4 min

Boxing in Roncesvalles

There is no doubt that Toronto is a good place to live if you’re queer. Recently, I was reading an article about my co-worker’s late gay father-in-law (in the Globe and Mail of all places), which reminded me that Toronto was home to the first same-sex marriage.

It is likely that if I lived somewhere else, I wouldn’t be married to a woman, might have an illegal kid (or no kid at all), might be having illegal sex, might be living as a high-femme woman married to a gay man, might be living in very close quarters with our similarly matched married friends, and might find our local Pride parade much more meaningful. Speaking locally, I am wondering how my life will change, as I prepare to move once again within my city of choice. After more than six months of searching and losing bids, my partner and I finally will sign our income over to a soon-to-be beautiful house in Roncesvalles Village.

I’ve never lived in Roncey, but I have boxed there. Roncesvalles is home to Bloor West Boxing Gym, which I discovered during a breakdown two summers ago. How can I describe the experience? It was like those flashback Olympic moments, the time I first wrapped my hands in a crisscross pattern, put on the no-name black gloves they sell at gyms and unleashed an uncontrolled but passionate series of punches on the bag…. It was amazing.

I have never hit anyone (except with a field-hockey ball), although I have fantasized about it at times. I spit on someone once when I was 10 and lived in fear for three days, as the neighbourhood bully staked out my house and chased me to school (with my little sister in tow screaming “Run! Run!”). I have always been a fast runner and likely always will choose flight over fight, any way you look at it.

But boxing allowed me to experience fight. It allowed me to be aggressive without hurting anyone, without pulling my hair out or beating my thighs or smacking myself in the temples. The physical pain of boxing class was enormously relieving. It made me feel hot in an internal sort of way and closer to the boy I have always wanted to be (it is still hard not to see aggression as a boyish or masculine trait, even after so much lip service — to myself — about stereotypes). I would like to be the kind of woman that would choose fight at least sometimes: mouth off to cops, handle a woman roughly when she wanted me to without feeling guilty, or worried, or somehow counterproductive to the advancement of feminism.

Bloor West Boxing Gym was usually full of men. I ran into only a handful of women I would recognize as queer during the months I spent there. All the instructors were (straight) women. That helped me to focus on what my body could do instead of what it looked like.

Being in a gym full of men and straight women is like being at the Scarborough ministry of transportation office on a Tuesday during business hours. You don’t care what you look like or how much you’re sweating. You spend time with yourself, focus on your breath. You just are without thinking about how you’re being. In boxing class at Bloor West, there was no room for self-consciousness, with an instructor barking orders, beats blaring, head down. Sort of how I imagine it would be in the army, but with fewer queers.

Whenever I think about joining The NewsGirls, I think about the unique freedom that can exist in non-queer spaces like Bloor West. To me, boxing is a queer activity in and of itself. It’s also a solitary activity that I don’t necessarily want to share, or add a social element to. When it comes to me and my body, we do much better in a bubble or in the company of a long-term lover. Gyms, and exercise, are there so we can feel attractive as a result, not at the time.

Every woman should box at least once in her life. If you read these articles regularly, you will see that I am compiling a list of things every woman should do at least once in her life — shave her head, shave her pussy. I might have once said visit Bobcaygeon, although I didn’t mean that. I think one day that list will become Things That Helped Me Define Who I Am, or who I’m not, or who I would like to be. Boxing at Bloor West was one of those things. I am strong. I am capable of non-internalized aggression. I would like to be more in touch with my anger.

So right now, Roncey reminds me of boxing, which evokes feeling powerful, which evokes some essential queer feeling in me that is hard to describe. When I feel strong, I feel queer. Maybe because when I remember being closeted, I remember feeling powerless.

Roncey isn’t a queer area. I don’t know of any queer hang-outs, any queer cabbage-roll makers, any queer Polish Catholic churches on the strip. Not yet, anyway.

But thanks to the gym, my queer self anticipates feeling at home there. Once we’ve moved, I am sure we will find those pockets of queerness that exist in any Toronto neighbourhood. I am looking forward to finding them, but also to finding new non-queer spaces: spaces to feel alone in, to be alone in; new homes for my body for the times between community and partner; spaces to work on myself and help me continue to define who I am, who I’m not, and who I would like to be.