All my life I have felt a sense of an alienation from my surroundings, like someone peering through a foggy window to look at the contents of the world outside. When I was younger my imagination led me to birth quite an unhealthy state of paranoia — I believed that I was the only human on earth and that everybody else was simply observing me to see how I’d react to different moments and situations in my life.
Today the estrangement continues, particularly when I consider how little I feel like I’m seen and acknowledged in Toronto’s dyke scene. Though I no longer feel disconnected from the larger world, I often feel invisible in queer circles because my sense of style does not readily identify me as being either femme or butch, and my ethnicity means I’m not often identified as a queer. I can’t count the number of times that both queer and straight people have been shocked to find out that I am a big homo.
Though there are more lesbians and lesbian characters in the mainstream media these days, precious few are ethnic dykes. This may be part of why fellow queers don’t recognize me as one of their own when they see me on the street, in the bars, at lesbian parties. I feel agitated most of all in the village, maybe because it’s where I most expect an appreciation of difference.
As a mature lesbian who has shopped around the various queer scenes in the city I feel far more welcome and visible on the Queer West scene. I find that Queer West holds an attitude that’s quite the opposite to Church St’s — it encourages queers to come as they are, without fear of having to fit in with the crowd. Probably as a result the west-end scene is a lot more racially mixed and there’s more room to express yourself both as ethnic and lesbian.
Perhaps it’s a matter of contrast between the two scenes, but lately I’m much more aware of how many lesbians in the Church St scene continue to divide themselves up according to femme versus butch. I don’t think this attitude permeates the Queer West village, where queers seem to draw on more of an eclectic mash-up of cultural influences.
I hope that at some point Church St lesbians take the chance and step outside the boundaries of the village and expose themselves to the diversity of queer women that exists elsewhere in Toronto and beyond. While it’s only natural for newly out women to gravitate to the village as the gay mecca, it’s important for them — women of colour especially — to know that there are other options out there. I wish I’d known sooner in my queer career.
But is it simply a matter of migrating through the village and on to a corner of our culture that better serves us, or do we fight to be recognized and represented in the village? I’d like to encourage Church St bar owners and promoters to take notice of what’s going on elsewhere in the city and try to bring some of that fresh energy back into the village. Though it’s not just about the events — we need a shift in mentality by many queers to start seeing each other as one big community rather than a series of fragmented groups.
At the same time there needs to be a greater appreciation for our own complicated identities. For example, it seems pride in being queer often undermines or overrules pride of coming from a foreign heritage or a different set of traditions. It’s a big turnoff for me to meet other women who have no appreciation for their personal diversity. I don’t like when people disrespect or are ignorant of their own history.
Perhaps I’m destined to remain a queer sort of lesbian because I don’t think its okay to just blend in, because I don’t choose to appropriate Western lesbian identity to be the core of my queerness. I value the fact that I’m far more complex than that. I’m proud to be an Indo-African-British-Canadian and this drives me to have much appreciation of overall uniqueness.
In my perfectly balanced utopian idea of the world I imagine myself banding together with all my queer sisters to raise our voices in hopes of educating others on our commonalities and healthy differences. I picture parties packed with friendly Asians, African-Americans, Indians and Caucasian women in equal numbers, interacting as friends from different shades of the rainbow.
When I was young I wondered who would accept me into their group. Now I wonder how I’ll etch a place for myself and for other women to enjoy a sense of belonging for being who we are, not what others would like to imagine us to be in order to satisfy their own desires. I’m here to push the envelope not follow the crowd. Our community has been struggling for generations so I know that we’re up to the challenge of continuing to evolve and love freely.