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Cruising Along The Bay: Department Stores as Architectures of Queer Possibility

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9:00 AM, Saturday 28 May 2022 (20 minutes)

What role has the department store played in shaping Canadian identity, and how has its built environment been reappropriated by queer folk to queer ends? From its overtly colonial origins of 1670 to its merger with American corporations in 2006, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) has always been a space for buying and selling goods, but what about other exchanges of goods that happen behind the thin walls of bathrooms in HBC department stores? To date, scholarship has focused primarily on the department store as a feminine space, historically bound to the ideas that this particular arena functioned as a capillary network for women to engage in domestic life beyond the home itself: buying and planning for meals and outfitting the home—a socialization through private purchases in a public space. What about the queer body? How does that body engage with the department store space in both public and private ways?

We turn to various theorists to uncover these seemingly hidden spatial meanings. George Chauncey’s work on queer space, Sara Ahmed’s studies on queer phenomenology, and José Muñoz’s conceptions of utopia combine to highlight the transportive potentials that gay male cruising practices have on temporal experiences within the department store setting. Through the application of these theories, alongside anecdotal and historical accounts of gay sex in HBC washrooms, we suggest that these physical acts and encounters transform and queer the built environment of the Canadian department store. The department store’s intended meanings are upended through its uses by queer visitors.

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