While not the perfect fit, many early gay bars often served as a second home to Trans+ people. They were a place where one could experiment with one’s gender presentation. Trans women, trans men, and crossdressers found space for themselves among drag queens, studs, aggressives, and butches. These bars became a necessary space for the burgeoning community.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the St. Charles Tavern in Toronto was well known for its annual Halloween drag event. A little too well known, in fact. It became a homophobic tradition to jeer and throw raw eggs at gay drag queens as they promenaded down Yonge Street from the Parkside Tavern to the St. Charles Tavern. This is why the front entrance of the St. Charles Tavern in this photo is littered with broken eggshells.
Not all gay bars were “noticeably gay.” While some could afford to be, many appeared just like any other establishment. Some had no recognizable markings at all. These undercover gathering spots were often hidden behind a plain unadorned door, requiring a secret password to get past the bouncer and into the bar itself. This collection of matchbooks shows the breadth of openness, from the more subtle Carousel Lounge to the incredibly camp Club My-O-My.
Yvonne Cook-Riley is one trans woman who found community within the gay world. In her oral history, she described the connections made between the gay and Trans+ communities in gay and drag bars.
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