2 min

Toronto’s queer cultural renaissance

Our belle epoque has arrived, and it's no coincidence it's most visible at night

Pardon me if I talk about myself for a second. A few weeks ago, while most of Canada was losing its collective mind over the final hockey game of the Olympics, I was performing the finale of the show I co-created for the Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times. Closing night, decked out in a costume made from purple velvet and thousands of mirror bits (I should know, I glued them all by hand), I watched as rays of light reflected from my body and lit up the room. The beams played around the audience, made up mostly of members of Toronto’s queer creative community.

From my vantage point on the stage, I could make out drag queens, DJs, actors, producers, club kids, singers, writers, performance artists, dancers, activists and promoters — all fellow denizens of the dark.

Creatures of the night, we are. We dress up to play and work when the sun goes down. We look best under candles or strobe lights, black lights, follow spots and other artificial lighting. We wake up when most people are having lunch, and instead of being out on the street screaming for “our” hockey team (last time I checked, Sidney Crosby played for an American team the other 50 weeks of the year), we were in a theatre/club space revelling in queerness.

This is an incredible time to be in Toronto.

I didn’t always feel this way. I spent a few years living out my New York City dream and came back thoroughly convinced Toronto was the last place I wanted to be.

It seemed like the city was in retrograde. The boom days of the ’90s theatre scene went bust along with Livent. Club life was repetitive and in need of something new and exciting. The village was minutes away from flat-lining, and then where would we go? I was jealous of other cities that had visible movements and identifiable movers and shakers who stayed out past 2am.

Why were all the cool parties in other cities? How come there wasn’t an explosion of late-night art and culture and fierceness? And by fierceness, I mean aggressive and wild, not the watered-down gay-speak of “this moisturizer is fiiiiiieeeeerce, hunny.”

Where was a scene that wasn’t homogenous, but diverse and exciting? Well, it turns out our mothers were right: patience is a virtue.

If I had known that a sexy venue like Goodhandy’s was coming just around the corner, I wouldn’t have complained. If I had known that Les Blues collective would shake up politics and performance so beautifully; if I had known the queer community would expand way beyond Church St to Parkdale, Danforth, the Junction and beyond; if I knew that my fellow creatures of the night were about to make Toronto the place to be, I would have chilled out.

After all, what other city has Buddies and the AGO and the Gladstone and Fly and Queen’s Park and Pussy Palace and Kensington Market and the 3am Queen streetcar and more club promoters than you can shake a flyer at?

Slowly, quietly, but impressively, our belle epoque has arrived, and it’s no coincidence it’s most visible at night.

Look at the explosion of the vogue scene over the past few years. Look at all the queer burlesque groups. Look at the musicians who are touring and putting out CDs. Look at the smaller club nights that are proving more fun than the mega-clubs. Look at the people who stay up until wake-up calls on CP24 to give you a good time.

Anyone who can’t see that a queer culture renaissance is happening is missing out. Whether I’m skulking in the shadows or on centre stage, I’ll be soaking it all in. See you in the dark.

Ryan G Hinds’ Toronto at Night column appears in every second issue of Xtra.