Sigh, here we go again. Without interruption, every few years another article comes out that bemoans the crumbling state of the Village and posits a vague alternative for the new queer lifestyle defined merely as not-Village. (In a way, the debate over queer identity isn’t so unlike the struggle Canadians face when defining themselves—primarily as not-Americans.) This time around, The Grid has “Dawn of a New Gay,” a piece by Paul Aguirre-Livingston that chronicles the life of the “post-mo,” a variant strain of gay male who is no longer shackled by the oppression of previous generations of queers and free to live as he pleases in Toronto.
Aguirre-Livingston suggests that post-mos find old queer norms irrelevant, having been raised on a diet of “you go, girl” power, equalized by social progress such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, and unrestrained by the freedom of information—and cruising potential—found on the internet. Certainly, there’s no argument that being accepted as queer in more places than the Village is good news—in fact, it’s even better news that queers feel comfortable enough to accept themselves across Toronto—but it’s troublesome to see that Aguirre-Livingston throws the baby out with the bathwater, by rejecting the Village wholesale .
Yes, there are valid criticisms to be made for the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood: the area often feels like a queer take on the Entertainment District with ridiculous pressures to dress and act a certain way. However, the area remains a vital heart of the queer community. For example, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives—one of the largest collections of queer materials in the world—sits on Isabella Street, filled with decades of history. While the Village may not be the right place for an established urbanite like Aguirre-Livingston, it offers a safe and welcoming space for other, less privileged members of the queer community.
The outstanding 519 Community Centre acts as a second home for transgendered men and women, the young, and the newly out. Helen Rykens, the office manager at the 519, recalled to me stories of newcomers from other countries who have been to afraid to even utter the word “gay” before arriving. And let’s not fool ourselves that only people from abroad feel closeted and oppressed. We only need to look at Northern Ontario, where work is being done by organizations like LGBT Youthline, spreading outreach and support, to realize we’re in a lucky position in Toronto.
I look to how Toronto has multiple Chinatowns and that there isn’t a sense of turf wars between them. Berlin has half-a-dozen areas that cater to specific segments of the queer population. How young is Toronto when it can’t handle two queer-friendly neighbourhoods? It’s a perpetual mystery why, to some, progress in the queer community has to be coupled with a disdain for the past. While there can be some benefit to critiquing past norms—the drag queens, the camp, the bathhouses—and the rejection is a fair personal choice, the post-mo attitude smacks of “otherness” creation that whiffs of homo- and transphobia. Aguirre-Livingston is a friend and I am not suggesting that he is either homophobic or transphobic. His description of post-mos who fetishize heteronormative definitions of gender, however, certainly raises eyebrows.
Part of the difficulty is the nature of the queer community: it is a large umbrella that encapsulates many people who do not necessarily have anything in common, except for a societal hostility toward their sexuality. But, which demographic does Aguirre-Livingston’s piece speak to? It’s telling that there are no women interviewed in the piece, nor are there any transgendered men or women. In addition, the ethnic make-up of those surveyed is fairly homogeneous , rendering people of colour invisible. Maybe having grown up on fare like Will & Grace—a show that rarely had lesbians or people of colour, and, without a doubt, had few transgendered people—what looks like progress, what looks like post-dom, is really an illusion. It’s not that the queer community has launched ahead so much as the marginalized within the minority have fallen behind. It’s a shame, because the diversity of the community can and should be its greatest strength.
At the heart of the piece is the concept of identity. The rejection of past identities for marginalized groups isn’t new, and sadly the post-mos fit the bill. Sexuality, instead of complementing one’s identity, is reduced to being as unsubstantial as eye colour. In an ideal world, it would be great to not have sexuality be an issue, but here it feels like a case for exclusion. While members of the queer community still understand how sexual politics are woven into broader human rights, the post-mos can now justify not paying attention. Yet, in a funny way, post-mos give more weight to sex than they expect: if sexual identity wasn’t important, then why would post-mos base their newfound identity on running so far away from it?
In a bid for redefinition, sometimes one needs to detach from the foundation. However, there’s a coldness to the post-mo that is alarming. Sure, the post-mos didn’t have to watch their friends die left and right from HIV/AIDS (something Aguirre-Livingston acknowledges), but how can they seem unaffected by the stigma that still surrounds HIV status? Nothing prepared me for the heartbreaking stories I heard while at a fundraiser for people living with HIV/AIDS, when men and women told their stories of feeling outcast and, sometimes, suicidal. One man finally came out as HIV-positive after almost a decade of keeping it secret, and it was difficult to not be moved by his triumph.
The example lends credence to the idea that, while post-mos can detach from the cultural markers that defined previous generations of queers, what’s missing is a sense of the engagement with current issues. The fight for rights at home includes supporting transgendered people who still do not have full equal human rights in Canada. It means forcefully chiding a publicly funded Catholic school board that bans gay-straight alliances and recently reached new levels of stupidity with a ban on rainbows. Internationally, queer people are being persecuted and executed. In the hundreds of words describing the post-mos, it would’ve been nice to see a few that acknowledged the struggles of others. Instead, we hear about their bland worries concerning the dangers of privilege.
Aguirre-Livingston closes by noting that he didn’t fight “the good fight” and acknowledges post-mos are a lucky bunch. In a weird way, the post-mo perspective is a side effect of the progressive movement: fighting for the right to be equal means allowing people to live as they please. Yet, with an increasingly conservative (both little- and big-C) government washing over the country, what will these post-mos do when the going gets tough? Liberation for post-mos sounds suspiciously like sitting on one’s laurels.