3 min

Married, she slept with her female friends

When she came out, they abandoned her

DIVORCED. Edmonton's Jacqueline Dumas came out when she was 46. Credit: Xtra files

When it comes to illicit materials, it’s harder to be a homo than a pothead these days.

At least in the experience of Jacqueline Dumas. The owner of the small Orlando Books in Edmonton, Alberta, Dumas has seen Canada Customs relax about marijuana reads – only to crack down on gay and lesbian lit.

Back in the 1970s, Dumas owned Aspen Books, also in Edmonton. “All the books stopped then were marijuana growing books,” she says of dealing with border guards censoring her shipments. “Now it seems to be what they think of as ‘gay porno,’ and we have no trouble getting marijuana books in.”

While her border problems have been minimal in the past year and a half, Dumas has had to deal with ignorant officials over what is obscene. “It’s so arbitrary,” she says. “Leather gets stopped the most. But sometimes it’s ridiculous things like comic books. Some titles, American distributors won’t even ship to us – mostly gay male S and M titles.”

It’s just part of her struggle as a independent bookstore owner. For the past six years, Dumas has been fighting the good fight against censors, big box chain bookstores and homophobia in the form of shouting and broken windows.

Dumas, 54, came out only eight years ago, “as soon as I realized myself.” Married in her mid twenties, Dumas said she “probably would have identified as bi for a long time. It just took me a long time to figure out.”

Having grown up in an abusive home, Dumas says figuring out her sexual identity was that much more difficult. “Sex was always separate from my feelings and my inner self.”

Not that her involvement with women has only occurred in the last eight years. While married, Dumas had the occasional physical liaison with her married women friends. She won’t say how many or how many times, but asserts it was “quite a few.”

“I never really analyzed it,” she says of these experiences. “There was a tendency to frame it in such a way that it was unusual. Certainly the other women said that this way the only time it had ever happened to them.”

“I honestly thought I was just fucked up.”

When she came out, her married consorts had a very hard time with it. Dumas says she was quite surprised by who was supportive and who wasn’t. Those she expected to be shocked were quite accepting. Her daughter, now 22, as well as her ex-husband, are very supportive of her and her live-in partner of six years.

As for those she looked to for support, Dumas says, “People who acted very open and non-judgmental haven’t spoken to me since.

“When I said I was a lesbian, they had difficulties because now you had to name it.” Dumas likens her experience to that of one of her literary heroines and the namesake of her bookstore, Virginia Woolf. “It wasn’t just sex for me – I realized that all of my major emotional attachments were with women. It was a wonderful realization.”

“The selection reflects my interests,” says Dumas of Orlando Books, which she terms more a “progressive” than specifically homo bookstore, a service she says Edmonton was lacking.

She opted for a street level storefront on popular Whyte Ave. “In the past I’ve seen a lot of gay stores hover in basements, Dumas says. “I wanted it to be somewhere very bright and airy and open. I wanted it to be very visible.”

In the book business for 35 years, she cautions the lesbian, gay and feminist communities against falling for the glamour of Chapters and the like. For one thing, big box stores can never be part of the community like neighbourhood shops. As well, Dumas doubts the reason the big box stores stock queer titles is because of their commitment to advancing equality.

“Chapters carries gay and lesbian titles because it’s fashionable, and because they want to put the independents out of business.

“When all the little bookstores are gone, they won’t necessarily carry that selection any longer. Once the spaces are gone, then so are the books.”

Not to mention that one isn’t likely to find a good leatherdyke tome at Indigo.