“We wanted to create a bridge between conventional and non-conventional sexual communities,” says Viviane Gosselin, curator of the Museum of Vancouver’s (MOV) new Sex Talk in the City exhibit. “Looking at what we have in common, our shared experiences, as well as our differences, our varying definitions of sexual pleasure, and learning about what one’s own sexuality means.
“The idea was to create a choir effect where different people talk to create an open environment,” she says.
The exhibit, masterminded by an advisory committee of nearly 20 specialists, creates a fully rounded sexual history of Vancouver that links sex education, toys, prostitution and an archive of gay history, including a stunning Pride parade photo gallery from the very first parade in 1981 to the present.
The vibrator was the fifth appliance to be electrically charged, in the early 20th century, beating the vacuum cleaner and replacing doctors and midwives who, before its invention, would masturbate women to relieve "hysteria."
(Museum of Vancouver)
“My role as a curator was to unite those stories that don’t usually live together, like a vibrator and a classroom,” Gosselin says.
“When it came to gay sex in the city, we had the material, we had the archives, so I asked [researcher] Amber Dawn, ‘Can you work with key people in the community and create a timeline?’ We’re starting a robust documentation and we’re proposing dates — there are 30 or so — but I’m sure people would say, ‘Oh, you’re missing this and this.’ But the idea is to add to it and for it to open a dialogue.”
As the exhibit began to take shape, Gosselin leaned heavily on her queer committee members to ensure authenticity. “I felt very strongly about not writing about the queer community,” she says, “because I’m not a part of it. So it felt good to have Amber writing. She added to the queer voice and was able to make it feel personal.”
Ron Dutton, who runs the BC Gay and Lesbian Archives, also contributed. One of the artifacts he supplied is “A Guide for the Naive Homosexual,” a first-of-its-kind pamphlet self-published by Roedy Green in 1971. “A lot of gay people who came of age in the ’70s cry when they see this,” Gosselin says. “It was the go-to guide and, for many, it was all they had to help them come out.”
Roedy Green's "A Guide for the Naive Homosexual."
(Museum of Vancouver)
Sex Talk in the City’s message can be best understood through its “pleasure wall.” Filled with framed photographs of an elderly couple in bed, a lesbian wedding and bondage scenes, the wall seems hung with family portraits. Regardless of how varied and kinky the family, there’s no doubt they’re related.
After all, “what we see across sexual communities is that people want a sense of belonging,” Gosselin says. “This is what we share.”