Finding the Differences: “Que font au lit les lesbiennes et les gais” information card from the Quebec Gay Archives and how?

Finding the Differences: “Que font au lit les lesbiennes et les gais” information card from the Quebec Gay Archives and How?
By Amritha Sanmugam

Picking up this archived information card from Montréal bookstore, Librairie L’Androgyne, reminds me of the find-the-differences games I’d play out of activities books as a child. The card itself is slightly bigger than my palm, and it is printed in colour with bold black letters and bright pink for contrast. The heading says “Que font au lit”, and then a drawing, and then continuing, “les lesbiennes et les gais”, and then another drawing, and finally a footer that then gives contact information of the distributing bookstore. The question, in English, asks what lesbians and gays (implied to be only homosexual men) are doing in bed. Both images that are shown are similar in the style, in that they are cartoons of an assumed couple in bed together, doing some bedtime reading. By analyzing this card, the viewers are given a snapshot of the current queer space in Montreal at its inception.

I will now go through the major differences actual game of finding the differences between the two images that are presented in this card… In no particular order, I will list the ones that first caught my eye. First, the books that are being read are different. It is interesting to note that they are bilingual – in each couple, one is holding an English book, and the other is reading a French book. In the female couple, one of the women is reading “Lesbian love stories”, while the other is reading “Lettres de la main gauche”. One of the men is reading “Le langage perdu des grues”, and the other man is reading “Men on men.” In each scenario, we see the effect of language describing same-sex relationships – with the women’s centred on romance, while men seem to be more about the physical sex. The French book for the men is likely referring to a French translation of David Leavitt’s 1986 novel, which, in summary, is a story involving two men: a father and a son. Both are gay and, in an New York Times article by Richard Hall titled Gay Fiction Comes Home, the novel is described as “history of gay books themselves.” On the cusp of the 80s, the son’s coming out inspires the father to get out of a heterosexual marriage and to finally be honest about his sexual preference. In the cartoon of this card from Librairie L’Androgyne, the book is being showcased as significant and popular piece of literature. The reference for the book the French lesbian is reading is not easily translated – it could mean something to do with palm-reading, because the left-hand is associated with the “receptive” hand and side of the body, implying the stereotype of women being more nurturing and empathetic than men. Finding the differences in the environments themselves is less investigative – and seemingly based on gendered stereotypes. For example, from the righthand bedside table in the men’s room, condoms are overflowing, while the women just have bras hanging over their lampshades. The lampshades themselves are also interesting – while the men have naked bodies as the lamp, while the women have non-decorative lamps. Beside the lamps, the women are drinking wine while the men are drinking hard liquor with ice. One of the me is also smoking – you can see the cigarette between his fingers and the ashtray on his bedside table. The women stereotypically have a dog on their bed, while the gay men have a cat. Note Figure 1 attached above to indicate some of these differences that I’ve drawn up, much in the style of one of those children’s activities!

To understand the context of this graphic, we can first set it in a time period. The bookstore was founded in 1973 in the original Gay Village centre of Montreal, on Crescent Street. In 1982, it moved to Saint-Laurent. On the card, we see the address that is listed is the Saint-Laurent address. Besides that, another clue is the date of publication of the French book mentioned above that one of the men is reading, which came out in 1986. Thus, I assume that this card would have been distributed around then, somewhere in the late 80s or the early 90s – when the book was gaining momentum in the gay community. At this time, the lesbian visibility movement was still underground, with queer movements being focused on males, in Montreal. Podmore explains how the lesbian-feminist movement was actually quite separate from the male-dominated Gay Village. She even says most of the women-owned business were located in the Plateau and stayed geared for women, even if it wasn’t explicit by being the Gay Village (Podmore 610). Because of this social history, we can see how the distinction between what it means to be gay and what it means to be lesbian was very important and based on stereotypes. The bookstore, Librairie L’Androgyne, was owned by men and located in the Gay Village – the striking differences between both images on the card seem to be part of the ignorance that played in viewing the homosexuality on a binary, instead of the spectrum that we recognize today.

The importance of such archived materials can be measured, in one way, by the kind of humour it invokes in people today. I imagine being a young person in the 80s-90s in Montreal, picking up this card on my way out of this bookstore maybe after the Leavitt novel or the latest edition of Fugues. Today, I would find drawings like this unrelatable and funny because of the stereotypes that are played out in it. Montreal’s social history during this time was divided and very active in many ways in queer spaces, with AIDS/HIV activism, groups like ACTUP in the political sphere, and even the development of the Pride parade. Publications like this are positive in the queer-space, challenging the idea of heteronormativity, but also reveal the intricacies within the queer-space. More importantly, by putting something like this in an archive, we see how a personal space like the bed can be such a challenging aspect of society and of individual identities: society places rules and generalizations that affect views from the population as a whole, but what actually happens in the individual space almost never follows exactly, which is why it’s so easy to laugh at a little card like this from Librairie L’Androgyne. To conclude, this small piece of the Gay Village in the late 80s and early 90s tells a bigger story of how the queer space in Montreal started from a very binary-oriented environment in that gender and sexual stereotypes were morphed into one. It put women in a less privileged status by playing down their agency and asserting qualities of being “feminine” (such as being very romantic) and ignored the differences that gender and sexuality preferences and identification occur along the queer spectrum. While it is still an important publication in showing the pride movement in Montreal, it doesn’t let us forget the inequalities that existed within the spectrum, too.

Works Cited

Elder Mountain Dreaming. "Palm Reading: Mystic Triangle, Psychic Triangle, Letters M, V & X, Mystic Cross, Psychic Cross." Elder Mountain Dreaming. April 03, 2018. Accessed May 17, 2018.

Hall, Richard. "Gay Fiction Comes Home." The New York Times. June 19, 1988. Accessed May 14, 2018.

Lafontaine, Yves. "ANNONCE DE LA DISPARITION DE LA SEULE LIBRAIRIE GAIE ET LESBIENNE AU QUÉBEC: L’Androgyne Ferme Ses Portes." Fugues, January 25, 2002. Accessed May 14, 18.

Podmore, Julie A. 2006. "Gone ‘underground'? Lesbian visibility and the consolidation of queer space in Montréal". Social & Cultural Geography. 7 (4): 595-625.