Why ARE all the queer spaces dying?

Why are all the queer spaces dying?

Last Saturday, a lovely person from St Catharines dropped by the shop for a long browse and some great conversation. As they were leaving, they remarked "we just don't have any spaces like this in St Catharines". I didn't know if she was referring to sex-positive sex shops or what, but when she clarified, she said she meant specifically queer spaces where queer folks can feel at home.

I think I'm hilarious, so I immediately retorted "who are you calling queer?" and we both burst out laughing - reinforcing that I am indeed hilarious.

It does not surprise me in the slightest that St Catharines has no queer spaces like ours, but you know, neither does Montreal, nor San Francisco. Ever since Good Vibrations and Babeland sold out years ago, the nearest queer, feminist sex shop is now the glorious Black-owned Feelmore in Oakland.

Now, in some ways, we're actually a queer space that exists more for straight folks than queer folks.

We've always fervently believed that when you make a space accessible for the most marginalized folks, you also create better access for everyone else too. It's like how installing an automatic door for wheelchair users also makes the space better for folks with strollers and germophobes who would rather use their elbow to press a button than touch a door. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why we still exist after so many years (decades!). We made a space so accessible and comfortable for queer people, we ended up making a great space for everyone.

This past week, we've noticed that the WORLD's oldest gay bookstore Glad Day has launched a huge fundraising campaign to keep them alive.

The old Glad Day - tucked away on the second floor on Yonge Street - holds a special place in my heart. When I was a wee eightteen-year-old, I used to delight in creeping up those old stairs - pulse racing - routinely spent hours perusing their extensive selection. I bought a self-published first edition of The Bottoming Book there and a copy of Sarah Schulman's Rat Bohemia, among other otherwise inaccessible titles.

I don't know how I feel about for-profit businesses fundraising. I know, we hit you up for some cash for our broken window when we got hate-crimed during pride last year, but my fellow members really had to twist my arm to get my consensus on that one. Truth be told, had we not donated $3000 to Maggie's that year, we probably could have afforded to fix the window ourselves. But people keep telling me that part of really being "in community" is asking for help when you need it, so we asked.

All that aside, I get asked a lot why queer spaces struggle to exist. Mostly it is journalists who ask, but queer youth in the shop ask me the same question too.

Part of what made the old Glad Day so great was that they had such a massive but curated collection of LGBT-relevant books that were completely unavailable otherwise. The internet didn't exist and regular bookstores didn't stock queer titles at all - let alone books about queer sex! I mean, they had to go to court to do it (which is part of why Glad Day has always struggled - lawyers are expensive!)

In my early 20s, I happened to work for the world's first online bookstore (no, not Amazon) and randomly, it was queer owned-and-operated although it aimed to provide online access to every available book with no special focus on LGBTQ stuff at all. Although, now that I think about it, the logo did have a rainbow on it.

In some ways, the internet was the beginning of the end for a lot of small businesses - queer and otherwise. Nothing can beat the convenience of being able to have anything in the world delivered to you without having to leave the house.

When Amazon came on the scene, they sold books so cheap and often at a loss so that most indie bookstores just couldn't compete. Rent is expensive, my dudes. Not to mention, when your online competition uses investor money to subsidize customer purchases to intentionally drive indie businesses out of business, it makes maintaining a small business near impossible.

Now, if you're a person who also shops at Pink Cherry, I hope you understand you're supporting a business that does the same thing but to sex shops (like ours).

But you do you.

As much as there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, that doesn't mean we're off the hook when it comes to making more ethical decisions within capitalism. How and where we spend our money has a direct impact on the world in which we live. What businesses do we want to see exist in the world? Which theatres? Which bands?

In this society, we really only have two ways to directly affect change - voting and spending.

You know, I never got the memo that we were all supposed to sell-out at some point. I know all the organizers of the 60s Woodstock became CEOs and finance guys eventually, and I guess a lot of my 90s never-sell-out comrades did too, but man, I'm so disillusioned these days. Even folks I long thought were pro-workers' rights and anti-capitalist shop at Amazon even though their book prices are actually pretty average these days. Heck, even my younger, seemingly politically astute and super lefty co-workers shop at Temu and AliExpress. I'm not sure if I'm too righteous or stubborn or dumb, because I have purchased exactly one thing at Amazon: a weirdly short shower curtain rod. And trust me, I went to every website and store in town, and brainstormed trying to make one myself, before I gave in and clicked "pay now".

I still hate myself a little for that.

So, part of the issue is where queer folks choose to spend their money. Bathhouses closed as Grindr and Scruff took over the hook-up scene. Bars closed for the same reason, but a lot of queer folks have long resented that drinking and being gay were so closely associated for so long. Drinking together is not the ideal corner-stone for community, to be sure.

To my mind, Glad Day never really figured out what they wanted to be when they reopened on Church Street a decade ago. They do a bit of everything - books, dance parties, burlesque, comedy, trivia nights - and in some ways, that feels like a good approach. But I know from experience, if you try to be everything to everyone, you'll end up being nothing to no one eventually.

(Says the guy who desperately tries to be everything to everyone. I wonder if my therapist subscribes to this newsletter.)

Can I tell you the truth though?

Please understand that I ADORE my work. Truly, I dig this gig so much, but honestly, it is fucking hard.

I don't mean it is hard in the way that being a brain surgeon is hard or the way that being a farmer is hard. I know most of our jobs are really fucking hard.

There are things about running a retail store that are super fun. I love working in the shop itself, talking to customers, merchandizing, curating our selection of toys, stocking shelves, and hobnobbing with our delightful indie vendors.

Sadly, running a retail store (well) also involves an unreal amount of minutia. The administration alone (payroll, payroll taxes, HST, customs forms, bookkeeping, invoicing, updating prices, keeping the exchange rate up to date) is too much for one small shop to keep up with. My co-worker-owner Lilin was in the office the other day updating the covers and prices of a bunch of Microcosm books and zines. She figured it would take her an hour at most. Three hours later - upon discovering Microcosm hadn't even posted the updated titles on their site - she had photographed, edited, re-priced, and finally put away the stock. All that for a bunch of $6 titles. Now, $6.50.

I won't even get into how time consuming maintaining social media is.

While huge corporations have entire divisions doing all of these jobs, small businesses run on a handful of people often not trained on how to do any of these things. I'm still half-angry for all of the things my predecessor trained me on that turned out to be wrong and quite deterimental to the business (take a banana AND take a dollar and it will all even out, says Maeby.)

I suppose the too-long-didn't-read version of this is that it is almost impossible to sustain a queer business. It is similarly impossible to sustain an ethical business of any sort. The deck is stacked against us. I can't decide if I feel more like Prometheus or Sisyphus most days, to be honest.

Financially, CAYA is sustainable (for now), every day is a hustle, the future is always uncertain, and without all of you, we'd be nothing.

I know I'm a broken record, but support the businesses and artists and organizations you love. You know, if you want these things to exist.

We collectively choose our destiny. And our queer spaces.

Back to blog