Even before I moved to Toronto from San Francisco in 1999 I had heard of Will Munro, mostly through his artwork, and he was one of the first people I met upon my arrival to the city. Over the years we became close friends and although at times I have been tempted to move away from Hogtown for various knee-jerk reasons it is the queer community that Will has been integral in creating that has convinced me to stay.
Of all of the major cities I have lived in or visited there is nowhere else that has so much lezzie and fag intermingling. I love to hang out with fags and Will loves to be around dykes.
This past April, Will was diagnosed with brain cancer and while continuing his treatment he has been living with me in a predominantly lesbian household, where he is being nursed back to health with crafting sessions, great dinners and a whole lot of lezbro love.
LEX VAUGHN: Hi, William. I see you are in the bathtub.
WILL MUNRO: Yes, this is my spa time. I love taking baths.
VAUGHN: It suits you. You are like one of those monkeys in a Japanese hot spring. Why do you like lesbians so much?
MUNRO: Well, I was raised by a real big, tough lady who had great politics around parenting. She was really open about body stuff, like toplessness and periods, and I listened to the Free to Be You and Me album endlessly. In general I just identify with women more. On a social level there is more understanding and a lot less judgment. It’s not to say that I don’t like gay men, at all, it’s just that I don’t fit in with the archetype of a dude. I find refuge in the lesbian, and they just get shit done, you know? They are saving my life.
VAUGHN: Oh, I know. It’s funny because even though I was reared by a really heroic mom as well I spent all my summers in San Francisco in the Castro with my flaming uncle and all his fag friends who thought of lesbians as the enemy. According to them lesbians were frumpy and humourless and out to ruin the gay man’s fabulous time. I identified with boys and men way more as a child, even though I had already had numerous lez experiences by the time I was 10.
MUNRO: When I was in high school all the representations I saw of gay men were foreign to me. I was into skateboarding and listening to punk rock, and what I saw on TV were hairdressers and florists. I hung out with all these straight, cute, politically minded hardcore boys, which is actually how I ended up at my first gay bar. The boys realized that their hotness could get them free drinks from fags and that they could dance all night long. I was scared of really femmey boys, even though that’s what I was attracted to. I had to learn how to embrace that and had to give myself time to celebrate that, because that’s who I’m hot for: Fey boys, butches or trannies… yum.
VAUGHN: My first dyke bar experience was in Denver, where a lesbian softball team was dancing to shitty house music and holding their cleats in their hands so as not to mar the wood floor. Mullets and tinted prescription glasses. I was mortified. I think that put me in the closet for two more years. The city can be so cruel as to what you are supposed to like or be like.
MUNRO: It’s true. As a gay male in an urban environment you are mostly exposed to men. You get placed in those surroundings and it’s uncomfortable if you can’t relate to that gender. When I really came out in the Toronto gay scene in 1997 it was totally segregated — all men. You rarely saw women and there was one dyke bar, but men weren’t allowed in. If you went to the Barn and any kind of woman came in they were swiftly asked to leave. There was no fostering of relationships.
VAUGHN: Is that why you started Vazaleen?
MUNRO: For sure. You know, I had been interested in lesbian cabarets for years, like Christy Cameron’s Dirty Babette, and found that I totally connected with the girls on this scene. So when I started Vazaleen I intentionally started booking female performers to show people that it was okay, that we could all coexist in a bar/club environment without anybody freaking out.
VAUGHN: It’s so hard in a club scene to get the integration going. I spent a few weeks in 2006 with four dykes on this trip called JD’s Lesbian Utopia, where we toured gay and lesbian campgrounds in the southern US to see how they created community space outside of the bar scene. And even in the woods there was still, minus a few exceptions, this epic segregation. The effects of socialization are staggering.
MUNRO: Yeah, it’s really scary, this perpetual hatred. If you don’t have any other experience with the “other” then it can be terrifying. It’s up to certain individuals to create space for everyone and lay down very specific rules that curb phobic behaviour. Only through social responsibility will we see any change.
VAUGHN: Why do you think that some pockets in Toronto have succeeded in this integration?
MUNRO: Toronto has the luxury of having this big arts community where there is a lot of crossover of ideas and mediums and gender. You need to have something besides a bar to create community: a common idea, goal or interest, like LGBT issues, gay youth, gay health, etcetera.
VAUGHN: It’s true. I feel like we are so privileged to be in each other’s gay lives.
MUNRO: Yeah! Me too! Would you please hand me a towel? I think I am done with my spa.
VAUGHN: With pleasure. I already have one at the ready.