Love is a Hunter

Rae Spoon
[Saved By Radio/Vinyl],

Love is a Hunter album coverAbandoning the spare country folk of 2008’s superioryouareinferior, Rae Spoon’s latest album, Love is a Hunter, pulses with barely contained dance beats. Backing their signature high tremolo with electronica makes for an odd, but enthralling combination of vulnerability and bravado. Singing “You can dance with the one you came with, or you can come home with me,” Spoon manages to bring romance and emotional honesty to what would have been a shallow club track in the hands of anyone else. Most importantly, Love is a Hunter is a stellar collection of queer anthems, ranging from the solidarity and strength of “Joan,” a “love song to the trans community,” to the power of “Dangerdangerdanger”’s final verse: “Glitter in our eyes/from Berlin to Calgary/Hold each other up/Queer’s surviving.”

Originally published in Shameless Magazine, Spring 2011.

Butch Hagiography

Elisa Lim
Feminist Art Gallery

Elisa Lim & their Illustrated Gentlemen

Tucked away behind the home of Toronto-based artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue is the brand new Feminist Art Gallery (FAG). Not quite able to believe that such a magical place could actually exist, I went on a fact-finding mission this spring. Entering through the sunny garden, I found myself in a combination art studio/queer refuge, complete with a chipper volunteer sipping tea in front of plastic bins full of practical items such as macramé, vintage Playboys, ribbons, plastic doll heads, and sets of fangs.

The gallery’s inaugural show was Elisha Lim & the Illustrated Gentlemen, the centerpiece of which was one whole wall, floor to ceiling, covered with panels from Elisha Lim’s series of narrative comics 100 Butches, soon to be published in book form. Some pages were colorful and complete; some were mere sketches on delicate tracing paper; all included handwritten blocks of text to accent Lim’s signature shaky line drawings. On a facing wall, the butches exploded off the page into a mural, gazing down on gallery visitors.

Taken together, the show was a love letter to the butch—to masculine women, transmen, gender queers, drag kings, and everyone in between. Each frame told the story of a different butch, with a carefully recorded first-person narrative accompanied by a portrait. The illustrated gentlemen were an international bunch, telling stories of queer lives lived in places ranging from Berlin to London, Singapore, Israel, Palestine, Malaysia, New York, and Toronto. The stories were as varied as the locales, bringing together charming tales of first crushes and coming out with painful accounts of homophobia, racism and violence.

In my favorite page, an older woman describes the early lesbian scene in Toronto, where the only women’s space was Saturdays at the Cameo Club, a bar plagued by fistfights and police raids. Having moved to Toronto in 2006 to find a city so full of queer life that in five years I still haven’t been to every gay bar, I find it hard to imagine a time when it was necessary to crawl out the back window of one to avoid being arrested.

Collecting these stories is Lim’s greatest strength as an artist. In works like The Illustrated Gentlemen and polyamo rage, their ability to coax personal histories from their subjects results in a real sense of intimacy between the artist, the subject, and the viewer. polyamo rage, a small zine, collects stories from people who have experimented with polyamory. On one page, a photograph of Lim looking equal parts introspective and sad is paired with the text “I have to respect the rules if I don’t want to lose you. I’m going to try to make my partner happy.” Other pages detail the guilt, jealousy and rage that can often accompany polyamorous relationships. The back cover reaches out to the viewer asking, “What do you want? Do you think you can get it from poly?”

Signed “Elisha Lim and many,” polyamo rage, like 100 Butches, is a collective work, giving voice to often invisible ways of being. In North America, where the dominant queer voice is predominantly white, conservative, monogamous, and male, the diversity encompassed by Lim’s “many” is stunning.

100 Butches will be released as a book by Magnus Books in December 2011.

Originally published in Shameless Magazine, 2011.

Butch Hagiography [pdf]

Conference Adventures: Not exactly worthy of nightmares

Constance Crompton and I recently ventured South to the States for the Women in the Archives Conference at Brown University. Adventures were had, microbrews were enjoyed, architecture was admired, archives were discussed. We had some free time after the conference, and one of the conference organizers suggested we use it to visit Swan Point Cemetery. There were lots of old gravestones, she noted, as well as many bird-watching opportunities. Finally, she pointed out that H.P. Lovecraft was buried there and that his fans were always leaving “weird stuff” by his grave. Well, I am never one to turn down the promise of “weird stuff.” I have never even read H.P. Lovecraft, but I had created quite a vision of what might be there. I was imagining his grave might look like something along the lines of this:


Or this:


Or even this (we were in a university town, after all):

University Cthulhu

Sadly, after marching around in a freezing cold drizzle of rain for an hour while scrutinizing a cemetery map that would probably more accurately be described as Kafkaesque, rather than Lovecraftian, what we found was this:

H.P. Lovecraft's Grave

Oh. How understated. No wonder we couldn’t spot it from the car – I was looking for some sort of monstrous obsidian pyramid, possibly topped with some tentacled beast, possibly with a vortex opening in the sky above it. This rather pedestrian gravestone wasn’t WEIRD at all. The best effort towards “weird” was made by whoever left the toy dinosaur:

Toy dinosaur atop Lovecraft grave

We made our own “weird” offering of a Canadian penny. Sadly, Cthulhu did not make an appearance in order to thank (or eat) us.

Rage: The Toronto Bathhouse Raids

Last night I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Track Two, a 1982 documentary on the Toronto bathhouse raids. After nearly being lost to time and decay, the film has finally been digitized and made available in its entirety for free online, thanks to the generosity of Xtra! and the Pink Triangle Press.

The screening took place at Buddies in Bad Time Theatre and was sponsored by Queer Ontario and Xtra!, with proceeds benefiting the 519 Community Centre’s Seniors program. In attendance were two of the filmmakers, Gordon Keith and Jack Lemmon, as well as The Body Politic‘s Ken Popert and Gerald Hannon. It was a truly amazing experience to share a room with so many of Toronto’s gay liberation activists, without whom queers such as myself wouldn’t have all the rights we have today.

After the screening, I spoke with the filmmakers, who wanted to know how I, as a woman, felt about the movie. They said they had tried very hard to show lesbian contributions to the fight, and they were curious to know if they were successful. I told them that it was incredibly powerful to see the footage of lesbians taking to the street in defense of the men and the gay community as a whole. It was also thrilling to see interviews with some of my queer heroes, Pat Murphy and Chris Bearchell, and rousing speeches from Margaret Atwood and June Callwood.

Watch the entire film on YouTube, or read more about it and download a copy from Xtra!

Originally published on the Shameless Magazine blog, March 30, 2011

International Women’s Day: Toronto Women and the Struggle for Equality

An Exhibit at the CLGACurated by Michelle Schwartz and Roberta Wiseman
March 3 – May 12, 2011

The Canadian Lesbian + Gay Archives is proud to celebrate the centennial of International Women’s Day (IWD) with an exhibit drawn from its own collection of posters, flyers, photographs, and ephemera. Focusing primarily on IWD activities held in Toronto from the 1970s to present day, the exhibit will trace the rise of the lesbian liberation movement, and its intersection with anti-racist, feminist, and labour activism. It will also illustrate the passion, determination, and sheer inventiveness of women in their struggle for equality.

Photos from the installation:

International Women's Day exhibitInternational Women's Day exhibit photoCurator Bios:
Michelle Schwartz is an archivist and writer from Brooklyn, New York. She has been conducting a love affair with Toronto since 2007 and has been a volunteer at the CLGA since 2009.

Roberta Wiseman is an archivist and anthropologist from London, UK.  She has lived in Toronto since 2003 and first began volunteering at the CLGA the same year.