It is easy to spot Catherine Purdie. She is tall, graceful and, when she sports her leather cowboy hat, just plain sexy.
I have seen her at various community events but had never met her. So as I trudged my way through the cold to interview her, I felt the growing apprehension of meeting someone who is well known in the lesbian community.
I entered the coffeehouse, bundled up, late and cold. Purdie sat quietly in a corner watching me as I heaped a pile of clothes onto the bench, dripped coffee on the table and sat down flustered and tongue-tied. My apprehension melted away as soon as I started talking to her. Within five minutes, my nerves had settled and I found myself spending time with a calm, serene woman.
It was Purdie, it turned out, who was uncomfortable. That’s because she prefers to be out of the spotlight.
When I asked Purdie how she felt about receiving Xtra’s Lifetime Achievement Award, she was more concerned about acknowledging the people she had worked with over the years than accepting of the fact she had won.
Her comments on volunteerism were strikingly humble and to the point. “I like to do volunteer work for organizations that directly or indirectly support women,” she said.
Purdie has been involved in volunteer work in Ottawa since 2006, before she was fully out of the closet. “In hindsight, it was more difficult living in the closet. Short-term pain for long-term gain,” she says.
In the five years since she came out, Purdie has ensconced herself in the gay and trans community. Her roles have been diverse and have covered a gamut of responsibilities — facilitator at PFLAG, board member for Lanark County Interval House, Dyke March co-coordinator, a Lesbian Information Exchange (LIX) chick and dance queen extraordinaire for the Lesbian Outdoor Group (LOG).
Purdie’s most lighthearted gig has been to organize dances for both LOG and Fall Nights, Hot Women. For two years, Venus Envy and Mother Tongue Books have been selling tickets for Purdie’s dances, with money from sales going to the charity or charities of the storeowners’ choice. Purdie’s only stipulation is that the charity should focus on women.
“I feel like I am doing something for other people. I have had a pretty good life, and I feel I should do something for others. Making a good chunk of money and giving it to some charity feels pretty good,” says Purdie.
The dances may be charity fundraisers, but for Purdie they are also a time to be a social butterfly.
“The other thing, too, is when I run my dance, I like to schmooze and meet people, and it is really neat to see people having a good time.”
This year, Purdie has decided to slow down. She still intends to volunteer with a few organizations but has made it a goal to balance her community commitments with her personal life. “I will never stop volunteering; I am just a little more choosy about who I volunteer for,” she says.
Purdie is a gentle person with a gracious manner. She is also someone to look out for, and with the cowboy hat that shouldn’t be hard.
“I was in a leather store,” she says. “I saw the hats, and I don’t like hats, but I tried it on, and on a whim I bought it. I started wearing it and I started to realize… that it was easy for people to find me because I am tall, and with the hat it is a dead giveaway.”