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Marc Stein: Introduction to Canada in the U.S. Homophile Press, 1953-64

 

           The three main U.S. homophile magazines of the 1950s and early 1960s (ONEMattachine Review, and The Ladder) published 240 items that referenced Canada and Canadians from 1953 to 1964. This introduction provides a broad quantitative and qualitative overview of these contents.

            Given the purposes of this project, the process of determining what counts as Canadian content in the U.S. homophile periodicals was relatively straightforward. All references to Canada, Canadians, Canadian provinces, Canadian cities, and other parts of Canada were included. In a few cases, references to individuals known to be Canadian (such as Brother Grundy) were included, even if the contents did not identify them as such.

           

           Of the 240 items identified, 118 were found in ONE, 81 in Mattachine Review, and 41 in The Ladder. This partially reflects different dates of publication: ONE began publication in 1953, Mattachine Review in 1955, and The Ladder in 1957. Over time, the number of Canadian items increased and then stabilized, rising from 37 in 1953-56 to 102 in 1957-60 and 101 in 1961-64. The provinces referenced most frequently were Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia (Canada’s largest in terms of population); the cities referenced most frequently were Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver (also Canada’s largest). Of the 240 items that referenced one or more specific sexes or genders or were authored by individuals who were identified with typically male or female names, 174 referenced or were authored by men; 56 referenced or were authored by women (note that some referenced or were authored by both). A significant number of items referenced gender-crossing, masculinity in women, femininity in men, and other content that today might be regarded as trans or intersex. Most of the items were by authors and readers who were presumptively lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but there were exceptions. Of the 240 items, there were 118 letters to the editor (mostly by Canadians),42 features, 31 news reports, 14 reprints, 10 reviews, 9 works of fiction or poetry, 5 editorials, 1 advertisement, and 10 miscellaneous items.

            Letters to the editor from Canadians have much to tell us about the international reach of U.S. homophile periodicals, the interests and ideas of Canadian readers, and the perceptions these readers had of the United States, U.S. LGBT life, the U.S. homophile movement, and the U.S. homophile press. The international audience of U.S. homophile periodicals was significant and Canada likely was the country with the largest number of non-U.S. readers. This is reflected in the countries of origin referenced in letters to the editor. In addition, in 1954 ONE provided a count of its subscribers in all 48 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and 24 "foreign countries," though three of the latter were U.S. territories or Canadian provinces. After the United States, which had 1800 subscribers, came Canada with 43, England with 10, and India, Germany, and Switzerland, each with 7. The count for Canada should have been 44, but ONE's editors apparently did not realize that Nova Scotia was a Canadian province. Canada had more subscribers than 41 U.S. states, tied Massachusetts, and had fewer subscribers than just six: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan (ONE, Dec. 1954, 28).

            Canadians wrote letters and contributed content to U.S. homophile magazines for multiple reasons. Until 1964 there were no comparable Canadian publications. In addition, Canada was the northern neighbor of the United States; the two countries shared a long border; they were close allies; and many Canadians were familiar with U.S. society, culture, politics, and media. Although many Canadians favored French and First Nations languages, most spoke or were familiar with English, which was the language used by the U.S. homophile press. In many respects, Canadians contributed letters and other content to the U.S. homophile periodicals for the same reasons that U.S. readers did. They requested subscriptions and copies of previous issues; offered support in the form of money, subscriptions, articles, and news reports; and asked for advice, compassion, help, and information. They shared information about and perspectives on recent social, cultural, legal, and political developments and communicated about gay and lesbian networks, organizations, resources, and spaces. Many criticized anti-homosexual prejudice and discrimination and a significant number contributed to debates about the nature of homosexuality, the character of gay and lesbian life, and the relationship between same-sex sexuality and gender transgression. They promoted self-acceptance and social change and they affirmed and criticized the U.S. homophile periodicals and the U.S. homophile movement.

            Some of the Canadian contributors commented on U.S. society, culture, and politics. There were critical references to U.S. nationalism, provincialism, puritanism, repression, and Anglo-centrism, but also positive comments about political and sexual freedom in the United States.

           While Canadians shared their perceptions of the United States in the U.S. homophile periodicals, the authors and editors whose work was published in ONE, Mattachine Review, and The Ladder produced “knowledge” about Canada. The anthropological, Cold War, colonial, and Orientalist frameworks that shaped U.S. homophile representations of other parts of the world were less significant in U.S. homophile representations of Canada. Nevertheless, U.S. homophile periodicals produced distinct representations of Canada, which reflected and produced distinct versions of U.S. exceptionalism and nationalism. In at least three ways, these representations positioned Canada as more conservative and the United States as more liberal.

            First, the U.S. homophile periodicals represented Canada (until 1964) as more censorious. Much of this content was produced by Canadians, but some of it was produced by U.S. authors. Multiple news notes, features, letters, and editorials commented on the policies and practices of Canada Customs, which repeatedly blocked the importation of U.S. homophile periodicals and otherwise banned, intercepted, and censored gay and lesbian materials (see, for example, ONE, Mar. 1957, 22; ONE, May 1957, 23; Mattachine Review, Jul. 1957, 21; Mattachine Review, Feb. 1958, 2, 28; ONE, Mar. 1958, 17; ONE, Aug. 1958, 4-5; ONE, Aug. 1959, 31; ONE, Oct. 1959, 30-31). The U.S. Post Office sometimes did the same within the United States, but in 1958 ONE won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricted the ability of the U.S. Post Office to block the mailing of homophile magazines.

            Second, the U.S. homophile periodicals (until 1964) represented Canada as a country that did not have its own homophile groups or periodicals. Multiple letters from Canadians asked for information about Canadian homophile organizations. Editorial responses generally indicated that there were no known homophile groups in Canada, though beginning in 1959 there were reports about groups in formation, especially in Vancouver, which was where Canada’s first homophile group, the Association for Social Knowledge, was established in 1964 (see, for example, The Ladder, Apr. 1957, 16-17; ONE, Sep. 1958, 29; Mattachine Review, Jan. 1959, 19; ONE, Mar. 1959, 28).

           Third, the U.S. homophile periodicals tended to represent Canadian laws as more anti-homosexual than their U.S. counterparts and generally depicted Canada as less “advanced” in relation to homosexual law reform (see, for example, ONE, Oct. 1955, 13-15). There were exceptions, but this was the general pattern and there were references to police repression in Montreal in 1955 and 1961, Toronto in 1960, and Ottawa in 1961 (see ONE, Jan. 1955, 34; The Ladder, Mar. 1960, 26; The Ladder, Apr. 1960, 26). Though the U.S. homophile magazines only rarely made direct comparisons between U.S. and Canadian law, readers of the U.S. homophile magazines might well have concluded that there was less support for homosexual law reform in Canada, more support for punitive sexual psychopath laws, and harsher penalties for engaging in same-sex sex or participating in LGBT cultures.

           While in many respects the U.S. homophile periodicals represented Canada as more sexually conservative than the United States, in one way they presented Canada as more sexually liberal. As Canadian historians have noted, in the 1950s and 1960s there was a set of Canadian tabloids (including FlashJustice Weekly, and Midnight) that reported extensively (if sensationally) on homosexuality and several of them supported the decriminalization of homosexuality and the reduction of anti-homosexual animus. Some non-tabloid periodicals (including Macleans, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and the Vancouver Sun) occasionally did so as well. The U.S. homophile press regularly reported on these Canadian media stories and reprinted several of them (see ONE, Aug. 1955, 11; ONE, Sep. 1955, 9; ONE, Oct. 1955, 13-15; Mattachine Review, Feb. 1956, 31-34). The sense conveyed was that there was more sympathy and support for homosexual law reform in the Canadian media than there was in their U.S. counterparts.

            There are various other items of interest in the Canadian content. One of the most significant Canadian contributors to the U.S. homophile press was Brother Grundy, whose poems appeared regularly in ONE (see ONE, Oct. 1954, 18-19; ONE, Jul. 1955, 13; ONE, Apr. 1958, 28; ONE, Jun. 1958, 17; ONE, Jul. 1958, 11; ONE, Aug. 1959, 16-20). Grundy’s poem “Lord Samuel and Lord Montagu,” published in October 1954, was cited by the U.S. Post Office as one of the reasons it censored the magazine. As noted above, ONE successfully challenged the Post Office’s actions in a 1958 U.S. Supreme Court case. Another significant Canadian contributor was Jim Egan, whose work began appearing in the U.S. homophile press in 1959 (see ONE, Oct. 1959, 10-13; ONE, Dec. 1959, 6-9; ONE, Jun. 1960, 6-8; ONE, Sep. 1960, 1; Mattachine Review, Nov. 1961, 8-9, 29; ONE, Nov. 1961, 20-23; Mattachine Review, Dec. 1961, 9). Egan is well-known to Canadian LGBT historians as one of the most vocal gay activists of the 1950s and 1960s. There is at least one reference to Jane Rule, a well-known Canadian lesbian novelist (The Ladder, Jun. 1964, 12). More generally, there is significant content that addresses religion, law, psychology, and literature. While most of the content depicted LGBT life as respectable and responsible, a significant number of items provided positive and negative representations of bar culture, gender transgression, pornography, public sex, sex work, sexual promiscuity, and sex work.

            Since the 1970s North Americans have tended to see Canada as more sexually liberal and more supportive of LGBT rights than the United States, so it is interesting to see that this was not the case in the 1950s and 1960s. This is just one of many potential insights and interpretations that can be generated from research on U.S. homophile magazine representations of Canada and contributions by Canadians.