TORONTO AREA GAYS
WHAT WE DID AND WHY WE DID IT
(from the cheap seats at the revolution, a monologue on TAG in the 1970's)
NOT A HISTORY
This is not meant to be a history of TAG (later Toronto Area Gays & Lesbians, TAGL). It is a discussion, from my own viewpoint, of some of the ideas behind the group; and an outline of its operations. The description of its internal workings applies in particular to 1975-1979 inclusive, but I've tried to provide some additional coverage to the end of 1983. The group itself existed until 2008.
Sometimes in barefaced polemic, sometimes between the lines, there is comment on the what, how, and why of gay groups and gay phonelines. I come with my own soapbox but I've tried not to misrepresent the group.
(I thought a little personal background might shed light on this interpretation of TAG, why the stress is on some areas rather than others.)
Being in TAG and listening to people on the phones did nothing for my view of the world. It's something of a paradox that I eventually became a bit exasperated with gay people (generally, if not individually) for being too much like me . . . for repeating all the missteps, falling into all the same traps . . . for continuing to allow themselves to be guided into self-oppression.
Having my nose rubbed vigourously and regularly into so many of the intimate details of its manipulations moved my feelings about society yet again from simmer to boil. This anger was difficult to live with and impossible to dissipate. It accompanied me as I walked down the street, as I shuffled useless stacks of paper in the bank where I worked, as I went to sleep at night. I've never known quite how to deal with this particular emotion. Some people seem to be galvanized by it, for me it's a sickening feeling of splintering away, becoming less than whole. Although it wasn't the ultimate reason, there was a certain amount of self-preservation involved in leaving TAG.
Having said that, why did I get involved in the first place? In some ways it was a choice of TAG or nothing. I'd just come off the Ottawa Conference of 1975 which had really been the pits for anyone interested in any aspect of the gay movement other than civil rights. TAG appeared to be an opportunity to accomplish something in an area that had more direct contact, and was a more direct dialogue, with gay people.
From the start I thought of it as a job to be done, with a beginning and an end. My commitment was to help get something going and to stay with it until it could stand on its own feet. I figured within a couple of years there would be enough momentum that those of us who wanted to, could leave without worry. It took a little longer, it was interesting, but basically it was a matter of fulfilling a duty to the community.
For me, growing up gay in a non-gay world was a painful experience. I can't speak for other people, but one reason for my own involvement in the movement has been simply to help ensure that the future is not like the past; that gay people in another time will at least have the opportunity to slip by the cultural steam roller...will not again find themselves alone, frozen in its headlights, waiting to be flattened.
Perhaps we all have to do these things by ourselves, but it seemed that gay liberation at one time offered me clues, a few diagrams, a bit of a map in the attempt to comprehend our lives, my own life. We were trying to see other ways the world might be defined than those drilled into us.
Progress in changing our legal status in society (gay rights) and advances in understanding and defining ourselves (gay liberation) are intertwined, but with the passage of time the movement began to see gay rights as its main concern. Systematic attention was no longer given to discovering the actual outlines of gay life. In so wholeheartedly embracing a gay rights approach as a strategy that would give us access to our audience and also provide a unifying theme, we've allowed it to become the sum of our message. (None of this questions the necessity or achievements of political advocacy.)
That fundamental fact and experience, our gayness, has in many ways ceased to be thought worthy of consideration in its own right, for its own sake. Ideas about ourselves and our community have become a minimal part of what we have to say. We still lack a real framework of our own, are still too dependent on analyses developed for other people in other situations (even when we are at the same time individually also those other people in those other situations.) Personally I feel like I'm caught somewhere downstream with a whole river ahead of me yet to be navigated.
Although I've always considered myself a part of the movement, its priorities often seem to leave little room for my own. I can help show the flag by going to meetings, demos, by writing letters-to-the-editor the coherence of which is sometimes in doubt. Beyond that though, I simply don't have the capacity for many things with which it occupies its time and for which it formulates its strategies.
As I said, TAG gave me the opportunity to help accomplish something; but that having been done there was only so much it could give its individual members. It did offer me some consolation for the downgrading of gay lib but it would have been counterproductive for both the group and myself to have stayed any longer than I did.
These days I try to hold back doubts, questions, the true meanings of which not even I am sure. I try to keep out of its way as the community determines what constitutes progress, and hope for points of reference at which we touch.
I had a part in TAG from its beginning in 1975 to January of 1980. During the last half-year I was very much on my way out, with limited involvement.
My lover, Charles Dobie, was in TAG from its beginning through 1983 and to some degree 1984, with a year out in 80-81).
This discussion of the group is a way of explaining, and interring in the Archives, all the scraps of paper we stored away over the years. It seemed worthwhile to try to give them some context. Other people's versions of TAG would probably be different but what can you do?