Queer History: The Fruit Machine

If you are an older queer Gen Z like me, you most likely haven’t learnt about queer history at school, and you most likely haven’t heard the term Fruit Machine. Yes, another slur that we appropriated as queer people is being called fruit but did you know that there was a law in Canada that worked relatively like the Lavender scare in the US. This is what we mean by the Fruit machines; queer people were chased out of their jobs solely on the basis of their sexuality. Our education is more focused on teaching us things that we won’t use in our daily life than the history and persecution that our ancestors have been through.

What was the Fruit Machine?


It is a term coined by Canadian psychologist Frank Robert Wake and was a device developed during the cold war to sus out queer people from their job. It was literally the gay purge in the Canadian government because, according to the officials, queer people were more likely to sell out information about their country than their straight coworkers because of the nature of their sexuality. Ridiculous, right, but this was what was logical at that point in time. Wake’s Fruit Machine was supposed to identify gay men, supposing and entrenching this idea that bisexual people don’t exist, which is completely untrue because sexuality is a spectrum. The subjects were made to watch pornographic images of men and women. The device would measure the diameter of one’s pupils, perspiration, and pulse to measure their supposed erotic desires. If they were supposedly aroused by the same gender, they were deemed gay and were thrown out of their jobs. Around 9000 people were subject to this based test, and hundreds of people who ‘failed’ the test who were believed to be queer were weeded out of the civil service. Some of these people were even imprisoned because they were thought to be a threat to Canada because of their sexual identity.

The effect and aftermath of the Fruit Machine

Love is love

This was only the beginning of the nightmare for people who unjustly lost their jobs to this subpar machine, and the worst was yet to come for these queer people. If you want to learn more about the Fruit Machine, then you ought to watch Sarah Foley, a filmmaker who spearheaded the documentary of the same name as this queer witch hunt. In the movie, she shows us the horrors that those who were outed by Wake’s device had to go through. Foley explains that “poverty, homelessness, having to go back in the closet, substance abuse, gay aversion therapy, sexual assaults, and for some — suicide” were what waited for those people after this terrible and queerphobic incident. This is why the Fruit Machine is commonly referred to as the gay purge by queer historians because the Canadian government was actively searching and weeding queer people from governmental jobs. The gay purge started in the earlier 1950 and ended in 1992 when Michelle Douglass was unjustly fired from her enforcement job; she later filed a lawsuit and after 3 years won the said laws suit, thus permanently shutting down the unlawful practice that was the Fruit Machine.

The importance of telling queer history


Most of us don’t learn about queer history anywhere unless we actively do our research. Because, unlike most communities, we aren’t born in our community; we create it with our chosen family; this is why it is important for us as queer people to tell the history of our elders and keep them alive by passing them on to the younger generation. A lot of queer history disappeared with our elders and with the AIDs epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands of queer individuals (who were mostly male-identifying) and we have lost part of our history with them. Queer men were also mostly the ones who were the primary targets, and this is why most survivors of the Fruit Machine today are women and they are few men who were outed by it that are still alive. 

So, this is why as a young queer person of color, I like to tell and write about the history of our community because it has for so long been hidden and not told. By telling these stories, we aim to live in a better world and future where we won’t commit the same mistake of the past and become more compassionate towards each other.

Sound off in the comments section below and tell us if you want to read more about queer history and the real history of our elders that is often glossed over or erased in the mind of most people.

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