I not only live in the heart of the gay village; I reside in its left ventricle at Jarvis and Maitland. It's certainly been an interesting journey getting here.
When I came out over a decade ago, the gaybourhood was the last place I ever imagined myself living. Then again, I never thought I'd enjoy giving a blow job either.
As a suburban babe from Brampton, my inevitable move to T.O. followed closely on my realization that I was gay. But my inexperience and fear of the unknown came along for the ride.
The first time I saw Church and Wellesley, it felt like day one at a new school, with all the anxiety, excitement and curiousity that comes with that. I hoped to fit in effortlessly and fabulously, but it was hard to identify with these diverse and undeniably proud inhabitants when I wasn't yet comfortable in my own skin.
I knew that would take some time. So I settled on attending on a part-time basis like going to school but not living on campus.
For nearly six years I did the social hop, skip and jump from my home in the Annex to the village. The allure of seemingly unlimited experiential opportunities was irresistible, but I was still playing hard to get.
Even when I bought my first condo four blocks north of Welleslely at Church and Charles, I still considered myself a tourist.
"So you're living in the village now," friends would casually observe.
"Not really," I'd reply. "I mean, I think I'm more on the outskirts of it."
"You can think whatever you want to, but I'm telling you you live in the village," I'd be sternly informed (usually along with a geography lesson).
It's over two years since I moved to my current address, and for many years now I've been taking the full curriculum: friends and lovers, music and booze, dancing and drugs and express-yourself moments of style and substance on sidewalks, patios, dance floors and clubs, theatres, restaurants. I'm still learning.
For me the village is a place where you can be who you are, knowing that although you're not immune from peer judgement (we are homosexuals, after all), that judgment is generally quiet and unaccompanied by a violent fist, either figuratively or literally.
Recently, travelling from the west end in a friend's car at 2:30 in the morning, we drove through the (straight) club district. The overwhelming spectacle of drunken 20-somethings spilling onto the sidewalks of Adelaide made me grateful I was in a moving vehicle. Funny how a party zone can sometimes look more like a battlefield to an outsider.
Despite my friend's gracious offer to drop me off at the front door of my building, I insisted she drop me at Church and Carlton. I hoped the chilly night air would have a sobering effect on my partied-out body, but that wasn't the only reason.
I've grown to enjoy the familiar sights, sounds and scents of the village at night. Whether it's an unexpected validating look from an attractive stranger, the aroma of "gay pizza" gobbled by a partier hoping to avert a hangover later that morning or friends chatting on the sidewalk, I'm filled with a sense of comfort and security. And to me that can only mean one thing. I'm home.