Babe Caylor provided retail therapy
By Buddy Early, June 2019 Issue.
celebrate Echo’s 30th birthday, this year I will be catching up with
some of Arizona’s LGBT personalities from past and present to revisit the
people, places and events that helped shape our community.
One afternoon in the late 1990s I stopped
into a bookstore on Camelback Road, just west of Central. I had been in
bookstores before, but never one like this. I probably hung out in Obelisk for
at least an hour that day; I think I bought a magazine before I left, only
because I felt it would be rude to spend all that time there and just leave.
The time I spent, however, was to marvel at the notion that there is actually a
bookstore dedicated to LGBT literature.
Also, there were cute guys coming and going
and I was just learning how to “cruise.”
Obelisk The Bookstore was part of a
community of LGBT retail spaces that used to exist in Phoenix. Around the
corner at 4700 N. Central were Unique on Central and Movies on Central, and
together these spaces provided an alternative (or complement) to the bars. They
were places to feel welcomed, places to find unique items of special interest
and, yes, places to hook up.
If you frequented these retail spaces then
you probably met Babe Caylor. With her comforting smile and southern
friendliness, she greeted customers at Obelisk and Movies for years. I’ve
dubbed her Phoenix’s LGBT Retail Queen. (I didn’t ask her if she likes that.)
But Babe has always been so much more than the person who rings up your sale
and points you to the porn section. She has been a resource for thousands,
young and old, who have needed help navigating their path through our
community. Coupled with her longtime volunteer role with youth group 1N10, Babe
has been a mother, a sister, or an aunt to so many.
Considering Phoenix’s rocky history with
community centers, places like Obelisk, Unique, and Movies — and people like
Babe — filled the gap.
“The bookstore was where everyone came,”
said Babe. “Because you didn’t have to go to a store to find The Advocate
and stand in the corner so no one would see you reading it.”
It may be
hard for some to fathom, but as recent as 20 years ago it was very unlikely
that you’d find many LGBT titles at a mainstream bookseller, or any gay films
at Blockbuster. Target didn’t sell rainbow paraphernalia, and the Internet was
not an option for buying your freak flag.
“It was the social network of the
community,” Babe told me, followed by “The stories I could tell.”
She’s been witness to a lot over the years,
and not just meet-ups, hook-ups and break-ups. “These were truly places where
people could just be.”
Having touched the lives of so many,
whether by suggesting a book someone might like or by counseling them during
crisis, Babe joked that she “knows everyone’s secrets.” Of course, she never
reveals any, which is what has made her so trusted by everyone who has had the
pleasure to know her.
I guess you
could say Babe is the ultimate people person. Having grown up in southeast Georgia
she is certainly no stranger to being labeled “other.” It’s what shaped her to
become the nurturing, caring person who never judges and has everyone’s best
interest in mind.
“(Growing up in the South) tempered me in
terms of what I experienced as a young child. I wanted to make sure I didn’t
leave anyone out.”
Over the years Babe has comfortably moved
between sub-groups, walking the line between the drama and conflict that has
and still affects our community. She continues to be an advocate for equality
and against injustice for all groups — youth, people of color, trans
individuals. But she has refused to be labeled, unless she is the one doing the
labeling. (Literally. Her newest tattoo on her left arm says “Badass Lesbian.”)
Babe and I lamented the loss of these
retail spaces that served such a vital role in the community, but she is still
providing that retail therapy. These days she can be found behind the counter
at Off Chute. “I work in a retail store that specializes in adult relationship
enhancement products,” she said, adding that she sells a lot of lube. She is
also still working with youth and has taken up a role with the Anti-Defamation
League, traveling to schools with the organization’s “A World of Difference”
and “No Place For Hate” programs.
But she’ll always have fond memories of
working in gay retail.
seeing how many of the young people have grown, have partners and families,
careers … It makes me proud to know that hopefully I’ve made a difference in
this mean old world.”