Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Guest Post by Jearld Moldenhauer: History and Motivation

Author's Note: Today I'm sharing a special guest post written by my close friend Jearld Moldenhauer. It's a Background Statement on his motivations for opening Glad Day Boston, a gay bookshop that was a cornerstone of queer cultural life in that city for many years. Jearld also founded the original Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and several activist organizations that formed the core of Canada's gay liberation movement. These days he runs a photography gallery, Dar Balmira, in Fes, Morocco.

Jearld has a website showcasing his photography, which you can Visit Here. You can also find the statement below on his website. 

Special Guest Post: Jearld Moldenhauer on Creating Glad Day Boston and Standing Up to the Canadian Government

In 1978 I made the decision to go on a trip around the contiguous 48 states with the idea of scouting out a possible location for a second Glad Day Bookshop. When I moved to Toronto my knowledge of American cities was limited to New York, and to a far lesser degree, Los Angeles. I tend to tire of my surroundings rather easily, and this usually triggers the need for change. 

As well, within my chosen field I had come to realize the pricing of new books, especially cloth or hardcover editions, was calculated to be just below the perceived point of resistance for the American book buying public. During much of my career the differential between the U.S. and Canadian currencies was such that new hardcover books were priced so high that only the wealthiest or most determined customers would give in to the temptation to buy a new book while ads and reviews were in full swing. 

Adding to this was the constant threat of arbitrary censorship by the Canadian government. Back in the 1970s, long before former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney introduced the notorious Memorandum D9-1-1, the occasional parcel coming from the States was seized, destroyed, or sometimes returned to sender. It cast a chill over any illusion of freedom of expression, but nowhere near the life threatening level it later assumed.

That summer I bought a cross country Greyhound bus ticket and headed south to explore the country I was born into. In those days I was still living something of a subsistence life and never even thought about staying in a hotel. Rather, those were the days when gay saunas were everywhere, offering shelter, security, and if one was lucky, the pleasures of companionship. Otherwise I would seek out local activists and usually be invited to stay with them. Such was the spirit of the times. In this manner I visited Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, Key West, Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston. Typical of all of my travels I didn’t rush things, returning to Toronto after two months or so on the road.

It was in Boston that I bonded best with other gay male activists. The members of Fag Rag, the American east coast counterpart of The Body Politic, received me with a degree of brotherhood I had never experienced before, and have never experienced since. In those days Boston was much more of a gritty town than it is now, but this can be said for all cities everywhere in both North America and Europe. 

A volatile mix of classes, races, and ethnic concentrations in a general stew of both corruption and occasional enlightenment appealed to me. Boston was also home to innumerable bookstores (especially used and antiquarian shops), several large publishing houses, and of course many of the largest and most famous universities in North America. 

The gay scene offered lots of possibilities, ranging from political organizations and an active gay press, to a fun cruising scene. Gay men were beginning to move into the South End in large numbers. There was also a concentration of lesbians in a part of Cambridge near the highly regarded women’s bookstore, New Words, as well as gay and lesbian footholds in several other neighbourhoods. 

What seemed obviously missing was a serious gay and lesbian bookstore. By the time I visited in 1978 an earlier effort at creating such a shop had already failed. It seemed many of the locals I spoke with really didn’t have much of an idea about what might actually be possible. In the back of my mind was also the fact that having a base in the U.S. book world would no doubt benefit the variety of literature sold in the Canadian operation.

Few, if any people in the Canadian movement seemed to grasp the reality and depth of my dual American-Canadian identity, let alone the internationalism that put those aspects of my worldview into relief. Almost the same could be said for the American movement’s interest in things Canadian, but within its’ own separate dynamic.

Most of my life in Canada I experienced a vacillating reaction between resentment, (sometimes almost hatred of America, often related to the absurd foreign war it had lately embarked upon) to adoration of all things American. These vastly different reactions had much to do with the ongoing struggle to arrive at a separate Canadian identity. Living among English Canadians forced me to think about and analyze the psychological differences between these two groups. This placed me firmly as an Outsider in both the U.S. and Canada, not that this status needed further enhancement.

The core American value of freedom of expression, grounded in the First Amendment to the Constitution (introduced to me in Grade 6 or 7 if I recall correctly) gave me the determination and fortitude to fight against Mulroney and his utterly antidemocratic Memorandum. It didn’t matter to his government that it went totally against the spirit and intent of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Memorandum’s real purpose, hidden below obscenity jargon, was to stifle an open dialogue on gay subjects and destroy the fragile network of gay and lesbian bookshops in Canada. Most Canadians reacted to this heavy handed and blatant censorship with total passivity.

Difficult as it may be to understand for people reading this today, when Glad Day brought the banning of The Joy of Gay Sex before the courts, Mr. Serge Lavoix, then Executive Director of the Canadian Booksellers Association, outright refused to aid or support our action! Even the gay Canadian press seemed not to understand the seriousness of the war until it was nearing its final stages.

Throughout the decades as activists were able to influence and change policies and attitudes, there would never be any admission the government had ever been wrong. Never any public ‘truth and reconciliation’ forum addressing the suffering and injustices heaped upon thousands of lives while their prejudiced laws and regulations were in force.  

As I recall, in its 21 year history, the Toronto gay press (The Body Politic followed by Xtra) never once mentioned the Boston Glad Day. So except for those Canadians who visited Boston, there was little awareness of this other dimension to my activist life.

The fact that my constant wanderings sensitized me to variations found in the world’s cultures eluded most everyone, except those I met who had themselves grown up ‘over there.’ Too much is made out of the melting pot vs. the more quaint cultural mosaic. In most cases, it’s just a matter of a decade of a child’s life to shape the cultural base of identity. In my case things worked in reverse. Always intrigued by difference, my cultural identity kept absorbing the things I found admirable in foreign cultures. 

As related to my professional life as a gay and lesbian bookseller, my insatiable wanderlust and embrace of cultural differences as a way to both understand ourselves and the rest of the evolving gay world regularly led me to other countries in search of gay and lesbian authors. Both Glad Days included queer literature in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Greek, Brazilian, Portuguese, and Chinese. I personally traveled to European countries and to Mexico in order to attend book fairs, visit publishers, and the network of gay bookshops that emerged in Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. In matters Chinese, in Boston Siong-Huat Chua and in Toronto Alan Li both helped seek out literature of Asian origin.

In my own intellectual evolution I first shed the brainwashing files pounded into me about religion. Once those were demolished I moved on to overwrite the brainwashing about sexuality. It was an easy next step to shed nationalism, a necessary component for the war mongering masses and their political bosses. I could never get on the bandwagon of the pre-packaged, ever more assimilationist values that seem ever present when many of our self appointed gay leadership start in. 

I saw the universality of homosexuality as one sure way to transcend all nonsense and reconnect with my primal male mammalian feelings that I correctly assume to be curious, but also offering the promise of universal empathy for humankind, and even more so with all life on Earth. 

In my youthful naivety I hoped that a restructuring of human sexuality with homosexuality as the primal instinct over which religion and repressive state ideologies had constructed a false heterosexual world could somehow change the way we lived our lives as well as the way we treat our fellow creatures. 

The goal of gay rights was certainly a necessary step and building a culturally aware and politically active community seemed a useful goal to devote myself to. However, I never saw this as an end unto itself, but rather as a beginning.

I would like to say that such a genuine liberation is in the cards for humanity, but I see little reason for optimism. The more I have learned about humanity, the more we seem to resemble a herd of ‘domesticated’ beasts, not unlike sheep or goats. The overpopulated herd is fast approaching a precipice.

This may seem a strange way to conclude a statement about a gay activist bookseller’s motivations. However, some of us weren’t motivated by capitalist interests, but instead had an analysis and a philosophy behind what we did with our lives.  

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