Elise Chenier

Director, Archive of Lesbian Oral Testimony
Office: AQ 6222
Telephone: 778-782-8573
Personal Website:

Area of Study: CANADA


I started out at York University in Toronto as an English major, but after taking courses on women's and social history, history's relevance to contemporary political struggles became both apparent and exciting to me. Activism in feminist, anti-racist, and queer politics was as formative as were lectures and tutorials, and the intellectual approaches they have generated continue to inform my teaching and research interests. After taking a year off to sling hash in a downtown Toronto diner, I decided to pursue graduate work on the history of sexuality in twentieth century Canada. I completed my doctoral studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario in 2001, took up a postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University in 2001-2003, and taught for a year in McGill's Women's Studies program before taking up my current position here at SFU in 2004. I am also an associate faculty member of the Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies Department.

Research Interests

My research projects focus on aspects of sexuality and gender in twentieth century Canada and the United States. My first major project was an oral history of butch and fem lesbian bar culture in post-World War Two Toronto, and my interest in this area of research continues to the present day. I have also written about moral panics around sexual assault and immigration in 1950s Toronto, sex in Canadian and American male prisons, and in 2008 I published a book on the popularization of 'sexual deviancy' as a way of understanding and treating sex offenders in Canada. More recently I completed articles on debutantes and elite femininity in interwar Montreal, and on same-sex wedding ceremonies in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.



Strangers in Our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario

Canadian Law & Society Book Prize (Canada) - Commended in 2009


  • “Oral History and Open Access: Fulfilling the Promise of Democratizing Knowledge,” New American Notes Online Issue #5, Summer 2014.
  • “Sex, Intimacy, and Desire Among Men of Chinese Heritage and Women of Non-Asian Heritage in Toronto, 1910 to 1950,” Urban History Review Spring 2014.
  • "The Natural Order of Disorder: Pedophilia, Stranger Danger and the Normalising Family," Sexuality & Culture, June 2012, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 172-186.
  • "The Natural Order of Disorder: Paedophilia, Incest and the Normalising Family" in Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: Psychological, Legal and Cultural Examination of Sex and Sexuality, eds. Helen Gavin and Jacquelyn Bent (Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press, 2010), 48-57.
    Available as an ebook at
  • “Class, Gender, and the Social Standard: The Montreal Junior League,1912-1939.” Canadian Historical Review 90:4 (December 2009): 671-710.
  • “Hidden from Historians: Preserving Lesbian Oral History in Canada.” Archivaria 68 (Fall 2009) 247-270.
  • "Rethinking class in lesbian bar culture: living 'The Gay Life' in Toronto, 1955-1965.", Left History, 9 (2), (2004): 85-118. Reprinted in Rethinking Canada: the Promise of Women's History, Fifth edition. Edited by Mona Gleason and Adele Perry. Toronto: Oxford University
    Press, 2006.
  • "Segregating sexualities: the prison 'sex problem' in twentieth century Canada and the United States" in Isolation: Places and Practices of Exclusion edited by Carolyn Strange and Alison Bashford. London: Routledge, 2003, 71-85.
  • "The criminal sexual psychopath in Canada: sex, psychiatry and the law at mid-century", Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, 20, (2003): 75-101.
  • "Seeing Red: Immigrant Women and Sexual Danger in Cold War Canada" in Atlantis: A Women's Studies Journal, 24.2 (Spring 2000): 51-60.

Digital Humanities Research and Publications

Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony

"Reclaiming the Lesbian Archives," Oral History Review, forthcoming spring 2016.

“Privacy Anxieties: Ethics versus Activism in Archiving Lesbian History Online,” Radical History Review 2015 (122): 129-141.

“Oral History and Open Access: Fulfilling the Promise of Democratizing Knowledge,” New American Notes Online Issue #5, Summer 2014 


Areas of Graduate Supervision

I supervise graduate research projects concerning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the following areas: topics related to sexuality, gender, and race; oral history; the history of psychiatry and psychology; prison history and the history of crime, and histories of activism, especially feminist and queer activism. I have a particular interest in the Trudeau era and in the digital humanities.

Current Graduate Students:

  • Bruce Dyck
  • Nadine Boulay (GSWS)


  • 2014 SFU/SSHRC Research Grant Small. Principal Investigator, “Outlaws to In-laws: same-sex marriage in the United States, 1950 to 1980.”
  • 2014 SSHRC Insight Connection Grants, Collaborator. “The LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory,” External $254,171.
  • 2014 SSHRC Insight Connection Grants, Collaborator. “Coding Character: Representing Historical Personhood for a Digital Future.”
  • 2013-2015 SFU Teaching and Learning Centre, “Interracial Intimacies Teaching Tool, Development and Testing.”
  • 2012 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant, Principal Investigator, “Mobilizing lesbian knowledge: building the archives of lesbian oral testimony (ALOT).”
  • 2012 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Small Grant. Principal Investigator, “From outlaws to inlaws: the early push for same-sex marriage rights in the US, 1964-1974.”
  • 2011 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant, Principal Investigator, “Bachelors and China dolls: sex and race in postwar Toronto's Chinatown, 1950–1975.”
  • 2011-2014 Social Sciences and Humanities Standard Research Grant
  • 2001-03 Social Sciences and Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • 2000-01 Hannah Institute Scholarship for the History of Medicine
  • 1999-2000 Canada-US Fulbright Scholarship
  • 1996-99 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship