I have always considered Montreal to be fantastically diverse, sexually and otherwise. It’s why I chose to live here. This city is constantly changing. From Chinatown to the Plateau to Mile End to the Gay Village, identities change as quickly as Madonna reinvents herself.
Many queers feel pressure to conform to the homonormativity of the Village, and that leaves them feeling alienated. So regular club nights in the Village are quickly falling out of fashion, replaced by special events elsewhere in the city. Some of these club nights are more successful than others. Some have merely regurgitated the gay ghetto effect in other parts of the city, with events that differ in location but not in ideology.
This year, the Royal Phoenix opened in Mile End, a neighbourhood to which many queer-identified people are migrating. Val Desjardains, one of four co-owners of the Royal Phoenix, says she “doesn’t want to create a space that is against heteronormativity.” Being queer and not being against heteronormativity or homonormativity seems like a contradiction in my book, but like Desjardins says, “queer” has different meanings for different people.
Montreal’s Pride festivals are following the same trend as its club nights. Many people felt that Pride had regressed into gay shame, with a single-minded focus on gay men, muscles, alcohol and consumption. In response, Divers/Cité emerged in 1993. In its heyday it was a great distraction from the homonormativity of Pride. That is until Divers/Cité’s focus, like Pride’s, seemed to shift away from queer expression to commercialization. Corporate sponsorship made participation for more radical low-budget queer events inaccessible.
Pervers/Cité emerged in response. Billed as “the underside of Pride,” it provides an accessible space for queers to be queers. This year’s highlights included a steamy sex party called Against the Wall, a panel discussion on trans and gender queer drag called Gender as Gender, and the midnight edition of the Naked Bike Ride.
The event’s closing party, A Night at the Races, served as a fundraiser for Montreal’s latest queer project, The Equeerie, whose goal, according to its creator Laura Boo, is to “be a space that is queer/artist/organizer directed and focused, a place that is both physically and financially accessible.”
This sounds like my idea of a queer Utopia. Rather than tacking more letters onto the LGBTQII acronym to form a melting pot of conflicting ideologies and goals, alternative Pride festivals like Montreal’s Pervers/Cité and club nights reflect how different people within the queer community have different ideas about Pride and what one’s sexuality or gender actually means.