2 min

Should a fetish fair be ‘inclusive’ of everyone?

Rebranding sexy festival for all ages feels wrong

Regardless of how the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA) wants to spin this story, the Church St Fetish Fair (CSFF) is dead this year. In its place is a village carnival, scheduled for Aug 14, complete with a bouncy castle, a mechanical bull and a climbing wall. Toronto Leather Pride, the last vestige of the CSFF, is relegated to the parking lot at Zipperz that day and some other events in licensed spaces that weekend.

The new name for the festival is the Church St Village Fair, and organizers have designed it to attract everyone: children, parents, families and prudes. They are trying for a more “inclusive” focus. That buzzword was repeated to me countless times by CWVBIA co-chair Avery Pitcher: inclusive, inclusive, inclusive, inclusive.

I get it.

The problem is that, to me, that word signifies prudishness, conservativism and an agenda sugarcoated in the rhetoric of public relations. In many ways, killing the CSFF feels like another closet, the sanitization of sexual expression to make the event more palatable to funders, stuffed shirts and traditional types who may be offended by the sight of a leather daddy in a dog collar.

“The previous board was very much in favour of the fetish fair,” says CWVBIA manager David Wootton. “This board is not as much, so as a result some activities have been re-branded… There’s been a lot of negative talk about that change in the community, and that’s unfortunate.” CWVBIA member and Café California owner Vince Moneva says it makes good business sense to shift the focus to attract families, older folks and teenagers. After all, he says, the neighbourhood is changing.

“Businesses are struggling. Rents keep increasing on Church St, and we want to attract new people to the area,” he says. “There are families that walk by with children.”

But a fetish fair is not supposed to be all things to all people; it’s about creating an environment in which sexual liberation is celebrated freely and openly. It’s about inviting everyone to wear their kinks on their sleeves, rather than under their suits and behind closed doors.

“Holding our event within the BIA area would have meant that every decision we made about our independent kinky event would have to be approved by the same board that had just recently decided to remove almost all traces of fetish from the event, except its sub-title,” says Toronto Leather Pride president Jack Pearce. “This, combined with their demanding, bossy and pushy attitude toward us, left a bad taste in our mouths. We also felt that term ‘family-friendly’ has become more about censorship of the leather, fetish, kink and LGBTTIQ communities than its supposed meaning of inclusivity.”

Even Ward 27 councillor and BIA cofounder Kristyn Wong-Tam says she would rather have seen CSFF stay true to its roots.

At the end of the day, the Church St Village Fair is just one more illustration that the cultural pendulum of sexual liberation is swinging back to the right. And it’s likely to get worse. We could soon face a trifecta of political conservativism. As I write this, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose style of government echoes the rhetoric of American Tea Partiers, is threatening to cut grants and social programs from the city budget. Nationally, Canada continues to be governed by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. And in October, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak stands a very good chance of forming the government of Ontario.

We’re living in dark times, and the doors on the proverbial closet appear to be creaking closed again.