If you’re the type to keep an eye on bookish trends in Scotland’s capital, you will see that the iconic Lavender Menace bookshop is popping up and installed at book fairs throughout the city. The stall stocks LGBT books, and has been since the late 70s, and has become a historic mark on the queer map of Edinburgh…
If you’re the type to keep an eye on bookish trends in Scotland’s capital, you will see that the iconic Lavender Menace bookshop is popping up and installed at book fairs throughout the city. The stall stocks LGBT books, and has been since the late 70s, and has become a historic mark on the queer map of Edinburgh. Their resurgence is an inspiring story of resilience and the power of community.
The labour of love of Bob Orr and Sigrid Neilson, Lavender Menace was a resident of Broughton Street under the name of ‘Open Gaze’ (who couldn’t appreciate this pun?), before rebranding and becoming an independent travelling stall of queer stories. They have created a dedicated and light-hearted community, and the owners are always a fascinating joy to chat to – they remind us that LGBT history has come so far, and that we are lucky to live in better times thanks to their work. Additionally, they’re charming and cheeky. Upon going to their stall once, I received a small leaflet that listed several LGBT books and claimed that it was a good reference sheet to take with you when meeting new people, to check their shelves and see if they are queer.
Of course, the books people read do not necessarily reflect their sexuality, and the concept of ‘clocking’ another person is fraught with problematic implications, but this tongue-in-cheek humour reminded me of the ways in which queer tiktoks nowadays make fun of the trend of turning up trouser cuffs as a means of subtly signposting one’s bisexuality. It’s an in-joke about you, not a completely genuine practical piece of advice, but you can’t help but smile and also facepalm in embarrassment at how obvious you’re being when you go home and tick off almost every book on the list.
I mean, really, has any straight person actually read Rubyfruit Jungle of their own accord?
The name of the stall seems to be a direct reference to the revolutionary group of radical lesbian feminists also called ‘Lavender Menace’, which originated in New York City in the 70s. The group directly opposed to lesphobic ideas of Betty Friedan, a woman who infamously believed that gay women posed a threat to women’s rights – I sincerely hope you don’t need me to tell you why this is ridiculous at best and harmful at worst. The name is a reclamation of Friedan’s bigoted remarks, and the goal of the group was to use fun public demonstrations in order to fight for the recognition of lesbians as an integral part of the feminist movement. This movement should be used as a blueprint or mirror for how we navigate and celebrate feminism today: any movement towards women’s rights that ignore LGBT+ people or attempts to erase its difficult history, is a movement that will fail.
Years, and some controversies, later, there is now a play based on the shop which was recently performed at the Royal Lyceum, immortalising the work they have done for LGBT rights and visibility in Scotland. What’s more, their iconic eye logo is a mark of pride and the assurance of a safe space to explore, educate, and enjoy new ideas. Spaces like this help us make connections and find others, so that we don’t feel alone, and a place to get inspired by history for an even brighter future.