All Lez’d up and nowhere to go

Why are there no les­bian bars in Mon­treal?

The McGill Daily - - Front Page - Meara Ber­nadette Kir­win Fea­tures Writer Laura Bren­nan | The Mcgill Daily

Iwas at a party a while ago which was ex­clu­sively pop­u­lated, more or less in­ten­tion­ally, by queer women and non­bi­nary folks. A side con­ver­sa­tion caught one of those col­lec­tive si­lences and the ques­tion broke through to the whole room — “Se­ri­ously, where do all the queer woman hang out? Like gay men have their bars, but where are the les­bians?” Ev­ery­one kind of laughed and echoed the ques­tion un­til some­one an­swered, “We’re all in liv­ing rooms like th­ese!” That also got a laugh, but a bit of a sad one.

There are no les­bian bars in Mon­treal. That is, there aren’t any right now. There cer­tainly have been — Ju­lia A. Pod­more notes that ap­prox­i­mately thirty bars, cafés, and restau­rants, four book­stores, and nine com­mu­nity of­fices ex­isted for les­bians be­tween 1973 and 1995. There are cur­rently a few re­cur­ring les­bian par­ties each month, in­clud­ing L Nights put on by the L News, Où sont les femmes? from Lez Spread the Word (LSTW), and some more low-key events at NDQ such as Jeudi Vel­vet and LSD: Les­bian Speed Dat­ing. The Mon­treal “golden age” of les­bian nightlife in the eight­ies and nineties feels very far away from our cur­rent so­cial land­scape. In a city with a solid track record for les­bian nightlife, and a large les­bian pop­u­la­tion, it’s worth ask­ing — why are there no les­bian bars in Mon­treal? What is our so­cial his­tory? What kind of so­cial spa­ces do we want and need right now? Draw­ing from in­ter­views, ar­ti­cles, and a thick stack of com­ments on a post I made in a queer face­book group, I make the fol­low­ing calls to les­bian ac­tion: to claim les­bian space, host more chill par­ties, make more les­bian friends, find a butch men­tor, read more queer his­tory, and please some­one open a les­bian bath­house in Mon­treal.

In­tro to con­tem­po­rary queer les­bian­ism

Be­fore delv­ing in, I should clar­ify what ex­actly I mean by “les­bian.” The tra­di­tional an­swer is “ho­mo­sex­ual women,” but les­bian is and has been a con­tested iden­tity cat­e­gory for decades. There is a cer­tain strand of les­bian cul­ture that flour­ished in the 1960s-80s which was, and con­tin­ues to be, mostly white, cis-nor­ma­tive and some­times bla­tantly trans­pho­bic, and which there­fore left many queer women and trans and non-bi­nary peo­ple out of its com­mu­ni­ties and po­lit­i­cal move­ments. As a re­sult of this, and other changes in queer pol­i­tics and the­ory, there has been a move away from the term in the past few decades, towards an em­brace of queer iden­tity as a whole. How­ever, there seems to be a re­cent recla­ma­tion of les­bian iden­tity that re­mem- bers the good and ditches the bad, con­sid­er­ing and wel­com­ing dif­fer­ence and flu­id­ity within it­self while main­tain­ing some mean­ing­ful dis­tinc­tion from a broader cat­e­gory of queer­ness. Th­ese words also have dif­fer­ent mean­ing in an­glo­phone and fran­co­phone cir­cles — Florence Gagnon from LSTW sug­gested to me that while ‘queer’ is a pop­u­lar term in English, fran­co­phone women and non bi­nary folks still tend to iden­tify as ‘les­bian.’

“Les­bian,” as used by my­self and ev­ery­one I quote or whose work I cite here, refers to any woman or non-bi­nary per­son who is in­ter­ested in dat­ing other women and non-bi­nary peo­ple, re­gard­less of who else they are in­ter­ested in dat­ing. In light of the trans­pho­bic views on the word les­bian that ex­ist, I would like to state clearly that trans women are women, and that when I use the word woman through­out this ar­ti­cle I am re­fer­ring to trans women as well as cis­gen­der women. Les­bian is a self-claimed iden­tity which can be claimed along with a va­ri­ety of oth­ers, and many peo­ple choose not to use it. To po­si­tion my sex­u­al­ity as the au­thor, briefly — I am a queer woman who also iden­ti­fies of­ten as butch, bi, and les­bian.

Les­bian­ism is ex­plained and felt dif­fer­ently by dif­fer­ent les­bians — who might also iden­tify as queer, bi­sex­ual, trans, non-bi­nary, two-spirit, gen­der­fluid, asex­ual, etc. — but it ex­ists, per­sists, and mo­ti­vates a com­mon de­sire for les­bian-spe­cific gath­er­ings and spa­ces. “Dyke Drama,” a post by Estelle Davis on the Cos­mic Wyrm Rat blog, was writ­ten in di­rect re­sponse to les­bo­pho­bia within the Mon­treal queer scene last year. I’ll quote her here, but you should just read the full piece: “Les­bian­ism is, as far as I un­der­stand, a catch-all term for di­verse sets of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, and sex­ual prac­tices of love amongst women. […] How the fuck did TERFS [trans-ex­clu­sion­ary rad­i­cal fem­i­nists] make us for­get about the Com­ba­hee River Col­lec­tive? Or Au­dre Lorde? Or Gays and Les­bians sup­port the Min­ers? Or Act UP? Or Ju­lia Ser­ano? Monique Wit­tig? Or the count­less marginal­ized women or­ga­niz­ing ev­ery­day for our lives?” Les­bian­ism in­vokes di­verse his­to­ries, prac­tices, and de­sires. It can be pow­er­ful if we al­low it to be, a means of call­ing up rad­i­cal sol­i­dar­ity among queer women and non-bi­nary folks; a gen­er­a­tive branch of queer thought, cul­ture, his­tory and pol­i­tics.

A brief his­tory of pub­lic les­bian space in Mon­treal

It might seem strange to fo­cus on bars as a site of les­bian iden­tity for­ma­tion and com­mu­nity build­ing, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that there are lit­er­ally none in the city right now. How­ever, look­ing back at the les­bian his­tory of Mon­treal, it is clear that bars have been

a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of les­bian cul­ture for decades, in­ti­mately linked with the po­lit­i­cal, per­sonal, and so­cial projects of les­bians in all their trans­for­ma­tions through his­tory. Julie Pod­more and Line Cham­ber­land are two schol­ars who have doc­u­mented this his­tory ex­ten­sively, and I draw mainly on Pod­more’s 2006 ar­ti­cle “Gone ‘un­der­ground’? Les­bian vis­i­bil­ity and the con­sol­i­da­tion of queer space in Mon­tréal” as well as my Skype in­ter­view with her, and Cham­ber­land’s 1993 ar­ti­cle “Re­mem­ber­ing Les­bian Bars: Mon­treal, 1955-1975,” in the next few sec­tions. Pod­more ar­gues that while bars have been a con­tro­ver­sial site of les­bian iden­tity for­ma­tion, they are an­chors around which les­bian com­mu­ni­ties form. Con­ver­sa­tions I had with folks about the cur­rent les­bian land­scape con­firm this idea: if we want les­bian sol­i­dar­ity and iden­tity to ex­ist, we need gath­er­ing places. We also need places to make out, hook up, and dance the ways we want to. I hope this small his­tor­i­cal re­view can give a bit of back­ground to what les­bian space is, has been, and could be in the fu­ture.

A dis­cus­sion of racial dy­nam­ics and the ex­pe­ri­ences of trans women are no­tice­ably ab­sent in the re­search I did on the his­tory of les­bian space in Mon­treal, and I do not have the per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence to speak to th­ese re­al­i­ties. This is also part of the sys­temic white­wash­ing and trans era­sure within queer and les­bian dis­course and his­tory in Que­bec and Canada. This era­sure does not mean that those his­to­ries do not ex­ist. I in­tend to pur­sue fur­ther re­search in th­ese ar­eas, and apol­o­gize for their ab­sence here.

Fifties and six­ties: Butch/femme les­bians and the early bar scene

In the 1950s, the heart of les­bian so­cial life in Mon­treal were the bars, pool halls, and cabarets of the Red Light Dis­trict. Th­ese spa­ces, such as the cabaret Ponts de Paris, were mixed — mainly het­ero­sex­ual spa­ces which mainly fran­co­phone, work­ing class les­bians ap­pro­pri­ated for their own use. Les­bians would claim sec­tions of the space for them­selves, ei­ther ac­cord­ing to venue poli­cies or wher­ever they could find it. They were of­ten rough, harm­ful spa­ces for les­bians, who were un­der threat of voyeurism and vi­o­lence from both po­lice and het­ero­sex­ual men. As a re­sult, many les­bians, par­tic­u­larly those dis­in­ter­ested in claim­ing butch/ femme iden­ti­ties and those out­side the work­ing class, did not visit th­ese spa­ces. Still, they were the first spa­ces of les­bian so­cial vis­i­bil­ity, and a crit­i­cal space of em­pow­er­ment and col­lec­tive iden­tity build­ing for work­ing class les­bians. In the 1992 doc­u­men­tary For­bid­den Love by Lynne Fernie & Aer­lyn Weiss­man, in­ter­vie­wee Nairobi re­calls be­ing one of the only black women ( and in­deed women of colour) in les­bian bars at this time, while there were many more black women in straight clubs. While she does not men­tion racism di­rected towards her in th­ese spa­ces, the ab­sence of women of colour sug­gests that racism lim­ited ac­cess to les­bian spa­ces, and points to the white­ness of les­bian bar cul­ture at this time. Cham­ber­land notes that this les­bian ‘ bar scene’ con­tin­ued to ex­ist into the 1960s.

Sev­en­ties: The les­bian un­der­ground

In 1969, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was de­crim­i­nal­ized in Canada and in the late 1960s, Baby­face Disco, the first les­bians-only bar, opened in what is now the Si­mone de Beau­voir in­sti­tute of Con­cor­dia Univer­sity. Les­bian bars in this era es­tab­lished dress and eti­quette codes, try­ing to make the places ‘re­spectable’ enough to avoid trou­ble with the po­lice. Cham­ber­land de­scribes les­bian bars of this era as be­ing un­of­fi­cially seg­re­gated by class. In Que­bec at the time, this also meant seg­re­ga­tion by lan­guage, with an­glo­phones dom­i­nat­ing the up­per class. Fur­ther­more, there was ten­sion be­tween younger, se­cond-wave fem­i­nist les­bians and older butch/femme les­bians, even as they shared so­cial space. De­spite th­ese dif­fer­ences, the in­crease in so­cial space avail­able to les­bians of all back­grounds meant that les­bians could now be­gin to cross th­ese di­vides. This fa­cil­i­tated greater po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment, as les­bians united to boy­cott les­bian bar Chez Madame Arthur to protest ha­rass­ment by bar staff in 1974, and to protest the po­lice raid of the nearby Chez Jilly in 1976. How­ever, as Gre­go­rio Paulo ex­plains in his un­pub­lished dis­ser­ta­tion on les­bian fem­i­nist or­ga­niz­ing in the 1970s, or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Mon­treal Gay Women were op­posed to this ‘bar scene’ al­to­gether, view­ing it as a site of con­tin­ued pa­tri­ar­chal op­pres­sion. This group was ac­tive in the boy­cott of Chez Madame Arthur.

Mixed gay and les­bian clubs also started open­ing dur­ing the 1970s. In an in­ter­view with Vi­viane Na­maste, Michelle de Ville, a trans woman and “the first door bitch of Mon­tréal,” de­scribed her ex­clu­sion from gay male clubs in the 1970s, but the free­dom of the Lime Light Disco, and later The Glace; both spa­ces were open to all gen­ders and to both peo­ple of colour and white peo­ple. I am not sure of the level of in­clu- sion for trans les­bians in women-only bars at this time, which demon­strates the im­por­tance of th­ese early mixed queer spa­ces.

Eight­ies: The golden age of les­bian bars

The 1980s were the “golden age” of les­bian bars in Mon­treal. Th­ese bars were women-owned, women-only, and closely linked with the se­cond-wave les­bian fem­i­nism that was gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity at the time. One tac­tic in pro­tect­ing les­bian space was a high level of gen­der seg­re­ga­tion, though I am not cer­tain to what ex­tent this re­sulted in trans ex­clu­sion and gen­der es­sen­tial­ism. Th­ese bars, in­clud­ing Labyris, Lilith, and L’exit, were sur­rounded by les­bian book­stores, cafes, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, and house­holds in the Plateau Mont Royal. Pod­more ar­gues that this con­scious de­vel­op­ment of a les­bian neigh­bour­hood en­abled a les­bian cul­ture to thrive through­out the decade. There were les­bian mag­a­zines for sale in lo­cal gro­cery stores, and mul­ti­ple bars within walk­ing dis­tance.

Nineties: Emer­gence of the queer scene

The nineties again marked a pe­riod of great change for les­bians and queers in Mon­treal. The AIDS/HIV crisis and on­go­ing po­lice raids of queer spa­ces led pre­vi­ously seg­re­gated queer pop­u­la­tions to come to­gether in sol­i­dar­ity. Of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance was the Sex Garage raid of 1990. One in a series of mixed queer par­ties — which were still rare at this point — the Sex Garage party was raided by po­lice, who then beat and ar­rested many par­ty­go­ers. In re­sponse, queers per­formed a sit-in in front of Beaudry metro sta­tion, and later a kiss-in in front of SPVM sta­tion 25. The kiss-in was in­tended to pres­sure po­lice into dis­cussing po­lice bru­tal­ity and drop­ping charges, but re­sulted in even greater bru­tal­ity. Later, an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the po­lice’s ac­tions was launched and most charges were dropped. The events united and politi­cized the queer com­mu­nity in the city.

At the same time, the ge­og­ra­phy of queer ter­ri­tory was shift­ing in Mon­treal. Gay bars, pushed out of the down­town core, started set­tling into what is now the Gay Vil­lage. This area de­vel­oped as the site of grow­ing queer con­scious­ness, com­merce, and po­lit­i­cal or­ga­niz­ing, and as the Plateau be­gan to rapidly gen­trify, les­bian bars started clos­ing on St. De­nis and open­ing in the Vil­lage. An ar­ti­cle in the first is­sue of LSTW mag­a­zine lists over a dozen bars which opened dur­ing this decade, many with truly ex­cel­lent names such as Tabou, Klytz, and G- Spot. Mag­no­lia is re­mem­bered as one of the greats. How­ever, most of th­ese spa­ces were very short-lived, and the num­ber de­clined steadily over time. This pe­riod also saw a rise in pop­u­lar­ity of ‘women’s nights’ in gay male and mixed queer spa­ces (in­clud­ing gay bath­houses), and spo­radic par­ties for queer women in other venues. Les­bian and mixed bars in the Vil­lage were more like night­clubs than sit- down spa­ces, en­cour­ag­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of les­bian so­cial­ity.

The new mil­le­nium

In 1998, an ar­ti­cle was pub­lished in the lo­cal queer Fugues mag­a­zine with a very sim­i­lar ques­tion as the one this ar­ti­cle poses — where have all the les­bian bars gone? Since the early 2000s there has been an ex­plo­sion of queer party series, in­clud­ing Cruise Con­trôle, Fag­gity

In a city with a solid track record for les­bian nightlife, and a large les­bian pop­u­la­tion, it’s worth ask­ing — why are there no les­bian bars in Mon­treal? What is our so­cial his­tory? What kind of so­cial spa­ces do we want and need right now?

Ass Fri­days, No Pants No Prob­lem, LIP, and QTeam, and a few geared more to­ward les­bians, in­clud­ing POMPE and Meow Mix. The Vil­lage con­tin­ued to rep­re­sent a pri­mar­ily gay male space, with Mile End in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a queer res­i­den­tial and so­cial space. That be­ing said, the Vil­lage was home to le Drug­store, a vi­tal les­bian party spot un­til 2014. Royal Phoenix, open from 2011-2014, was lo­cated in the Mile End and was a beloved queer bar de­spite its short life­span. From what I’ve heard, its clo­sure was due to runof-the-mill man­age­rial changes rather than sig­ni­fy­ing a greater change in the queer so­cial scene. The clo­sure of both of th­ese bars at the same time was a loss that still echoes through Mon­treal’s les­bian com­mu­ni­ties.

Where are the les­bians now?

Along with the his­tory sketched above, there are two big trends over the past 20 years that have had an ef­fect on the cur­rent les­bian so­cial land­scape: first, the in­creas­ing ac­cep­tance of les­bians within straight so­cial space, and se­cond, the growth of on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion, me­dia pro­duc­tion, and dat­ing apps as means of les­bian so­cial­iz­ing. Other things have stayed the same — ‘les­bian’ is still a use­ful, pow­er­ful, and gen­er­a­tive word for us to claim and mo­bi­lize around, and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is still a prob­lem. I re­cently had the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­view Florence Gagnon, the founder of Lez Spread the Word (LSTW), a Mon­treal-based col­lec­tive which pro­duces and pro­motes les­bian cul­ture and events across the coun­try. Gagnon was in­spired to start LSTW in 2013, upon re­al­iz­ing that most of the les­bian cul­ture she con­sumed was com­ing from the United States. While there were a num­ber of par­ties at the time, there was no les­bian me­dia pro­duc­tion or pop­u­lar cul­tural icons from Que­bec. Af­ter a few suc­cess­ful years of on­line com­mu­nity build­ing, they no­ticed that the party scene was be­gin­ning to run thin. LSTW de­cided to try to fill the gap, and started their Ou sont les femmes? event series, which is on­go­ing and con­sis­tently well-at­tended by a di­verse age set. “On­line me­dia is im­por­tant, but you need par­ties to keep any sense of com­mu­nity,” Florence says, “They’re my favourite part of what we do.” LSTW also uses their events to lend vis­i­bil­ity to new col­lec­tives, artists and projects, such as next month’s party fea­tur­ing “The Woman Power” col­lec­tive.

While Mon­treal has no ‘of­fi­cial’ les­bian bars, Notre Dame des Quilles, pop­u­larly known as NDQ, is about as close as we get. An unas­sum­ing neigh­bour­hood bar in Lit­tle Italy, its own­ers and staff have turned it into an “un­of­fi­cial queer bar” which hosts a va­ri­ety of DJ sets and events through­out the month. I spoke to Tasha, the bar’s man­ager, about Mon­treal’s “les­bian re­nais­sance” and how NDQ fits into it. Re­gard­ing its un­of­fi­cial queer sta­tus, Tasha ex­plained that it comes down to the pri­or­i­ties and at­ti­tudes of the staff. They keep prices low, kick out any­one who’s ha­rass­ing cus­tomers, pri­or­i­tize queer artists and event hosts, and gen­er­ally “make the bar the sort of place we’d want to go to.” They are also com­mit­ted to the “queer women/ les­bian re­nais­sance,” and al­ways look­ing (!!) for new event ideas, artists, and DJS. They host the weekly happy hour event Jeudi vel­vet, “a night celebrating gay, les­bian, bi­sex­ual and queer sis­ter­hood,” open to all, which of­fers a re­laxed al­ter­na­tive to the dance party set. They also host Les­bian Speed Dat­ing nights, or­ga­nized by Cather­ine Co­las.

Co­las spent years or­ga­niz­ing queer dance par­ties be­fore re­al­iz­ing that half the peo­ple present were straight, no one was get­ting to know each other out­side of ag­gres­sive sex­ual en­coun­ters, and that this is not the kind of queer so­cial space she wanted to fos­ter. And as a re­cent trans­plant to Mon­treal, she re­mem­bers that “it’s hard to find queers when you move to the city… Our com­mu­ni­ties tend to be closed off and you have to look cer­tain ways and go to cer­tain places to be vis­i­ble as a queer woman.” You have to reg­is­ter in ad­vance to at­tend LSD, and its likely that no one is go­ing to reg­is­ter that isn’t les­bian, so “you don’t have to ex­haust your­self try­ing to fig­ure out if peo­ple are straight or not.” Co­las ex­plained to me that she pays at­ten­tion to who signs up, and ac­tively pri­or­i­tizes the par­tic­i­pa­tion of peo­ple of colour. “It’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­one can find peo­ple that they iden­tify with,” and this in­cludes shar­ing racial, gen­dered, and lin­guis­tic iden­ti­ties. I asked if there were any events she knew of that were specif­i­cally for les­bian peo­ple of colour, and while she raved about the Vogue Balls, Cousins par­ties, and other queer events which cel­e­brate and cen­ter queer peo­ple of colour, nei­ther she nor any other in­ter­vie­wees knew of any geared to­ward les­bians. In the mean­time, LSD is wildly suc­cess­ful as a place to both find dates and make new friend­ships. Co­las says that it’s ba­si­cally her les­bian event dream come true. She doesn’t take part in the dat­ing but meets cool new lo­cal les­bians ev­ery time.

Most of the queer and les­bian event series listed in this ar­ti­cle were or are or­ga­nized by in­di­vid­u­als or by small, in­for­mal col­lec­tives. Laura Boo hosted POMPE monthly for five years, and now holds the par­ties just twice a year. She said that “throw­ing queer par­ties is not par­tic­u­larly prof­itable but it is very labour-in­ten­sive. And Mon­treal is al­ways a bit of a hus­tle if you want to sur­vive. Even­tu­ally my other hus­tles took more and more time and the par­ties had to take a back seat.” The work of or­ga­niz­ing ro­tat­ing events is very dif­fer­ent from than the work of man­ag­ing a bar or club, both much more fluid and much less sta­ble.

Find­ing space for th­ese events is an­other ob­sta­cle. Ev­ery or­ga­nizer I spoke to em­pha­sized that in cre­at­ing a les­bian so­cial space, pri­or­i­tiz­ing the safety of their guests is crit­i­cal. This means, pri­mar­ily, hav­ing the abil­ity to kick peo­ple out if they’re ha­rass­ing or harm­ing other at­ten­dees. En­sur­ing the right to con­trol ac­cess to the space of­ten re­quires rent­ing out the venue, and of course, this costs money. As a re­sult, some les­bian events have cover fees for en­try; the cover for LSTW events has been noted as a ma­jor bar­rier to ac­cess. Co­las half-joked that “it’s fucked up that we need to pay to make con­nec­tions with peo­ple. Like, peo­ple should pay us to come to their par­ties.” As Boo ex­plained, with in­creas­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, “bars are un­der so much pres­sure from new condo neigh­bors to be quiet, which in turn causes more po­lice pres­ence and city crack­down on liquor li­censes. […] Venues get priced out of neigh­bour­hoods the same way that res­i­dents do.” The lack of safe, ac­ces­si­ble phys­i­cal spa­ces avail­able for les­bians and other queer peo­ple to oc­cupy is a sys­temic prob­lem, high­light­ing the con­tin­ued eco­nomic pre­car­ity of queer peo­ple, both in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, in the city.

Vis­i­bil­ity and the glitchy gay­dar

So gen­tri­fi­ca­tion pushed les­bian bars out of the Plateau and into the Vil­lage, and then gen­tri­fi­ca­tion pushed them out of the Vil­lage, and con­tin­ues to limit their ex­is­tence. It’s worth not­ing, how­ever, that many bars which cater to gay men have re­mained open through this gen­tri­fi­ca­tion process. Pod­more spoke to me about some of the com­mon ex­pla­na­tions

“How the fuck did TERFS [trans-ex­clu­sion­ary rad­i­cal fem­i­nists] make us for­get about the Com­ba­hee River Col­lec­tive? Or Au­dre Lorde? Or Gays and Les­bians sup­port the Min­ers? Or Act UP? Or Ju­lia Ser­ano? Monique Wit­tig? Or the count­less marginal­ized women or­ga­niz­ing ev­ery­day for our lives?” — Estelle Davis, in a post on on Cos­mic Wyrm Rat Blog

Con­ver­sa­tions I had with folks about the cur­rent les­bian land­scape con­firm this idea: if we want les­bian sol­i­dar­ity and iden­tity to ex­ist, we need gath­er­ing places. We also need places to make out, hook up, and dance the ways we want to.

for this. There’s the sim­ple an­swer that men still col­lec­tively have more dis­pos­able in­come than women and non-bi­nary peo­ple, and can keep their bars afloat more eas­ily. There’s also the ar­gu­ment that many queer women and non-bi­nary peo­ple are car­ing for chil­dren or tak­ing on other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and can­not go out as fre­quently. So, while queer cul­ture be­comes more ac­cepted in the main­stream, the ef­fects of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion still neg­a­tively im­pact queer women and non-bi­nary peo­ple more than men, as they continue to strug­gle against pa­tri­ar­chal labour inequalities.

Oth­ers ar­gue that maybe les­bians aren’t look­ing for bars as so­cial spa­ces, and are rather seek­ing out some other type of gath­er­ing space. The LSTW col­lec­tive nearly opened a les­bian bar in Mon­tréal just a few years ago. Gagnon ex­plained that the col­lec­tive was con­cerned that with a specif­i­cally les­bian tar­get clien­tele, there wouldn’t be enough de­mand to keep a bar open through long Mon­tréal win­ters. In her ex­pe­ri­ence as an or­ga­nizer, “women just can’t go out ev­ery night of the week.” Pod­more sug­gests that gay men have a col­lec­tive sex­ual cul­ture that keeps the bar scene rel­e­vant across bound­aries of age, race, and class, while les­bians form com­mu­nity in more di­verse and sep­a­rate ways. Tasha from NDQ pointed out that “bars have never re­ally been wel­com­ing spa­ces for women,” sug­gest­ing that it’s no big sur­prise that les­bian bars aren’t so pop­u­lar.

There are many stereo­types about the do­mes­tic­ity of les­bians, yet as made clear by the ex­pe­ri­ences of or­gan­is­ers, it is ev­i­dent that les­bians do have a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship to pub­lic spa­ces than gay men. Per­haps women and non-bi­nary folks have been so­cialised not to see the pub­lic as in­her­ently theirs, as it is so of­ten an un­safe space for them, ir­re­spec­tive of their sex­u­al­ity.

In think­ing about les­bian spa­ces it is worth con­sid­er­ing the ways in which dif­fer­ent spa­ces are set up to meet dif­fer­ent goals. The events I’ve ad­dressed so far in this piece are cen­tred on meet­ing other les­bians, on form­ing con­nec­tions. The lines be­tween want­ing to build com­mu­nity and want­ing a place to ex­press les­bian sex­u­al­ity seem blurred. Can we not have it all? Part of the stereo­type about the do­mes­tic­ity of les­bians is the idea that they are less likely to pur­sue ca­sual en­coun­ters in an in­ten­tional and re­cur­ring man­ner, yet many of the les­bians I spoke to for this piece ex­pressed frus­tra­tion over the lack of a les­bian bath­house or cruis­ing space. Within gay male cul­ture the prac­tice of cruis­ing, i.e. en­gag­ing with strangers in pub­lic spa­ces for ca­sual sex, is widely es­tab­lished and ac­tively pro­moted. Bath­houses have long ex­isted as spa­ces for gay men to have ca­sual en­coun­ters, yet how to ar­range the same for les­bians? The same ques­tions as event or­gan­is­ing come up: who has the time and re­sources to or­gan­ise such an event? How to en­sure that such a space is safe? Would enough les­bians go?

Of course, other im­por­tant spa­ces of les­bian com­mu­nity build­ing ex­ist out­side of bars, par­ties, cafes, or hy­po­thet­i­cal bath­houses. Pod­more told me sto­ries about women’s sports teams as les­bian spa­ces, which ex­ist both for­mally and in­for­mally. Queer clubs at univer­si­ties fa­cil­i­tate les­bian mee­tups. In­ter­gen­er­a­tional re­la­tion­ships form through ar­chive work, net­works such as Les­bians Who Tech, and artis­tic com­mu­ni­ties and events like the Mas­si­madi Mon­treal Fes­ti­val des filmes et des arts LGBTQ afro. I have cer­tainly only scratched the sur­face of a wide va­ri­ety of means through which peo­ple build les­bian re­la­tion­ships, friend- ships, com­mu­ni­ties and col­lec­tive iden­ti­ties.

So, there are no les­bian bars in Mon­treal. We ex­ist in a dif­fer­ent les­bian mo­ment from the butch/femme era, the eight­ies’ golden age, and the queer ac­tivism of the nineties. Look­ing at this his­tory, the flu­id­ity of les­bian iden­tity and space is ap­par­ent. The lack of bars is not nec­es­sar­ily a crisis, but we need to con­sider the ef­fects of this lack of per­ma­nent, claimed, ac­ces­si­ble so­cial space. Pod­more echoed the thoughts of many lonely les­bians with bad gay­dar when she pointed out that les­bian spa­ces are crit­i­cal in or­der for us to be “vis­i­ble to each other.” As Co­las ar­gues, les­bians are not al­ways “vis­i­ble” by their ap­pear­ance — not ev­ery les­bian wants to get an un­der­cut and a sep­tum pierc­ing. The act of carv­ing out and hold­ing that space is also sig­nif­i­cant, and Co­las is proud and a lit­tle pro­tec­tive of her role as host of LSD. “Years in the mu­sic com­mu­nity have me tired of white men, and women, tak­ing over spa­ces that I have a right to.”

Les­bian so­cial space ex­ists within a shift­ing and messy net­work of queer spa­ces, women’s spa­ces, gay spa­ces, and straight spa­ces. Pod­more and oth­ers I’ve spo­ken to have noted the ease with which les­bian space is ap­pro­pri­ated by oth­ers. Fanie De La Fresne men­tioned on Face­book that “it seems like queer/ les­bian spa­ces are much more fre­quented by straight peo­ple than are the gay spa­ces (is it just me?), and tend to lose their les­bian and/or queer speci­ficity more quickly.” There’s a care­ful bal­ance be­tween be­ing in­clu­sive and los­ing the speci­ficity and safety of the space.

My con­ver­sa­tions with Tasha, Co­las, and Gagnon sug­gest that we can cre­ate les­bian space in a way which wel­comes any­one who wants to claim, cel­e­brate, em­body, and sup­port les­bian­ism, while re­quest­ing that those who do not claim this iden­tity do their par­ty­ing else­where. There is room for fluid dif­fer­ence, sep­a­rate space, and mul­ti­ple cul­tures within queer scenes and com­mu­ni­ties. Be­sides, it’s re­ally very nice to be able to turn off your glitchy gay­dar and as­sume that ev­ery­one around you is les­bian some­times.

Co­las spent years or­ga­niz­ing queer dance par­ties be­fore re­al­iz­ing that half the peo­ple present were straight, no one was get­ting to know each other out­side of ag­gres­sive sex­ual en­coun­ters, and that this is not the kind of queer so­cial space she wanted to fos­ter.

Photo from a queer gath­er­ing in 1995 from Lez Spread the Word

Vis­ual for Les­bian Speed Dat­ing night by Saman­tha Gar­ri­tano

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.