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Leather dykes revel in Unholy Harvest

'If you build it, they will cum,' says founder

HOOKED UP, HARNESSED IN. Organizer Andrea Zanin (centre) says she's been overwhelmed with the positive vibes directed at Unholy Harvest. Credit: Courtesy of Andrea Zanin

It started in Montreal in the winter of 2003. Jacqueline St-Urbain was working at a women-positive sex shop and was a public face of the city’s leather dyke community. The only problem? There was no leather dyke community. It was “virtually non-existent,” she says.

So St-Urbain and others started a listserv, cheekily called The Unholy Army of the Night. Since then, it’s grown from a half dozen regular members to over 125.

“We thought if we did something, they would come out of the woodwork,” she says. “And they did.”

The Unholy Army’s early goal was to queer kinky spots by inviting a critical mass of lesbians to play spaces on quiet nights.

Building on that success, St-Urbain and co-organizer Andrea Zanin launched Unholy Harvest in Ottawa last year. It’s a weekend getaway for lesbians and transfolk into BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism.)

“Part of it is just the urge to get laid,” says St-Urbain. “And it’s to be with people who are likeminded. If you build it, they will cum.”

Last year, they sold out at 60 tickets; this year, they’re well on their way to selling out, with attendance capped at 80. Zanin was moved to organize a second outing of the festival because of its positive reception in 2007.

“I was really inspired,” she says. “It was fascinating to see everyone meet each other and become friends over the course of the weekend. There was an amazing cross pollination.”

For trans and lesbian BDSM enthusiasts, it’s a rare treat indeed to be part of an event that’s just for them, rather than being at the fringes of either hetero play parties or anomalies among gay leathermen.

“All of a sudden, you’re surrounded by like-minded people. When you’re talking about a space that’s just for dykes and trans people, it’s can be really intense and exciting. And then there’s the ‘Oh my god, that person is so hot’ factor,” Zanin says.

Both women are longtime Montrealers, but with St-Urbain in Ottawa and Zanin in Toronto, the choice of city wasn’t exactly a shoe in. Ottawa boasts easy accessibility for both Montrealers and Torontonians. But the location was chosen also because the city has a community-oriented BDSM play space, which St-Urbain calls “ideal”: Breathless.

“It has never been anything but a warm and inviting place,” she says.

Breathless is a community centre, not a bar. It means that Unholy Harvest ticketholders can use the space for workshops during the day, film screenings in the early evening and for kinky adventures at night.

“And it means that their profits don’t depend on the sale of alcohol,” says Zanin.

St-Urbain says the only problem with the site is that it’s not wheelchair accessible — a common problem with grassroots events.

Still, she says that anyone who’s curious about the event should check out the website and consider coming out to the weekend’s events. As for what it will be like for a firsttimer, Zanin says it’s hard to judge.

“I would venture to say, it’ll be overwhelming but really exciting.”