Appx 1,200 words
A Not So Gay World:
Homosexuality in Canada
by Marion Foster and Kent Murray
McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1972
James Fraser Library call number: 2.71 FOS
Review by Ed Jackson
The Body Politic
# 7, Winter 1973 (published late 1972)
A Not So Gay World was the first non-fiction gay title ever produced by a mainstream publishing house in Canada. The authors (and most of their subjects) used pseudonyms -- and got a rough ride from more openly gay commentators. The book was reviewed by Ed Jackson in Books in Canada (Nov - Dec 1972) as well as in The Body Politic; by Erv (later Tom) Warner in Saskatoon's Zodiac Friendship Society News (Dec 1972); and by myself in The Canadian Reader (Feb 1973).
Despite the critical reception at the time, A Not So Gay World is a useful and interesting document today. Both the book and the reactions to it reflect a transitional moment in public perceptions of homosexuality -- and in the self-perceptions of homosexuals themselves.
If it was, as Ed Jackson said in 1972, "an epitaph to a vanishing life," it is now valuable precisely as an epitaph. As young activists, we tended to disdain that old "lively subculture of sleazy bars, police raids and brawling leather- jacketed dykes"; later, we were eager to reclaim it as our history. And this book also offers -- even if only partially; almost despite itself -- a record of the early, out-of-the-closet lesbian and gay movement in Canada.
Rick Bébout, April 1997
The past year has seen the publication of a number of excellent American books on the topic of homosexuality. They have been written either by homosexuals awakened to serious enquiry by the gay liberation movement or by straight sociologists and psychologists freed from the strictures of prejudice masquerading as scientific theory.
For the first time it is possible to acquire a balanced view of the gay world without constant reference to dysfunction, deviation and disease, and without the introduction of those favourite stock characters: Castrating Mommy and Distant Detached Daddy.
It is therefore disappointing to discover that the first book on homosexuality in Canada fails in almost every way to inform or enlighten. A Not So Gay World is out of date and full of serious factual errors. At best it is an epitaph to a vanishing life.
The title is a cheap and facile put-down, surely an example of publishing cowardice at its worst. One can only hope that the authors were not party to its selection. As a homosexual active in the gay movement in Canada, I am appalled that those authors thought it too much of a 'gamble' to use their real names. It is a gamble which must be taken now, not tomorrow, and if there were valid reasons for the caution, better the book not be written at all.
Why does the book fail? It fails because of a needless duplication of material found in more adequate books and because of a real confusion in purpose. What we don't need is one more tired glossary of gay world terminology such as 'dyke' and 'drag queen'. What we don't need is another visit to the underworld, a guided tour for the small-town lesbian couple of all the exciting dangers of Toronto bars, half of which no longer exist.
And what we don't need is yet another book delineating the "giant shadow" of loneliness haunting the life of the homosexual.
Ostensibly an attempt to show Canadian homosexuals are no different from heterosexuals, A Not So Gay World subtly demonstrates in various ways that there are pressures and attitudes in this society which frequently do force them to be different. The series of interviews which constitute the body of the book reveal some rather unusual people.
It is not clear how free they were to choose their particular life style and how much they were powerless victims of an oppressive society. A young homosexual reading some of the interviews might well wonder if to be gay meant having to lead a similar life and be depressed at the prospect.
Because the interviewees are allowed only to discuss their adaptation to their sexual orientation, the cumulative effect is one of excessive preoccupation with sex. We learn little of other aspects of their lives, although presumably they do exist. There seems to be no unifying theme to the interviews, other than a rather defensive: See, homosexuals are just people, aren't they? This we should not have to be told.
In addition, few of the people have really thought about their sexuality and consequently have picked up second-hand theories. Eugene, for example, thinks male homosexuals interested in anal intercourse are merely looking for a vaginal substitute.
What purports to be a study of homosexuality in Canada is in reality a look at homosexuality in Toronto, with a superficial survey of national gay life typified by the attitude expressed by a friend of the author: "There isn't a spot in the country where you can't find someone."
Completely missed was the opportunity to interview gay people in small towns and rural areas in order to contrast the kind of pressures they experience with urban life styles. The authors make no attempt to explain why a brief cruising guide is the best they can do and if that may change.
A certain nostalgia pervades the book, The most obvious example of constantly turning to the past rather than the future is the exchange between two lesbians remembering the good old days. That was when Toronto the Good was completely unaware that lurking behind the bland moralistic facade was a lively subculture of sleazy bars, police raids and brawling leather-jacketed dykes.
There appears to be a genuine regret at the changes involved in a minority surfacing to view. All that is disappearing and with it goes the parody of heterosexual role playing often evident in these pages.
The sole attempt at analysing the changing social conditions and their influences on sexual attitudes comes in the interview with Chris Fox, who describes her experiences on the 24-hour distress line of the social services division of the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT).
Also valuable are George Hislop's discussions of CHAT's work in the courts and persecution of homosexuals by the police and the legal system, and Charlie Hill's explanations for the initial growth of gay groups on university campuses rather than in the community, where fear of losing jobs and paranoia still immobilize homosexuals.
Finally, A Not So Gay World fails to record the developments in the gay movement in the past half year, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver. Some of the most notable events have occurred quite recently, for example Gay Pride Week in August. The list of homophile associations in Canada is out of date and could easily have been checked before printing. Even the proof-reading is slap-dash.
A Not So Gay World could have been worse -- but not much.
For more on CHAT, and on Gay Pride Week, see The Archivist at Work, an article from the Archives' newsletter, available here online.
[List of online documents] [Victories & defeats chronology / 1972 page]