Despite lack of dedicated bars, Toronto community hungry for gatherings
Walking down the bustling streets of the gay village in Toronto on Saturday night, you can’t help but feel like there is everything you would want from a night out: trendy eateries, cheap drinks, party spaces for queer folks. Still, some queer women have been noticing an acute absence for some time: there are no lesbian-exclusive bars in Toronto.
Many spaces for gay men exist, as is clear by the speedo-featuring advertisements lining Church Street. While institutions like The Henhouse used to exist specifically for queer women, the last of them have been shut down over the course of the last decade. Now, your options as a queer woman fall into a category of one-off events hosted at different venues around the city, such as the infamous Cherry Bomb. The conversation to negotiate fem-queer spaces is ongoing but it isn’t a conspiracy; it’s a more mundane case of simple supply and demand.
Supply and demand
“We can’t get enough spaces to keep women engaged, but we can’t get enough women to keep spaces open, so it’s a cyclical problem,” says Tania Morano, a promoter, DJ, and co-founder of Girlplay – a collective that hosts events for women who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. This conversation is one that Morano has been having for so many years that she feels ready to surrender to the reality, but not without an innovative solution.
“We can’t just keep saying, ‘why don’t we have (lesbian bars).’…I don’t think there’s a market for bars…I don’t think (the bar and club model) is the solution,” Morano says. “The onus is on us as a community to create that innovation we so desperately need.”
While Morano says that she doesn’t see sustainable spaces for queer women in Toronto as viable the near future, she hopes that she is wrong and that more events like her own will pop up, although Girlplay does not have any events scheduled currently. “If we can never get to the place where we can have women’s spaces, we just need to make all spaces safe,” Morano says.
In fact, Toronto-based DJ Valerie Soo spent a recent weekend at three dedicated events for queer woman. “Ideally speaking, there would be spaces for each diverse set of people in the city,” she says. “Toronto is a city based on commerce, so we all must be able to make and take any opportunities that arise. At this moment, that means integrating with wider groups and sharing spaces.” Soo says that there are opportunities to feel included even if you don’t have a large group of friends to go with: “Promoters are also willing for you to post on event pages stating things such as, ‘Am thinking of attending solo, any like-minded people wanna (sic) meet up there?
Luckily, physical spaces and events, while important, are not the be-all and end-all for fostering queer connections in 2019. Former Ryerson student and current George Brown student Nicole Fuentes experienced this first-hand.
While she says she witnessed a lot of awkwardness in in-person courting, she was able to find the kind of connection she was looking for by fluke online. She has now been with her girlfriend of four years in a long-distance relationship. Theirs was a love story that began in an Idina Menzel Twitter fandom. Perhaps everyone’s experiences are different, but many would struggle to imagine finding a match so perfect in a Toronto bar.
have been online, long-distance,” said Fuentes. “This is the longest relationship I’ve ever had but I’ve never tried to meet anyone. It will always be a friend I had online or in-person and we would end up dating…It’s really hard to meet other queer women (in person) because you just never know how to hit on someone or introduce yourself.”
Fuentes says she has never looked into clubs and bars and has not noticed the absence of fem-queer spaces in Toronto, although learning the fact didn’t surprise her. The awkwardness and uncertainty of approaching women is almost an inside joke in Fuentes’s online circles.
“I think it’s because a lot of queer women are low-key homebodies. Gay men are much more likely to go out clubbing, partying, but that’s just my own personal experience.”
Online dating has its own pitfalls, though, says Fuentes, who found no luck on Tinder. “From my experience online, a lot of times it just doesn’t go anywhere.”
End the separation game
Perhaps, the solution lies somewhere in the middle. Perhaps, while phsyical boundaries are being torn down by online spaces, we still need to maintain much needed physical spaces for queer people to meet.
Joshin Marriott from RyePRIDE says that the solution is not about creating more exclusive spaces for specific groups of queer-identifying women, but creating more inclusive spaces for all queer people in Toronto.
“What would (a lesbian bar) look like with so many intersectionalities of non-binary individuals, people that are trans,” Marriott says. “What would you do if somebody else that doesn’t fit in the umbrella of being lesbian wants to go and hang out in that space? Is it that you’re going to kick them out? We’re a community that’s supposed to be open and accepting.”
As for the rowdy establishments that line Church Street, Marriott says: “You find a mixed crowd in the village. Even if you want your own space, there is still that community in everyone being there. It’s marketed as a gay bar, but it’s more so a queer space where people can go to and feel safe…We should be working on providing a space of inclusion.”
Marriott brings up spaces such as Crews and Tangos and Glad Day on Church Street that provide spaces like this, with occasional events geared toward specific groups.
So maybe it’s not about bringing back the glory bar days, but rather about forging forward and looking at the needs of queer people in the present and future. While there’s no consensus, many look forward to the advent of more events such as accessible speed-dating opportunities that are respectful.