by Jeffrey Hawkins
The phrase “you never know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been” is exactly what the staff at RyePRIDE had in mind when they stumbled across some old books while purging through their resource library.
“The way (the books) portray gays and homosexual behaviour really speaks true to what it was like to be gay back then,” Ilanit Goren, education and campaign co-ordinator for RyePRIDE said.
After RyePRIDE moved into its new office in the Student Campus Centre this summer, Goren found more than three boxes of old fiction and non-fiction books in her organization’s resource library that she says are worth preserving despite their misguided portrayal of the gay culture over the last 50 years.
“It’s really interesting to see the progression over the years, to see how gays were portrayed,” said Goren.
Many of the books are romance paperback novels, which have the usual soft-core pornographic imagery. But instead of classic heterosexual stereotypes, they depict images of what society believed gay men behaved like.
On more than one cover page, the books bear images of buff and burly men in red Speedos and leather jackets. With themes of sexual deviance, dishonesty, and pseudo-psychopathic diagnosis, Goren said the books, though politically incorrect by today’s standards, are worth keeping because they reflect how society viewed the queer movement and its members in previous decades.
“They definitely need to be saved,” said Goren. But she doesn’t think Ryerson is the best place for the books to be shelved. “I think they will serve our community much better in the archives as an example of our past.”
Goren is donating the books to the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, based in Toronto, to ensure that they are properly stored for future use.
“We decided to give them up because we want to foster an environment that reflects the current state of the queer movement and our research,” Goren said.
She explained that maintaining a current and up-to-date atmosphere in the RyePRIDE office, including its massive resource lend and loan library, is of crucial importance to her.
“What’s important to us as service providers is to have our hand on the pulse in terms of terminology and what’s new in the community and what’s new in the social research.”
Goren said she wants to make sure that students have access to the most current and accurate information on the queer movement.
“The main thing is we don’t want a student coming in looking for books about gays in today’s society and walking away with a book from the ’50s,” said Goren.
Some of the books Goren found, such as The Homosexual, The Gay World, Male Homosexuality: Their Problems and Adaptations, and Fiddle City were written in the early 1950s and although Goren believes they may have been seen as progressive for their time, she said RyePRIDE doesn’t want to be responsbile for creating dated impressions about gays in today’s society.
Goren said she intends to keep some of the really old books, in some cases written and authorized by the American Institute for Sex Research, in the RyePRIDE office for historical purposes. These will be on display during Ryerson’s Pride week in February.
In addition to giving the bulk of the old books to the Lesbian and Gay Archives, Goren said students will have an opportunity to view and purchase some of the selected books at the Ryerson garage sale on Oct. 12.