SSJA SHORTLIST - Category Is Books: The queer bookshop helping Glasgow's LGBTQ community
This year, Gender Equal Media Scotland is sponsoring a Scottish Student Journalism Award to highlight the importance of treating women equally - as employees, as contributors and as subjects of media attention - to a new generation of journalists. Six entries made the shortlist and in the lead up to the awards ceremony - taking place on 30 May 2019 - we'll be publishing them here. We wish all the shortlisted authors the best of luck, and we hope you enjoy reading these pieces as much as we did.
Laura Webster is a fourth-year Multimedia Journalism student who is soon to graduate from Glasgow Caledonian University. Laura has been working as a freelance sub-editor and journalist, primarily with The National and Sunday National, for the past year. Laura writes largely about issues in society - mostly those which affect women, the LGBTQ community and other minorities - as well as arts and culture. Laura is passionate about politics and social justice. This is her entry, on the queer bookshop Category Is Books.
“We have a responsibility to be visible,” says Fi Duffy-Scott, co-founder of the wife-and-wife owned LGBTQ book shop Category Is Books, based in Glasgow’s Govanhill. “We’ve got to make a point. Because if we don’t make a point, it’s never going to change.”
Charlotte and Fi Duffy-Scott opened the doors to Category Is Books’, one of just two queer book shops in the UK, back in September. They run creative workshops, offer queer-centric services and sell a mix of new and second-hand books, independently made zines, comics, badges and cards – all with the guarantee that everything is created by or tells the stories of people in the LGBTQ community.
Category Is Books sits on a corner unit across from Queens Park train station, its two street-facing edges primarily glass, letting customers see into the vibrant, colour-filled shop. They are greeted by a slogan painted across the top of the door frame reading “ALL WELCOME”. Moo, the very friendly shop dog, rushes up to visitors upon entering and nuzzles against their legs while Charlotte and Fi smile and wave. Cosy seats are placed in the centre, lined in a circle around a table piled with information leaflets on LGBTQ services and events around Scotland.
Charlotte and Fi, who both worked freelance in art and design before launching the shop, had been exploring queer history in their spare time and imagining what it would have been like to have had access to that information growing up. They were increasingly tired with traditional book shops offering small selections of LGBTQ interest titles – physically confined to one separate shelf – and began thinking about what they could do to counteract this standard while helping to educate the community.
“We live in the south side and have done for a really long time, we live just around the corner. There’s a huge queer community here,” explains Charlotte. “It was undeniable that there was a need for, not necessarily a book shop, but definitely something that was dedicated to them and a space that they could use.”While Glasgow boasts a range of LGBTQ-oriented clubs and bars, until now, the role of an all-ages, non-alcohol-centric venue hasn’t been filled. In Hannah Gadsby’s acclaimed stand-up comedy special ‘Nannette’, she points to the ostentatious pride events she grew up seeing on TV, filled with beautifully toned, white-teethed extroverts dancing along streets, and asks “Where are the quiet gays supposed to go?” Category Is Books could well be that necessary space for many members of the LGBTQ community.
“I think creating a space where you’re able to be yourself is the most important thing. And to be able to discover things about your own history that would have been hidden from you,” says Fi. “Being in a space around people that totally get it and understand that pain and shame that can come with having to live within heteronormative society all the time.”
The centre of Glasgow may be well served by queer venues, but the book shop is the only LGBTQ space currently open in the city’s south side. The queer community there is thriving. But it’s previously only been tangible at one-off DIY events and the ‘Queers Park’ Facebook group, set up with the intention of bringing LGBTQ south siders together, and now 300-members strong.
“We still get excited if we see another lesbian couple holding hands in the south side of Glasgow,” Charlotte says. “If you don’t show it, then people don’t know that they can be it. And I hate that thought. It must be so powerful for maybe a young queer kid who’s coming to terms with that to see an adult who is living their life being their best self, their most authentic self.”
Fi nods. “Not hidden away in shame. Doing exciting jobs, making exciting work, being an active member of their society. The more visible we are, the more that changes.”
“That’s how homophobia breeds. Or transphobia,” Charlotte adds. “It’s that thing as well of; have you met a gay man? Have you met a lesbian? Have you met a trans person? If you have – it might change your entire way of thinking.”For transgender people in particular, things are tough right now. The UK Government consultation on the Gender Recognition Act sparked intense debate which led to a full-paged ad in Metro advising readers to object to any changes in order to not put women and girls “at risk”. Meanwhile, across the pond, the Trump administration has been eyeing ways to change the definition of gender to make it biological and fixed. Mina Baird, who founded the Facebook group Queers Park, is a 23-year-old transgender woman. She offers tarot readings at Category Is Books once a week.
Mina says a space like Category Is Books is key for members of the community to have somewhere to go to find people like them – almost like a real life version of her Facebook group.
“I was looking at a Twitter conversation the other day – this was a trans person – they were saying they don’t have any friends in real life who are trans.
“It’s really good they know a lot of people online who are trans but it is really valuable to know people in real life that have these similar experiences to you. Having community spaces like Category Is Books helps facilitate that.
“I’m doing the tarot readings, my flatmate’s doing poetry workshops every Wednesday, there’s someone who’s doing haircuts, there’s someone who’s doing Dungeons and Dragons Nights, there’s someone who’s organising letter writing to LGBT prisoners, there’s someone who’s hosting sessions for men and non-binary people who are survivors of sexual abuse and so on. They’re providing that space for all of these different people in the community, to either help support themselves a bit more financially or to organise different things for the community.”Every Tuesday, Category Is Books closes to the public to become an LGBTQ-inclusive temporary barber shop, run by Gabriel Barber Therapies. The owner, a trans man, started barbering four years ago because he felt there wasn’t a safe space for him to do something as simple as get a haircut.
“A lot of barber shops still refuse women and in salons you still have gendered pricing, so entirely different pricing for women and men. That’s quite a big problem.
“Also that fear of going to a barber shop and feeling like someone’s not going to understand or misgender you. There’s also people who are just downright rude. That wouldn’t make anyone feel safe.”
Gabriel Barber Therapies aims to make all of their clients feel as safe and comfortable as possible. By not using gendered language toward customers unless they explicitly state their identity, informing them of his own pronouns when they arrive and using a pay what you want scheme, they hope to leave nobody excluded from their service – and they've seen success as a result.
“I’ve been busy every single day that I cut hair here, I’m fully booked, and I’ve had to turn people away as well so I think that shows there’s quite a big need for it.
“I’ve got a lot of regulars now who feel they would not go to anyone else. They just feel like that’s the most comfortable experience they’ve had.”While Gabriel Barber Therapies cut hair in other locations around the city and do home visits to clients, Category Is Books is the only dedicated queer space which people can come to them.They say the shop’s launch has allowed them to take their work even further.
The owner stated, “It’s very difficult to do that unless it’s queer or trans owned business or it’s just entirely me running the space.
“I think the shop’s had an amazing impact on this community. People come here just to meet, just to feel community. It’s definitely not just a shop – it feels like something really important that’s happened here and I think it was definitely needed.”
While we talk, customers begin flooding into the shop for walk-in haircut appointments despite there being another 10 minutes until he officially opens. 27-year-old Jem, one of these customers, is non-binary and uses they and them pronouns. Their vibrant pink and blue hair is in need of a snip – and their first stop toward getting this done is a visit to Gabriel Barber Therapies.
“I’m non binary and it can be quite difficult to find somewhere to get the kind of haircut that I want without having gendered judgements made and also I find some salon environments can be quite intimidating. It’s just nice to go somewhere quiet where you can talk about it and feel kind of safe.”
Their partner Benjamin has tagged along too, and expresses much of the same sentiment. As a bisexual man, he feels the traditional barber setting can be a little off-putting.
“Going to barbers is rife with toxic masculinity which makes me feel really uncomfortable. Places I go, they’re kind of like ‘oh did you watch the footie at the weekend’, and I’m sort of like eh sure, cool. I just find it very awkward and difficult to sit there and have my hair cut when these people talk to me about really bizarre stuff that I don’t relate to at all. So the idea of coming to a queer focused barber it feels very safe for me, it feels really nice.”
Soon, Gabriel Barber Therapies also plan to start giving massages in the shop on Mondays. This is another simple act of self-care that can be overtly gendered, making it inaccessible for queer-identifying people. Fi and Charlotte can’t wait for the curtains to go up and for him to get started.
“The idea for me of going to a traditional massage space, where I’d be expected to be feminine and wear a fluffy towel thing, fills me with dread,” Fi explains. “No way, it’s going to stress me out, and that’s not the point.”
Charlotte nods in agreement. “I’ve never had a massage in my life because I didn’t want anyone to touch my body, or like to undress in front of someone who’s going to be like ‘what are you?’ So to actually be able to be comfortable with someone who understands that and has been through that and respects it, was really incredible and moving. I can’t believe I got to the age of 29 having only experienced it once.”
The current programme of events in Category Is Books includes autism friendly Wednesdays, launched as a way for Charlotte – who is also autistic – to manage a full working week, and ensure the space includes as many people as possible. The couple are keen to press ahead with the future of the shop and expand on the range of services and events that are available to their loyal customers, with plans to host film screenings, comic clubs and zine making classes. It’s clear, as the owner of Gabriel Barber Therapies says, that this is more than a shop.
As I get ready to leave and embrace the dreich day outside, I ask Fi and Charlotte what the best response they’ve had to the shop has been.
Charlotte smiles. “There was a guy who came in who is local, and he looked around and he said ‘I didn’t think I’d live to see the day that something like this is opened in my area, I’ve lived in the area for 65 years, so thank you very much’. He then, without missing a beat, goes ‘Is it all lesbian?’”Follow Category Is Books on Instagram for more details or keep up to date with Gabriel Barber Therapies on Facebook to find out how you can get your hair cut in an LGBTQ-inclusive setting.