On August 3rd I set off on an adventure. It had been in the planning stages for many months, and I was confident that I’d prepared for just about anything. I would be travelling through England for four weeks doing research for my new book, and I’d set myself an itinerary that in retrospect was not only ambitious but probably a little foolhardy. Nevertheless, in for a penny in for a pound, as they say. I was determined to return home with all the rich details needed to complete my epic novel in grand style. That of course remains to be seen. What I did acquire was…knowledge isn’t an adequate word for it…feeling maybe, understanding hopefully…of things I hadn’t even considered.
My first hint at this came on Day 1 while waiting for my connecting flight at Heathrow. I noticed that a lot of the folks waiting with me for the 11:40 to Newcastle upon Tyne seemed to resemble my family of origin on my mother’s side. The next two weeks in the Northeast verified my initial observation. I was indeed surrounded by my tribe. Not only did they look like my people, but they sounded like the vague snippets of my grandmother’s voice, her words until now buried deep inside my early childhood memories. As I watched and listened, I began to see and hear beyond just my personal context. An understanding of the population and its deep connection to the place became apparent.
As I continued my travels to York, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool crossing museums and historic sites off my list, I saw that the connection to place also deeply embodied a connection to past. Those pragmatic, determined, resilient people from the north are not only keenly aware of their past but are fiercely proud of it, sharing it enthusiastically with their own children and with outsiders.
When the industrial revolution transformed the primarily agrarian society into one of mines and mills it brought fortune to some and hardship to many. It also provided fertile soil for the growth of labour unions and suffragist activities, both having a profound impact not only within the country but also beyond its shores. Those struggles still resonate within the art and stories of the people.
This weekend in Toronto the stories of another group will be shared. October is LGBTQ History Month in the U.S. and Canada (Feb. in the U.K.) An important part of the celebrations will be Naked Heart: An LGBTQ Festival of Words, conceived and hosted by Glad Day Bookshop. As the first Canadian festival of its kind, over 150 writers will take part in panels, lead workshops, and read from their books. From Oct. 16 to 18 the Church/Wellesley village will be alive with words: words that will enlighten, entertain, and celebrate.
It is a fitting celebration of our history. Writing has always played an important part of the Canadian LGBTQ community’s struggle for visibility, acceptance and equality. From the first tentative underground publication in 1918, through the significant contribution of The Body Politic in the 70s and 80s, and on to the publication of LGBTQ books by mainstream presses, “the word” has struggled to be heard, but the voice of this tribe is now loud and clear.
Whether it’s a simple slogan like “Votes for Women.” Or the poetry and songs that sprang from the 1984-85 British coal miners’ strike, which formed part of the protest and were later published and sold to help fund it. Or the famous Trudeau quote, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” which might well have tipped the scales when the Canadian government passed Bill C-150 (1968-69) that decriminalized homosexuality. Words have played a powerful part in the battle for what is right, and for helping those of us involved to feel that we belong.
I journeyed back to my roots in order to find facts. What I came away with was much closer to truths.