No matter who you are there’s a good chance that you’re looking to belong, to connect with something bigger than yourself.
When I first began exploring Toronto’s lesbian scene eight years ago as an eager young lady-lover I was dismayed at how rarely I got a glimpse of other ethnic lesbians. I was often left pondering the notion that I was one of the few out queer women of colour in Toronto’s party scene.
This wasn’t as troubling initially as maybe it should have been but I was just so excited about discovering this new world that stood before me. Pride — that’s what being queer was all about, right? The colour of my skin was not going to hold me back from having a good time. Or so I thought.
My notion of queer emancipation was quickly disrupted when I attended my first lesbian event, a bar night at Crews/Tango. Complete shock. It wasn’t the mixed crowd that hangs out at Crews/ Tango today. It was wall-to-wall white women. I walked into the room and quickly realized that I had very few similarities to these crew-cut, tank-top wearing white women.
I sipped on my drink with modest hesitation. I didn’t feel as though I belonged in this crowd. I received some long stares and felt like I was under scrutiny, a rare and endangered species from afar. But despite their apparent curiosity these women did absolutely nothing to interact with me. I suspect I’m not the only woman of colour to feel this sense of estrangement in queer social settings.
Things have changed in the last eight years. Today there are a handful of events where lesbians of colour hang out comfortably, though it’s still the exception to the rule. These events are marketed as being for “urban” lesbians and have begun to encourage a visibility for women of colour.
Despite the racial diversity of women who attend the more exclusive events my uneasiness has now shifted. I’ve realized many ethnic lesbians don’t necessarily share the same values or concerns as me. At Girl Toronto parties, for example, there is a clear separation of femmes and butches, reminiscent of a high-school dance with boys and girls on their respective sides. These gender politics make women like me who fall somewhere in between feel uncomfortable and unwelcome to engage freely with any woman, that is without abiding by butch/femme rules of engagement.
I don’t like boxes. I don’t like intolerance toward queers who don’t fit these so-called rules. It is complete hypocrisy, a betrayal of queer ideology and the notion that people are equal, regardless of gender, sexuality or culture. We should be focusing on creating unity as a lesbian community, not increasing sexual anxiety and social hostility.
Similarly I’m skeptical of the measures that various women’s parties use to discourage men from attending. Many women’s parties stipulate that a woman must accompany any male attendee. Some charge higher covers for guys (at Girl Toronto it’s double). Besharam, the East Indian monthly at Fly, has just instituted a no-groups-of-guys policy (see page 9 for more).
I think I can understand the goals of these party promoters. I am not ignorant of homophobia and understand the need for organizers to uphold a safe environment. I myself, while standing in line to attend Besharam, have heard blatantly homophobic comments by people who appeared to me to be straight men.
However I don’t think it is our place to presume that all straight men behave with this level of aggression and intolerance toward queers. I suggest that if any individual does something homo-phobic that he or she be held responsible and asked to leave an event. But we can’t typecast an entire group of individuals based on sexual orientation. Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to oppose and fight daily? All persons regardless of gender or sexual orientation should be welcomed into queer party spaces.
As the scene has changed so have my notions of my identity and how I want to see it reflected around me. As I mature I understand the importance of events that attract an eclectic mix of people — men and women — from all racial and sexual backgrounds to the larger queer social scene.
I have an appreciation for parties that attract a mixed crowd, parties where all kinds of women interact without any lines of cultural divide or racial segregation. Great examples of such events are Cherry Bomb, a monthly at Andy Poolhall (489 College St; next on Sat, Nov 17) and regular Friday nights at Slack’s (562 Church St). These promoters seem to understand, more so than promoters of the more exclusive events, the importance of creating an enjoyable environment for everyone. What makes it fun? The inclusion of complete diversity, without restrictions on who you are, how you look or who you’re looking to cruise.