epilogue of A Not So Gay World:
Homosexuality in Canada
 published in 1972 by McClelland and Stewart.  The book, was the first non-fiction work about homosexuality published in Canada. Tellingly the authors “Marion Foster” and “Kent Murray” were pseudonyms for the real authors, a lesbian and gay man who remain unknown throughout the text except as good friends and social commentators.

A Not So Gay World Eyes

Cover Image from: A Not So Gay World: Homosexuality in Canada

The book received scathing reviews from gay activists at the time.   Rick Bébout’s review in Canadian Reader exclaimed: “This is a work worthy of bug eyed tourists in a foreign country. The authors do well to keep their real names to themselves.”  Ed Jackson, in issue #7 of the Body Politic wrote: “what we don’t need is yet another book delineating the ‘giant shadow’ of loneliness haunting the life of the homosexual.”

However, in hindsight the book has proved to be a critical time-capsule: capturing a transition in Canadian society with a depth that few other sources can match.  A Not So Gay World explores the gay community on both sides of the 1969 ‘decriminalization of homosexuality’ in Canada.  As correctly pointed out by interviewed activist George Hislop, the Criminal Code amendments were not all that dramatic, “when in fact it never was illegal to be a homosexual.”  Yet they were hugely symbolic and greatly affected public attitudes, in a similar way that legalizing same-sex marriage has done in our generation.

One sees the clash of gay cultures between the homophile movement of the 60s and the gay liberation movement in the 70s which flowed from University campuses.  The authors clearly feel some camaraderie with the former and write nostalgically about seedy bars, outrageous characters, and just-under-the-radar shenanigans.  Ironically, these same high spirited characters and their more socially conservative peers are described as antagonists to the emerging gay liberationists.  University of Toronto gay activist Charlie Hill explains that he gets mostly indifference from the campus community, but “I think we get more hostility from gay people themselves, because we are a threat to their anonymity, their carefully structured lives.  They do not want to change because they are afraid of change.”

Canadian society did change thankfully, because of those stubbornly proud activists, and consequently we can answer Marion and Kent’s epilogue question: YES, our time has come.

{KA}

2 responses to “A Not So Gay World

  1. Let’s not be so quick to proclaim victory. Gay people are still attacked physically and verbally everyday. Gay couples with children are suspect by ignorant people. There are many who advocate against our rights still. The inclusion doesn’t extend to all workplaces, to all places to live, to all hotels and restaurants… Inclusion is more of a geographic phenomenon than a Canadian phenomenon. Canada still has vast regions that are largely not accepting and deeply intolerant.

    Don’t even start assuming trans rights are upheld in law. If that were so then transport Canada wouldn’t require your appearance match your gender on your ID. Don’t jump too soon or all those people who advocate cancelation of Pride marches will have more ammunition. After all… why have gay pride if you’re equal… right?

    When you can kiss in public like any other couple in any park in Canada or you can hold hands with your husband while waiting in line at the cinema and talking to your son without whispering glances, then you’re equal. When you can get a job in any place and not worry if you look too gay fir the interview or if you’ll make it past the 3 month probation without being fired for no reason… then you’re equal. When you can apply to rent a suite anywhere in Canada and not wonder why you keep getting denied… then you’re equal.

  2. Dear Jason,

    You brought up some very important points. Homophobia and transphobia exist – no doubt about it. This point was strongly brought home to me when I was invited by Calgary’s Knox Presbyterian Church last year to sit on a panel discussion about homophobia. The panelist next to me, Scott Jones from Nova Scotia, started the Don’t Be Afraid anti-homophobia campaign after being brutally stabbed in October 2013 and left a paraplegic.

    At the same time, there is a dramatic difference between our status in 2015 compared with 1972, where just a few years prior the Supreme Court of Canada decided that “incurable homosexuals” were dangerous sexual offenders who should be incarcerated for life. And this status was not just a legal one but was reflected in public sentiments of the time.

    For myself, I do feel I can mix in society rather freely, but I also acknowledge that I am an urban, cisgender and white male and exist with those privileges. My history work comes from an activist place though and my hope is that is helps in its own small way to push our equality further forward.

    Best regards,

    Kevin

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