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)
HOW (IDEAS INTO ACTS)
A) TAG MEETINGSa) Format
(the circle; rounds)
Meetings were always held in members' homes. The 519 Community Centre had been tried a few times (probably in December of 1975) to see what difference it made but the result was too formal, sterile.
Sitting in a loose circle, we could proceed in several ways. Particularly in dealing with an uncontentious or unimportant item we allowed a couple of moments of free discussion first, to see if the matter could be disposed of immediately. If it couldn't, if a lot of people had something to say or somebody wanted to hear everybody's opinion, if anyone wanted particular attention paid, we went into a round----the formation tightened up, a speaker couldn't be interrupted, couldn't be answered except as a turn made its way around the circle. Everyone said something, no matter how brief, in the first go. On each subsequent round, if any were necessary, you could pass or not. If there was a decision to be made the thread of argument became clear quickly and consensus usually wasn't difficult. We simply kept this regulated way of talking going until everyone was satisfied. It was the most effective way to put all facets of a discussion on display.
Similarly a broader topic could be developed informally, and then go into rounds. It gave each person, in turn, the whole group's attention. Focussing on individuals in this way discouraged repetitiveness, pettiness and bickering by highlighting it when it occurred. It gave everyone a say and prevented anyone from dominating a debate. It also kept discontent from growing unseen.
A round could be called by anyone, anytime, in any discussion. This option was exercised all the time and without hesitation. It was used at the slightest hint of a difference of opinion, obstruction, or indication of things going off course, and in deciding all important matters. A short one generally ended meetings to make sure everyone's concerns had been addressed. These methods worked well for us and were a mainstay, a procedure which had a large influence on how the group developed. (The round itself was adapted from a Quaker meeting procedure suggested by Ian Turner, compounded by the experience of many of us in consciousness-raising groups.)
(there were three types of meetings -- Regular, Marathon and Weekend)
These usually lasted 2-3 hours, and were weekly prior to opening the line. Later, as a lot of the initial work was put out of the way, they became bi-weekly; anything less frequent left us out of touch, with too many questions needing answers and too much to talk about.
The main problem with a regular meeting was simply finding time for all the different things -- housekeeping, role-playing, discussions.
The basic agenda was outlined at the previous session and anything else requiring attention was added before starting. The role of facilitator was handed around regularly without any great to-do. The experience gave people a better understanding of this function and allowed it to be tackled in different ways by individuals with different temperaments. The facilitator oversaw the list of topics, prodded if anything took too long, occasionally intervened if things got too rambunctious, but took part in discussions along with everyone's else.
A meeting was divided by a coffee break into two parts, with role-playing (immediately following the reading of the agenda) usually the prime feature of the first: simulated TAG telephone calls, two people sitting back-to-back on the floor in the centre of the circle. The caller's situation depended on what we were up to, could be suggested previously or chosen on the spot. Maybe it was a replay of a conversation an individual had had on the phones and wanted to present; or perhaps there were questions about how the person playing the TAG end of the line usually handled some subject, and this was a way of looking at it; or it could be a situation which would lead into a topic scheduled for the second half of the meeting. Whatever, it was played out and there was a round on what might be behind it, ways of dealing with it, and so on. The result was a sharing of different perspectives, information, insight.
The performance of the person who received the call was examined, and each taking turns over the months and years, we got feedback from the rest on our own methods on the phone, what might be improved, what was effective. There might be comment on calls we'd taken in the office. Role-plays were a way of keeping an eye on and helping each other, gave opportunity for all sorts of discussion, were probably the most valued part of an evening.
Incoming TAG people also took part. This allowed them to practise and pick up technique before actually working on the line, and allowed us to make some assessment of them.
As TAG expanded beyond 20 people smaller groups were formed for these exercises (the TAG "splits" which supplemented membership lists). After quickly clarifying the agenda as one group, splits met in separate rooms prior to coming together again for the rest of the evening. Otherwise they met at entirely separate locations and alternated with general sessions, though ultimately this was found not to work very well.
For the business portion of regular meetings a person, or persons, might be assigned a particular subject to prepare (VD info, women's bars, legal resources, another organization, etc.). Their presentation of this could be a way of making sure information was disseminated, was a preliminary to updating a file, the means to kick off a wider discussion. Occasionally a speaker from outside the group would be invited.
Day-to-day matters like paying bills, placing ads, dealing with the all-consuming quirks and demands of the answering machine, all these types of things were farmed out. But questions always came up: should we try advertising there, we need more financial pledges, who is going to this meeting for TAG, who forgot to turn on the answering machine, the neighbours are complaining, its time to form a committee to handle such and such. And the telephone Rota would have to be passed around.
Despite all the delegating, tuck something in at one point and it pushed out somewhere else. It was frustrating if these things ate into time meant for something else, so we tried to pace them. The later it got in a meeting the faster they were dealt with. Not to say that TAG was usually anything but thorough.c) Marathon Meetings
Periodically a big block of time was needed and there would be a Marathon meeting lasting all day or all afternoon. We needed more thorough role-playing; or the information files were being neglected; there might be some major question to be aired; or dance planning had to be pulled together. In any case something required more time than it could get otherwise. It might also just be a mop-up of all those things which couldn't fit into a regular meeting.d) Weekends
Weekends were similar in some ways to Marathon meetings, but were combined with other concerns. They were designed to accommodate extensive role-playing and discussion with a process of learning more about each other as individuals. The first one took place in January of 1976, just before the phones opened. They were used to assess how we were doing, sort out directions. They helped us become more comfortable with incoming people and vice versa.
Like all meetings, they took place in someone's home. Everyone arrived early Friday evening with bedding and stayed until Sunday afternoon. Out of town retreats were rented when the group became too large to accommodate in this manner.
What held TAG together was a common goal, there was something we all wanted to accomplish and make work. On the other hand our processes helped. As the kick-off to a Weekend, Friday evening (and Sat. morning if necessary) was spent talking in turn about specific aspects of our own lives. Speaking openly with each other about ourselves, dealing with sometimes very private subjects, didn't so much cause a personal bonding as result in making us see each other more clearly as individual gay people. From that came part of the trust and confidence within the group that we needed to operate successfully, the whole exercise supplied tolerance and the patience we had to have with each other.
For the first several years, part of the work was to get a phoneline, etc., of good quality up and running, and operating with methods appropriate to our community. The need to get the lines answered, to expand, to do things beyond them was always bearing down.
But the other half of this was to establish something that would stand on its own feet, get along in the end without the people who put it together, outlast our own energies.
As mentioned before, our methods were important to us because we felt how well we served the community would be the direct result of how we dealt with each other. But also these same formulas were the ones with which we bought the time for a solid group to coalesce, figure out its niche, discover ways to survive. To some degree, TAG always adapted its methods to its different stages of life. Probably it still does.
The personal exchanges set the tone for the rest of a Weekend. Sometimes they shed light on our role-playing, sometimes they made more understandable the different ways we each measured the importance of things. They probably underlined things we had in common, even when we didn't share a common analysis of what those very things meant. And even if an occasional person did fall asleep in the middle of such talk.
The different parts of a Weekend were connected by a fair amount of recreation and carrying-on, meals could develop into an event of their own; and Saturday evening was reserved for relaxation.
If they weren't designed as a support group for TAG members, Weekends did function in many ways as a system of support for TAG itself. They had a continuity and momentum which was disrupted if people were not there for the entire period, and after one or two abortive attempts to accommodate it, part-time attendance was discouraged.
B) TAG MEMBERSHIPa) Size Of The Group
The working out of what TAG was going to be, attracted the passing interest of a fair number of people. But by the time the phones opened in 1976 it had settled into a steady core membership of 12-15. This gradually increased into the 15-20 range and by 1979, 20-25.
Well into 1979 there were still nine of the original members: Barry Blackburn, Charlie Dobie, Harvey Hamburg, Denise Hudson (Dennis, at the time), Bill Klein, Ian Turner, Alvin Wagner, Stan W., Peter Zorzi.
A year later, only one from 1975 remained (Ian Turner; Charlie did return after this for a couple of more years.)
There was further expansion to 34 members, but this collapsed to 12 by Aug./83.
Were there problems from too much growth and turnover occurring simultaneously? Maybe a group of people inherited an unfamiliar way of doing things? Perhaps it was no longer clear precisely why some procedures existed, or sympathy had waned for what these procedures were meant to accomplish and this caused difficulties?
But the minutes from these years do show at least some of the ideology did get passed on.b) Tagettes
(as we were fond of referring to ourselves)
Age was weighted towards people in their mid-20's to mid 30's, a few in their 40's.
TAG was entirely white male until one woman joined in 1979, changing the gender component less than radically. (Adjustment of the racial mix was also not overwhelming.) Female membership went as high as six but fell off again. Much of the time lesbian organizations operated or women's organizations served the lesbian community. Women's energies were attracted there.
The split between secondary and post-secondary education was probably 45/55.
There was a history of gay activism of one sort or another that ran through the group and many members continued to be involved in other parts of the community. In fact there was a veteran feeling about TAG at its beginning, that it was a second generation organization. While there was certainly a feeling of our way through a lot of things, there was also a large helping of experience that gave more resonance to discussions. Choices were more interesting to make because people had more idea what some of those choices meant and how they might affect us down the road. While sorting out how we wanted to operate we also had some notions of what we wanted to avoid.
Politically the bias was centre-left, with a sprinkling beyond that in both directions.
There were occasional religious activists from various denominations, as well as a number of the anti-religious like ex-Catholic me. Multiple contrasts of this sort existed within the membership.
Our background was probably from just a bit below to centre, middle-class.
Workwise there were through the years, among other things, government clerks, social workers, teachers, bank clerks, graduate students, church employees, sociologists, journalists, janitors, psychologist, printer, playwright, programmers, travel guide, office manager, filmmaker, salespeople, designers, waiters, landscape architect, self-employed, unemployed et al.
For unclear reasons ex-TAG people become particularly susceptible to something known as extended permanent rabid computeritis. Anyone romantically linked to a current or prospective TAG member should note the likelihood of ending up in a love triangle with a machine.
People came into TAG through having made use of the phoneline themselves, through having come across people in the group, occasionally through having seen our ads asking for volunteers, etc..
A prospective member met beforehand with a Tagette who explained the group's work, its methods of discussion and internal processes, and answered questions they might have. This prevented them from being totally lost at a first meeting and from disrupting it through not knowing how we went about things. They were asked to simply observe at this session and not take part in discussion.
If they were comfortable with what they saw they came back and participated from then on. A group decision on full membership, including going on the phones and the right to veto proposals, came after taking part in general meetings and role-playing, observing in the office ("Viewing the Phones" as it was called---akin to a holy revelation), and, importantly, attending one Weekend.
A round was then held, with the incoming member fully participating. Everyone had their say, basically as to how they felt about this person doing the phones but including any other questions they might have. If anyone, or more likely several people or the group as a whole was uneasy, the individual was asked to wait and to continue role-plays. (In 1980 TAG adapted, and adopted a "Clearness Process" whose title suggests something out of Scientology. A sort of sensitivity ritual, it is perhaps a bit rich. In rough outline though, it did resemble the particular round process already in place for taking on new members.)
The whole thing sounds more formidable than it was. Generally, people themselves realized long before this point if they were not suited. We tried to avoid it becoming a process of personal rejection or acceptance. No one was turned down outright, people were made room for within TAG until they were ready or lost interest and left.
Still it was difficult to say no to someone without something concrete on which to base your doubts. In a couple of instances it only became apparent after a person was working the line that it was better they didn't. In such a case they made the group comfortable once more or they went off the phones.
I've said the length of time it took to become a member usually sorted things out beforehand. In fact this became a sticking point. Because of the scheduling of Weekends some people had to wait three or four months before starting to deal with calls. Occasionally someone left in frustration. Eventually we began to okay people after a shorter period and before a Weekend, on the understanding they would attend the next one coming up.
Most people were happy with this and the result seemed the same as far as who ended up in TAG. It made me nervous though, and I think it eventually caused TAG to change in ways it hadn't really thought out. It felt like we were beginning to downgrade the need for thorough integration of new members, the necessity for cohesiveness, commitment, clear understanding of aims and internal processes. We needed a groundwork of consensus on these things in order to proceed; otherwise we would have continually bogged down in the details of every decision.
An influx of people from a society that isn't used to working in a communal way has the potential for causing a lot of difficulty if there isn't attention to the process of assimilation. (From my notes, Dec. 25, 1979: "We talked about TAG. I left TAG because I was tired and was getting nothing out of it. It's decidedly to the right of where it started out and people in it are now not interested in process the way I am. So I am not amongst like-minded people, but I'm also not there to fight with people. They go their way, I go mine.")
Of course the other side of faster growth is that the larger TAG was, then the more help it could offer and the less burden on each person. The desire to be able to do more is difficult to hold in check.
How could the speeding up of procedures have been handled differently? Is the test of the matter, that the phone line is still operating and still has a reasonable, if low profile, reputation? Perhaps TAG simply evolved in ways dictated by the times. (In truth, part of this expediting of matters probably occurred because people wanted a larger membership so they in turn could finally depart---witness the mass exodus of 1979-80.)
Still this transition from laying the foundations to operating as an established group should have been seen more clearly, so it could have been addressed directly. We approached the question in sidelong ways whenever we encountered problems. Maybe the answers were too jimmied together.
A few final thoughts........
One of the things I meant by an "established" group is that as our functions and activities grew, so did our reputation. Beginning around 1979, it was this that started to pull people in. What that seemed to mean, strangely enough, was that those who were becoming members were less a mixture of different kinds of individuals than had previously been the case.
This is a key point I think. The group began to be weighted towards people who had been attracted to us only by a "social service" concept. People who were interested in such things, thought of TAG and joined. Many of them lacked gay movement experience and knowledge of how the community had developed over the last few years. A lot of TAG's methods and purposes were formulated on the basis of these things. This lack of background did not make people less able or less welcome. But it also did not greatly spur the solidification of what we had put together. People accepted the way TAG was, but perhaps were a bit confused about the point of it all.
We could pass on our perspective, but not our experience and it was the latter that put the fire in our belly, that lifted the group beyond the context of a phoneline. As I said, it supplied TAG with its aims for itself within the community, and also made it into an experiment in different methods. These ideas could be explained and taken up by others, but the way they evolved after a certain point was guided by a different sort of experience than our own. In some areas the effect of this was a bit disheartening, while in others that was not so.d) Sub-group Members
TAG at the beginning was against having members run sub-groups who did not also work on the phones (the first somewhat reluctant exception being the Coming Out Group, in 1976). That changed over time. A couple of these groups had TAG members who attended regular meetings and Weekends, but who acted only as a liaison with the phone group and didn't actually work on the line themselves.
C) OPERATIONSa) Advertising
There were listings in the telephone book under Homosexual, Gay, TAG and Toronto Area Gay Phone Line, as well as in the Yellow Pages under Social Services.
"Business Personals" classified ads appeared at first only in the Globe & Mail because the Star refused to accept them. That we were not a professional social work agency was the supposed justification. It relented after a few months (and I have a feeling we may have used contacts among such agencies to convince it to back off.)
The politics of contributing to the advertising revenues of a homophobic Toronto Sun weren't attractive, but I seem to recall that at the start we at least discussed the possibility of a whole group of people not being reached otherwise. In any case it became clear over time that people simply searched until they found us.
Classifieds also ran periodically in university papers, and occasional forays were made into suburban papers and places like Tab (a scandal tabloid with a regular gay column and an underground of gay readers across the country.) But there was a limit to the number of calls we could handle anyways.
Our stickers (2 1/2" x 4") were a consistent way we made our existence known. We had thousands of them printed, at first blue on white and then more noticeable black on yellow: Homosexual?/ Feeling Isolated?/ We're here to listen/ Phone 964-6600/ Toronto Area Gays. The word "homosexual" was chosen because it crossed the most barriers, was the most widely understood among our potential audience whatever their age, language, sex, etc...
For years people carried these around in their pockets, travelling throughout Metro to slap them up. They were stuck up in subways, at bus stops, on telephone poles, buildings, hoardings. A particular point was made (especially by Charlie Dobie) to put them up regularly in public washrooms and washroom stalls. We'd always seen our audience as primarily outside the gay community, among people not yet out and closeted people. Washrooms were certainly one of the places to go to get to some of them. They were also a place where people often found themselves in trouble with the law. The hope was that they'd have seen the number and call us if they didn't know how to deal with this situation.
There were listings in the Body Politic, in the newsletters of gay and lesbian organizations, in gay papers and periodicals that came and went, the Gayellow Pages, 923-GAYS, on gay TV shows. Also in social service booklets and files. All this resulted in a fair number of out of town, even out of province calls. Saudi Arabia was the furthest I ever took one from.
We tried to get noticed wherever we could---anything to counteract the blackout by the major media that the community always faces...see for example Barry Blackburn's letter-to-the-editor in the Toronto Star; an interview with Charlie Dobie in the Kitchener-Waterloo Other Voices that was also broadcast on radio; mention in George Hislop's columns in Directions; listings in the 519 Community Centre's programs.
We also sought occasional coverage of our activities in The Body Politic and appealed in their classifieds and in display ads for volunteers.
Along with posters in the usual places, the BP was of course, the place to advertise our fund-raising events.b) Funding
Until 1980 the bank account, paying the bills, handling the money, estimating our needs, all that sort of thing was part of my job in TAG. During that time around 80% of our funding came from our own pockets, with the rest divided between anonymous mail donations and profits from two dances that we held.
It probably cost an average of $2500 per annum to run TAG in those years (after adding in unrecorded items).
Office rent was the most significant expense. In the early eighties it was first greatly reduced than greatly increased. On the other side, profits from dances and the like moved upwards from the seventies to the eighties. Small grants from the Gay Community Appeal also began to be available. The largest difference however was the money which started coming in from the Gay Community Dance Committee. TAG had received $4300 by September of 1982 in credit for its work on GCDC dances.
This adds up to a change of emphasis. From a direct dependence on members' bank accounts in the seventies, the burden shifted to a dependence, in the eighties, on members' involvement in fund-raising events (in particular the GCDC, as noted.)
Our finances were reported to the group, including a total for donations from within TAG. But an individual member's contributions were confidential. After estimating our needs I'd ask for pledges. Everyone received a slip of paper, later in the meeting they were all handed back, either with a name and amount or blank. Who did and who didn't give was then not clear, except to me, and was never allowed to become a consideration.c) The Office Location
Besides the phone line, TAG had hoped to have at least a place where people could take the next step in coming out i.e. actually speak in person to someone. When we first started looking for an office it was to include a public "living room" where people could visit, and also a room for private conversation. We looked at a lot of different places, made offers on some, eventually decided on 819 Pape and abandoned it as unsuitable soon after taking possession. Finding the proper space, in an accessible location, at a price we could afford was difficult.
To get the phone working we put off other ideas for the moment or at least looked for other ways of handling them, and took a small office at 4 Collier St. on the second floor across the hall from Glad Day Books. (On the same floor for a while was a body-rub parlor whose customers occasionally came to our door by mistake.) The line opened around the beginning of February, 1976 after half a year's intensive preparations. (Barry Blackburn took the first call.)
Collier St., that cramped and dingy room with a cramped and dingy and unpredictable landlord, was never very comfortable.
After shifting once within the building, in March of 1977 TAG moved to 357 College, a larger and better maintained address. There, in 1979, a band began renting rehearsal space down the hall. In addition, a pool hall downstairs next to the entrance had always made some people nervous.
So the group went on that fall to 651 Yonge, 3'rd floor, above the then New Yorker Cinema. A theatrical agency had offered a small room to one side of their office at an incredibly cheap $30/mos, which was great for the budget. Because they worked different hours there was no problem with congestion.
Their lease was up in April, 1982 and TAG moved again, this time to the Selby Hotel, 592 Sherbourne St., at a much inflated rent of $200/month. If the group had had charitable status this office might have been given rent-free and written off by the Selby, but TAG hadn't even incorporated at that point. (As discussed elsewhere, incorporation required the adoption of a hierarchical structure, board of directors, president and all that, which ran counter to TAG's communal nature.)d) The Office
(information files, logbooks)
This consisted of a phone and answering machine, relevant gay and other information pamphlets, books, periodicals, guides etc.. Internal news and notices of upcoming events in the community were posted on the walls.
923-GAYS also had its telephones on TAG premises.
A telephone work schedule, the Rota, was prepared at meetings as much as possible and managed by one person (Denise Hudson for several years). From this a monthly calendar was inked in at the office so that everyone had a clear view of how things stood and who was supposed to be working over the weeks ahead.
The main information resource was a ring binder, later changed to a rolodex file. In this rolodex was a card for each organization, place, person, or whatever that a caller might be referred to. Every listing was investigated by TAG and discussed at general meetings or Weekends before being written up, dated and placed in the files. There were periodic reviews of these entries.
A card for something like a bar or bath could include not only an address, phone number, hours of operations but also what kinds of people might be found there, occasional info on attitude problems on the part of management, anything else that might be relevant. Any Tagette not familiar with a place was pushed to get out and have a look at it, particularly if they mentioned it often. In this way more innocent members occasionally parted with at least some of their innocence. Sometimes a file should have been more adequate but it was generally pulled or annotated when this became apparent and more information was available.
For MD's we wanted to be sure of their manner and attitudes, and to have talked to them about referrals.
For other organizations, social services, phone lines, it was important to meet people involved in them and assure ourselves of their abilities. TAG wanted contact names for itself, and frequently for people who phoned us.
Groups where people were often directed such as Gay Youth Toronto, were observed from time to time to maintain confidence in them. (TAG also did some training of GYT people for their own phoneline. Sometime after this line actually started operating, Brian O'Neill ran a ten week course for them. He thinks other TAG people subsequently did the same.)
Legal services were an important file.
And so on.
We always tried for input and feedback from callers on these things as well as on TAG itself. If they had a problem in a bar or with an organization, or doctor, or whatever, it was brought to the general meeting for discussion.
Log books were sometimes taken to meetings or Weekends but only the current one remained in the office. There was wariness about a book getting into unfriendly hands and we tried to make sure no caller's name or phone number appeared in it.e) The Workload, And Housekeeping
The phone was answered from 7-10.30pm with the number of evenings per week expanding and contracting with TAG membership. Saturday afternoon was also tried circa 1976-78 but wasn't continued. (One of our concerns was nightshift workers, but it seemed they often managed to call us from work.) The rest of the time an answering machine gave the hours of operation, a bit about TAG, and other community information usually including a mention of the Gay Community Calendar (923-GAYS).
In the first couple of years in particular, a person was likely to find themself on the phones once a week, at a general meeting every second week, taking part in Weekends several times a year, and helping with sub-groups. In addition most people had different areas of daily operations (e.g. picking up mail, looking after the telephone Rota, membership lists etc.) which they took care of. And of course there were many people (probably the majority) who went beyond the sub-groups to help individual callers. In practice, Charlie and I and other people found that TAG demanded some attention most days of the week.
Later on there might occasionally be periods when you were needed less often on the phoneline itself. (In the beginning of 1979, back from holidays, it was difficult to find any vacant space on the Rota for myself. It wasn't the first time this had occurred. That, together with the seeming strength of the group was what made me decide it was alright to start backing out. I've already mentioned dissatisfactions I had but this organizational solidity was the factor that allowed me to leave.)
There were always people out of town or otherwise involved for a while. Although someone could be off the phones for a few weeks, if this stretched into a longer period they were supposed to role-play and seek group confirmation before going back on.
Everyone was expected to turn up at general meetings, and missing more than two meant not being allowed to work on the lines until you could again attend on a regular basis. Otherwise everyone felt too out of touch with you and your own situation, and much general information exchanged at meetings was missed.
To ensure TAG's survival it seemed wise to try to attract people who were interested in the overall group, not just being on the phone but also the dynamics of the group and all the subsidiary effort involved in keeping TAG going.
The attitude that sub-groups should be run only by people who did the telephones relaxed over time. The obvious example here is the Coming Out Group right from its inception in 1976. (At the time this was considered an individual exception.)
However the group continued to dislike any separation between the telephones and housekeeping i.e. fundraising activities, taking care of the recording machine, keeping the information files up to date, answering mail, and so on.
Again this was tempered by issues of convenience and practicality, our preferences were not accompanied by total rigidity. When I was phasing myself out I stopped doing the phones in the first half of 1979 and doubt whether I attended many meetings in the last half but I continued to handle the banking and bills during that time. In later years these particular things went through further periods of being dealt with by absentee members.
The best way to characterize the mundane, business side of TAG is to say it was deliberately informal. This is touched on in an earlier chapter. Different aspects of this area convey the essential flavour of TAG in the 1970's and I want to expand on them. (To some degree I'm also defending certain ideas. My apologies if I become a bit pedantic in this chapter.) Our approach to operating was essentially a flowing division of labour, automatically dividing and recombining around various tasks as they presented themselves; the more constant of these were pinned to one person or another for varying lengths of time simply as a matter of convenience.
Static, formal divisions of responsibility within a group result essentially in work being done by category i.e. facilities, phone work, office work, training, correspondence and so on, with many of these subcategorized. The idea of shared responsibility, in contrast, resulted in tackling work by priority. As the priorities of the moment changed there was the flexibility to direct energies where they were needed. At any given time the essential work at that particular point received all the attention within the group necessary to see it was adequately handled.
Uncomplicated ongoing tasks (e.g. mail pickup, membership lists) were claimed by people simply by their announcing at a meeting they would take them on. These they would do until either they became tired of them or someone else decided they wanted a go for a change. Individual items (e.g. answering some mail, liaison with an organization, resupplying the office, some small problem area, etc., or even who was doing the next Friday Night Group) were continually handed around, picked up at a meeting by whoever didn't have anything major on their plate at the moment. The workload shifted and balanced, distributed and redistributed itself, both automatically and with reasonable equality. Of course some people had more of a share and some had less, depending on the circumstances of their life that month, but it was no great deal.
When less routine matters presented themselves, perhaps holding a dance, looking for a new office, acquiring a new recording machine, a couple of people would offer to look into it and come back with suggestions. If it was a small matter, they or someone else would bring it to a conclusion. If it was something larger, then other informal committees would quickly coalesce to deal with the different facets. Very straightforward, no fuss.
Sometimes people resented the amount of business that had to be done at meetings. But considering that for the majority of these, half the time was used for role-playing and a part of the rest for more general discussion around TAG and other themes, then it can't be said the daily details of running the group occupied us disproportionately. TAG compared favourably with other organizations I've been around, especially when you consider the input that all members had. Of course if finding a new office, planning a dance, and making preparations for a Weekend all coincided then it's to be expected that agendas might get a little crowded. But then Marathon meetings came into play.
The amount of attention to the mechanics TAG required outside of meetings would have been substantially increased if we had not forced business through in this way. It tended to compact and distill things that would otherwise have grown and spread out in all sorts of non-essential directions.
For the whole administrative process to work, people have to handle themselves responsibly when they get together.
Looking on from the outside, my impression of TAG at the beginning of the eighties is of a lot of new people who were not fully conscious of the process and how delicate it was. For the source of this problem I can only suggest the gradual erosion starting in late 1978, early 1979, of attention to the careful assimilation of new members.
In terms of the actual size of meetings, there is a point where further tinkering with procedure is needed. A lot of people attended the discussions that led to TAG in 1975, and later on, in 1977-78, the membership hovered around twenty, occasionally rising above. With those numbers there is still an amount of give, in the system. But once you get beyond twenty-five or so, it is less able to absorb individuals who don't respect that certain things have to be accomplished within a limited time frame. This is where adjustments have to be made. What those actual adjustments consist of, is not as important as that they follow the principles that guide the system. If there is confusion about what those principles are, or perhaps even why they are, then there is going to be trouble.
Other than trying to share the work equally and having it done by priority, one of the central points of avoiding real divisions between areas was to emphasize the complete picture, the connections. Being involved in peer counselling consisted of more than talking with other people on the phones and in the sub-groups. It included creating the circumstances for that to happen.
Dividing off the various facets of a group's work, the separation of what a group does from how it does it, was thought a slippery slope. Among other objections, it was our belief that sort of thing leads to the formation of an inner and an outer group, and sooner or later to the possibility of a hierarchy. The more rooted such an approach becomes, the more difficult it also becomes to operate in any other style; and the more it changes into the traditional case of people deciding things for other people, and people leaving the messy details to other people.
The potential fallout from a traditional business-management style, for a peer counselling group, is in how it reconciles this with its purpose for existence. If it organizes itself merely as a delivery system for a counselling "product", will it begin to see and define itself as a social service rather than as a group trying to accomplish a range of things, create change, invigorate its community? TAG members wanted to be capable of effect on, and have real interaction with, both a chosen aspect of the community and the group's own internal workings.
We started out with a lot of very strong-minded individuals who each guarded their prerogative to influence how TAG went about its business. Once in a while this may have had a negative effect on how we were perceived externally. For example, when on those infrequent occasions an outside organization approached us about an issue, they'd have to cool their heels until the next general meeting. TAG's feelings on the issue might be obvious and unanimous, but beware if anyone tried to speak for the group before acknowledging other people's right to affect what was (at least officially) said. Our response time at this level was not indicative of our ability to handle our own work and didn't mean much in terms of our actual performance so we didn't worry about it a great deal. If there had really been a need to adjust things here, it would have been done.
Realizing we had to get such things out of the way we didn't belabour small matters. A lot was left for the person doing a job to do as they saw fit, so long as their own ideas were not manifestly inconsistent with our general approach. Every single detail was not of vital interest to every single person. It was understood though, that we each had a stake in those details. We examined whatever we wanted, challenged whatever we wanted, accepted no claims of territoriality over anything.
People patently did not like decisions that affected them, being taken for them. By this I mean not whether the office was vacuumed on Saturday or on Sunday, but things which affected the dynamics or the direction of the group in any way. As a small instance, I remember once doing a little manipulation of a meeting agenda in hopes of preventing a blow up, delaying something until later in the meeting. Everyone liked their cards on the table and I practically had my head served up on a platter for attempting to patronize the group in this manner, decide for it what was in its best interests.
Some groups prefer their hierarchies and their bureaucracies. It is possible we are so conditioned by how the world is run at a certain level, by the philosophy behind these views, including the idea of understanding and dealing with issues only in a compartmentalized fashion, that we can now only conceive of goals that don't clash in any fundamental way with that kind of thinking.
The particular importance of this seemingly matter-of-fact business area is that requirements here are often used as the justification for the overall structure of a group. This structure in turn plays a part in determining many other things: what effect the group will have, what functions it can successfully accommodate, even its actual purpose.f) Answering The Phones, Doing The Logbooks
In the seventies there was one telephone with two people in the office to answer it. People continually rotated work partners so that everyone was familiar with and could evaluate everyone's work; and so they could pick up the best of each other's techniques.
It wasn't uncommon to be still dealing with a call well past 10:30pm, eleven, or even midnight if it warranted it.
We didn't like a person working alone for several reasons. Taking calls could be frustrating, exhilarating, draining, boring, none of these. Having two people on the phone handling alternate calls helped guard against burnout and helped keep the line operating at top quality. Between turns they were supposed to write up the log book, hopefully with particular elaboration for non-routine calls.
A second person was useful as company, as feedback on how a call had been handled, as a back-up resource, as another presence in case of any sort of emergency call, as a safety catch against blind spots we all had, and as a guard against any bad judgement on TAG's part in letting a person work on the phones in the first place. Of course you could end up sitting there drumming your fingers half the night while someone else took a long call, but for various reasons expansion to a second line didn't seem feasible during the first few years. (These reasons included financial: with a second phone you lost the measured rate, had to pay full business rates for two lines instead. This was beyond our means. Probably we'd have preferred to have a second line to answer during the longer conversations, but with some alternating of calls still taking place. This would have kept room for the monitoring of each other's methods and attitudes that often led to discussions at the office. A lot of our insights were gained by continuing to listen to each other on the phones, we were always training, always learning.)
As a matter of course the log was reviewed by everyone who did the phones, and the book itself served several purposes. Writing it up could sometimes be an aid to second thoughts and to fixing a call more clearly in your mind. It kept a record so trends and needs could be seen more easily. (In effect, it gave us an overview of our work.) It allowed other TAG people to ask questions (as frequently did happen) about calls they hadn't witnessed. It was helpful as a reference in talking to someone who had called previously. A regular caller would also become apparent and their situation could be brought up at a general meeting.
A second line was opened in 1981 with the help of a grant from the Gay Community Appeal. The need to have two people in the office was still satisfied and a phone could simply be left off the hook to write the log or take a break. When numbers permitted there was an attempt to schedule three persons per night so that alternating of calls could continue; but this was more of an ideal than a fact.
Occasionally there was a moment when the phone didn't ring. This was traceable to passing trouble with our advertising, although once in a while it seemed the result of people giving up because they couldn't get through. On the whole, demands on the line continually pointed to the need for more access to it.g) Non-phone Operations
The subsidiary non-phone groups were started mostly by members of the core TAG group. The amount of control over these groups varied but they tended to evolve to meet their own requirements. See the separate description of sub-groups.
D) POSTSCRIPT: THE MISSING LOGBOOKS
For several years the logs from the seventies were actually kept in a bank vault, but after Charlie and I turned them over to TAG they were mislaid. We later squirrelled away six from the eighties but only one from the previous years has been found. At the moment there doesn't seem much hope of locating any more from that era.
The logs are important historical records of the lives of gay people. If anyone has them or knows where they are please contact the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.