Arts & Entertainment
2 min

CLGA archives: Queer history on video

What makes porn culturally significant?

“Autofellatio is not a blow job in a car,” responds Laura Robert when asked what she’s learned in her two years volunteering at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). A gardener by trade, Robert was contemplating a career change into information technology when she showed up at the CLGA for some practical experience and was assigned to the moving images section.

Robert eventually decided to continue her more earthly pursuits but continues to volunteer cataloguing the CLGA’s VHS, DVD and 8mm acquisitions.

“There is a lot of porn,” says Robert, adding that “unless you watch” it is hard to tell what is of historical merit. One well-worn tape turned out to be culturally significant: It was the first Colt production where the performers locked lips as well as loins. Previously men kissing in porn was thought to be a turn-off.

Robert’s personal taste leans toward documentaries and she was excited to find a tape of queer author Timothy Findley being interviewed by iconic queer critic Jay Scott. She’s also excited about Stand Together, a history of lesbian and gay liberation in Canada from 1967 to 1987 by queer director Nancy Nicol.

The CLGA also has boxes of home movies to be catalogued. Robert says the 8mm films are frustrating to work with because the CLGA doesn’t have a proper projector (they are hard to find and prohibitively expensive) and the hand-cranked viewer gives Robert “a mind-numbing headache.” But this is where some of the true treasures lie: revellers at long-past Pride celebrations, decades-old drag shows and scratchy footage from the late 1980s of the gay softball league’s Canada Cup. Robert urges amateur videographers to hang on to their camcorder footage and to consider donating a copy to the archives.

Robert rattles off some of the riches she has come across among the thousands of items in the moving images collection. Lesbian classics Desert Hearts and Forbidden Love, Ellen’s coming out and the at-that-time controversial lesbian kiss on sitcom Roseanne are all carefully filed away. Donors were also prescient enough to tape, save and pass on to the archives talk-show segments debating homos in the military, news coverage of protests and even obscure old television programs with queer content. There is a wide selection of international films as well: a rare uncut version of the banned in the Philippines Macho Dancer and the first sexually explicit gay Japanese film I Like You… I Like You Very Much.

Thanks to volunteers like Robert the CLGA database is searchable by theme, date or even kink. Researchers or film buffs can, with the assistance of the front desk, find almost anything in our queer history that was broadcast or filmed. The CLGA has a small screening room and visitors are welcome to view films that interest them, including the porn.

Robert has been so absorbed in filing the backlog of acquisitions that, now that the weather dictates a “slower time for gardening,” she plans “to go in one day, grab a big bag of popcorn” and catch up on some of the moving images she so badly just “wanted to stop and watch.”