an incomplete timeline of sexual diversity – part 3*

*After taking a break from this little series for a couple of weeks, here’s part three, in which AIDS hits us, the sex wars begin, bi folks start making noise, and intersex people show up on the map. Yes indeed… the 80s were a very full decade. It’s the last instalment in the ever-incomplete timeline, this time with a fair degree of focus on Canada, Quebec and Montreal. I give you the 1990s and the turn of the millennium.


1980 Gaetan Dugas, an airline steward from Montreal, was diagnosed with AIDS (“gay cancer” at the time). He later became known as North America’s Patient Zero in the AIDS epidemic.

1981 The book Coming to Power was published by the Samois Collective, a SF-based group of lesbians into sadomasochism (SM). One key member, Pat Califia, had been involved in the lesbian SM community since the early 70s. The group was thrown out of Pride parades for being “deviants”: the sex wars began in earnest, involving many bitter battles between sex-positive feminists (supportive of SM, lesbianism, transsexuality, pornography, sex work, penetration, etc.) and conservative second-wave feminists such as Andrea Dworkin (“all penetration is rape”) and Catherine McKinnon. McKinnon’s work on female objectification became the basis for Canada’s obscenity laws. Califia went on to publish Macho Sluts in 1988, a reference in lesbian SM erotica.

1982 Against Sadomasochism was published, edited by Robin Ruth Linden, Darlene R. Pagano, Diana E. H. Russell and Susan Leigh Starr. A classic example of anti-SM feminism.

1982 Robyn Ochs founded North America’s first major bisexual support group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The bisexual movement begins to grow, aiming for general societal acceptance, plus inclusion in gay and lesbian political movements after the divisive sex wars.

1983 Renée Richards’ biography was published – the first-ever autobiography of a transsexual person.

1986 Little Sisters began their epic battle against Canada Customs’ right to censor books and magazines at the Canadian border. They believe that the delicate decision-making process of what material is allowed and what is banned in this country should not be left to whims of Customs officers. On October 11th, 1994 the trial began after a long four-and-a-half-year battle just to get to court. The precedent-setting trial took forty court days to be heard and read like a who’s-who of writers across North America, all speaking out against censorship in Canada. Among the authors who testified on Little Sisters behalf were Sarah Schulman (ACT UP) and Pat Califia, who holds the honour of being the author whose work is most frequently censored at the border. In March, 2000, Little Sisters took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada. They won, but discrimination at the border continues to this day.

1987 ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, was founded in New York City – “a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis.” It began with the help of Sarah Schulman, and spread to many cities including Montreal, with much help from Michael Hendricks.

1991 Bi Any Other Name was published, a seminal collection of diverse bisexual life stories, with the help of Robyn Ochs.

1993 Anne Fausto-Sterling published an article entitled “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough.” Her later work discusses over 42 known intersex conditions, from hormonal to DNA to physical/genital. The Intersex Society of North America was founded that same year. ISNA is devoted to systemic change to end shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries for people born with an anatomy that someone decided is not standard for male or female. They maintain that intersexuality is primarily a problem of stigma and trauma, not gender, and that parents’ distress must not be treated by surgery on the child.

1997 Pat Califia published Sex Changes: Transgender Politics, a seminal book in trans history and gender theory. Two years later, he announced he was transsexual and is now known as Patrick.

1998 Concordia’s Sexuality Minor was founded on October 9. According to the press release, “In less than 10 years, work in the field of queer studies has become highly sophisticated, and attracted academic attention that in many cases has evolved into a broader exploration of sexuality. Concordia officially launched its new interdisciplinary minor in sexuality, at the start of a three-day conference that was called Sex on the Edge and was organized by Cinema Professor Thomas Waugh and Communications Professor Chantal Nadeau.” The burgeoning field of interdisciplinary sexuality studies is in some ways an offshoot, in some was an opposition, in some ways a complement to women’s studies; the Sexuality Minor program includes a number of courses given at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute.

2002 Civil unions were legalized in Quebec. The National Assembly of Quebec voted unanimously to create a status of civil union, available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples and largely having the same rights as marriage, by modifying the Civil Code of Quebec. The law was enacted on June 24, 2002. The idea of a civil union, considered separate but almost equal to marriage, was not good enough for Michael Hendricks.

2004 Same-sex marriage was legalized in Quebec. On March 19, the Quebec Court of Appeals ruled similarly to Ontario and B.C. courts, upholding Hendricks and Leboeuf v. Quebec and ordering that it take effect immediately. The couple who brought the suit, Michael Hendricks and René Leboeuf, immediately sought a marriage licence; they were wed on April 1 at the Palais de justice de Montreal.

2005 Same-sex marriage was legalized across Canada by the Civil Marriage Act enacted on July 20. Court decisions, starting in 2003, had already legalized same-sex marriage in eight out of ten provinces and one of three territories, whose residents comprised about 90% of Canada’s population. Before passage of the Act, more than 3,000 same-sex couples had already married in these areas. Most legal benefits commonly associated with marriage had been extended to cohabiting same-sex couples since 1999.

2005 STELLA, Montreal’s major sex-workers’ rights association, hosted a historic international sex workers’ rights conference in Montreal aiming to help create strategy around legal policy affecting sex workers’ rights to practice their chosen career. The group was supported by… Michael Hendricks.

2006 The first World OutGames were held in Montreal, bringing 16,000+ people to our city for sporting events, cultural events and a human rights conference. On the bright side, thousands of people were brought together in a never-before-seen gathering of the international queer community. However… the Games ousted sex workers from their usual territory in order to use the space for their events, attracting criticism from STELLA; the events were so expensive that they attracted a majority of gay men, less than 50% women, and only 150 or so trans people; the three-day human rights conference included only one workshop on the topic of bisexuality and three on the topic of transsexuality, and was far too expensive for many grassroots human rights activists to attend; and the Canadian government barred a number of HIV-positive people from entering the country to take part in the Games.


Though there have been a few mild shifts toward respectability among the middle tier (monogamous gay couples) and additions of new categories at the bottom tier (HIV-positive people, intersex folks) Gayle Rubin’s pyramid of acceptable sexuality still stands…

3 thoughts on “an incomplete timeline of sexual diversity – part 3*

  1. The bisexual movement begins to grow, aiming for general societal acceptance, plus inclusion in gay and lesbian political movements after the divisive sex wars.

    “re-inclusion”, maybe.

    (b.t.w. hi! I think this is the first time I’ve commented here. Can’t remember how I found your blog – maybe via Freaksexual? or Sue George? but have been reading it a few months.)

  2. Jennifer – True!

    Julian – Thanks. Always good to know when an academic myth is exactly that. However, having now read the Snopes article, I must point out that it does quote Dworkin as saying “penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent.” The Snopes article says that the *false* quote is “a statement that calls into question the sanity of the person who utters it even as it alienates most everyone who hears it,” but really, the accurate one isn’t much better, just slightly less inflammatory. In addition, regardless of the particular wording of what they said, Dworkin’s and MacKinnon’s views on what constitutes legitimate sexual expression and legitimate desire had a chilling effect on women’s and dyke sexual expression and cultural production for well over a decade, and have been written into law such that they’re still having sweeping negative effects on what sort of written and pictorial material makes it across the border and into Canadian queer bookstores today (Little Sisters, anyone?). So the misquote isn’t so much a “ridiculous lie” as it is a minor exaggeration of a very real, and highly problematic, political statement.

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