The Body Politic: A Legacy of Queer Writing and Liberation

Written on 08/26/2021
Maya Linsley

Body Politic (noun): the people of a nation, state, or society considered collectively as an organized group of citizens.

In the 70s and 80s, when the issue of LGBTQ+ rights was heating up in the West like never before, a certain periodical rose to the forefront of queer Canadian journalism.

Publishing 135 issues from 1971 to 1987, The Body Politic was a journal of gay liberation. At its peak, it boasted over 2,000 contributors and 3,000 subscribers, one-third of which were based outside Canada. In 2018, it was ranked the 17th most influential magazine in Canadian publishing history by Masthead magazine.

The Body Politic published gay film and book reviews, queer scholarship, relevant reporting, personal essays, and news about queer groups across Canada. Its first issue included a full-length version of “We Demand,” a series of articles and calls to action directed at the Canadian government in the interest of queer liberation.

The journal gained international support and attention in 1977, when its Toronto headquarters was raided by police in response to the publication of an article titled “Men Loving Boys Loving Men.” Four years of legal trouble ensued before the staff members were acquitted.

Another police raid followed in 1982, after the publication of “Lust With A Very Perfect Stranger,” an essay that described fisting. Prosecutions ended in 1983, but seized materials were not returned until 1985.

Alongside its amplification of provocative and radical gay writing, The Body Politic led the way for nondiscriminatory reporting on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sharing safe sex resources for gay men and critiquing public health’s response to the disease.

It was also one of the first English-language journals to unpack and examine Nazi Germany’s persecution of LGBTQ+ people.

The journal’s collective, originally called The Body Politic Editorial Collective, reformed as nonprofit publisher Pink Triangle Press after running into discrimination at the Toronto Star, where they’d held a printing contract. Pink Triangle Press founded the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (now called the ArQuives) in 1973 and began publishing a tabloid entitled Xtra! shortly before The Body Politic folded. Today, The Body Politic’s legacy lives on in  Xtra Magazine, the digital continuation of Xtra!.

Modern memory of The Body Politic recognizes its exclusion of racialized queer communities and its central focus on the affairs of gay white men. Nevertheless, in its time, it embodied radicalism, and its historic strength as a journalistic weapon paved the way for the freedom and equity flourishing in today’s queer journalism.

Maya Linsley (she/her) is a Loran Scholar and undergraduate English major at the University of Victoria, where she also works as a digital humanities research assistant. An avid writer, reader, and lover of all things feline, Maya can usually be spotted biking across campus or lurking in the stacks at the library.

(Image Credit: Aeon)