I could celebrate pride all week end and never venture east of Bathurst, thus avoiding certain Pride certainties: watching wayward pee drip down my leg while using a porta-potty, growing pink and irate standing in line for the dubious privilege of drinking overpriced Labatt's from a plastic cup, and resisting the urge to punch straight men with cameras during the Dyke March.
Every night during Pride Week there are events in the west end, many without cover charges, corporate sponsors or said snap-happy shutterbugs.
Over Pride Weekend there are six different parties I could walk home from in less than 10 minutes and never have to see a tourist with mouth agape or be handed a product sample from Gillette.
Poring over my Pride guide, circling some events and x-ing out others, I'm finding the idea of avoiding the gay core increasingly appealing.
Twelve years ago, seeing the gay vilfor the first time was a significant cultural and emotional awakening for a small-town girl in her first queer relationship. That carved-out space represented resistance and defiance.
Somehow, that same intersection now makes me sigh and complain. I'd choose the Cadillac Lounge over Slacks any night of the week. And if I had to choose betwen a bar that regularly hosts trans-positive events, a fat-activist cabaret and the Feminist Porn Awards (the Gladstone) versus a place that hosts lesbian speed-dating or L Word night, I'd pick the former.
While I recognize its significant place in queer cultural history, Church and Wellesley doesn't feel like home.
I'm writing this sitting in a café on Ossington. The Hidden Cameras are on the tape deck, and it goes without saying that there are queers on either side of me poking at plates of leafy greens. Weekends, I often walk a few blocks and choose between two queer-owned businesses for brunch.
I run into my ex walking her dog. Someone hands me a flyer to an art show by two local queer art stars at Dovercourt and Queen. Two bars at the end of my street both with straight owners routinely have queer nights, and one even hosts a Lesbian Appreciation Party. There's the Gladstone's Foxhole gay singles parties and the Beaver's Sunday-night Bush parties.
In the heart of Parkdale, where my first girlfriend and I used to be afraid to hold hands 10 years ago, I see two men kiss goodnight with nary a shudder or uncomfortable look around.
I like that all these things are happening organically in an area that's not designated expressively as queer anything it's just part of the way things have grown. At same time, as the queer presence grows, what started as a joke calling Queen West Queer West is becoming part of our vernacular.
There is currently a movement to officially designate a Queer West Village. There's a website and even our own Pride festival. This renaming is occasionally troubling. I'm not sure it's necessarily an empowering thing.
I don't want to wake up in 10 years and venture out on Queen to see a store selling rainbow cock rings or a billboard offering botox treatments.
I don't need a rainbow street sign or a feeling of exclusivity. I like that I can walk along Queen without feeling like I am hiding in a designated safe area or belong to a secret club. I like that queers and straight people can blend in spaces that are positive but not designated, where there isn't this assumption that because we're all gay we're necessarily going to enjoy the same things.
I like that I don't have any assumptions about a specific area being "safe.' Safety is subjective and doesn't really exist no matter how many expressive gay-friendly stickers are stuck to the doors of restaurants.
I lived in the gay village for two years and worked there for six. It's not without its implicit feelings of security, due to the sheer number of queers and a sense of political history. I especially appreciate the visibility of gay male sexuality.
Gaytown certainly isn't dead or drastically less important, especially to those kids who come into the city escaping certain death in small towns, the guys who come to cruise or those who make use of the artistic and community spaces still so relevant to queers of varied ages.
But as an urban space, the Church Street strip can sometimes feel like a neon-hued mall. Perhaps this is naive, but I wish that a space carved out defiantly hadn't grown to become a neighbourhood known for its uppity business association or overpriced martinis.
I ask a table of friends at the Beaver Sunday night whether they'd consider avoiding the gay village during Pride. The answer is a resounding no. Beer gardens and parades, outdoor concerts and downtown revelry remain an important tradition. While they might leave the parade area to attend parties closer to home, all agree an essential Pride experience would be missed if there were no gaytown stories to tell Monday morning.
Exploring the Pride guide once more, I decide not to boycott the village entirely compelled as I am to show off my new pink BMX in the Dyke March. I do secretly wish we could move the march around every year; why not march from Bloor and Lansdowne to Queen and Shaw?
Wouldn't it make the march more political and less of a tourist freak show? We wouldn't tell the guys with cameras. Not to mention that it would be really fantastic payback for the World Cup soccer assholes who made our neighbourhoods a living hell last summer.