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.

“I love

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.”

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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