2 min

Margaret Atwood knows delightfully little about the bathhouse raids


(L-R) Susan Cole and Margaret Atwood were two of the panelists at The 519 on June 7, 2016. Credit: Arshy Mann/Daily Xtra

All last week, we here at Daily Xtra were shivering with anticipation for Margaret Atwood to speak about the bathhouse raids. Not because we’re huge fans of The Handmaid’s Tale — though we are — but because of the truly poetic interview she gave to The Toronto Star on the subject.

The interview is a beautiful stew of vague non-sequiturs, Nazi references and general disinterest in the topic at hand.

Toronto Star: “How was the climate different for gay people in those days?”

Atwood: “I really don’t know that much about it because I’m not gay. I think the kinds of people who would get arrested in such a location were not, for instance, my lesbian friends out in British Columbia. It depended on what kind of lifestyle people were living just how much this affected them. It was a big rallying cry for the community at that time and it was probably a turning point.”

And so we weren’t disappointed when Atwood spoke for a total of seven minutes out of a two-hour long panel discussion, in which she was able to fit in multiple references to World War II, some Stephen Harper bashing and lots of platitudes about the generosity of the Canadian people, while only tangentially acknowledging that this was an event about the bathhouse raids.

“I guess I was asked to turn out tonight as your token ignorant straight female person,” said Atwood during the panel.

Now, Atwood was chosen for the panel ostensibly because she gave a much-heralded speech in 1981 in which she asked about the police, “What have they got against cleanliness?” But we all know that she was actually invited by panel organizers — and she was featured so heavily in promotional materials — to get people to show up for lengthy panel on a historical event many Torontonians haven’t even heard of.

And it sure did work. The 519’s ballroom was completely packed, with people being turned away. And a good number of the audience questions kept going to Atwood even though she had almost nothing to say.

But despite the fact that almost anyone who even read the Wikipedia article about Operation Soap would have more to say on the subject than Atwood did, Daily Xtra can’t be mad at her because she’s Margaret goddamn Atwood. Almost no one noticed that her talk was completely devoid of any content because she is so fucking charming.

And to be completely fair to her, Atwood often writes queer characters into her novels and often uses her platforms to amplify marginalized groups, which should be applauded. And the fact that she stepped back and allowed folks who actually had things to say about the legacy of the raids could be read as her making sure that her celebrity didn’t obscure the actual message.

So if you’re reading this, Margaret, we’re not actually mad you didn’t do your research. You are, and always will be, a national treasure.