Basically Queer

An Intergenerational Introduction to LGBTQA2S+ Lives

by Claire Robson (Volume editor) Kelsey Blair (Volume editor) Jen Marchbank (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XVIII, 264 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 485


Basically Queer offers an introduction to what it can look and feel like to live life as lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, two spirited and trans. Written by youth and elders who’ve lived these lives first hand, the book combines no-nonsense explanations, definitions, and information with engaging stories and poetry that bring them to life. Basically Queer answers those questions that many want to ask but fear will give offence: What is it really like to be queer? What’s appropriate language? How can I be an ally? It also provides a succinct and readable account of queer history and legal rights worldwide, addresses intergenerational issues, and offers some tips and tricks for living queer. It does so in an easy and conversational style that will be accessible to most readers, including teens. The text will be of interest to those teaching courses in gender, sexuality, queer and women’s studies. It will be a useful resource for those who are questioning or examining their sexual or gender identities and those who are in relationship with them, such as doctors, teachers, parents, or friends.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Section One: Why Does Language Matter?
  • Verbal Attacks (Judy Fletcher and Bill Morrow)
  • Why Does Language Matter? (Pat Hogan, Gayle Roberts, and Farren Gillaspie)
  • How Can We Be Sure these Comments are Meant to Hurt?
  • How Do We as a Society Respond to Hurtful/Hateful Language Which is Aimed at Others or Ourselves?
  • Some Examples of Heteronormative Privilege
  • Other Examples of Heteronormative Assumptions
  • Queer Language
  • Queer Language—Its History and Evolution
  • Does Queer Identity Terminology Signify Our Sexuality or Our Whole Person?
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Basic Queer Vocabulary (Brainstormed by the Youth)
  • Things We Get Called (Brainstormed by the Youth)
  • Beware (Anna R. Westhaver)
  • A Jab Rap for All Who Don’t Fit In (Pat Hogan)
  • One for the Team (Harris Taylor)
  • Was There Ever a Moment of Decision for You About Your Orientation/Gender I.D.? (Skylar Cogswell-Shears)
  • I Am He (Skylar Cogswell-Shears)
  • Firm (Cyndia Cole)
  • I Am a Fucking Bisexual (Jasmine Broeder)
  • Still a Lesbian After All These Years (Pat Hogan)
  • Plain Brown Wrapper (Nancy Strider)
  • Section Two: Queer History
  • Introduction to the History of the Queer Movement (Cyndia Cole, Val Innes, and Ellen Woodsworth)
  • Stonewalled (Christine Waymark)
  • Homophobic Homo (Bill Morrow and Judy Fletcher)
  • Love in Montreal (Greta Hurst)
  • Standing Out and Standing Up as Lesbian Feminists (Ellen Woodsworth)
  • Before I Knew the Word (Pat Hogan)
  • Section Three: What’s It Like to Be Queer?
  • What’s It Like to Be Queer? (Claire Robson)
  • Misunderstood (Candy Fine)
  • Young, Homeless, and Positive (Syd Oremek)
  • My Walk in the Sunshine (Judy Fletcher)
  • Last Dance (Nancy Strider)
  • Life Insurance (Chris Morrissey)
  • In-Between (Skylar Cogswell-Shears)
  • You Would Be Pretty If … (Caroline Doerksen)
  • How Am I Different?: Let Me Count the Ways (Judy Fletcher)
  • Lost and Found (Cyndia Cole)
  • First Queer Event (Caroline Doerksen)
  • First Time’s Special (Val Innes)
  • Mercy (Harris Taylor)
  • Section Four: Queers in Family
  • Queers in Family (Val Innes)
  • You Aren’t a Boy (Skylar Cogswell-Shears)
  • For Sale: Used Family (Harris Taylor)
  • Adopted Grammas (Bridget Coll)
  • The Last Goodbye (Chris Morrissey)
  • The Drop-In (Robin Rennie)
  • Androgyny Is My Sanity (Val Innes)
  • Class Ring (Chris Morrissey)
  • All Girls Can Have Curls (Judy Fletcher)
  • Max Dexall (Marsha Ablowitz)
  • Faith (Farren Gillaspie)
  • Not the Piece I Was Meant to Write (Christine Waymark)
  • The Way Forward—Notes for a Screenplay (GG)
  • Scene 1
  • Scene 2
  • Scene 3
  • Scene 4
  • Scene 5
  • Scene 6
  • Scene 7
  • Scene 8
  • Our Pam’s Gone Funny (Paddy St. Loe)
  • Fighting for Life (Cyndia Cole)
  • Section Five: Equal Rights or More Rights?
  • Equal Rights or More Rights? (Chris Morrissey and Christine Waymark)
  • Keeping Your Job—LGBTQA2S+ Human Rights in Canada
  • Human Rights in Canada as a Couple—Benefits as We Age
  • More Rights for All
  • Conclusion
  • The Queer Agenda (Syd Oremek)
  • Gay Blue Jeans Day (Harris Taylor)
  • Veiled (Christine Waymark)
  • What the Youth Had to Say About Rights
  • What Rights Would You Like to Have When You are an Elder?
  • Who Says We Have All Our Rights? (Chris Morrissey)
  • It’s Not My 77th Birthday. We Got Married (Paula Stromberg)
  • Just and Mighty (Cyndia Cole)
  • Love It, Leave It, or Change It (Farren Gillaspie)
  • Taking LGBTQA2S+ Rights to the World Stage: An Interview with Ellen Woodsworth (Cyndia Cole)
  • Section Six: What Does It Mean to Be an Ally?
  • What Does It Mean to Be An Ally? (Val Innes)
  • The Importance of Allies (From a Youth Perspective)
  • An Ally in Queer Space (Cyndia Cole)
  • Boy Do People Ever Piss Me Off (Reba Broadhurst)
  • Dear Parent of a Gender-Variant Child (Gayle Roberts)
  • Ham Sandwiches for No One (Judy Fletcher)
  • Cousin Maurice (Farren Gillaspie)
  • Jean, the Boy-Girl 1976 (Marsha Ablowitz)
  • A Letter to School Teachers (Val Innes)
  • Gay Pride in San Francisco (Val Innes)
  • Section Seven: Born or Made
  • “If It Ain’t Broke …” (Gwyneth Bowen and Nancy Strider)
  • The Girl in the Pond (Gayle Roberts)
  • Do I Have the Right to Write? (Aleisha Ross)
  • An Inner Yearning Yet to be Named (Farren Gillaspie)
  • Gender Is a Spectrum (Skylar Cogswell-Shears)
  • John Doe Android Instruction Manual (Gayle Roberts)
  • Ambrosia Androids
  • Opening Your John Doe Container
  • Switching on Your John Doe Android
  • Jane Doe Androids
  • Gender-Variant Androids
  • As the Spotlight Shimmers (Candy Fine)
  • Section Eight: Youth and Elders
  • About Youth and Elders (Marsha Ablowitz and Farren Gillaspie)
  • What We Queer Youth Have Got from Working with Our Queer Elders (Jake Marchbank)
  • Queer and in Care (Shawnee Gaffney)
  • In the Shadows of the Moment (Val Innes)
  • Widowhood (Chris Morrissey)
  • Youth (Candy Fine)
  • My New Moccasins (Stephen Hardy)
  • Psalm 69 (and All the Other Numbers) (Gwyneth Bowen)
  • Backflips (Cyndia Cole)
  • Shards and Scree (Maggie Shore)
  • Section Nine: Tips and Tricks for Living Queer
  • On Giving Advice (Claire Robson)
  • Start With a Smile (Farren Gillaspie)
  • Keep Healthy (Stephen Hardy)
  • Get Tested
  • Look after Your Social and Emotional Health
  • Counselling
  • Queer Travel
  • Tips and Tricks for Asexuals (and Others Travelling Alone) (Nancy Strider)
  • Find Your Tribe with Group Activities
  • Go Anyway: Make Your Own Adventure
  • A Practical Guide to Lesbian Identification in the 21st Century (Anna R. Westhaver)
  • Conclusion
  • Queer 101: What Everyone Needs to Know, From the Youth
  • Queer 101: What Everyone Needs to Know, From the Elders
  • Final Thoughts
  • About the Authors
  • Recommended Reading
  • General
  • Representation in Gaming and Tech
  • Two-spirit
  • Asexual
  • Trans
  • Print resources
  • Video Resources
  • Index
  • Series index

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List of Illustrations

“You Are the I in Pride,” by Gwyneth Bowen

“Verbal Attacks,” by Judy Fletcher and Bill Morrow

“Things We Get Called,” by the Youth

“Reclaiming Queer,” by Val Innes

“Plain Brown Wrapper,” by Nancy Strider

“What It’s Like to be Queer and Old,” by Pat Hogan and Cyndia Cole

Sexual Orientation Laws in the World—Overview. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association

“Homophobic Homo,” by Bill Morrow and Judy Fletcher

“Untitled,” by Maggie Shore

“Max Dexall,” by Marsha Ablowitz

“A Map of the Village,” by GG

“Equal Rights?” by Chris Morrissey

“Allies,” by Nancy Strider

“Born or Made,” by Cyndia Cole

“Born AND Made,” by Gayle Roberts

“Looking in the Mirror,” by Candy Fine

“Untitled,” by Gwyneth Bowen

“Hetero Lessons,” by Bill Morrow and Cyndia Cole

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Ever since I was a child, I knew I was “different.” Of course, now I know I was in fact quite typical, by which I mean typical of many of the kinds of wonderful people sharing their stories in this book. In a sense, not much has changed for me since childhood—I remain, as old as I am now, a tomboy, and even with hair down to my shoulders, a person who is sometimes called on the street “sir”—as in “excuse me, sir,” or in service areas, “how can I help you, sir?” When my niece got married last year, I wore a dress, the first time in a hundred years. And guess what? I really enjoyed it. My sisters were professionally made up, so fabulously that I didn’t recognize them, and I found myself jealous that they hadn’t invited me to be made over, too. I, and my partner, oddly and humorously felt left out. Apologizing, my sisters said they hadn’t imagined I’d ever have dreamt of wearing lipstick and eye make-up, and didn’t want to offend me by suggesting it. It’s so odd: I fought most of my life to get them to respect that I wouldn’t wear dresses, or heels, or make-up, and here I was wishing I could have been part of the girls’ dress-up party. I must say that in the dress and touch of stuff I put on my lips and eyes for the occasion, I felt like a drag queen—and loved it. I wanted to strut about at the wedding, like an elegant woman. These days, I want to be whatever I choose, in that moment, to be. I want to be defined, and I don’t want definition. Is this the wonderful paradox of the benefits of all the activism here in Canada of the last years?

Basically Queer is a nod to the decades-long work of the activists who have made this kind of story voicing possible. The pulling together of such a book may well still be a political act—a book that advocates change. But it is more than this. It is an act of generosity and kindness. ← xiii | xiv →

Basically Queer is a delightful collection of much needed, much appreciated information and stories in a variety of forms, about the variety of ways of expressing—I was about to say expressing gender, but it occurs to me as I write this preface, that it is about the variety of ways of expressing our deepest nature and the potential beauty of human life.

Stories typically have arcs, but some stories are still being written, not because there isn’t an end to them, but because we, as queer folk, have refused the endings assigned to us by society at large, and we are still in the process of directing, unravelling, forming our narratives. These snippets of stories are powerful because they are like voices around a campfire in the night—sharing, revealing, confiding, imparting to each other a sense of belonging, of bonding and empathizing. The reader is also invited around the campfire: you can’t help but relate, you hear the trajectory of life for older people who have lived with the pleasures of queerness and the burdens of society thereof, and you hear what it’s like nowadays for young people, you see the unimagined gains made through decades of activism, and at the same time you hear very plainly the enduring and even deepening difficulties that young or emerging queer people face. The explanations and section introductions are like the elders stoking the fire, guiding and keeping the conversation flowing by providing the tools for us all to imagine and to help each other in creating for ourselves our own futures.

The most striking thing about Basically Queer is that it is a sharing, a willingness to communicate. The book is a community between covers, an alliance, and a bridge between difference and age groups. It is educational. Compassion lifts off the pages and has the potential to deal with and assuage the kinds of opposition that might come from outside. It is a wise book that speaks honestly and gently, through the power of storytelling rather than by theorizing or lecturing, and it speaks to allies, adversaries, friends, family and lovers who do not understand us yet whom we want or need to open lines of communication with. It speaks to educators and to those in power around us.

The paradox of keeping community is that while it has the power to safeguard us and allow us to be ourselves, community is made up of human beings—and every one of us is afflicted by attendant frailties, because we are humans. And so, accompanying this safeguarding is the possibility of policing and judgment. The stories in Basically Queer are an open hand, holding and soothing the discontent that runs within, under the umbrella of queerness, through communities within communities, where infighting for space is one of the most destructive results of increasingly scarce resources and ongoing social pressures. The book reminds us that while we insist on our own specificities, we ought not forget the many others to whom it would be wise and kind to be aware and to embrace. How long I have lived as a queer person, an activist, and still found within its covers stories and explanations that taught me something I hadn’t thought about before, that opened my eyes? ← xiv | xv →

In Introduction to the History of the Queer Movement, authors Cyndia Cole, Val Innes, and Ellen Woodsworth remind us powerfully of the gains the queer movement has made internationally and in particular in Canada, but they remind us too that “… the work is not done. … Transgender legal rights are not fully adequate. Violence continues against queers, particularly against transgender people and lesbians. Few feel safe against the abuse of power by police. The lives of rural queers are more isolated and challenging than those in urban areas. Queer youth are at much higher risk for suicide and substance abuse. Lesbians struggle with empowerment as feminists within the queer movement. LGBTQA2S+ people, particularly lesbians and trans, face barriers due to low income. Strong anti-LGBTQA2S+ feeling, racism, homophobia, and heterosexism still persist. As queer people, we are acutely aware of both the tremendously positive changes and the urgent need for more.” The stories that follow give flesh to these truths.

Story telling is powerful. Telling our own stories in our own words is most powerful. Words make us, and they break us. What these writers have done is take the word into their hands. I was struck by Pat Hogan’s words, “Remember, when I was growing up in small town Connecticut we didn’t use the word ‘lesbian’; ‘gay’ wasn’t a term we knew then either, for men or for women. There was no language, at least that I knew of.” That wasn’t all that long ago. And it says something grand that today GLB has been expanded to include a string of other initials and even figures. The writers in Basically Queer are not only using their voices to define themselves, but also they are giving us—us being like-minded as well as “other” folk—language with which to ask questions, with which to learn, with which to define and to assert a rightful, respected place in the larger community. When was the last time you corrected someone and explained, as in Harris Taylor’s One for the Team, that a “faggot was a bundle of sticks”? I must remember this as a comeback, but only, of course, when the occasion can stand a little humour!

I have known, as I said at the beginning, that I was “different” since I was a little child. It has taken decades of me personally insisting on being allowed this difference to be comfortable in my skin, but I am sure that my most dire efforts would have been in vain had it not been for the larger movement of activism for the rights of queer people. It is with great pleasure and appreciation that I read stories from some of those older activists who had been there, out on the front lines, from the beginning. While their stories show the gains made, their presence in this book says, too, that the journey is long, the road winding and the end is, at times, little more than a faint, perhaps imagined, light in the distance. It is remarkable and moving that these people continue, as shown in the pages of this worthy book, to lend their power here. As Marsha Ablowitz writes in Max Dexall, “We haven’t just found peace with who we are—we love who we are.”

Shani Mootoo


XVIII, 264
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XVIII, 264 pp.

Biographical notes

Claire Robson (Volume editor) Kelsey Blair (Volume editor) Jen Marchbank (Volume editor)

Drs. Claire Robson and Jen Marchbank are faculty members at Simon Fraser University. Kelsey Blair is a doctoral student there. Contributors to the anthology include members of Quirk-e, the Queer Imaging & Riting Kollective for Elders, whose 26 members have worked together in Vancouver for ten years under the direction of Robson and Blair. The youth authors are drawn from Youth for A Change, an advocacy/activist youth group led by Marchbank and her wife, Sylvie Traphan. The group offers training and education to schools and other organizations, and monitors policy decisions by local government.


Title: Basically Queer