By Mitchell Thompson
Toronto’s gay village is more of a block.
It begins at Wood Street and ends mostly at Wellesley Street with smaller places along the periphery. These extend to Carlton, with Zippers and Spa Excess – the bathhouse on top of a Chinese restaurant – and north, either to Gloucester Street with Fly and the 519 or to Isabella Street with the Gay and Lesbian archives.
For the most part: the village ends north at the Hero Burger on Wellesley Street and south at Wood Street.
I’m told that nestled between these chain restaurants is a community. But, I can’t say that I’ve found it.
The village has become very expensive and as a result, it is a very white, increasingly conservative and a rather boring scene, which is not particularly welcoming to outsiders or young people. This is obviously problematic for a community.
The lack of real community in the village was even mentioned in that noted lefty-queer rag the Globe and Mail. There, Vidya Kauri writes, “When the village was first taking shape, it was an asylum – an affordable one – for gay people across Canada. But gentrification has sent rents sky high and some local gay businesses have closed as a result.” Meanwhile, the Star notes that “focusing on customers with money keeps the village largely the haunt of middle-aged, middle-class white men.”
I don’t live near the village. When I do go there, I find that I don’t have a whole lot in common with the people who reside there. I really don’t feel that I belong in their community.
As a result, most of my time in the village is spent walking up and down Church Street rather aimlessly. I wander in for coffee or to kill time welcomed by the rainbows and thinking this is where I should be. But, I don’t know where to stop. I can’t afford to go to most of the places there and the ones that I can afford either bore me or make me feel uneasy. If you stick around long enough, you see other gay men doing the same walk. That’s our so-called community.
Was it always like this? Is it possible that the “asylum” that Kauri described was always marketing?
I asked my friend, Michael Lyons, who writes about gay history for Xtra. He maintains that the current blandness is different. Lyons says the difference is in who the community includes. He says the village “used to be all about fucking and sometimes art and activism.” But now “poor radical queers and art types can’t afford it.” As a result, he says what “used to be a haven for outcasts is a tourist destination.”
The need for a gay centre is still present. Harold Madi, partner with The Planning Partnership, told Blog.TO that “What I hear the most from people is that need is still there. This area is still the place of arrival and transition for LGBT people across the country, especially those in smaller communities. They know Church and Wellesley. Gay youth and adults that are finding their identity, they come here.”
Mitchell Thompson is a second-year journalism student. He will be writing a regular queer affairs column for the Eye.