4 min

Lesbians skating on the Rideau Canal

Out, proud and sensibly dressed

Credit: Capital Xtra files

It was a sunny Sunday in February. The weather was fabulous with the sun beating down and the sky an effervescent blue – the kind that is only found in this part of the world on a cold day. My partner and I decided to join the thousands of people already skating on the Rideau Canal. We bundled up and headed out.

As soon as we arrived at the NAC, we were met by blissful heterosexual couples, skating hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm, smiling, talking and laughing. They reminded me of Impressionist paintings of couples dressed in fur, gliding along frozen lakes in a bygone era.

Then there we were. We rented a sleigh for a change and took turns pushing each other along the ice. What followed was a swift succession of comments from heterosexual skaters. I can say without reservation that all these iterations were from heterosexuals. Their sexual orientation was made transparent by the fact that many of them were in a couple, with or without children, and others were groups of women whose reactions made their sexuality transparent.

These reactions were determined by which one of us was pushing. When I was being pushed in the sled with my bright pom-pommed-Heidi-of-the-hills-stringed toque and rouged mouth, people smiled and looked endearingly at both of us.

One woman skated by and cheered, “Now that’s the way it should be all the time!”

Another woman said, “Way to go!” She gave me a thumbs-up as she careened past.

We quickly realized that these women approved of me being a lady of leisure. To them, I must have appeared as an example of a woman being treated well, relaxing in my own personal princess chariot. As I was pushed across the ice, other women acknowledged me with equal enthusiasm and support.

Their chorus was soon joined by that of men scraping by on their skates. They responded non-verbally. Some grinned and nodded approvingly. Others looked at us with envy as their girlfriends gave them stares that said, “And why am I not in a sleigh having my beautiful self whisked comfortably along the canal?”

Then there were the young girls who skated by. They too had non-verbal responses. We heard a few, “Oooos” and “Ahhhs,” along with giggles. They all dreamingly approved of my sleigh ride.

Never before had my partner and I gotten so much attention from straight people. Because we were garnering this widespread public approval, we came to the conclusion that they must have thought we were straight too, and that I was being pushed along the ice by my male partner.

My girlfriend was wearing a man’s coat with black toque and gloves, as well as sunglasses, which made it difficult for people to tell that she was a woman.

Eventually, it was time for her to get in the sleigh and for me to push.

We were in the midst of having a conversation, when a woman who was holding her male counterpart’s hand skated towards us. She yelled and pointed at my partner, “Why don’t you get him to push?”

We laughed at her misplaced expression of feminism.

Not a minute later, another woman skated by and shouted, “Oh, nice!”

This was meant as an insult to the so-called male I was pushing along the canal, a call to shame “him” into performing his gender-bound duty to push me.

Then there were the younger, politically correct men who passed us by with dirty looks and scowls, along with a few headshakes at the lazy “man” I was pushing along the canal.

Finally, there were a few older men who skated by with their women and grinned. One said, “Oh yeah, that’s the way to do it!”

It was unbelievably funny to get such reactions from total strangers. We have never had so many heterosexual couples greet us.

Not much later, a woman skated past us and turned around. She continued doing so until I said hello. This prompted her to remove a camera from her coat pocket and request taking a photograph of us. Apparently, we looked like a model heterosexual couple to her. She wanted to post our photograph on the website of her family-owned real estate company.

I visited this real estate agent’s website later. One page read thusly: “The pride of the capital’s citizens is evident in our communities and neighbourhoods.” Pride is right.

My hope is that this cheery real estate agent will indeed post our photograph on her website. It will be to her advantage to do so. By 2010, the population of the City of Ottawa proper will exceed one million people. Statistically speaking, this means that there will be 100,000 gays and lesbians living in the Nation’s Capital. Ottawa will be the same size that Vancouver was a decade ago. I lived in Vancouver a decade ago, and witnessed a gay and lesbian community that had come into its own through sheer numbers.

Six years from now, gay and lesbian Ottawans will not be as closeted as they are presently. Appealing to our demographic in terms of real estate at this point in time is one of the best strategic marketing plans that any real estate agent in Ottawa could make, heterosexual or not.

On the way back to the NAC, we passed a lesbian couple skating on either side of their small daughter, holding hands like so many families we’d seen. They gave us a knowing glance and a smile without mistaking us. I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like if the world were reversed, if the canal wasn’t populated by heterosexual couples, but rather with homosexual couples…

In any case, I highly recommend that queer couples skate hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm along the Rideau Canal, just as so many other couples do. And when you pass other lesbian or gay couples, remember to say hello.