This autumn, the iconic queer bookstore in Glasgow’s Southside is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Co-owner Fin Duffy-Scott looks back on half a decade of championing queer voices.
You can’t miss the bookshop standing on 34 Allison Street, Glasgow. With its trans flag proudly flapping at the storefront, colourful placards and windows covered with LGBTQIA+ stickers, Category is Books is one of Glasgow’s most iconic queer landmarks. The independent bookshop, started by Charlotte and Fionn (“Fin”) Duffy-Scott, houses a wide collection of books, zines, comics, and more, created by and for the LGBTQ+ community.
The inside of the store is just as colourful as the exterior, with pink walls adorned with art, bright book covers and pride flags. Books certainly are the centrepiece, but some room is also made to support local LGBTQIA+ artists, and a pink list of queer-owned businesses is always presented to clients before they leave. When passing the main door, we are welcomed by a rainbow rug, a selection of zines and a collection of queer patches. Some brooches are also pinned onto the bookstore’s tote bag, offering useful tools, such as a TERF repellent or some affirmative slogans.
It is here, as we enter, that I find Fin Duffy-Scott, co-owner of the shop. Wrapped up in a maroon fleece, they explain how, along with their “wusband,” Charlotte, they decided to create the openly queer space in which they had always wanted to work. “We were frustrated with spending too much time on computers and in environments which weren’t as queer friendly,” they explain. Five years after the beginning of this adventure, Fin seems very satisfied with what they have accomplished here: “It’s beautiful”, they sum up, “although it’s sometimes tiring because we are small, we witness some gorgeous moments.”
Sadly, being an openly queer space does not come without its obstacles. Not long after the store was first opened in 2018, they had their first encounter with transphobic vandalism, when their EU flag which read “trans rights are human rights” was torn off the window in front. In the years since, the attacks have not ceased and transphobic stickers are regularly put on their shopfront. “We try to deal with them with a ‘camp attitude,’” Fin says, “and we dismiss that negativity with joy and playfulness.” They recall a moment when they chose to replace offensive stickers on their shopfront with images of naked gay people, an anecdote which perfectly illustrates how the owners feel about the repeated attacks: they recognise that the negativity exists, but don’t spend too much energy on it. At the end of the day, Fin says, echoing the beautiful sentiment of so many queer establishments worldwide facing adversity, “we know what we stand for”.
Thankfully, the thriving community existing in and around the store seems to outweigh the intolerance that Fin and Charlotte continue to face in running their business. They’ve created an authentic, close-knit community with events that step outside the domain of books, and into the land of film, baking, and even Dungeons and Dragons. Fin tells us that their favourite events, however, are the ones which focus on queer history, with artists or scholars presenting their work.
Inclusivity appears to be very close to the hearts of the Duffy-Scotts, and their efforts to make books accessible to each and everyone are rather impressive. First of all, the shop is entirely located on the ground floor, with plenty of space for wheelchair users to have a look around, but home deliveries are also available. Wednesdays are autism-friendly days, with white noise playing, conversations kept to a low level and dimmed lights for an easier experience of the store. “Our next step is to get a hearing loop so that people with hearing disabilities can connect their hearing aid to the person speaking during the events which are held here,” Fin declares. It’s also worth mentioning that the bookstore accounts for a second-hand section, as well as a pay-it-forward system, so that clients can pay for books and leave them there for others to take without charge.
To talk about the books themselves, I was very pleased by the immaculate selection, accounting for all types of literature, from albums and children’s books, to mangas, by way of theory and fantasy. Focusing on the queer aspect of literature all-year-long, and not only in June, is a very needed perspective and political act, as it renders “nice and visible,” in Fin’s words, a community which has historically been (and sadly often still is) excluded from the picture. Although the last few years have been more diverse in terms of queer narratives, the bookseller regrets that some topics are still neglected, such as asexuality and aromanticism, although, “people ask for it a lot,” For now, Fin is reading — and recommending! — the Gilda stories, a historico-gothic novel by Jewelle Gomez; the story of a young girl who is rescued from slavery in Louisiana, USA, by a pair of women who are rumoured to be witches. A perfect pre-Halloween read, it seems!