Points of Pride
What We Are
Realized as a passion project by a group of friends who grew up and came out together, Points of Pride is a place-based resource designed to reveal and celebrate sites of 2SLBGTQ+ heritage in Hamilton.This expanding and evolving archive exhibits and connects often invisible or erased visual, oral, and spatial narratives across time and space. The curated platform is intended to emplace 2SLBGTQ+ experiences that intersect across race, class, gender, age, and sexuality to materialize the spectrum of life in the city across generations and community boundaries. Points of Pride aims to pay homage to the rich 2SLBGTQ+ heritage in Hamilton, and create a sense of continuity and connection among its many communities.
How to Engage
- Scroll down to the Points of Pride HistoryPin collection below
- Using the map, click on one of the points to open information about a place
- Visit our oral history archive feature below the map to listen to interviews with people about different places across the city
- Read our blog, where we will post updates about new pins, stories, reflections, and events
- If you have a point to add or correct, a story to share, or if you want to run a mapping workshop, reach out using our 'Talk to Us' page below
RM [00:00:03]: All right. Um, it is November 9th, uh, 2022, and this is a recording for, um, the mapping project, Points of Pride. Um, my name is Rowan Miles. Um, you guys should, I guess, introduce yourselves.
MB [00:00:23]: I'm Maryssa Barras.
RM [00:00:25]: Yeah.
AM [00:00:25]: I'm Adria Maynard.
RM [00:00:27]: And, um, today we are here with Rickar - uh, Richard Douglass-Chin. Um, yeah, thank you so much for being here with us today.
RDC [00:00:37]: No worries. Thank you for having me. And you can call me “Rickard” if you want to. (laughs)
RM [00:00:41]: (laughs) Thank you.
RDC [00:00:44]: Yes, yeah.
RM [00:00:45]: All right. So I guess to begin, um, what is your relationship like with, uh, the city of Hamilton? Like, were you born here or did you come here later, or -
RDC [00:00:56]: Uh, yeah, I came here when I was six from the Caribbean, and that was 1966, a long time ago. And, um, yeah. And so I've been here ever since. So this is kind of my home ‘cause I haven't - I've lived in Windsor for a few years, uh, about 16 years back and forth to Hamilton working recently. But no, Hamilton's my home really, I, I feel that quite strongly. That and the Caribbean, like -
RM [00:01:22]: Yeah.
RDC [00:01:22]: - Trinidad, yeah, yeah.
RM [00:01:24]: Cool, okay. And would you mind just giving us maybe some background on, um, your own relationship to your queer identity? Like how, how did you kind of discover it? What was that journey like?
RDC [00:01:39]: (laughs) I dunno, how long have you got like, three hours? (laughs)
RM [00:01:45]: (laughs) Go for it.
RDC [00:01:45]: It was quite the journey and you know, between sort of race and sexuality. It was kind of complicated, I think - and then being trans, I think made it more complicated as well.
RM [00:01:55]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:01:55] But I think I knew from very young that I was just not like other girls. (laughs)
RM [00:02:01]: (laughs) Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:02:02]: So just kind of, you know, like I didn't play with girls at school and, and then I thought, you know, I wanted to marry one and then I played with the boys all the time, all the time, I - and as a result, I didn't join any girls' games, like, I didn't do anything at school, like I - it was like, "No, I don't wanna play on a girl's team ‘cause I'm not a girl." And so I - that's how I kind of grew up. And then at one point, I - because there was no word for trans back then that I knew of - I mean, there were, I mean, Christine Jorgensen, I think, was doing her thing in the fifties, was it?
RM [00:02:39]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:02:39]: But I, I never heard of Christine Jorgensen before, I never heard the word “trans” and so I was like, oh, well, by the time I was 13, I was like, "Well, I must be a lesbian then," ‘cause I, I couldn't think of another word, like, I didn't know what else there was and that I knew there was “gay” and, well, that was no fun either because it was not an identity you wanted to embrace back in, that would've been what, 1973? And so - but I thought, "Okay, I must be that." But - and it wasn't until I was about 38, so that would've been 19, no, 1996, I was 36, that it finally occurred to me that it all started to, you know, come together that “no, you're not, you're not a lesbian, you're, you're trans.” And that was only because at that period it was starting to become a thing. So, like, people - Hang on one second. Somebody's coming in the door.
RM [00:03:30]: Yeah, no worries.
RDC [00:03:34]: Sorry about that, um -
RM [00:03:36]: It's all right.
RDC [00:03:37]: - yeah, no, I - it was, sorry, I saw a movie, I saw a documentary, it was called, I think it was called "You Don't Know Dick", and it's very good if you haven't seen it already, and I started to cry. It was just like, yeah, like, this is who you are, and I had not had the words before to figure that out, and so ever since I've been living as trans. It was ‘96, I started to do that transition. No, I actually went into quite a depression tailspin first, just sort of around, you know, all of the, “What do I do now? Like, how do I orchestrate this?” It's a big deal back then, and maybe it still is now, I don't know. Probably less so, but, um, so yeah, I was quite depressed for a long time, like a couple of years until I decided to find - and it was mostly fear -
RM [00:04:25]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:04:26]: - around making that, which I finally did in ‘98 and 1998 started to take testosterone, which I had to do, um, outside of the, uh, what's, what's the place in Toronto? The big, um, mental institution. (laughs)
RM [00:04:41]: Oh, um -
RDC [00:04:42]: You know where I mean?
RM [00:04:42]: Is it CAMH?
RDC [00:04:43]: CAMH, yeah!
RM [00:04:44]: Yeah.
RDC [00:04:45]: ‘Cause I went there first, and - ‘cause there was nothing in Hamilton, like, nothing. And so I went there and had to go through a bunch of hoops. Uh, and then I was like - to get the testosterone, it was like, oh well, “first you have to live as a man for I think two years.” And it was like, “really?”
RM [00:05:03]: (laughs)
RDC: Like, really. So, so then I just went looking, and found, um, and by then I, by looking, I mean, I think by then, you know, there was internet and stuff and I was able to suss out a doctor in Toronto who would give me testosterone without, you know, a whole bunch of questions about my sexuality and what I fantasized the best. It’s none of your damn business -
RM [00:05:25]: (laughs)
RDC [00:05:25]: - which is what CAMH wanted to know -
RM [00:05:27]: Yeah.
RDC [00:05:27]: - and all kinds of weird, very invasive questions. And so, yeah, and ever since then I've been living as male and feeling, you know, really good for the first time in my life, really. (laughs)
RM [00:05:43]: That's amazing. I'm so glad.
RDC [00:05:44]: Yeah. No, I, I just feel like it's so great now that it's, you know, it's much easier now, I think, to come out as queer than it was.
RM [00:05:53]: Yeah.
RDC [00:05:54]: Yeah.
RM [00:05:55]: Yeah, one of my questions just around, um, transgender identity because, like, speaking as someone - I just had top surgery over the summer and I've been on testosterone for about three years now -
RDC [00:06:07]: Yeah?
RM [00:06:08]: - I was very curious what it would be like back then, you know, where I feel like those services would be a lot harder to find.
RDC [00:06:18]: Mm-hmm.
RM [00:06:18]: Um, I feel like you would probably have to be more reliant on other people who shared that same identity to find it versus - you know, ‘cause it was more hidden.
RDC [00:06:29]: Yes.
RM [00:06:29]: Um, was that your experience at all?
RDC [00:06:31]: Yeah. I think now it's more readily available, but in ‘90 - I think I had my top sur - So ‘96 I started the testosterone. I do believe I was able to find all that online because, um, you know, I actually remember - this has nothing to do with being queer, but just the moment I was teaching at McMaster and a student, it must have been in the late eighties, he came to me, he wasn't gay or anything, this was about the internet. He's like, "Sir, you have to get on this thing. It's called the internet -"
RM [00:06:57]: (laughs)
RDC [00:06:57]: " - and it's really cool." Like, ah, what? (laughs) He's like, he was a real nerdy guy, right? It's just a cis straight guy. And he was like, "No, no, you gotta check this out." And I was like, "Ah, well, I don't need that." And, and that was like an ‘80, maybe ‘88 or something, right?
RM [00:07:14]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:07:14]: I'm trying to remember what day - what dates those were. Maybe early nineties. Like ‘92.
RM [00:07:19]: Right, yeah.
RDC [00:07:19]: That's kinda when the internet started to really take off. And so in ‘96 it had already taken off. I was able to find online the doctor in Toronto to give me testosterone, the doctor to do the top surgery, which I did soon after that, so maybe ‘99, um, and then, uh, to do a hysterectomy. I found her online as well. She operates out of, uh, Guelph and I think she still does.
RM [00:07:44]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:07:44]: And that was, it was great. Like, she was wonderful. So, no, I, I didn't have any trouble because the internet was still there.
RM [00:07:51]: Yeah.
RDC [00:07:51]: Coming out was a story. There was no internet, so you might wanna hear about that. Like, that's like real -
RM [00:07:56]: Oh, yeah.
RDC [00:07:56]: [unintelligible] stories, right? Like - (laughs)
RM [00:07:59]: I would love to hear more about that, yeah.
RDC [00:08:00]: Yeah. This is where - so we're talking like 1981, so I was 21 by then. And you know, spending, like, years in the closet at home in my room, like literally in my room, like after I was 14, I realized like young boys, teenage, cis, hetero boys no longer wanted to be friends.
Like, it was like, "you're a woman, you're a girl." Like, "go play with girls. You only can date us." (laughs)
RM [00:08:27]: (laughs)
RDC [00:08:27]: It was like, "Fuck you. I'm not dating you. I'm going to my room." And I went to my room and stayed there till I was about 21. (laughs) Like, I literally did not come out, like - except to go to school. And so I, um, I was, you know, I wrote, that's when I started to write a lot and I was always a writer, but I kind of, my journal became literally my best friends. And so I wrote, I read, um, “The Well of Loneliness” in that time, You know, that text? Uh, so -
RM [00:08:56]: No, I don't.
RDC [00:08:56]: It’s by Ra - it's by Radcliffe Hall. It's old. I think it's written in the 1800s. It's very tragic about, you know, and which of course most of the texts were back then -
RM [00:09:06]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:09:06]: - about being queer. So, um, it's about an, an invert which is what queer people were called. (laughs)
RM 00:09:11]: Right.
RDC [00:09:12]: And a woman and, um, so, you know, I read stuff like that and had a very tragic life in my room and wrote to my journal, which was my best friend, and thought, “I can't keep doing this. Like, I have to come out of my room, like, this is getting really depressing.” (laughs)
RM [00:09:25]: (laughs)
RDC [00:09:25]: And so I said, you know, “Well, I'm gonna start checking out the newspapers.”
RM [00:09:30]: Mm.
RDC [00:09:30]: ‘Cause that was the only way, like, there was no internet, right? Like, think about it.
RM [00:09:34]: Right.
RDC [00:09:34]: No internet. And so I would look in the Hamilton Spectator in the classifieds, like, that's how you would find out stuff.
RM [00:09:40]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:09:40]: Looking for “gay” like, and so then I saw - there's, like, the Hamilton, I think it was called The Homophile Society in that.
RM [00:09:46]: Yes. Yeah.
RDC [00:09:45]: I think that operated out of Mac. And then there was HUGS, which was the Hamilton United Gay Society, and I saw HUGS. I might have seen Homophile mentioned somewhere, and I thought, like, “that just sounds like a disease.”
RM [00:09:57]: (laughs)
RDC [00:09:56]: Like, “I don't really wanna have anything to do with that.” And so I, I don't know. I let that one go.
RM [00:10:02]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:10:02]: And the HUGS, I was like, “Okay, it sounds a bit better.”
RM [00:10:05]: Yeah. (laughs)
RDC [00:10:06]: There was a number to call. So you had to, like, call the number. So I remember living at home, I was living at home with my dad and my sister and I was, like, I go out late at night like to a telephone booth ‘cause there was no cell phones either.
RM [00:10:21]: Wow.
RDC [00:10:21]: (laughs) So all there was was a landline in your house, which, you know, your family might be listening on the other end. Like, you could have an upstairs or downstairs -
RM [00:10:30]: Right.
RDC [00:10:30]: - extension. So I call them up, you know, really scared and you know, "this is HUGS," they said, and I'm like, "Oh, um, well, I think I'm gay." And then, so I had this discussion with the person on the other end and they said, "Well, why don't you come out to a HUGS meeting?" And so I did. But by that time I was so tired of hiding. You know, my dad was - I had a girlfriend by then. How did I meet her? Maybe not yet. Okay, maybe I hadn't met her yet, but, um, I started to go to HUGS meetings. I met her shortly after at a dance at, um, it was a Union Hall -
RM [00:11:06]: Okay.
RDC [00:11:06]: - and I think it was on Main Street near Sherman. There's some United something, there's a Union Hall. I think it's still there. So there'd be dances over there sometimes for the scene.
RM [00:11:15]: Okay.
RDC [00:11:16]: And so I met her there and I started seeing her and she'd come over a lot. She'd stay really late. My dad would be like, "Who is this person? Like, why is she in our house? Like, at two in the morning, drinking my rum?"
RM [00:11:27]: (laughs)
RDC [00:11:27]: And she had an alcohol problem. (laughs)
RM [00:11:30]: (laughs)
RDC [00:11:30]: So I was getting pretty fed up with hiding. And I said to my dad, he said, "Where are you going? You're always going out somewhere. I don't know where you're going." And one day I just said, "Well, I'm going to a HUGS meeting." And I just stamped out of the house. Well, didn't he go and, like, check out what HUGS was? And by that time, I think I wanted him to know.
RM [00:11:45]: Right.
RDC [00:11:45]: He comes back the next day and he is like, like, "What are you, what is this? Like, gay? Like, what sickness is this?" Like, it was awful.
RM [00:11:53]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:11:53]: and - really awful. And so then I just left home, like I said, “Screw you, I'm leaving home.” And - ‘cause he was awful. Like, he was so cold after that. And, um, I said, “No, I, I'm leaving.” And so I did. And that - I was 21, so - and I know, you know, a lot of homeless youth are queer.
RM [00:12:13]: Mm-hmm, yeah.
RDC [00:12:13]: Even today, right?
RM [00:12:15]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:12:15]: And that's why. And so - but at 21, I think I had enough skills. I learned how to, I went and drove a taxi cab for a long time.
RM [00:12:24]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:12:24]: I was on welfare at first ‘cause I was - I had no money, like, I was just living at home, and um, yeah, and that's how I just began living on my own. So, you know, it was good. I was just glad to get out of the house, right?
RM [00:12:38]: Yeah.
RDC [00:12:39]: But, um, the hooking up with the queer society, or the queer community, sorry, was all through HUGS, the Hamilton United Gay Society and it was all by phone. (laughs)
RDC [00:12:49]: So you can't, you know, it's hard for you to imagine now probably ‘cause it's so easy to connect -
RM [00:12:54]: Oh yeah.
RDC [00:12:54]: - online, right? You just look it up, like, it's easy.
RM [00:12:58]: Yeah.
RDC [00:12:58]: So yeah, it's quite different then.
RM [00:13:00]: Was this the, the Gay Line that you called from your house?
RDC [00:13:03]: Yeah, yeah, that’s it.
RM [00:13:03]: Okay, cool.
RDC [00:13:04]: Yes, it was called The Gay Line, that's right. I forgot that. Yeah, yeah.
RM [00:13:08]: Yeah, yeah. There's some call logs in the archives that I looked through. They were really interesting. A lot of people seemed to be calling -
RDC [00:13:17]: Oh, yeah.
RM [00:13:18]: - like, along the same reason as you, so I'm glad that there was something like that, you know.
RDC [00:13:23]: Oh yeah.
RM [00:13:24]: Yeah.
RDC [00:13:24]: And I sort of think even today a lot of young people still suffer, like -
RM [00:13:27]: Oh yeah.
RDC [00:13:28]: - at home in, in secret, right?
RM [00:13:30]: Yeah.
RDC [00:13:30]: But easier to connect now than then, for sure.
RM [00:13:34]: Mm-hmm. All right. So you started then with HUGS, right?
RDC [00:13:39]: Yeah.
RM [00:13:39]: Were you ever involved with, like, any of the events? Like, were you ever a member or did you just attend the events?
RDC [00:13:47]: Oh, I just went to things.
RM [00:13:49]: Okay, cool.
RDC [00:13:49]: I didn't, yeah, I didn't start being a member or organizing member of things until probably Half the Sky, and that's something, I don't know if that's on your radar at all, but -
RM [00:14:00]: It is, and -
RDC [00:14:00]: Yeah, it's a big one.
RM [00:14:02]: - I wanted to ask about it, yeah, for sure.
RDC [00:14:04]: Yeah, and Kathy should be here because she's a member of Half the Sky and she's my partner now.
RM [00:14:10]: Oh okay, cool.
RDC [00:14:10]: And she's one, yeah, she's one of the founding members of Half the Sky and she's now 70 - 76. She's gonna be 77 soon. She's a lot older than me, but, uh, yeah. So how did I get into Half the Sky? So I would just go to dances mostly, which were held at different places, you know, HUGS would probably put them on. Uh, and then in about 1988 I think it was, ‘86, ‘88, I started going to Half the Sky meetings and I can't remember where I heard about those, but they weren't - Half the Sky is not lesbian. It's a feminist theater company and, um, my partner then, Yvonne, was also interested. So we went to a meeting and we started to get involved in acting and, you know, writing scripts and so on. It’s great as a women's organization, feminist and um -
RM [00:15:01]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:15:01]: - but as things went on, it became, well, I was gonna say more and more gay, and probably that's true. Like a lot of lesbians came to Half the Sky.
RM [00:15:11]: Right.
RDC [00:15:11]: So not everybody in Half the Sky is lesbian, but it's - a lot of lesbians were in Half the Sky.
RM [00:15:16]: Right.
RDC [00:15:16]: And, um, I don't know if you have things like their letterhead and photos from -
RM [00:15:22]: No.
RDC [00:15:22]: - we, I have some of those things I can show you at some point. Um -
RM [00:15:26]: Yeah, that'd be amazing.
RDC [00:15:27]: Yeah. I even - I have them now. If you, I could put them on a - I have a PowerPoint, I could share the screen or, or not.
RM [00:15:34]: Sure. Yeah. That'd be awesome.
RDC [00:15:36]: Yeah, so some of the dances - you'd have to give me host powers I guess. But, um, some of the dances that came out of Half the Sky were lesbian dances. So in the early nineties, we start with Cole Gately, who was then Nicky Gately, um, myself, who was Leslie then. Who else? Renee Albrecht from the Women's Center was involved in that, um, Caroline Friedrich who was also involved. There were people in - like, women involved - I think you, you look like you wanna ask something, Maryssa.
MB [00:16:08]: I just wanna ask ‘cause we - Cole talked at length about the, uh, the Book Stop and like the feminists and the feminist bookstores. This seems to be tying in. You're making connections to -
RDC [00:16:17]: Yeah, yeah.
RM [00:16:17]: Yeah.
RDC [00:16:18]: They did, yeah, totally.
RM [00:16:19]: Cool!
MB [00:16:19]: So I'm just kind of ask - uh, I don't wanna interrupt your, your train of thought -
RDC [00:16:23]: That's okay, go.
MB [00:16:24]: I'm kind of wondering, like, what, um, if there's kind of, like, this network of, like, these feminist hotspots that then became the lesbian hotspots -
RM [00:16:35]: (laughs)
RDC [00:16:35]: Yeah.
MB [00:16:35]: - that then became the queer hotspots, you know?
RDC [00:16:36]: Yes, I think so. And I think - maybe, so I think may - I mean there was always the queer community, right?
RM [00:16:43]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:16:44]: And I don't know if it was mostly run by men back then, I don't know, like before the Women's Book Stop, say, but out of the Women's Book Stop came a very strong feminist community. Half the Sky was very feminist, started, you know, in ‘85 I think, um, by feminist women were not lesbians then they didn't consider th - Kathy didn't consider - my partner - didn't consider herself a lesbian then, like none of them did, I don't think. But they just started doing this theater. They didn't know what they were doing, really. Kathy has a degree in drama. She loved - always liked theater. And this is Kathy Brown, my partner, and um, they just started doing theater, and then one day, Yvonne, Yvonne and I came into the theater group in ‘86 and then, I don't know, we got talking. There was a play called “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” and it was about a lesbian woman, she's dying of cancer and it's about her community of people in Provincetown, I think it is, or somewhere, and they have this lesbian community and it's all - and a straight woman comes into the community, it gets kind of complicated and it's very interesting, and, um -
RM [00:17:44]: Yeah.
RDC [00:17:44]: - she doesn't know these are lesbians that she's coming into, like a group of lesbians. It's a very good play, and, um, we did that play. I forget how it came up, but we said, “Let's do a lesbian play. Let's be really risque.” And so this would've been - let me see if I can share my screen. I'll be able to show you, see if I remember. I should remember how to do this. Here we go. Yeah. Me teaching, I do this all the time -
RM [00:18:06]: (laughs)
RDC [00:18:07]: - but you'd think I'd remember, eh? Hang on a second. Maybe I haven't opened the thing yet. Just gimme -
MB [00:18:13]: Do you remember what theater that was at, or was that -
RDC [00:18:15]: Oh, the - well, you see, we didn't have a theater, but we would often, um, perform out of Robinson at Mac.
RM [00:18:23]: Okay.
RDC [00:18:23]: So we did, We did that play “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove”, we did it at Robinson, I think, and we often did it at Robinson, performed at Robinson. Kathy was studying there and she was studying theater at Robinson - at uh, Mac, and so Robinson, of course, is the theater for drama, right, at McMaster.
RM [00:18:43]: Right.
RDC [00:18:43]: So that's where we performed and I think we mostly performed there. So, yeah. So, here we go. I think I can do it now, I can find my way. And many people came, like the plays were really well attended. And, uh -
RM [00:18:59]: Yeah, I wanted to ask what the audience was like.
RDC [00:19:01]: Yeah. And so a lot of feminists, but also, um, can you see that?
RM [00:19:06]: Yeah.
RDC [00:19:07]: Yeah. That was a big song back then. You know that song, Lorraine Segado? Yeah.
RM [00:19:12]: May - Maybe?
RDC [00:19:13]: Yeah, if you don't, you gotta check that song out if you don't, it's -
RM [00:19:16]: Yeah, I will.
RDC [00:19:16]: It was like our theme song. It was just, like, so exhilarating and wonderful and so I just put that as the title, but - and so I think the dances were around ‘94 to ‘97 sometime, but the Half the Sky thing I wanted to show you -
RM [00:19:29]: Oh, wow.
RDC [00:19:29]: - was this. So that's from the play, and I won't read it all, but I can give you those things. So that was -
RM [00:19:36]: Yeah, please.
RDC [00:19:36]: - the main character and so on. All the different actors. That's me over there, when I was -
RM [00:19:42]: Oh, that's so cool!
RDC [00:19:43]: Yeah, it, it was fun. And then this is more about it. Um, so yeah, Jane Chambers of Long Island is the writer of the play. So after we did that, um, you know, people started to be quite conscious about how many lesbians there were in Half the Sky.
RM [00:19:59]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:19:59]: And, uh, and then in the nine - so this was what, ‘88, I think? So then by the early nineties we were doing, um, through the bookstore, a lot of women would, you know, sort of gather at the bookstore. It was this hub of feminism, and of course with feminism comes, you know, it's- feminists are cool with lesbians for the most part.
RM [00:20:16]: Right.
RDC [00:20:16]: So we had some really good times there, and out of that came this idea, let's form dances.
RM [00:20:23]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:20:23]: And so we did this, um -
RM [00:20:26]: (laughs)
RDC [00:20:26]: - and I wanna, you'll see how, you know, they're very, um, just very, uh, amateur, but we may - so I think myself and someone called Paula Burrows, I don't know if you've heard that name, but -
RM [00:20:39]: No.
RDC [00:20:39]: - she was a good friend, if you could ask Cole Gately about her, ‘cause I think they still connect. But, uh, so she and I would do these posters and so this one was a Halloween and stupidly, I didn't put the, uh, date on it, the year, so I don't know -
RM [00:20:53]: Oh.
RDC [00:20:53]: - but it's in the early nineties sometime.
RM [00:20:57]: This is awesome.
RDC [00:20:58]: Yeah, that was a Halloween one. This one was, I think, uh -
RM [00:21:02]: (laughs)
RDC [00:21:02] - was that a New Year's one, maybe? No, June the 21st -
RM [00:21:06]: Yeah.
RDC [00:21:07]: - so soccer dance. You get your tickets at the stop. So they were all at the Y, YW, that dance.
RM [00:21:13]: Oh, I see, okay.
RDC [00:21:13]: Yeah. 75 MacNab. And that one was the New Year's also at the Y, although - Valentine's, sorry. But I think we did a New Year's one year too. And so all those were, like, the early nineties and, uh -
RM [00:21:26]: Cool.
RDC [00:21:27]: - a lot of fun like the - there's the New Year's one. Yeah.
RM [00:21:32]: Cool.
RDC [00:21:33]: The New Year's one.
RM [00:21:33]: (laughs)
RDC [00:21:34]: And so, like I say, you know, they're all done with like - you'd stick things together with paper back then, like -
RM [00:21:40] Yeah.
RDC [00:21:41] (laughs) We didn't have all the, well -
RM [00:21:42]: These are awesome.
RDC [00:21:43]: Yeah. I didn't have the technology, but uh, you know, that's, that's how we did it, right?
RM [00:21:47]: It gets the job done.
RDC [00:21:49]: Yeah, exactly.
RM [00:21:50]: Yeah.
RDC [00:21:51]: And it was really fun. Like, we would have a lot of women come out, right?
RM [00:21:54]: Mm-hmm.
RDC: Like, over a hundred, 150. And we would cater them, not food, but we would get all the booze in. Like, Cole knows all about this ‘cause he was big on it too. And so we'd get the license, get the booze, and have our dance like, and they happened quite often, right? And we had a ball. It was so much fun.
RM [00:22:14]: Yeah.
RDC [00:22:14]: And so I think that in the eighties, nineties, um, there really was a big feminist scene, which was quite different, I would say, than the gay men’s scene.
RM [00:22:23]: Right.
RDC [00:22:23] ‘Cause I don't know what the gay men were doing, but the feminists were having a ball.
RM [00:22:27]: (laughs)
RDC [00:22:27]: Like, the (unintelligible) were, like, really having a ball. So (laughs) that was part, you know, gives you kinda a sense of some of the stuff. Right. But, uh -
RM [00:22:35]: Were there - oh, sorry.
RDC [00:22:36]: No, no. It's okay. Go ahead.
RM [00:22:38]: I was just - wanted to ask, um, were there other, um, areas in Hamilton besides, like, the Women’s Book Stop, and, um, the Y, that feminists or queer women kind of gravitated towards, or just queer people in general?
RDC [00:22:53]: Not, not that I know of, you know?
RM [00:22:55]: Okay.
RDC [00:22:56]: So, no, I, I don't know of any. They might have - there might have been, but I think that was a real - the Women's book stop was a real catch-all center -
RM [00:23:03]: Okay.
RDC [00:23:04]: - for women, queer women to come and, uh, yeah, I think all, like, all the women I knew went there, so -
RM [00:23:12]: Okay, cool.
RDC [00:23:12]: - and I was very much in a women's community by that time. Earlier on, like when we, when I first came out in 21, age 21, I, I was much more just in a general sort of gay community -
RM [00:23:25]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:23:25]: - which was really just comprised going to dances mostly, like, or the club, which was Billie's at that time.
RM [00:23:31]: Yes.
RDC [00:23:32]: So that was the old Windsor, right?
RM [00:23:33]: Yeah.
RDC [00:23:33]: But, um, but - and - so that's, what, ‘81 to maybe ‘86, and then after - and then I had both male, gay male friends and female, and then by ‘86 I kind of shifted over to mostly female friends.
RM [00:23:46]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:23:47]: And, like, lesbian friends, right? And a very strong lesbian feminist community -
RM [00:23:52]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:23:52]: - which, uh, was really a thing in those days, like in the eighties, um, all over North America women's theaters were forming.
RM [00:24:00]: Mm.
RDC: [00:24:01] Like Kathy Brown, my partner will now say, you know, “we did this thing and we just thought we were the cat's ass.” Not realizing that women all over North America -
RM [00:24:07]: Right.
RDC [00:24:07]: - were doing the same thing” and they really were, like, I think it started with, um, what's the name of the theater? “Mama Earth” or something? “Mama something” in New York, like many, many women's theaters -
RM [00:24:20]: Wow.
RDC [00:24:20]: - took off in the eighties. And of course where you have women's theater, you're gonna have lesbians, like -
RM [00:24:25]: (laughs)
RDC [00:24:25]: (laughs) So it was, you know, we were part of that curve, but not really knowing it. So that was cool, right?
RM [00:24:33]: Right, yeah. And then how long was Half the Sky active for?
RDC [00:24:38]: You know, they were, uh, I would say they kind of stopped now because they finally given away - they had $11,000 in the bank and gave it away, uh, recently -
RM [00:24:48]: Mm.
RDC [00:24:48]: - because they're all too old and tired. (laughs)
RM [00:24:49]: (laughs)
RDC [00:24:49]: Like, they're all in their seventies. They're like -
RM [00:24:52]: That's fair.
RDC [00:24:52]: “Oh no, we can't do another play.” But so they went from about ‘85 when they were founded until like quite recently, right?
RM [00:25:00]: Wow.
RDC [00:25:01]: Like 2020 or something, and were looking for people to give this money to. I said, “Why don't you give it to some young women's - there must be some young women doing theater or young queer, I don't know.” But they didn't, They just, they gave it to Sacajawea, which is an Indigenous, which is, you know, rightly so, an Indigenous -
RM [00:25:17]: Yeah.
RDC: [00:25:17] - housing organization. It has nothing to do with theater -
RM [00:25:21]: Right.
RDC [00:25:21]: - but they gave that money. And so I don't think they'll do more theater, but they certainly have a wealth of knowledge, those old women, like they're now quite old, right?
RM [00:25:31]: (laughs)
RDC [00:25:32]: But a lot of knowledge. If you all know anybody that's into theater, like, they're the one - that ones to ask -
RM [00:25:35]: Yeah.
RDC [00:25:35]: - because they know a lot about theater, right?
RM [00:25:39]: Yeah.
RDC [00:25:40]: And I kind of -
RM [00:25:40]: I definitely, oh, sorry -
RDC [00:25:41]: - yeah, I wish there was somebody to pass that torch to, because -
RM [00:25:45]: Yeah.
RDC [00:25:45]: - you know.
RM [00:25:45]: No, that sounds awesome. I had no idea that they were still active, like up till that point. Like, I only saw the name a couple times -
RDC [00:25:52]: Right.
RM [00:25:53]: - like in the archives -
RDC [00:25:54]: Yeah.
RM [00:25:54]: but I didn't really see any more information, so that's really cool.
RDC [00:25:57]: And I - they haven't done a play for a long time. They did “Hannah Free”, which was - I'm gonna share my screen again, if that's alright.
RM: [00:26:04] Sure.
RDC [00:26:05]: Can you see it?
RM [00:26:05]: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:26:07]: Uh, that play was ‘97, so not that recent.
RM [00:26:13]: I see.
RDC [00:26:13]: But there's been - and that was a queer play about it all. It was about women and aging. So it's about a woman that goes into a home when she - it's about all the women, yeah. So she, those, these two women go into a nursing home, and so it's about that, that going into a home. And then I think they did a couple things since then. Um, but no, now they've stopped, but, and I don't know what young women are or queer people are doing in theatre right now, maybe you all know. But maybe nothing, I don't know.
RM [00:26:43]: I hope not. I hope someone out there is doing something.
RDC [00:26:45]: I know, right?
RM [00:26:46]: Yeah.
RDC [00:26:46]: ‘Cause this is how I feel: the buck stops. It's like - and then some young person of your age will say, “Oh, well wouldn't it be great to start a theatre group?” And they won't know about Half the Sky.
RM [00:26:56]: Yeah.
RDC [00:26:56]: They'll start reinventing the wheel ‘cause they have nothing to go on.
RM [00:27:00]: Yeah.
RDC [00:27:00]: And that I think happens a lot in marginalized communities that the young ones don't know that there's this rich past, that - and people they can go to to get, you know, experience from, right?
RM [00:27:12]: Yeah.
RDC [00:27:12]: And knowledge.
MB [00:27:13]: I - could I just ask, is that like what you found the case to be when you were coming out as well? ‘Cause that's something that we’re, like, actively trying to help doing with the map and stuff and -
RDC [00:27:23]: Yeah.
MB [00:27:23]: - I'm just wondering if that's like what you found when you were coming out as well.
RDC [00:27:26]: Totally, yeah, I think your map, that what you're doing is so awesome because yeah, it was totally, when I came out there was no, I had no precedence, like, no older people to go to, no nothing. So you just come out and think, like, “Oh, this must be happening for the first time,” ’cause it is to you, like, you don’t know. (laughs)
RM [00:27:43]: Yeah. (laughs)
RDC [00:27:45]: And there was nobody, nobody that was older to go to. So just, you know - and then, so what happens then I think is people waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel, making mistakes that we wouldn't have made if we knew some people that could help us, you know what I mean?
RM [00:28:01]: Yeah.
RDC [00:28:01]: So that a lot of, just a lot of energy wasted in reinventing things over and over, thinking you're the first ones.
RM [00:28:10]: Yeah.
RDC [00:28:10]: So I think that what you're doing is fabulous because it really gives young people a past and people they can go to, right?
RM [00:28:18]: Yeah.
RDC [00:28:18]: All the history, so it's wonderful. I don't know if people talk to you about Wind - The Windsor and Billie’s and all that -
RM [00:28:25]: Yeah.
RDC [00:28:26]: - ‘cause that was like the whole thing, right?
RM [00:28:27]: That was gonna be my next question -
RDC [00:28:29]: Yeah.
RM [00:28:29]: - if you could talk about what it was like there.
RDC [00:28:31]: That was, like, amazing and, but I would say it was, it was just a bar for the most part.
RM [00:28:39]: Mm.
RDC [00:28:39]: And you know what comes with bars. It's just like a lot of drunk people (laughs)
RM [00:28:43]: (laughs)
RDC: [00:28:44] A lot of pickups and just - so it wasn't really a place I would say that I experienced any big sort of creative impetus coming out of.
RM [00:28:54]: Right.
RDC [00:28:54]: (unintelligible) that it was a place to go, to meet, you know, to cruise people and meet people and dance, uh, great music. Um, the Windsor was downstairs, so the, and it was, I don't know how that began, that it became this magnet for queer people. Somebody might know in the community, but what would happen is downstairs in the day, it was the Windsor Bar -
RM [00:29:16]: Right.
RDC [00:29:16]: - and the Billie's was upstairs, so, but the Windsor people would go there. Like my girlfriend, Yvonne at that time would go there, like at 11 in the morning, you know, ‘cause she really had a problem with alcohol.
RM [00:29:26]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:29:26]: She would - like, “Is the bar open?” She’d get up. “Is the bar open yet?” It's like, no, it's only nine o'clock. It's like, okay.
RM [00:29:34]: Right.
RDC [00:29:34]: And then she would wait until the bar was open. A lot of people would go up to the Windsor like that -
RM [00:29:38]: Okay.
RDC [00:29:38]: - and they would just sit there all bloody day -
RM [00:29:41]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:29:41]: - like barflies, right. It was a great place though, just to talk, like, people would go there and just shoot the breeze all day and drink their beer, and then at about, I don't know, 8:30, 9, you’d hear the music from upstairs starting: boom, boom, boom, boom.
RM [00:29:55]: (laughs)
RDC [00:29:56]: It was Billie's so, you’d know it was like, time to go upstairs.
RM [00:29:58]: Yes. (laughs)
RDC [00:29:59]: (laughs) And everybody would run upstairs.
RM [00:30:01]: (laughs)
RDC [00:30:02]: But - and it was great. Like, it was just so much fun, right? You get all excited ‘cause you knew like the dances were starting upstairs -
RM [00:30:08]: Yeah.
RDC [00:30:08]: - and I think it might have been every, I don't know, Friday, Saturday or something.
RM [00:30:12]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:30:12]: I don't think they were open every night. I may be wrong about that, but Friday, Saturday was a big nights, and then, you know, you go from the downstairs Windsor up to Billie's, and then there'd be all the strobe lights and everything -
RM [00:30:26]: (laughs)
RDC [00:30:26]: - and everybody excited and a big crowded dance floor. So it was, like, so much fun. But that was kind of the, the watering hole that I knew of when I first came out. Um, and yeah, and so I don't know, um, it is on your map, right?
RM [00:30:40]: Yes.
RDC [00:30:41]: The Windsor, yeah.
RM [00:30:42]: Yeah.
RDC [00:30:42]: So that's the oldest one I know of. I don't know if there were ones older than that that you might have gotten wind of, I don't know.
RM [00:30:51]: Um, I’m not sure.
MB [00:30:51]: I think it's just Chacha Palace is the only one we have that's older, but we know nothing about Chacha Palace.
RDC [00:30:57]: Oh, me neither, I don't even know that name. So, very interesting. So there must be somebody out there who knows something about it.
RM [00:31:03]: Oh, yeah.
RDC [00:31:03]: I’ll have to -
RM [00:31:04]: Just gotta find them.
RDC [00:31:05]: Yeah, that's right.
RM [00:31:06]: Yeah. (laughs)
RDC [00:31:06]: Yeah.
AM [00:31:07]: Yeah, we're hunting around for some, cause we've seen it come up a couple times in the archives -
RDC [00:31:10]: Oh.
AM [00:31:11]: - a little bit, and we're like, it's on the map, like, we know where it, where it is -
RM [00:31:14]: (laughs)
AM [00:31:14]: - We don’t know anything about it.
RDC [00:31:14]: Where - where was it? But where was it?
AM [00:31:16]: We wanna - uh, over near towards, uh, towards Stelco and Dofasco, right around that area.
RM [00:31:23]: I think so.
AM [00:31:24]: Wasn't - it's, like, the, the easternmost place I think we have.
RDC [00:31:28]: Yeah.
AM [00:31:29]: It wasn't quite in the downtown court.
RDC [00:31:30]: Right, right. Very interesting. Yeah, ‘cause I've never heard of that place, so that's a good example to me of how -
RM [00:31:36]: Yeah.
RDC [00:31:36]: - transmission doesn't happen. Like, we should've known -
RM [00:31:38]: Yeah.
RDC [00:31:38]: - that place. Like, why don't I know, right? So, very interesting. It’d be good to find out. Like, you know what happens -
RM [00:31:46]: Yeah.
RDC [00:31:46]: - you know, yeah.
RM [00:31:48]: Do you remember what your first time going to Billie's was like, or one of the first times? Like what was that experience like, just being in a new place, bunch of new people -
RDC [00:31:56]: Oh, it’s so exciting.
RM [00:31:59]: (laughs)
RDC [00:31:59]: Yeah, exactly. Just going up there and just - and actually I wouldn't say it was Billie's so much as that first dance at the Worker -
RM [00:32:06]: Mm.
RDC [00:32:06]: - the Union Worker's Hall, or wherever on, uh, Main and Sherman there. Just meeting a bunch of people that were, that you knew were queer for the first time for me was just so awesome, to be in a space where everybody's queer and you're just a person, like, you're not some weirdo, you're just a person and you would, you knew you could go there and, like, you'd meet somebody, like, as a teenager, I was like, I despaired of ever meeting anyone. (laughs)
RM [00:32:33]: Mm.
RDC [00:32:34]: Like you just, you know, I don't know how it is for queer kids today, but it's like back then, like, I was just, like, deeply closeted and it's like, “Oh, I'll never meet anyone.” I used to like, you know, there was a girl on the bus. I used to, like - my sister, we used to go to Cathedral Girls and my sister would be like, “Stop staring at her. Everybody's gonna think you're, like, queer.” (laughs)
RM [00:32:53]: (laughs)
RDC [00:32:57]: Oh. (laughs) But every day she'd be on the same bus, and that was like the extent of my love life, right?
RM [00:33:01]: (laughs)
RDC [00:33:01]: Its like (unintelligible) after some girl on the bus. (laughs) Yeah. Really in love with her. And that was it. And it's like, “I'll never, ever meet anyone.” Like that was how I felt.
RM [00:33:10]: Yeah.
RDC [00:33:11]: But then you meet a whole room full of people that are all queer and it's like, wow. So just amazing, right? Very exhilarated -
RM [00:33:19]: Yeah.
RDC [00:33:19]: - to, to have that suddenly. And I, I do suspect that's why so many queer people have problems with addiction. And I don't know if that's still, like, it still is the case, I think.
RM [00:33:30]: Oh yeah.
RDC [00:33:31]: It's just a loneliness, right?
RM [00:33:33]: Yeah.
RDC [00:33:34]: And then when you meet some people, eventually, then you just kind of go wild.
RM [00:33:38]: Yeah.
RDC [00:33:38]: I mean, I mean, I was never really wild. Like I, I never had any alcohol addiction problems or anything. But, uh -
RM [00:33:46]: Yeah.
RDC [00:33:46]: I mean, I know a lot of people who did, right?
RM [00:33:49]: Yeah. Yeah, it's hard.
RDC [00:33:49]: Mm-hmm.
RM [00:33:51]: Even if you have a community, I think it's hard, like -
RDC [00:33:54]: Yeah, totally, ‘cause you still kind of exist in a - especially now because I feel like we're coming around into another full circle of, um, of, uh, oppression -
RM [00:34:07]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:34:07]: - like, where we're seeing this very far-right movement come up. And so to me it's like, and this is what you can know, I can know as being a bit older, like this, like - and I relate it to race, like in the sixties there was this civil rights movement, and now again, it's coming around again. But I would say the same applies to queerness -
RM [00:34:26]: Yeah.
RDC [00:34:26]: - is that sixties there was, you know, 50s, 60s Stonewall. And now again, like, we're seeing this damp - tamping down on, uh, queer rights -
RM [00:34:36]: Yeah.
RDC [00:34:36]: - and trans rights. So I feel it moves in cycles and good to know, right, that this has happened before.
RM [00:34:43]: Yeah.
RDC [00:34:43]: So what did we do before to fight it? What would we do now? How's it different now? So I feel these are all questions, right -
RM [00:34:50]: Yeah.
RDC [00:34:50]: - that we need to look at and to organize. I feel we can't wait for - we can't be reactive to the alt-right.
RM [00:35:00]: Yes.
RDC [00:35:00]: Like you have to anticipate and lead, leading the way.
RM [00:35:04]: Yeah.
RDC [00:35:04]: So that's why what you're doing is so important. This work is part of that, right? So it's very cool.
RM [00:35:10]: Yeah, no, totally agree. Um, it is like disheartening to see that the same things just kind of keep happening, but -
RDC [00:35:18]: Mm-hmm.
RM [00:35:19]: - you know, work has been done already and we can just keep doing it the same, you know?
RDC [00:35:24]: Yeah.
RM [00:35:24]: Yeah.
RDC [00:35:24]: And I feel like - it's not - even to be disheartened, there's no point ‘cause I just think it's probably always this way -
RM [00:35:32]: Yeah, that’s true.
RDC [00:35:32]: - things going in cycles. And so this is just another iteration, it's just another cycle. And those people who think the way they do, the alt-right, they were always there, they always will be there, which is why we can't drop the ball in between generations. Like -
RM [00:35:48]: Yeah.
RDC [00:35:48]: - It's so important to keep the ball in the air, right?
RM [00:35:51]: Yeah.
RDC [00:35:51]: So that then we're stronger. You will be stronger -
RM [00:35:55]: Yeah.
RDC [00:35:55]: - if you know, like, what, what happened before.
RM [00:35:59]: Yeah. Totally.
RDC [00:36:00]: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
RM [00:36:00]: Um, I had a question just building off of that, about, like, the different intersections of identity, like, being a racialized person, what was it like navigating these spaces?
RDC [00:36:14]: Mm-hmm.
RM [00:36:14]: Like - and were there any spaces that you felt were maybe more alienating or that you saw more racialized people in or that were more important to that sort of community?
RDC [00:36:26]: Hmm. And that, that's a really interesting question that you're asking. I'm just thinking about it. And I think there was nobody I knew.
RM [00:36:33]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:36:33]: I, I, I, I think I might have talked about it at the library the other day in the film, just that, uh, there was like one other Black woman when I came out.
RM [00:36:41]: Right.
RDC [00:36:43]: And it was kind of expected, like, “Oh, well, you two can be girlfriends cause you're both Black.” (laughs)
RM [00:36:46]: (laughs)
RDC [00:36:47]: And it's like, “Oh no, I don't really like her that way.”
RM [00:36:51]: (laughs) Right.
RDC [00:36:51]: “No, thank you.” (laughs) So, and then I think in Toronto there was probably more of a scene that was more political -
RM [00:36:58]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:36:58]: - but I wasn't going to Toronto and, you know, we could go sometimes to dance or something. But, um, no, the Hamilton scene was, I was the only Black person. And I, I remember Lyndon saying, you know, he was one, you know, maybe one or the only Indigenous person. And, but I can't say I experienced racism. I, I would say sometimes within Half the Sky I would feel very alone.
RM [00:37:22]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:37:22]: And so I remember being at meetings and just being very withdrawn and not, um - because I feel like there's a way in which as a racialized person, even though the people around you might not be racist, they're, they're not really - I don't know. They might see you as somehow different -
RM [00:37:41]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:37:41]: - or even talk down to you sometimes in ways that they might not even know they're doing, be very sort of patronizing. And so sometimes I would feel that within Half the Sky -
RM [00:37:53]: Right.
RDC [00:37:53]: - and, you know, Kathy and I have talked about this, and she'll say, “you used to be so quiet when you were female.” Well, having become male - actually, this is an interesting thing about intersections because having become male, I'm way less quiet and I'm way more, um, well-adjust - I'm better adjusted as male and don't feel those things so much. Um, and when I do, I'm more inclined to do something about it rather than just sit there and be very withdrawn -
RM [00:38:22]: Right.
RDC [00:38:22]: - which is what I need to do. So, yeah. So I would say I've never experienced any sort of out - overt racism, but I do think people have attitudes that they might have about Black people that all, you know, that they're somehow not quite as smart, maybe, or something, and sometimes I would feel those things, but yeah, which is something, like that's -
RM [00:38:43]: Yeah. Completely.
RDC [00:38:43]: - really alienating. (laughs)
RM [00:38:45]: Yeah. (laughs)
RDC [00:38:47]: So that's what I would say was the extent, like I never did experience any overt racism though.
RM [00:38:51]: Okay.
RDC [00:38:51]: Which was good, ‘cause it could have been worse, right? (laughs)
RM [00:38:55]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:38:55]: But um, yeah. So we actually, within Half the Sky, the women, some of the, there were a couple Black women in Half the Sky and we branched off one year and did a play like, ‘cause we were talking about just that -
RM [00:39:08]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:39:08]: - the, the way in which we felt kind of excluded or patronized, and we did a play, but that was the only play we ever did. And we called ourselves - I actually, I'm gonna share the screen again, if that's all right.
RM [00:39:19]: Yeah, please.
RDC [00:39:20]: It was not queer, although I was a queer character within the play.
RM [00:39:24]: Mm-hmm. ,
RDC [00:39:24]: Uh, but, uh…trying to find it here, hang on a second. So this, this was this, this is all I have and I feel really, I could kick myself because I have no details of this -
RM [00:39:39]: (laughs)
RDC [00:39:39]: - but all - this is a clip from The Spectator. And so we did this play in ‘93, it was called “Mama Weusi Juu!” and we called ourselves “Sojourner’s Truth”, and we put on this play about Black women. Uh, and it's an anti-racist play. Warner, Jody Warner was in it. So I don't know if you know -
RM [00:40:00]: No.
RDC [00:40:00]: - um, Gary Warner, they're not gay or anything, but, uh, she's a, he's a very, um, important person in our Hamilton community. Not queer, but Black, around Black issues, anti-racism. And so we perform - you know, “we're committed to performing race by Black African Dramatists, particularly women,” but, uh, we never did do anything more than that. And, uh, Half the Sky gave us funding and helped us to produce that a little bit.
RM [00:40:26]: Oh, that's great.
RDC [00:40:26]: Yeah. But that was the only thing we ever did and, um, and we don't have anything on it except that. I actually, I wanna dig around and see if I can find anything, because that's the only thing that I know of in terms of, like, theater -
RM [00:40:39]: Right.
RDC [00:40:39]: - and I was the lesbian, the lesbian character. So in terms of intersection, it's like, there's this great play about Blackness and Black community -
RM [00:40:46]: Right.
RDC [00:40:46]: - the lesbian character -
RM [00:40:48]: (laughs)
RDC [00:40:48]: - like sort of, you know, a white play and you're the Black character. (laughs)
RM [00:40:52]: Right. (laughs)
RDC [00:40:52]: So it was a pretty good play. It was, like, a pretty interesting play, right.
RM [00:40:56]: Yeah, that sounds really cool. Um, I'm glad you guys were able to put that on.
RDC [00:41:01]: Yeah, no, me too, me too.
RM [00:41:03]: Yeah. Um, just in the interest of time, because it's been about 45 minutes, I think. Um, Maryssa and Adria, do either of you have any questions?
MB [00:41:14]: Um, I just have one question about a follow up to what you've been talking about, just in terms of, um, how you saw that change, because you talked about like, your experience with these intersectionalities earlier on -
RDC [00:41:31]: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
MB [00:41:31]: - but I'm, like, assuming that it's not the same now and that it evolved, like, in the early two thousands and that, like, those kinds of dynamics evolved.
RDC [00:41:41]: Yeah.
MB [00:41:41]: Um, so I, I don't know if you have anything to say about that, but I would be interested. (laughs)
RDC [00:41:45]: Yeah. So, so I think that now, and, and the re - I don't have a lot to say, and the reason is because I left Hamilton to work at the University of Windsor in 2004. So during that time, from - I mean, I was here, I would come back home on weekends, but my life was mainly in Windsor up until now where I, I'm only working from home now in Hamilton. Still working at Windsor, but from home.
RM [00:42:08]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:42:09]: But in that time, I think Hamilton's queer community expanded a bit because I was at a couple of events where there were, say, racialized poets reading at, um, you know the place just across from Bayfront Park, the Worker’s, um, Arts and Heritage Place? Do you know where I mean? Maryssa, I see -
RM [00:42:27]: I think so.
RDC [00:42:27]: Yeah,
MB [00:42:28]: I think so, yeah.
RDC [00:42:28]: There was, there was a reading there a couple of times, like, for maybe Pride Day. They had an event there, a couple of events I went to where there were poet, poetry readings and there were people of color there. There were racialized young people reading and I went to a dance one time, it was the corner on James and Cannon. I think, I forg - you know that place? It's all glass in the front and I saw there were a lot more brown people there. So it makes me think that during the time I was away in the early two thousands that more racialized people started, have started to come into the community, the queer community. I don't know if you all experienced that, like, that's my sense, I don't know, just from the couple of times I've been at a couple of things from the two thousands on, so I don't know what your sense of that is, but I got the sense there's a bit more now, a bit more people of color, and maybe I'm wrong, like, maybe -
MB [00:43:21]: I think that we might all be kind of, like, at the age where we could start noticing changes -
RDC [00:43:38]: Uh-huh.
MB [00:43:38]: - but like, you know what I mean?
RDC [00:43:30]: Mm-hmm.
MB [00:43:30]: Like, the things - everything is still kind of the same as what I remember it, but a little bit different now. But I couldn't - I don't - my normal is, you know, my comparison is not the same as yours, so I don't know if we could -
RDC [00:43:43]: Right. Not as long, like, each that -
MB [00:43:45]: Yeah, ‘cause like I didn't go to dances when I was 10, so - (laughs)
RDC [00:43:48]: (laughs) Right. Yeah.
MB [00:43:48]: I don't - you know, I can't compare! (laughs)
RDC [00:43:53]: Yeah. So I do believe that there has been some change ‘cause - and, and the dances and the, the events have become a little bit more diverse than they were, like, ‘cause really when I was, like, coming out, it was like just myself and that other Black woman. I thought that was it. (laughs) Now, you know, I see a few people and I don't know how active they are within the community, the queer community. I don't know that, maybe you would know more. Maybe they're not that active and if they're not, I would say that's a bit of an issue that we would need to work on. Like, why aren't they active?
RM [00:44:25]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:44:25]: Even in 2022, right?
RM [00:44:28]: Yeah.
RDC [00:44:28]: I, I would wanna know why, um, and I think there's probably still a lot of barriers to inclusion.
RM [00:44:37]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:44:38]: And to - because of what I sense is that, you know, a lot of young white people are pretty cool these days, like, compared to how it used to be and they want to see change, um, but maybe they're not quite sure how to go about making it happen or - and so maybe they're - I don't know, like, if, if the changes aren't happening, like, maybe there needs to be some discussion around some of that, right. I don't know, like, I need to be more embedded in this community ‘cause as I say, I was out -
RM [00:45:05]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:45:05]: - I've been out of it for too long. But, um, yeah, now that I'm back here that's something I want to kind of find out, like, if there are more queer people. At the thing, at the thing at the library there were a couple, but I thought there would've been more. And so, yeah, like the one woman I saw who was obviously Black. There were a couple other ones that were very light skinned and sometimes I think it's about prox - uh, we call it in our group in Windsor, it’s not a queer group, but we're very queer friendly, it's called “RACES”, and we talk about proximity to whiteness.
RM [00:45:41]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:45:42]: And so in terms of color, like, your proximity to whiteness gives you a lot more, um, a lot more everything -
RM [00:45:50]: Yeah.
RDC [00:45:50]: - a lot more social capital, if you want. And so that's sometimes an issue, right? Like, the young woman at the thing at the library, she had just - she was a newcomer to Hamilton -
RM [00:45:59]: Mm-hmm.
RDC [00:45:59]: Like, she hasn't been around long. So I wondered where are all the racialized young queer people? They weren’t at that meeting. So I'm curious, right?
RM [00:46:08]: Yeah.
RDC [00:46:09]: And so, yeah, so if - that might be something that's worth thinking about, right?
MB [00:46:16]: Yeah. Maybe that's where we go next.
RDC [00:46:16]: ‘Cause they're out there, obviously. Sorry?
MB [00:46:17]: Sorry, maybe that's where we go next. That's all I was saying.
RDC [00:46:20]: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, because at our group we were talking about that, right? Racialized queerness and where we could go to find - ‘cause they're, they're there, like, you know -
RM [00:46:30]: Yeah.
RDC [00:46:30]: - just in terms of stats, like we know they're there. So is it that they're not out? What is it, right?
RM [00:46:35]: Yeah.
RDC: They don't feel included enough, what is it?
RM [00:46:39]: Yeah.
RDC [00:46:39]: So that would be a good thing to examine, right? That’s something for the future, as you said, Maryssa, maybe.
RM [00:46:47]: Yeah.
RDC [00:46:47]: Yeah.
MB [00:46:47]: Add it to the list.
RM [00:46:49] Yeah.
RDC [00:46:49]: Yeah, I know, right?
RM [00:46:51]: (laughs)
RDC [00:46:51]: No, it's - the work you're doing is so exciting and so cool and you can't do all of it, but you're doing a pretty good darn chunk. (laughs)
RM [00:46:58]: (laughs)
RDC [00:46:59]: Like, it's, it's awesome. It really is quite, uh, encouraging to see.
RM [00:47:03]: Thank you.
RDC [00:47:03]: So any way I can help, just let me know. It's, it's wonderful what you're doing.
RM [00:47:08]: Yeah. Um. Oh boy. Yeah, I mean, there's a lot more stuff we could ask you, but I don't wanna, like, just keep you here forever. If you would wanna do a follow up interview with us -
RM [00:47:20]: Sure.
RDC [00:47:20]: - at a later date, that would be amazing.
RDC [00:47:22]: Yeah, no, that would be fine. Like, you could go away and think about this one or whatever.
RM [00:47:25]: Yeah, yeah,
RDC [00:47:27]: Yeah, no, I'd be quite, uh, happy to do that.
RM [00:47:29]: Yeah, we got, I think, a lot of really interesting stuff from this.
RDC [00:47:32]: Awesome.
RM [00:47:33]: So yeah, we're all super excited.
RDC [00:47:35]: Good. No, I am too. What you're doing, like I say, is fabulous. So one day, you know, people, young people will come to you when you're old -
RM [00:47:43]: (laughs)
RDC [00:47:43]: - honestly, for doing this work. Yeah, that's very important.
RM [00:47:48]: Yeah, I hope so. (laughs)
MB [00:47:50]: I'm gonna stop the recording then if we're wrapping up.
RM [00:47:52]: Yeah.
MB [00:47:52]: ‘Cause I - okay -
ER [00:00:00] That this will block sounds coming from this side. So if I have it off here, it'll be a little bit more echoey on the recording. And I have it here, just get a little bit more deadening of the sound good. Yes, she's quiet. That's yeah, she'll be OK. Right, Dipsy? So this interview is being recorded by Emma Rockwood on August 13th 2021, as a part of the mapping project with the working title "Mapping Hamilton's Queer Spaces", and our interviewee is Renee. So could you introduce yourself? Tell me a little bit who you are and why we're talking today.
RA [00:00:39] Well, I was the owner of the first and only feminist bookstore in Hamilton. It opened in 1985 here on Main Street West in Hamilton. Yeah, my name is Renee Albrecht, and I was born in Hamilton.
ER [00:00:57] Great. Can you tell me a little bit about you before the bookstore? So what were you up to and how did the bookstore come about? How was its inception?
RA [00:01:09] So an indirect answer to that is when I decided to open up the bookstore. It was after my first visit to the Toronto Women's Bookstore, the summer of '84. I thought to myself afterwards, "Wow", I just, I almost fell-feinted into that bookstore. I felt like every title on the shelf spoke to me, even though I had no clue really what's in the covers. It just it was a physical experience and it was only a month or so after that visit to the Toronto Women's Bookstore that this little house on Main Street, next to the Royal Bank at Locke, had a for-sale sign on it. And I put an offer in and they accepted it, and we made a little bachelor apartment in the back of the house to help pay the mortgage, and we opened a little two-room bookstore in the front. I had pretty much no experience. The only real experience I even had with feminism up to that point was that the last year of my university days at McMaster I took a "Sociology of Women" course, which was new and they didn't have yet women's courses, but the "Sociology of Women" was just one course, and I remember sitting there in quite a great-sized class of women, and hardly any men, of course, but that professor, the teaching assistant, for our particular course was a man, and I only remember his first name as Bruce. But the head of the course was Meg Luxton, and he stood up there, I think, on the first day, and he told us that the way that women were treated globally and historically was deliberate. So systemic sexism is that you get paid less than the men, you're not offered the jobs that the men are offered. You are just seen as entertainment, and if you're not entertainment, you're a slave. And we were all just like, you know, in our twenties, maybe, like me, even younger, just like sitting there. I mean, I was a single mom, so I wasn't naive, but I remember him looking out at the whole bunch of us and saying, "I'm not making this up." And I thought, "Yeah, I already really knew all this", but I never had the language. We didn't have the language in 1985 that you have today. It was [pause], like, and when I was your age, they were debating on the radio whether or not women should be allowed into medical school and whether or not it should just be a few or how many should they let in and how many women should be allowed to be professors in university. This was discussed on radio, like, can you imagine? So that was as I was a young woman, so I mean, I'm not quite a dinosaur, but it wasn't that long ago. I'm, I know, I'm sidetracking, but anyway, so they took this, the offer, we bought the house, my husband and I, Peter, and I started researching and ordering books, but still really quite naive. And then on March 8th 1985, I opened the women's bookstore. But I'd heard little rumblings in the community like, "Who's this straight woman opening up a feminist bookstore? Who is that woman? Who is that woman?" I don't know, I had to be naive to have the courage, I think, and at the time, I was working as a substitute teacher in the high schools in Hamilton, and I remember people, like teachers in the staff, were just looking at me like I was some kind of fool to be leaving work. I mean, supply teaching, but still a fairly good salary, to open up a women's bookstore of all things. So, and I just opened it, and, there wasn't, I really wasn't very political. You know, I mean, I inside myself, yes, I had that physical feeling that I had to do this, like, I was moved to do it, but it was like early days, weeks, into it that in walked some women who, I didn't even know the concept of lesbian, right? So it was the "lesbian" section, and I think I had one or two titles. "Here's the section." and they just like almost growled at me. And then the women of colour, "where's the black women's section?" And "I've got Alice Walker." And I just had to learn so much, learn so much. And it just every day was an explosion of learning. Like, I had to wake up and realise, but I was ready for it, I wanted to, I really was ready. And it was, like I said, it was 1985, and, I, it was all new to me, it was all my beginning. But in the history of women's literature and women's writing, we were coming to a real backlash, which I was not yet aware of in 1985 because I was new to it and excited. But Emma, I think it's worth it to explore a little bit that in the 1800s there was controversy about whether or not a woman should even be writing a novel. Like, it was just heresy to write a novel. I mean, we've, we have some knowledge of authors that whose names are still with us today, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft. I mean, Virginia Woolf killed herself, and she wasn't the first, you know, and other women wrote under false names to be published. So, what I was involved in at that time, but unbeknown to me, was really part of a lineage of women writers, and as the bookstore grew and my knowledge grew, I started to see that we had a network. And there was a newsletter that came out bi-monthly from San Francisco, The Feminist Bookstore News, and it was, and before internet, it was our connection to the feminist bookstores throughout the globe. Everyone who had something to say sent it to a woman named Carol Ceajay, C-E-A-J-A-Y, in San Francisco, and she would collate that newsletter, The Feminist Bookstore News. And when I first subscribed and started to get that newsletter, I was seeing women opening publishing houses every month, every month, like they were just booming all over the world. Women were publishing because what they had to say wasn't going to be published in the mainstream, but somehow they got together and organised and they got their words out. And even though it was so-called "fringe", you know, small publishing, the brilliance on the page, you know, it was so challenging of the status quo. You know, and it didn't matter whether we were talking about the way that women are having sex, to the environmental issues, to the military, to how we have children and how that whole operation has been controlled by medicine where it used to be, long ago, that women knew how to help each other through those processes, at the most dangerous time in a woman's life. And all of a sudden, men pounced on it and owned it, and women couldn't even think for themselves. So as women started to write and talk and say, "You know, this is all crap, like this is, like we're, we're, we're being told what to do, but we're natural beings, and we, and there's history that's been covered up, our knowledge has been covered up." And, there were archaeologists, there were political scientists, there were environmentalists, and there were poets and artists, and they were all just saying like, "it's insane the way the world is set up." And, when I'm here today in 2021, looking back, I don't know that we were able to stop it. I think it's still insane, but we do have a midwifery option in Ontario. I remember early on getting, finding books to put on the shelf about women's health. Women's, I don't even know if it still exists now, Our Bodies Ourselves, is it still being published? Thank goodness. I had Catholic school teachers, nuns, in plain clothes coming in and buying Our Bodies Ourselves to put in their desks in their classrooms because they could not have it out and they could not talk about it. But they had it in their desks and their students knew it was there so that when the teacher was out of the room, they could open up the drawer and see that book and find out things that we need to know. So, it was a really wonderful time, even with backlashes slowly burning and boiling. We had a wonderful time. There was, and the lesbian community, as I relaxed and, they, it just, they were so alive they were just so grateful, I think, to have a space and just to relax. I remember one woman, she came in from St. Catharines, and she almost tiptoed in, and she almost didn't want to be seen coming in. But then once she came in and found that section of the store, which was no longer two authors, it was a room. It was like, for her, probably the way I felt the first time I went into the Toronto Women's Bookstore, it was just like, "Oh, thank goodness, I feel at home." And I think that, and that was my intention, to have folks feel at home.
ER [00:12:04] That's really fantastic, thank you for telling me that. Could you tell me a little bit more about who the patrons were of the bookstore? Maybe not just, you know, specific people, but like what different groups of people did you see coming and going?
RA [00:12:15] A lot of health care providers and social services. So nurses, social workers, teachers, doctors. I guess there were. I mean, it was really a cross-section. There were artists and there were just rebels, radical people, and some people wouldn't want to be known at all. They just like, come in and go out and never have a chance to find out much more about them. I used to send out a newsletter and I didn't put it in an envelope. I just folded it in three and put a stamp on it and wrote the address of the customer who I had on file. And then one day someone called, called or came in, and said "Don't send me that newsletter anymore", because it was too radical for her mailbox. Just the titles of books. Right? So I had to start putting it into an envelope. Weird. But it's just a little catalogue of books, but I had to start to put that in an envelope. Then it became costly. And I, I guess I slowly let that go. Yeah, I guess a cross-section. But professionals, a lot of professional women were, were the customers. Yes.
ER [00:13:38] Wow. OK. Why do you think the store attracted a lot of LGBTQ people?
RA [00:13:44] Well, because there really wasn't another place. And as I said from two writers, I, it, it became a room and it was fiction, non-fiction, politics, all for, with the history of, of those radical people who really felt that their history was missing. As far as the women's movement went, I remember hearing, look, if there wasn't lesbians, there'd be no women's movement. Because by and large, the straight women are, they're having babies, they're looking after husbands, they can hardly get out to do a protest or organise anything. So if there wasn't the the gay women who were more free, less occupied by with the male interest. And I, it's really, it's I think it's very true that we all so much of our progress, intellectually, to women who have chosen not to live the stereotypical hetero life.
ER [00:14:50] Mm-hmm. Very nice. Why do you think feminist bookstores in general, you know, became these nexuses of LGBTQ life?
RA [00:15:01] It was because these people had been hidden. I mean, when I talk to women who would now be 100 years old, they had friends for sure, gay men, gay women, but you just didn't even say the word. You knew, but you didn't talk about it. So, now we had a place not only to talk about it, but to actually open a book and explore, and read what some other brave soul has dared to write about their life. And it wasn't, I mean, for sure there was all about the sex and how the sex is happening and how the sex feels, but it was also very much about changing, and changing the status quo. And, and people started coming out. It was like the women's bookstores gave us, gave, um, a face, somehow a face to, to a, a whole section of society that had been kept hidden. And then we started watching some of our favourite celebrities and stars come out. I remember we'd go for drives sometimes, you get a group of women together going somewhere, and we would guess who's coming out this week. So "when's k.d. lang coming out?", you know, like, "she'll see much better when she starts to come out, when she finally comes out!" And then rumours about people that you think "no, can't be!" But it, so, so many of our our role models are the stars, the shamans, I call them, in our communities came out, right? It just it became safer. And, and you weren't some sort of strange creature. You saw yourself in the doctor. You saw yourself in every line of work. Yeah.
ER [00:16:57] Very nice. Thank you. OK. What do we have here? What kinds of spaces were the other feminist and LGBT bookstores that you knew of, and what made the Women's Bookstop different?
RA [00:17:10] Well, in the beginning, I guess we really were, as far as I know, the only public space. The other spaces that I can remember being part of were the dances, and maybe Cole mentioned that. But I was, it was almost a challenge that, you know, the women that would come in and say "you should come to the women's dance." It was like they were trying to see "is this straight woman that owns the women's bookstore going to come to one of our dances or what?" But I went in, at the beginning they were mixed, so they were the the guys and the the women, gay women and and queer men were in the same room dancing. But it was interesting, as time went on that changed. The women started to say, "Hey, we're doing all the organising, we're lugging all the beer, we're planning the dates, we're renting the hall. Let's do our own thing." And as time went on, the Women's Bookstop very much got into that. Like, we were having dances for the sake of keeping business flowing too, because by asking people to come in and buy dance tickets, then they had to come into the bookstore, right? So there was that, I really, for me in Hamilton, I think that's the only other space that I could really say that I could speak to was that we organised these dances, and we also had concerts. We had feminist singers, you know? And I remember my kids kind of laughing because I'd organised, I was the producer, I'm organising these concerts, or actually it was a community of women producing. But, and I'd say, "Well, we're bringing Heather Bishop," and they're saying, "Who is she?" "We're bringing Farren [?]." And like, "Oh yeah, right, Farren[?]." And it's like, nobody knows these people. But when we sold the tickets all of the sudden we were sold out. So they had a following, it was a, you know, it's sort of a grassroots underground following and we'd always get a good crowd. Beautiful, beautiful music and always lifting the spirit. Just go, I don't know if these women or the likes of them are still, like Ani DiFranco. Towards the end of my time doing that, she was, I think, the last concert that I had, but I don't know if women are still doing that. I don't know.
ER [00:19:30] I definitely haven't heard anything about it personally, which is why we want to we want to know so badly about that kind of thing, you know?
RA [00:19:39] So also, we were like a network of feminist bookstores across not just Canada, but North America and the world. And for a period of time, every other year, we would have feminist international feminist conference, international feminist bookstore conferences. The first one I went to, I think it was in 1988 and it was in Montreal, actually at École Polytechnique. And when we say, it was not the first one, that was the second one of the conferences that were held. The first one was actually held in Oslo, Sweden, but that was before I started. But in Montreal, we met women from all over the world and it must have been really something for them to get the money to travel. Because there was one very old woman I remember from South Africa, her name's just escaped me, but she, like a very old woman whose books I was selling, and the title of her book was I Am a Woman, and I remember being in the marketplace at the International Feminist Bookstore Book Fair and this very weathered looking African woman and I went up to her and I, and it was during the apartheid, so we knew that children were being gunned down in the streets when the people were protesting. We hear that on the news and, and we were just, you know, it was a time "free Nelson Mandela, free Nelson Mandela," and I went up to her and I said, "Oh, it's so, so terrible." I was just in my thirties and I felt foolish going up to this brilliant woman, and who am I? But I had to, and I said, "It's just terrible what we're hearing about the slaying of children for, for protesting and in Johannesburg." And she said to me, "We have no choice." I almost fell over. And it's always stayed with me, "we have no choice." Yeah. The lack of freedom. "We have no choice."
ER [00:22:18] Hmm, wow. So, yeah, we were talking about the the networking. What did that communication look like? Was it newsletters talking on the phone? How did that network kind of communicate?
RA [00:22:27] Well, there were, we were on the phone, like placing orders with various little presses all over. Mother Tongue, I remember that as one of the presses. Look that up. Oh, so many women's presses. So we'd be on the phone, but also we would get catalogues, and in those catalogues there would be the titles and always the descriptions, and you just would want everything you just, I know I ordered way more than I could sell. And then it became really apparent that we needed to include women of colour, of course, but international authors. So that was a hard sell, because here in North America, first of all, I think there is that sense, or has been, maybe not now, there was this sense that we already knew everything, that we were the teachers. Which is crap, that we were the teachers. And I, when I was in Barcelona for the Feminist Book Fair there, I remember going to a particular workshop that was talking about fundamentalist religions and the evolution of fundamentalism and how that was really off putting for radical feminists. And I saw a Muslim woman stand up to the microphone, she was one of the speakers, and say that whether it was Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, that we should not even open their books and that it was there was not one good thing in any of those patriarchal religions. Not one good thing for a woman to know that you don't even need to open that book. It's the author, the woman speaking was Nawal El Saadawi, she was an Egyptian physician, and she just passed away this past March, but she stayed with me forever. I remember standing there thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is a Muslim woman living in so-called oppression," with having to wear layers and layers of clothing and apparently under oppressive regimes, but she's so clearly articulated the the process of the oppression against the feminine. So I, actually, bolder, more daring than I've ever heard an American woman speak it. So yeah, there's that. But as I say, so we, I, created a space for these international authors, but that was always a harder sell, but I felt that they needed to be there nonetheless. And in my mind, it was always when these books start flying off the shelves, we know we've done a good job. Right?
ER [00:25:26] Gotcha. What about other languages? Was it all? It was everything you carried in English or was...?
RA [00:25:32] I did carry everything in English, however, there was a feminist bookstore in Montreal, there might have actually been two, and they had they had theirs in French. There were, there were definitely different languages.
ER [00:25:44] Mm-Hmm.
RA [00:25:45] And I met women from India who wrote in Hindu, Hindi. So there were others, and Europeans, so.
ER [00:25:55] Yeah, very nice. OK. What about the local business network? What were their particular businesses in Hamilton that you were connecting with and what did that kind of communication look like?
RA [00:26:08] We had to be careful who we connected with. We want, we didn't want to connect with anybody that would give us a bad name. So, maybe it was the reverse too, maybe some people thought we were too radical. But we were connected to some restaurants and health food shops, and of course, Bryan Prince Booksellers out in Westdale, at that time, we were definitely colleagues. So we would be able to refer to each other and respected each other. I think probably the most important networking was with women's organisations, the Hamilton Women's Centre, the Sexual Assault Centre, the women's shelters. And there were detox centres at that time. I don't think it's here anymore, but there was the first women's detox centre was called Mary Ellis House, and actually, Mary Alice was a friend of mine. Yeah, those were those were vital. And I think that we, because we were open to the public and easy to, a storefront easy to come into, we actually helped people to connect to those services in a way that it's probably not possible today.
ER [00:27:36] OK. So we talked about the concerts and the dances. Were there meetings were activities held specifically at the bookstore?
RA [00:27:49] Yes, we had a book club that we had. And I remember one year we went through every paragraph of a book that had come out, it was by Estés. Anyway, it was called Women who Run with the Wolves. And, hmm, Pinkola Estés was her last, I can't remember her first name, Pinkola Estés. And it was a retelling of global fairy tales from a feminist perspective, and our book club went through every paragraph of that book. I'm sure it took a year. And we would sit there together and read the paragraphs. We didn't have homework, we would read them together, like everybody had to read a page or so. And oh, it was wonderful discussions, just like constantly realising that we have been just so, our brains have been cloaked with baloney. That there's so much from the past that has been buried deliberately that could have given us so much more courage and confidence. It was like our confidence was deliberately eroded so that they could make women into servants, servants for society.
ER [00:29:20] Yeah, wow. OK. And were there any events other than the dances and the concerts that were held, maybe not at the bookstore, that you were aware of that maybe were in connection?
RA [00:29:33] Well, we brought in some speakers occasionally, like at Take Back the Night. I remember one year we had Rosemary Brown, who's gone now, but there was actually Canada Post had done a stamp with her face on it. But Rosemary Brown was a great advocate for young women, and she was the first woman of colour to run for federal politics. She was at one point, I think, the leader of the NDP in British Columbia, and then eventually she came into federal politics. She's, she came to Hamilton a few times, but I remember when we invited her, she she spoke at a theatre that at the Board of Education, which was across from City Hall at that time, and she was just such a good speaker. She said, "And if you're not with us, you're in our way!" [Laughs].
ER [00:30:22] [Laughs] That's fantastic.
RA [00:30:22] And yeah, she was marvellous and everybody just had such and such great respect for her. So there were speakers. You know, we had we had authors come to the store. We invited authors. Sometimes they would speak out at McMaster University. Yeah.
ER [00:30:46] Yeah, awesome. Was the bookstore a meeting place for different groups and organisations? Were there any, you know, specific organisations in Hamilton that kind of made the Women's Bookshop their hub that you can remember?
RA [00:30:59] No, I don't think that. I think that we were always a little bit on the outside, a little bit on the fringe. And I do think that we might have been a little bit too free for our organisations that were dependent on government funding. So it was nice that we were there. We could sell tickets, we could get the word out as if the Sexual Assault Centre was having an event, but they didn't necessarily meet in our little space. But I was, I belong to a lot of the boards and committees, so I would know what was going on. And so it was, yeah, there was a, I would say, it was, I really needed the connection as a businesswoman. But for them, they were a little bit leery because they were more in the establishment and connected to more conservative funding.
ER [00:31:55] Hmm. Do you ever have any trouble from from anybody?
RA [00:32:02] I think back on when the Women's Studies programme started at McMaster University, under Joan Coldwell. Did you, did you know that name? It's worth it to look into Joan Coldwell. She was the one that started the Women's Studies programme. A beautiful person. And when she started the Women's Studies programme at McMaster, I just know it was in the 1990s, I don't know exactly the year, she came to me and asked me to help organise the women in the women's social service network in Hamilton to come and have a conversation about how the Women's Studies course that McMaster was going to look. And I was just thrilled to be asked and to be given the, you know, the responsibility of organising these women. But when we all got together, they those women were just pounding on Joan. Like, "You didn't come to us before you started the programme! You should have come to us and asked us about how to do it!" And you know, "Did you come to the lesbians? Did you come to the Sexual Assault Centre?" And they were attacking, really, it was quite brutal. So it wasn't always the best thing to all get together because it was like, you know how, I don't know exactly the phrase, but they say that the oppressed people will turn on each other, and it's because we have so little power that we end up turning on each other. And that that happened, to the point where I think the second year that she invited the public to come to International Women's Day events at McMaster, Joan really encouraged the public to come to the university and engage with just the programmes that they put on for that day. Then she came out during one of the workshops, and it wasn't appreciated. It was almost like, it was, I don't know. They were not kind to her, and I remember having conversations with Joan a couple of times, I don't even know if she is still living, but I felt that we were the women of the community were harsh, harsh. So it wasn't all, we had our stuff. But it's hard for us to work through our stuff because we're not we're not the mainstream and we can't get together in the same way, and we don't feel secure in the same way. But maybe, maybe that's just my interpretation of why are, why were women harsh with each other? They were. At times they were.
ER [00:34:47] Mostly infighting, not necessarily from from, you know?
RA [00:34:52] Yeah, yeah. And I used to think it was because the funding dollars were scarce and so everybody was in competition for the same funding. But I think it goes deeper than that because at the heart of feminism is this philosophy that we are working together as women. We are working to elevate women and we need to elevate ourselves so that we can have a relationship with each other so that we are not constantly fighting over the men, which is the big one for women, and that we can learn to respect each other. It was really new because I think until feminism came out, like more public, more into the mainstream, women really didn't have those places to to come together and build a relationship, except maybe one or two over the phone. Like, if you're, so it was, it was all very new. And we were also always being challenged. I remember hearing, you know, arguments on the radio about pro-abortion or pro-life. And so there, we were almost deliberately put against each other, you know, like finding topics that polarised us. And the more radical feminists amongst us saw that happening, that it was deliberate, that we were set up to be polarised and to argue with each other.
ER [00:36:33] Yeah, that's, yeah, that's a tough one to think about. You know, how the downfall it's all from the house divided? Not even necessarily...
RA [00:36:41] Yes, yes.
ER [00:36:42] Yeah.
RA [00:36:42] But I think we've made progress nonetheless. And even though we may have known that we were fighting within each other, within within us, somehow the world thinks there's a feminist movement. Somehow the world thinks there's a women's movement, and that's good for them to think that and to even feel it because, that, if nothing else, it makes them straighten out for a day. [Laughs]
ER [00:37:10] [Laughs] Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit about, you know, the end of the store's life? You know, how, you know, what the, how the landscape had changed, the change that you could see coming, the ones that you didn't?
RA [00:37:23] When I started it, I did, I did an interview with Andrew, Andrew Dreschel, at the Hamilton Spectator. I remember we went to the West Town restaurant on Locke Street, so that's like in 1985. And he said to me, "How long do you think this story is going to last?" And I said, "Well, I hope I'm here till I'm 90!" because I loved it so. But times came along and the big bookstores opened. And the big bookstores courted the publishers and got better deals than we ever did. And I remember Bryan Prince coming to the store one day and just saying, "We're going to become museums." So the big stores that buy lots, were getting a better deal on their merchandise, and we were still paying top dollar when we were just a puny little one. So, you know, I mean, in a, in a fair world, it would have been the reverse, like you're a big store, you can handle paying the regular. These little stores need a leg up, but that's not the way it works. So there was that. So, and then, of course, the new big, gigantic Indigo's, or whatever they were, Chapters, they just were so attractive. They were so attractive. So we lost a lot of customers to that, as did every other independent bookstore. I also think that we did, I don't know, maybe we didn't do enough to get our message out. I don't know. I was in Amsterdam for the 4th International Feminist Book Fair, and that was the last one I went to, and I was I was in a youth hostel. We shared a room with a group of women of colour, they were from London, England, and it was like 19, I think, '92, '94. And these women from England, they said, "You know, there's not really a recession going on," because there was all this talk about a global financial recession, there's, "It's just manufactured because people are getting too socially aware. People are coming together. Women are coming together. Women are rising up. So they've created this illusion of recession to put us all back. If you can't pay your mortgage, and you can't feed your children, and you can't pay your rent, you can't protest." And at that time, I remember hearing these women, they were so clear, so clear, like it's just a manufactured thing. And I was thinking, "Well, we're still doing okay in Canada." But not long after that, we had a conservative government come in, Mike Harris, and a month after that government was brought in there was 25 percent cuts to nurses pay, so social workers pay, and the welfare checks and mothers allowance checks that were, you know, monthly helping women. And our sales were gone. Those were people that, professionals, like nurses and social workers who would come in and they would buy books to inspire them to do the work that they were doing. And I think when they were cut that way, they just felt, "What's the point of me spending money on developing my career if this is the way that I'm going to be treated?" Cut. You've spent so much thousands of dollars to get your education, and now they're just cutting it. I saw that happening. We didn't, I'm putting it into words, but that's how I saw it. And so that was a great demise. And then there was the 2000 World March of Women, and that's that was October 2000. It was organised globally to take place on a certain date in October. Every capital city around the globe would have women marching on their capital, demanding justice for women. And in Hamilton, we got wind of this and there are groups of us got together and we raised money. We had a picnic, we had a dance, I don't know, we did things. We raised money to hire two coaches, buses, so that women who wanted to go to Ottawa to the march, the World March of Women, could come for no price. It was free, they just had to get on the bus. So we raised the money for two buses. It was a beautiful thing to see all these women come onto the bus. We got to Ottawa and the people! Emma, you wouldn't believe it, I'd never seen anything like it. They just came out of every-, it was like our parliament was in the centre, and every road coming towards parliament was just people walking, pushing strollers, for the World March of Women. We were part of something global phenomenon. And then when it was over, we all got on the bus and we came home and there was not one story in any of the newspapers the next day. Nothing in the Globe and Mail, nothing in any of the regional papers. There was maybe, maybe we saw a paragraph somewhere, I think. And I must say that I was so disheartened by then, I thought there is no, I can't, I can't keep it up because it's so deliberate and I also have to pay my my expenses. I have to pay the rent, I have to put food on the table. And so I slowly wound it down. It was heartbreaking. I could just go on, but if you look at it throughout time when oppressed people have come to a point of profit, whether it was the Irish that were expelled into North America, when they start to get their lives together, and make business and commerce, and and thrive, and have livelihoods, the powers that be can just come and take it because they can't stand to share. They want everything. I was in, I went to Newfoundland in 2004, and the history of Newfoundland is that, it's that oppressed people sent to the Rock. They could die for all that anybody cares, but they don't. They somehow scrape together a life and then the the merchant class claims to be speaking on behalf of the king, and "This land that you're farming is ours. These fish that you're catching are ours. And these books that you've been selling are cutting into our bottom line. And so we have to make sure that you're gone." It's done without those words, but that's, it's it's probably not relevant to what you're doing, but I warn you to watch when you when you start to see a little, somebody start to blossom, or a group of little somebodies start to blossom. Then all of a sudden, all of a sudden, all the grocery stores are selling organic. Is it? We don't know, because they see that people are going to the organic farms, so then they want it. They can't, not even a penny can they stand to lose.
ER [00:45:27] I think it's extremely relevant, actually. Like, I don't know, I feel very, very affected by that, by what you said. I think that's really, really poignant in what we're doing is trying to find, you know, these spaces that have been snatched away for whatever reason, as you know. The rent soars in Hamilton and people can't keep these businesses that are really genuinely important to the people. And, you know, we're just becoming a desert of culture, right? Yeah, I think that's really, really relevant and poignant.
RA [00:45:59] In 2001, I went to Germany. I have relatives there, I went to visit an aunt, but while I was there I went to a little town, not too far from Frankfurt, that has a museum that shows how they tortured the witches. And we've all heard that, you know, nine million were apparently burned, and mostly in France and Germany during the Middle Ages, but going into that museum, which is in the country where it happened, and they're not just showing that these are the devices they used to torture and burn and murder, but also about who these people were that were killed, that were just country people living country lives. And until this oppressive regime came in and started, well, we call it Rome or the Catholic Church, before that, there was a benevolent relationship between, say the the owner of the land and the workers, that it was just there was a lot of thriving and the livelihood. It's, I don't know how we're going to get back to the garden. Joni Mitchell song, "How do we get back to the garden?"
ER [00:47:20] Yeah, oh my gosh. Yeah, that's, I was going to ask again. You know, how is the landscape changed, but we can, we can see it.
RA [00:47:27] We were so political. We really, I mean, I was in the, I felt that, oh my gosh, like, I was learning constantly. Learning, and and we were so political, and we really felt like we were changing the world. We, and then, then all of a sudden, we started to be afraid, we were afraid that we wouldn't be able to stay at our jobs. I used to think that the world had changed, you know, because I was I was in my own space and we were talking freely about anything. And I mean we had, I remember going to an evening out where we watched movies of women giving each other vaginal exams to take the mystery out of it, you know. Like, close ups of one woman putting a speculum into her her friend and opening it up. And I, "That's what her cervix looks like! Oh, I had no idea!" It looks like the end of a penis!
ER [00:48:28] Really! [Laughs]
RA [00:48:29] It does! [Laughs] It's like when you look at it, it's a mirror of a penis. It's just the head. It's like, "Oh, that's the cervix!" Who knows that, right? Unless you're going in medical school, how are you going to know it?
ER [00:48:47] Wow.
RA [00:48:47] We were just learning so many things! So, we got stronger and stronger, and as women got stronger and stronger, Emma, this is, I hope that you can find this somewhere that I'm not the only one saying it, women gone madder and madder, and they didn't want to take this shit anymore, from their kids or from their partners. Like, "Listen, you guys got a think! You got to rise yourself up, you've got to get with the programme! Because we are just full of all these realisations and everybody else around us is happy the way we were, right? They're not, nothing's changed for them, but we're we're bursting open! We're bursting open!" And so women started to get sick, because there, they had all this this new stuff but around them people weren't changing. So like, "What am I going to do? What am I going to do? I mean, my family is nuts, right? My fam, my kids are nuts! My husband's nuts! My parents are nuts! They're racist or sexist! They're not, they're not forward thinking, they're nuts!" So women went to the doctor, and so "I can't, I'm so stressed!" And they were put on tranquillisers, various, well whatever the marketing name is, Prozac was the one at that time. I put up on my sign, I used to have a sign that I would change the letters on the on the traffic-facing side of the building, I'd put on "Books not Prozac." And I got a call that morning from a woman who was on Prozac, "Please take that sign down." She felt insulted by it. She felt threatened by it. She was on Prozac. But so we had that. I I don't know if you can find that in any other literature, but that happened. Women were medicated. And to underline that, Emma, I actually had a customer who was a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company that came in. I, unbeknown to me, I didn't didn't make this conversation happen, it was a it was a man, in fact, and he said, "Look at this." And he opened up a brochure that he was giving to the doctors, he's working for a pharmaceutical company that, I don't know who, he didn't-. The brochure shows a woman my age, 50, 60 years old. Just average looking woman getting on the bus with her groceries, and she's she's just an average looking woman. She's just she's had a long day, she's, and now she's getting on the bus with her groceries. She's not smiling, she's not sexy, she's the average middle aged woman. And a caption above the bus driver, or under the bus driver says, you know that that woman should do us all a favour, and then lists the hormones that she should be taking so that she doesn't look like that. Yeah, "she should do us all a favour," so the bus driver doesn't have to look at that. Yeah, that was being handed out at brochure to the medical establishment. This man was a sales rep, he came in and said, "Look at this! This is what I have to give out." Yeah. We don't even know how deliberate and mean it is, we can't. It's unspeakable.
ER [00:52:13] Insidious. Yeah. Oh my gosh.
RA [00:52:17] Mm-Hmm.
ER [00:52:17] You know, I can remember that kind of thing, you know, on billboards. But to specifically marketing it to doctors.
RA [00:52:25] Yes. Yes.
ER [00:52:25] Yeah, that's yeah. That really blows my mind.
RA [00:52:27] Yes.
ER [00:52:28] It's horrifying. I'm going to turn a light on, it's getting dark in here.
RA [00:52:31] And then because of the work I was in, there was always revelations, right? Like, women were going out and getting this product called Premarin. It was how it was sold as to keep you young so that you, you know, to somehow to keep menopause at-bay. It was made from pregnant urine, the pregnant mare's urine. It's called Premarin, it was made from pregnant mare's urine. That was the ingredients. So in Alberta, there were these stalls of pregnant mares, and the urine from these pregnant mares was being collected to make this remedy, to make this drug.
ER [00:53:17] Right.
RA [00:53:19] But women didn't know, "Why is it called Premarin?" But of course, when you get that together, PREgnant mare MARe's urINe, Premarin. [Sings] Da-da-da! [Laughs]
ER [00:53:32] [Laughs] Wow.
RA [00:53:32] Mm hmm!
ER [00:53:36] Um, maybe I can phrase, had you seen, you know, the political landscape change in maybe your customer base or your friends from the time that the store opened to the time that it closed? Was there, could you see an obvious change in how people were feeling?
RA [00:53:52] Yes, I definitely can see how we were really political and radical in the early days. We had a theatre group in in Hamilton, Half the Sky Theatre. Have you, do you know about it? Well, Kathy Brown was the person that really was the spearhead, I think, and she is still around. Cole would know how to put you in touch with Kathy Brown. She needs to be interviewed. But there were many others in the theatre group. I was, I did a few plays with them, but the core people were Kathy Brown and that group there. So we were we were really, really radical. And then as time went on and these cuts to salaries, people people just played everything close to home then, close to their chest. It wasn't safe. It wasn't safe to be radical. Mm-hmm.
ER [00:54:59] I just think it makes me so sad, but so hopeful, I guess.
RA [00:55:04] Well, what makes me hopeful is there's so many young women who still have who have the language, and who would do know how to express themselves, who know that we're being oppressed and have and can lead. You know, A-B-C-D-E, from here to there, they can see it, so. There is a saying that the truth will never die. It takes energy to keep it going, but anything else is just frivolous. I mean, we need some frivolity, but you want the truth, right? I mean, if you really want to know why you're here and who you are, you're digging for the truth. I think.
ER [00:55:45] Yeah, OK. Those are all my questions. I think you've got some really fantastic stuff. Thank you so much because I think that's really invaluable, you know?
CG [00:00:00] Cool.
MB [00:00:01] Right, OK! This interview is being recorded by Maryssa Barras, my pronouns are she/her, and-
ER [00:00:12] Emma Rockwood, my pronouns, are she/her they/them.
MB [00:00:17] And on August 10th, 2021, as part of a mapping project with our working title "Mapping Hamilton's Queer Spaces", and our interviewee today is Cole Gately. Please feel free to introduce yourself!
CG [00:00:34] Thanks! My name is Cole Gately, I, my pronouns are he or they, and I am a trans educator in the city of, in Hamilton. Let's say that.
MB [00:00:48] Cool thanks! So starting off pretty broadly, would you mind just sharing with us how you came to Hamilton and what your history is in the community?
CG [00:01:04] Yes, and I also want to say that I'm the community steward, one of two community stewards for the Hamilton Queer Archives. So I, I arrived in Hamilton from Scotland in 1991, when I was twenty-one? I think? No, no, I arrived in '89 when I was 21, and then I came out as a lesbian in 1991 when I was 23. And I have lived in Hamilton my whole, my whole adult life, really. I'm now in my 50s, I'm fifty-three years old, so I've been around for quite a long time. I came out as a little baby dyke back in-
MB [00:01:50] [Laughs]
CG [00:01:50] -back in the early 90s when women were having dances every single week and there was lots of feminism happening, and it was a little bit second wave, but it was also in transition. And I started working at the Women's Bookstop in Hamilton, which is queer, no, it was a feminist bookstore, but obviously, you know, it involved queer titles. It involved, it had all the intersections, it had titles around mothering and childbirth, titles around racialisation, and it had titles around lesbian identity and and all sorts of other things as well. Feminist writing, mostly. And I spent the decade there, working there, and then in the late 90s, I started working in social services. I started out at the Hamilton AIDS Network, which was called, I think it was called the Hamilton AIDS Network for Dialogue and Support at that time, so HANDS. And then I was the men-and-men worker, which was quite interesting because I was a lesbian. So there I am, up there talking to gay men about their penises and how to, you know, just not, you know, just perform properly without, you know, you know getting HIV or anything like that. And then I moved into homelessness work, and so I left the bookstore completely, and I have worked for the last twenty-two years in homelessness in Hamilton. And have also been part of, um, I've been an activist. I came out as a trans person in, well I started transitioning, just socially with my name, in the mid, I would say, mid 2000s, and then, mid-aughts. And then I around 2008 I came out as a trans man, and I started doing a bit more of a medical transition with hormones. And I've been involved in Pride organising over the years. Yeah, so, and now now I'm actually working at the City of Hamilton as the educator for eight thousand workers working at the City of Hamilton on trans inclusion at the city. So that's my trajectory.
MB [00:04:26] [Laughs].
ER [00:04:26] Very nice. Yeah. How do you find that that kind of work goes educating? Because my mom works for the federal government and she goes through all this training now, she's always coming to me like, "I don't think this is right. I think you've told me something different from this." Do you find that there's a lot of weird, you know, misdirection, like the curriculum?
CG [00:04:46] Do you mean like the the the city?
ER [00:04:49] Yeah, the city.
CG [00:04:51] What are you asking?
ER [00:04:53] Like, how does it translate to people, you know, who are maybe younger? Like is there a curriculum for what you teach?
CG [00:05:02] Yes, well, the actually the the the thing that I teach is a course. It's a two-and-a-half-hour, between two and two-and-a-half-hour course, which has which actually was developed by Egale, which is the national queer organisation in Canada. And they developed it, they were hired by the city of Hamilton to come up with the protocol, a policy, for the City of Hamilton, but then also to develop the the education. There were also community members who were consulted with. I was one of them, I helped to drive the consult, consultation. And then I ended up applying for the job and getting the job, so as the lead educator. And so I find it quite, it's actually quite good, the education that they provided, that Egale came up with was quite good. I wouldn't say it's the absolute best. It was, trans lives and what our experiences are like, rather than what you need to do to be a good ally. So we've, you know, we're changing it up a little bit in order to produce more allyship at the City of Hamilton. And my idea is that, like, when there is 8000, when there are 8000 employees all individually learning about trans inclusion, then they're going to be in-, you know, infecting their [laughs] families, and their communities, and their friends, so that the reach is going to be much farther than 8000 people. So I I feel very good about it, but I don't believe that one two-hour session is good enough.
ER [00:06:47] Right.
MB [00:06:48] Yeah. I had a question about a story that you shared last time we spoke, and I didn't write all the details down. You mentioned something about how after coming out, you had just missed the first gay Pride and Sam Robinson was there?
CG [00:07:12] Svend, Svend, Svend. S-v-e-n-d.
MB [00:07:17] Oh Svend! OK, yeah, I was trying to get Sam Robinson, I couldn't find anything! Would you mind?
CG [00:07:22] Oh sorry! His name is Svend.
MB [00:07:22] No, that's okay! Would you mind just sharing that story again? So that-
CG [00:07:28] Yeah, so I [laughs] so I was, I had, just landed in Canada. You know, and after a year and a half, I was like, "I don't want to be here anymore! I miss all my friends, and I miss my, you know, my community and I miss people." And I had done, you know, I'd done, you know, I'd been working in Edinburgh in the 80s selling books, you know, just being. So I was just finding myself and I didn't want to be here, really. But then a friend of mine said, "Hey, do you want to go on a road trip in your car-" (I had a car) "out west?" And I was working at Greenpeace at the time, so I'm like, "Yeah!" And you know, we were hippies, we were like environmentalists in the early 90s, and so we decided to go out west. And I just thought it'd be a great place, a great way to see the country and to travel for more than two hours before getting to a coast. You know, like, I mean, that's what in Scotland. But like, so I travel for an entire week without seeing a coast. And on the way there, I mean, before I left, I was starting to think, you know, I'm not really interested in dating guys anymore. I just don't know what I want, I don't really know. But then I was out there and I, you know, I met some gay people and I just actually came out. Somebody was homophobic towards me, or towards us as a group, and I called them out on it. And then my gay friend that I was with said, "Are you gay?" And I was like, "Ooh? Yes I am!", and you know like, "OK, thanks for asking!" So I was like, "Yes, I am!" So then we travelled, I mean, I was still with this, not 'with' this man that I was travelling with, we were friends, but we went down to the US. We went across North America. We went, you know, we all, we sat in the Grand Canyon and decided we didn't have enough money to go to New Orleans, so I've never been there. And then by the time we got back, oh yeah, we were in San Francisco and we missed it, by a week! We just missed it by a week, so Pride had already happened, and then by the time we got back to Hamilton, we had missed that by another week. And but I was just very, very excited lesbian out there and I was like, "Let's go!" You know, and Pride had already happened, but I, but a good friend of mine came out actually at the same time and she was actually in Australia, I was in San Francisco. We came back and we met each other at a bar, just bumped into each other, and we talked about Pride, and she said that she had been there and she was involved with people who had set up this whole dinner to celebrate gay pride, it was called 'gay pride' in those days, and and they invited Svend Robinson, who was the very first openly gay MP in Canada. And he actually, I actually wrote about it this last Pride, and he wrote back, and he says he remembered it very well. I asked him on Twitter.
MB [00:10:48] Yeah.
CG [00:10:49] He said "Yeah, I remember that very well." Yeah.
MB [00:10:52] Oh, that's awesome. Yeah. Oh, that's so cute. Yeah. We'll have to track him down.
CG [00:11:00] Well, yeah, track him down. Like, talk to him and ask if he wants to discuss because I think he might. And then the other thing is that shortly after that, I came out in, like, May, I was back in, you know, in July, and then in September was Take Back the Night, which I didn't know what Take Back the Night was, I was just like, so even though I was in, oh, this is early on, like this is before I was at the bookstore. So I didn't know what to Take Back the Night was, and but I was like "All the lesbians go to Take Back the Night, so I gonna go there!" And I was invited to go and then there was a dance afterwards, Take Back the Night is always on the Thursday and then there was a women's dance on the Friday night at the Army and Navy Hall on Vine Street in downtown Hamilton, and which had loads of stairs. What were you going to say, Emma?
MB [00:11:56] They're right across from Happy Hours right?
CG [00:11:59] Yeah! They right across the street, which used to be called-
ER [00:12:01] OK Yeah!
CG [00:12:01] -Used to be called the Backstreet Bar.
ER [00:12:04] Oh wow!
CG [00:12:05] Yeah, right? So it was up there and that was the very first dance I ever went to. And I, you know, I met a woman, and blah-blah-blah the rest is history. And there is a famous, like, everyone says, for years they always said, "I remember when you met Yvonne, and then Yvonne, you know, took you away from the dance and you were riding on the back of her bike." And everyone was like, "Oh, I guess that's what's, you know, that's what's going to happen!" You know?
ER [00:12:33] [Laughs].
CG [00:12:33] And that was in the early 90s. And unfortunately, Yvonne, who was very famous in town, Yvonne, my very first partner, she died of an metastasised breast cancer in 1996, a little bit after we'd broken up, but we were still very, very good friends. And there were loads of women, lesbians, involved in her care, actually, for, we did the Tibetan death chants and all this kind of stuff. And she died in '96 in November, so we always remember her, her, you know, her, her, you know, every year. Anyway, so that was like coming out. And yeah, so I missed the first Pride in Hamilton, but I made it to the second one. Yeah, yeah.
MB [00:13:19] Yeah that's awesome. I guess-
CG [00:13:19] And then, and then from 1992 onwards, I was at every single Pride in Toronto until about, I think I made about twenty-one or twenty-two Prides in a row. And I just, kind of stopped going.
MB [00:13:37] Yeah,.
CG [00:13:38] You know, I'm older and I don't want to travel to Toronto and worry, and worry about where I'm going to go for a pee and things like that, yeah.
MB [00:13:50] Yeah, I guess a good segue now would be so, like, you you came out, you had, like, all of this finding yourself kind of thing happening. Is that kind of how you wound up at the feminist bookstore? Or did you, were you already kind of frequenting that space? Like, what kind of a space was the feminist bookstore and how did you end up there?
CG [00:14:16] Yeah, the feminist-
MB [00:14:17] The Women's bookstop, I should say. I just, yeah.
CG [00:14:20] Yeah, no worries, the Women's Bookstop. It was there, and I didn't really know Renee, and Renee was this very, very beautiful and intimidating woman, and everybody thought she was a lesbian, but she's actually very, very well, you know, married for fifty years or something to Peter. But so my friend Robin, the one who, actually her name is Robin Stevenson, she wouldn't mind me telling you this, she actually is an author of young adult books through Orca Press. She's written like twenty of them, young adult novels, and much of them involve being queer. She's actually written the very first timeline, oh, you should get this, the very first, the only book on queer history in Canada for children aged nine to thirteen, and it's called Pride. Okay?
MB [00:15:11] Yeah.
CG [00:15:12] So, Robin Stevenson, I've been friends with her since I was sixteen years old, even though I only moved here when I was twenty-one. I was a visitor every single summer because my dad lived here, so we met and we were friends since we were sixteen. And so, so she's written this history of pride in her in Canada called Pride. And so she was the one who said, "Oh," I was at the Svend Robinson dinner, so she was the one who said, "Hey, we're going to go to, do you want to go to this women's concert with us called Women's Music?", which was by people like, well, this concert we went to was by Lucie Blue Tremblay. There was also Holly Near, there was also Chris Williams, there all these famous women who sang women's music. So it was sort of like a little, you know, subculture of lesbian singers. They're all white. And and so we went, I went to this concert out in Maryhill, which is a sort of rural area outside of Hamilton, where all the concerts happened in this little church community centre or something. And I went there, it was my first time I'd ever been in the presence of more than one lesbian, and I was, I mean, there were hundreds of them there. And I was just beside myself with excitement, I just could not believe that there were so many lesbians out there.
ER [00:16:47] [Laughs].
CG [00:16:48] And I was just "Whew!" And I had a younger, well an older lesbian, take me under her wing. And, you know, she just told me, "OK, you need to go to Take Back the Night. You need to go to the women's dance, you need to go to the the gay dance, and then I'm going to help you find a woman!" You know, and she really did!
MB [00:17:08] [Laughs]
CG [00:17:08] [Laughs] So the bookstore. Robin is much more bookish than I am, but, you know, I'm quite bookish, but she's a bit more. And so she went in to the bookstore and talked to Renee, and Renee said, "Hey, why don't you and your friend come to this, you know, this concert?" So we were like, "OK!" So she gets in touch with me and she was like, "Hey, guess what? Renee from the bookstore wants us to go to this concert with her, and a few lesbians!" And I'm like, "What? Like what?!" So we all went, we were in the back of a van. It was driven by, the van was owned by, [Laughs] I'm giving all these names away, but Diane Woods, who actually owned the Cactus place in Dundas, which is what the Cactus Festival is named after, like-
ER [00:18:00] The Thirsty Cactus? Yup! [Laughs]
MB [00:18:02] Yeah, yeah.
CG [00:18:03] Right? And they don't exist anymore, but she was she was the owner of that. And then she and another woman, that I'm still friends with, and, one, two, oh and then Lynn, the one who brought me under her wing, and Robin and me and Renee. So we're all sitting in the back of this van with no seats or anything and just driving out to this site with all these lesbians. I'm like, "What's going to happen? I don't know." And then we went to this concert and then from then on, we, like, Robin and I became, like, you know, even better friends because she, you know, she was out. And then, you know DJ Cozmic Cat? Have you heard of Cozmic Cat?
MB [00:18:45] I've heard of, but I don't know.
CG [00:18:48] D you know, Cherry Bomb? You know, the dance party?
ER [00:18:52] Ok.
CG [00:18:52] The queer women's dance party Cherry Bomb, and Denise Benson. And so Cozmic Cat, before they were famous, is, was became, like, is from Hamilton, and she she got in touch with me, she says, "Hey, I heard you just came out!" And I'm like, "Yes!" And she's like, "OK, let's hang out!" So we became absolute best friends. And so we were just like little dykes about town, running around, you know, just tearing up the whole lesbian community, like with our coolness and whatever. We used to plan, like, for three hours before going to a women's dance. Like, what we would wear, and you know, who we're going to try to pick up and this kind of stuff. [Laughs] So we, so the, uh, oh god I'm getting all over the place, but Robin. What was I saying about Robin in the- oh yeah, so we came out and then we went to that, that dance, that that concert and then, you know, we were great friends and then we went to these dances and I became really good friends with Paula Burrows, Cozmic Cat is Paula Burrows, she would, you probably need her permission to talk about that, but she is really cool. You should go look it up on Instagram, DJ Cozmic Cat. And she was from Hamilton, she grew up in Hamilton. I've known her since she was, you know, like we were in our early 20s and were in our early 50s. And so she pulled me out of the closet and, you know, make love to a woman, all this kind of stuff, you know like. So, and so the lesbians were quite effective in those days. Like, we had a lot, there was a lot going on. There was lots of feminism going on. There was lots of like, you know, you know, involvement with SACHA. There was involvement, you know, I actually got lent from the Women's Bookstore to SACHA for a week, you know, to do an administration for them. And it was all very, the women were very, very connected with each other and working all together on, you know, ending violence against women from men, and also, you know, amplifying women's issues. And, you know, sometimes there was once a protest by some lesbians against other lesbians for having a dance at a church that wasn't accessible. [Laughs].
MB [00:21:20] Oh wow!
CG [00:21:21] Oh yeah! They actually picketed our dance! We were like, "Why are you picketing?" Like, we're they're my friends, and I'm like, "Why are you picketing?", "Sorry Cole, sorry but you know, like, you have to stand by your principles." And I'm like, I mean now, we're like, "Please City, you know, make more, you know, accessible spaces!" Because there aren't very many accessible spaces in town.
MB [00:21:43] Yeah. So is the the Bookstop kind of like a, did it, was it there for a long time before you ended up there? And then like, did it kind of act as a nexus? I kind of, I'm getting the impression that it was kind of like where everybody gravitated. [Laughs] Yeah.
CG [00:21:59] Yes. It totally was. It was a total nexus. I mean, it started in 1985. It was the second ever women's bookstore to be opened in Canada. The first one was in Windsor, actually. And the oldest running one was in Thunder Bay, as a matter of fact, but they didn't, they started later than us, but they were longer running. But basically it started in '85, it closed down in, I would say, 2000 and it . We had, I mean, Renee and I actually started up a little production company called Gearing Up Productions. We just named it after very, like, nothing, you know, Gearing Up Productions. And we produced five anthologies of women's writing on different themes. One was called The Courage to Eat, so it was talking all about eating and fatness and everything, like, you know, this is back in the 90s, you know, before anyone was talking about this kind of stuff. …it was all about erotic writing by women, and they were all local women, and we, you know, we vetted them and there was no poetry allowed. So we had to say no to a couple of people, but it was all short stories. And we did the photography, I did the photography, we got people, [Laughs] it was just so grassroots. And I have, I think I have, I mean, Renee must have all of them. We also put on art shows. We put it on an art show called Bountiful Woman, the Beautiful… …gallery on the, oh no, at Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, down on Stuart Street, and there were, like, you know, fifty women's, you know, put together art to put there. We also brought in Ani DiFranco, which, you know, I don't know if you have ever heard of her, but we we, she's famous, you know, bisexual chick singer who had Righteous Babe Records. You know, she refused to go with any kind of major label, and she created her own label. We brought her to town and we charged six bucks and three hundred people came!
MB [00:24:17] Oh wow!
CG [00:24:17] And this is before the internet! So pre-internet… …came into the bookstore to buy tickets to get to that concert, and we were practically, I mean, we were sold out. I mean, three hundred people showed up at Mohawk College. We rented Mohawk College, we got some guy to do the the sound and I had to cook her dinner, a vegan dinner. I made her nut, I think it was a nut curry or something.
MB [00:24:50] [Laughs].
CG [00:24:51] So we did a lot of other things. And we had, we also served as a little bit of a place, like a little hub, for feminists and for women. I mean, every time there was a women's dance, people would come in on the Saturday to de-, you know, debrief the women's dance, and who was going with who, and who was doing what, all the drama and blah blah blah. They would come in and discuss it all with me, you know, the next day to like, "Oh, I guess, oh oh oh", you know? So there was all this, like, real, there was a real sense of familiarity and family around the whole thing. Yeah.
ER [00:25:28] Right.
CG [00:25:28] So the store was a major hub and we would have concerts in the backyard, and poetry readings and all sorts of bizarre things happen there.
MB [00:25:38] I I have a follow up question about, because it seems like it was the nexus, but also like there was quite a network, like, of of of different places across the city, or of different types of places that the bookstore would, like, participate or like, you know what I mean, like, you know, different different people in different places and crossing over. What kind of what kind of did those networks look like? Was it kind of a lot of, like, little little nexuses all over the place? Or were there kind of groups that would transiently go between places? Like, what did that look like?
CG [00:26:21] Well, I think there were, because the thing is like, not all lesbians are feminists, right? So I remember, you know, and not all women, not all lesbians would come to the women's dances. So I mean, we would have women's dances and, I mean, most people we ever got, I think, was like two hundred. And I'm like, surely there are two hundred thousand lesbians here, or at least, you know, twenty thousand or something. And so, but then I realised that there were other groups of of, not all lesbians are feminists. So there were other groups of, and not to say that they were anti-feminists or anything, but just to say that, you know, there was the queer bowling league and loads of lesbians were involved in that, along with gay men as well. And then there was, there were, I mean, the dances would attract some people, but some people prefer to go to the Windsor Hotel or to 121, which was 121 Hughson North, which, you know, had many iterations, and ended up being the Spice Factory, which is called the Spice Factory now. But, so there would be, not everyone would be attached to the Women's Bookstop because they didn't necessarily see themselves as feminists. So maybe some of the more, I would say, the 'sporty dykes' would maybe not quite be coming to the store because they weren't really interested in, you know, reading and, you know, being intellectual or whatever or whatever, you know, whatever they thought we were doing, and they were more interested in playing softball. And so there was a softball league, there was, like, bowling that was like, you know, probably soccer or something, you know. So sports stuff. And then there were people who would hang out at the bars and be a bit more involved with gay men as well. There's definitely a gay culture that involved women that wasn't really about lesbians being separate from from men. Yeah.
MB [00:28:24] Mm-hmm yeah. Before I forget, I also was wondering where the dances often took place? Because it sounds like they were kind of all over. You mentioned that the first one that you went to was at Maryhill, but I'm assuming they weren't all out in the boonies. [Laughs]
CG [00:28:44] No, Maryhill was a concert, so it wasn't a dance.
MB [00:28:47] Oh ok.
CG [00:28:47] It was seats, right? So that was just listening to music, for sure. But then the main places were, well, first of all, my very first women's dance, and I think the gay dances happened there, they were called the HUGS dances, Hamilton United Gay Societies. They would happen at either the Army and Navy Hall, or, and they would, you know, go in between, or St Demetrius Church on Head Street. I don't know if it's still there. But, so Head Street is just off of Dundurn, it's near the Staircase and. But the problem is the Army and Navy April is run by the military, and after a while we were like, "Why are we going here?" Because it's a military thing and the military hate us and they're going to kill us and blah-blah-blah, and so let's not support them. And then St Demetrius Church was first of all, it was inaccessible. Well, the Army Navy Hall was inaccessible because I had stairs going up, but also the St. Demetrius Church was inaccessible because it had stairs on the outside going up. And that's why we got picketed because it was inaccessible. But also, you went upstairs to get in and then had to go downstairs to get into the hall. And so there was also a church. You know, why are we, you know, there's so many queer people who have been abused by, you know, the church. And so why are we supporting? Why are we having people who could be triggered, you know, coming to dance for gay people at a church? So that, you know, so towards the late 90s there were much more, sort of, consciousness around, you know, what kind of spaces are we going to be? And so then what we did was we had a few people running dances, but in the mid, I would say the mid-90s, maybe like '95 to '99 it was, the dances were not as often, but they were run and that was just the women's dances. There were no more gay dances because the gay people didn't want to do it or whatever, or the, and the gay men I remember once saying, "Well, why can't, why do we have only, you know, lesbian dances not gay dances? And it's like, well, if you want a gay dance why don't you organise it?
ER [00:31:06] [Laughs].
CG [00:31:06] Like, you know, we're organizing our own dances, you organise your dances. Hey, come on in!
Anonymous [00:31:15] [Background talking]
CG [00:31:15] Thanks!
Anonymous [00:31:18] This is so fucking cool!
CG [00:31:18] Isn't it? Thanks! I'm talking about gay history. So you can come in. This is my friend from who's just arrived. Basically, I'm just doing it.
MB [00:31:28] Yeah.
CG [00:31:29] You can always chime in if you want.
Anonymous [00:31:31] No, thanks.
CG [00:31:31] And have a beer.
MB [00:31:33] We can, we can just, like, you can just give us your last little schpiel and then we'll wrap up.
CG [00:31:37] Yeah, yeah.
MB [00:31:38] Yeah
CG [00:31:39] But basically, I'm just talking about the dances, so basically where we where we ended up was at the YWCA and and so Jill Rumble, who was a really good friend of the lesbian community, she wasn't a lesbian herself. She actually died of ALS, it was just terrible. She had, like, a very long, long period of not being able to move and speak and swallowing things like this. But she was very good, she was, I don't know if she was the CEO or, definitely in charge of operations. And so we had the YWCA auditorium where, you know, some things happen now, and we brought in our own bar. Well, they had this sort of like 1970s, like, so there is this round thing that you opened up into two halves and they had this is all this liquor cabinet underneath. And we had big tubes filled with ice and we had beer there, and we served even mixed drinks sometimes, and we served wine. And and we made all the money and then we gave it basically to, you know, we donated lots of it. But sometimes we we just had to pay for everything and then we would split it amongst, you know, people who worked it. But basically, we had these women's dances there for about, I would say, like many years, like four or five years. And yeah, we just ran it all ourselves, we got a special event licence and everything. And so, and Jill Rumble, as I was saying, she was the CEO or what have you, and she, I would call her up and she would give us a discount. You know, so she'd always give us a discount, "Oh, you can have it for $200." You know, so rather than like five hundred or whatever they they rented it out for. So we had them there. And uh, you know, the people at the front desk were very understanding and we were always like, "No men allowed!" you know? So in those days, it was like, I mean, trans women, we were always very much like, we don't know any trans women, but if they come, they're allowed in. I mean, some of the women there would be like, "There's a man here!" we'd be like, "No, she's a woman, and you better be nice to her, otherwise, you know, we're not gonna-" And I was the bouncer!
ER [00:33:56] [Laughs].
CG [00:33:57] I remembers, you know. I was the bouncer, and I am the smallest and the tiniest and the friendliest of all the lesbians-
ER [00:34:08] [Laughs].
CG [00:34:09] -that we worked with. So that's why I was chosen because I would be able to, like no one would want to pound me. And so, and it worked out, you know, I was I was the bouncer, right? And then we had drama. My friend is over here, she remembers all the drama from the dance.
Anonymous [00:34:25] [Muffled audio]
CG [00:34:25] I know I never bounced her out, and she's like twice my size. But anyway, so we yeah, so we did that. And you know, it was great. And then we just like we ran out of steam and nobody ever took it up again. And-
MB [00:34:41] Yeah.
CG [00:34:43] -it didn't happen anymore. Yeah.
MB [00:34:43] Yeah, right. Oh, well, thank you for sharing all that! That's awesome! Lots of very good information.
ER [00:34:52] [Laughs].
MB [00:34:52] We'll let you go hang out with your friend, I'll I'll stop recording so we can just chat.
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