Julie Rak describes herself as a “cisgender white settler-supporter lesbian.” She came out later in life, leaving her Baptist minister husband of ten years. This ended her life of faith as she was stripped of membership in the Baptist Union of Canada. She’s now married to a life partner, but doesn’t “think that marriage or monogamy need to be the only or even are the most important ways to show that we are connected to those we love.” She also shares her home with two cats!
Julie is a Professor in the English and Film Studies department at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Her research and teaching here is centred on non-fiction and Canadian literature. Outside of work, Julie is a keen amateur poker player. At her level, she’s one of the few out cis queer women players! Other interests include gardening, the outdoors and of course reading, both print and online! Julie’s been a reader since age five. Reading is part of Julie’s job, of course, but it’s also just an important part of her life generally!
This next part I’d like to quote directly from Julie, because it’s a fascinating and heartfelt description of the past and present of queer culture from someone who’s seen a lot of change:
I am from a time in North America when we most of us had to be closeted and when it was really dangerous to be who we were in most places. It’s amazing to me to see how much things have changed and I think it’s for the better, but inevitably mainstream life means that we are losing some of the great institutions that helped us make alternative culture. I’m sad to see those go (I miss women’s bookstores, GLBTQ+ creative protest like ActUp, gay clubs and bars where all the freaks could just be themselves, pride parades without corporate branding). But if the price of amazing subculture is continuous oppression, I don’t want that for my community.
Keep reading to hear Julie talk about finding a gay book about a priest and a biker in her high school library, finding out about her own queer history through books, what losing women’s bookstores has meant to her, and more!
What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it?
When I was about 15, I read a paperback coming-out story about a gay priest and his first affair with a leather jacket-wearing biker. I have no idea what the title was. The book was in my high school library on one of those wire carousels and now, I have no idea if it was actually in the library or had just been put there. I was fascinated with it, but I never checked it out. I just went and read it in the library. I never told anybody I was reading it. Because it was about gay guys, I did not realize at the time that this could be about me too!
What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: because it’s such an interesting book and I love comics.
Nicole Brossard, Mauve Desert: Brossard for style style style.
Daphne Marlatt Ana Historic: because she showed me possibilities from the past.
Sara Waters Tipping the Velvet: because it’s so much fun and the historical material is great.
Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: because I needed to know my own history.
Extra shout-out to Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal (Winterson because she told my story too) and Gayle Rubin, anything she ever wrote, because she’s genius and badass and uncompromising.
Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?
Probably the collection From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life, for obvious reasons!
Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?
Queer mountaineering memoirs. Where are they all? I was a climber and I write about it as an academic, but I want to see some creative work out there.
How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?
It’s harder to find things now, because I used to just go to my local women’s bookstore and everything would be there. Bookstores don’t have enough edgy or artistically interesting material where I can actually find it. There’s the internet…and that’s not queer specific enough. I rely on the excellent advice of Casey and other bloggers now.
Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?
I know other readers because of my job and my interests, mostly in person. I’m older (born in 1966) so ALL the lesbians I know in my age group were and are readers, so it was a given that everyone read everything. I am not part of any official reading communities because I don’t have time for that, but I just participated in a UK queer theory reading group, and it made me miss GLBTQ+ book clubs and groups.
Thanks so much for sharing with us Julie, especially for mentioning more than one older Canadian lesbian classic, which I think don’t get enough attention. (I’m talking about Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard). Anyone out there a queer mountaineer? Get on writing that memoir!