I was on the mezzanine at the Phoenix, overlooking the mingling crowd below. I had missed the Northbound Leather fashion show earlier in the evening, but I was just in time for the afterparty. The DJ was playing a medley of edgy house, setting the tone for the evening. The party was a mix of straight and gay people, with so many kinks on harmonious display. I noticed a man close to the stage in leather gauntlets with fins, a Master’s cap and thong. He was dancing alone and lost in the sound. I couldn’t tell if he was gay or straight, a Dom, sub or slave — it didn’t matter. He was who he was, and he loved it. That was the essence of this party.
There were a lot of gay men at the event — I recognized many of them from the Rough House dungeon parties. But the rest of the gay guys were the type that treated the event like a costume party. For them, this was just another stop on the circuit, an evening to dress in black and leather because it was so outrageous to be at a leather party. Of course, it’s their right — they can do whatever they want — but these guys, always so anxious to show off how cleverly irreverent they are, are the type that I tend to run away from.
There were lots of women, too. I’ve always appreciated the female presence at kink-focused parties, and was aroused by their fashion sensibilities, which leaned toward punk and goth: fishnet stockings and black eyeliner, steam punk hairdos, PVC catsuits, corsets and leather bras with fringes. I liked the contrast it made from the gay leather parties I usually frequent. Northbound parties are not hyper-masculine, but they’re fully inclusive and cater to perversions of every flavor.
I’ve heard gay men criticize the party before, claiming it’s a gathering of 905ers and suburban housewives, but I don’t think that’s fair. Now, listen: I’ll be the first to say that some straight folks annoy the fuck out of me, with the endless wedding parties, baby showers and play dates for the kids. I don’t care how tired they are because their babies kept them up all night, or what they got up to with their in-laws. And I’ve never understood this need to bring their spawn to work to show the world that yes, they can reproduce. I also wish the do-gooders in the office would stop asking me for money to buy gifts for them just because they accomplished another task on their heteronormative checklist. Like it or not, we live in a straight world where their lifestyle is shoved down our throats. But that’s not who the straight people at these parties are — they’re the straight rebels, deviants and sexual radicals. These are our allies.
Don’t be mistaken: the gay men of Toronto are no more superior than those straights that drive me mad. Nowadays, they’re rushing to the altar and having children in this strange quest for “respectability.” No doubt the right to marry is absolutely crucial in the fight for equality, but why do we have to be the right kind of gay to be free? How did we get so confused in this battle? This right has quickly become a status symbol in social circles — a sign of success. One couple after another are marrying and assimilating, losing that sense of individuality that once made our community so unique. Young, unmarried men feel weak for not finding that perfect mate. You can see them all over Grindr and Scruff, all these sad young men. So if you want to judge anything, judge that loss of identity.
By 1:30am, the dance floor at the Phoenix was going full throttle, with people moving together in an expression of solidarity. Gender and sexual preference were never ignored at these parties — differences were not just acknowledged, but celebrated. You could see it in how everyone danced together, still giving each other enough space to be individuals.
I went up near the front near the stage just as “Tribulations” by LCD Soundsystem came on. I lost my shit, moving my hand in the air like I was drawing the music. When I turned, I noticed that I was right next to the fellow from before, the one with the leather-finned gauntlets and thong. He was still lost in sound, his eyes half open. He was beautifully androgynous up close, with the softest skin beneath the sweat, and a content smile on his face. I looked over at him and smiled back, thinking how happy I was with who I was, and to be able to be included in such a wonderful scene.