What are the essentials of a good queer neighbourhood? What would attract more queer Toronto people who feel they belong in the Village, as well as those who currently feel they don’t?
I remember when I first started coming here. It was only at night, and these small little city blocks felt huge and alive. It seemed like a magical oasis back when I was coming out.
I hadn’t yet learned why it felt like a refuge to this light-skinned, middle-class lesbian but might not feel that way to someone else.
I felt I fit in here at first, back when the world was, for me, divided into gay and un-gay. It was clearly gay here, and that was enough to separate the Village from the rest of my life — suburban, Catholic and definitively un-gay. But as time went on, I began to see the neighbourhood’s underside: how male-dominated everything was, how cisgendered everything was, how superficial things were.
Over time I felt like I fit less, and my lovely oasis became my Pete’s Dragon, my Polkaroo, the rose-coloured glasses that didn’t fit me anymore. Here are 10 things that I think would bring back some of that magic in a real, lasting way.
1. A queer-run clothing store that sells boy clothes that actually fit those of us who weren’t born boys but now want to look like them. Especially those of us who don’t fit a men’s small. An owner who gets that sometimes, yes, you actually want to look flat and hipless and like you rolled out of bed and put on your brother’s shirt. It would be equipped, of course, with change rooms with mirrors on the inside, and salespeople who let you come to them and only offered opinions when asked.
2. A movie theatre with clean seats and popcorn and organic lemonade. A theatre that screens commercial, local and independent movies interchangeably, including kids’ movies and teen movies, episodes of new queer shows and back episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess.
3. An independent coffee shop where a coffee is still less than two dollars, where you can borrow Scrabble boards and there is enough room between tables for a stroller, so you don’t have to wake your sleeping baby to get a break.
4. A neighbourhood policy on highchairs in restaurants — meaning establishments must have them, because queer people have kids too, and that doesn’t make us un-sexy or bad for business.
5. A LATE-NIGHT CUPCAKE SHOP. They have these things in New York. I have never been so excited about standing in a line to eat something in my life. A frosted, freshly baked vanilla cupcake at three in the morning is absolute heaven. Heaven!
6. A big row of bike racks on the southwest corner of Church and Wellesley — maybe like the ones in front of the AGO but cock-shaped? Something amusing and functional that would prevent me from having to ask the TD security guard to watch my bike when the posts are full. The bike rack would be the new water cooler, the new place to gather and chat.
7. A bike repair shop — some-thing small, where you have the option of paying extra if you want to be taught how to do it yourself. It is about time our community got engaged in a health-promotion strategy that isn’t about sexual health (although, of course, those are needed too), or about mental health (obviously just as necessary) but just about getting physically active, for the sake of feeling good.
8. A recreation space that isn’t for pool, darts, bingo or a bathhouse. Levelling a piece of Cawthra Park would work, or building a climbing wall in the Beer Store parking lot. This would be a first step in creating a positive, designated space for youth — something that is completely lacking in our community right now.
9. A new and used music store that, like the movie theatre, sells stuff by commercial, local and independent artists. One that highlights new releases with a queer slant and keeps alive the old Phranc and Ani albums. One with a patio for local bands to play to the street.
10. Pedestrian days in the Village. This would be the perfect place for a weekly car-free experience, with lots of room to mix and mingle, support local stores, use sidewalk chalk, worry less about your kids and build comfortable, connected community.
People say this neighbourhood is dying, that queers are scattering and not so interested anymore in having a home base. I think there will always be a need for the Village, and that it needs to keep adapting to promote greater diversity, acceptance, health and well-being. That’s speaking as if the Village is an entity in itself, and not just an extension of the people who inhabit it.
So, it’s us who need to keep adapting. Socially and financially, we need to employ strategies that encourage people to get invested in being here, and to see the Village as less of an attraction or a cheap hotel and more of a neighbourhood, or a home.