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I was at a party a while ago which was exclusively populated, more or less intentionally, by queer women and non-binary folks. Like gay men have their bars, but where are the lesbians? There are no lesbian bars in Montreal. There certainly have been — Julia A. Lesbian Speed Dating. What is our social history? What kind of social spaces do we want and need right now?

Drawing from interviews, articles, and a thick stack of comments on a post I made in a queer facebook group, I make the following calls to lesbian action: There is a certain strand of lesbian culture that flourished in the ss which was, and continues to be, mostly white, cis-normative and sometimes blatantly transphobic, and which therefore left many queer women and trans and non-binary people out of its communities and political movements.

As a result of this, and other changes in queer politics and theory, there has been a move away from the term in the past few decades, towards an embrace of queer identity as a whole. However, there seems to be a recent reclamation of lesbian identity that remembers the good and ditches the bad, considering and welcoming difference and fluidity within itself while maintaining some meaningful distinction from a broader category of queerness.

In light of the transphobic views on the word lesbian that exist, I would like to state clearly that trans women are women, and that when I use the word woman throughout this article I am referring to trans women as well as cisgender women. Lesbian is a self-claimed identity which can be claimed along with a variety of others, and many people choose not to use it.

To position my sexuality as the author, briefly — I am a queer woman who also identifies often as butch, bi, and lesbian. Lesbianism is explained and felt differently by different lesbians — who might also identify as queer, bisexual, trans, non-binary, two-spirit, genderfluid, asexual, etc. Or Audre Lorde? Or Gays and Lesbians support the Miners? Or Act UP? Or Julia Serano?

Monique Wittig? Or the countless marginalized women organizing everyday for our lives? It can be powerful if we allow it to be: Lesbianism invokes diverse histories, practices, and desires. It might seem strange to focus on bars as a site of lesbian identity formation and community building, especially considering that there are literally none in the city right now.

However, looking back at the lesbian history of Montreal, it is clear that bars have been a critical component of lesbian culture for decades, intimately linked with the political, personal, and social projects of lesbians in all their transformations through history. Podmore argues that while bars have been a controversial site of lesbian identity formation, they are anchors around which lesbian communities form.

Conversations I had with folks about the current lesbian landscape confirm this idea: We also need places to make out, hook up, and dance the ways we want to. I hope this small historical review can give a bit of background to what lesbian space is, has been and could be in the future. A discussion of racial dynamics and the experiences of trans women are noticeably absent in the research I did on the history of lesbian space in Montreal, and I do not have the personal experience to speak to these realities.

This is also part of the systemic whitewashing and trans erasure within queer and lesbian discourse and history in Quebec and Canada. This erasure does not mean that those histories do not exist. I intend to pursue further research in these areas, and apologize for their absence here. In the s, the heart of lesbian social life in Montreal were the bars, pool halls, and cabarets of the Red Light District. These spaces, such as the cabaret Ponts de Paris, were mixed — mainly heterosexual spaces which mainly francophone, working class lesbians appropriated for their own use.

Lesbians would claim sections of the space for themselves, either according to venue policies or wherever they could find it. They were often rough, harmful spaces for lesbians, who were under threat of voyeurism and violence from both police and heterosexual men. Still, they were the first spaces of lesbian social visibility, and a critical space of empowerment and collective identity building for working class lesbians.

While she does not mention racism towards her in these spaces, the absence of women of colour suggests that racism limited access to lesbian spaces, and points to the whiteness of lesbian bar culture at this time. In , homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada and in the late s, BabyFace Disco, the first lesbians-only bar, opened in what is now the Simone de Beauvoir institute of Concordia University. Chamberland describes lesbian bars of this era as being unofficially segregated by class. In Quebec at the time, this also meant segregation by language, with anglophones dominating the upper class.

Despite these differences, the increase in social space available to lesbians of all backgrounds meant that lesbians could now begin to cross these divides. This facilitated greater political engagement, as lesbians united to boycott lesbian bar Chez Madame Arthur to protest harassment by bar staff in , and to protest the police raid of nearby Chez Jilly in This group was active in the boycott of Chez Madame Arthur.

Mixed gay and lesbian clubs also started opening during the s. I am not sure of the level of inclusion for trans lesbians in women-only bars at this time, which demonstrates the importance of these early mixed queer spaces. These bars were women-owned, women-only, and closely linked with the second-wave lesbian feminism that was gaining popularity at the time. One tactic in protecting lesbian space was a high level of gender segregation, though I am not certain to what extent this resulted in trans exclusion and gender essentialism.

Podmore argues that this conscious development of a lesbian neighbourhood enabled a lesbian culture to thrive throughout the decade. There were lesbian magazines for sale in local grocery stores, and multiple bars within walking distance. The nineties again marked a period of great change for lesbians and queers in Montreal. Of particular significance was the Sex Garage raid of One in a series of mixed queer parties — which were still rare at this point — the Sex Garage party was raided by police, who then beat and arrested many partygoers.

In response, queers performed a sit-in in front of Beaudry metro station, and later a kiss-in in front of police station The kiss-in was intended to pressure police into discussing police brutality and dropping charges, but resulted in even greater brutality. The events united and politicized the queer community in the city.

At the same time, the geography of queer territory was shifting in Montreal. Gay bars, pushed out of the downtown core, started settling into what is now the Gay Village. This area developed as the site of growing queer consciousness, commerce, and political organizing, and as the Plateau began to rapidly gentrify, lesbian bars started closing on St. Denis and opening in the Village. An article in the first issue of LSTW magazine lists over a dozen which opened during this decade, many with truly excellent names such as Tabou, Klytz, and G-Spot.

Magnolia is remembered as one of the greats. However, most of these spaces were very short-lived, and the number declined steadily over time. Lesbian and mixed bars in the Village were more like nightclubs than sit-down spaces, encouraging a different kind of lesbian sociality. In , an article was published in the local queer Fugues magazine with a very similar question as the one this article poses — where have all the lesbian bars gone?

The Village continued to represent a primarily gay male space, with Mile End increasingly becoming a queer residential and social space. That being said, the Village was home to le Drugstore, a vital lesbian party spot until Royal Phoenix, open from , was located in the Mile End and was a beloved queer bar despite its short lifespan. Along with the history sketched above, there are two big trends over the past 20 years that have had an effect on the current lesbian social landscape: I recently had the opportunity to interview Florence Gagnon, the founder of Lez Spread the Word LSTW , a Montreal-based collective which produces and promotes lesbian culture and events across the country.

Gagnon was inspired to start LSTW in , upon realizing that most of the lesbian culture she consumed was coming from the States. While there were a number of parties at the time, there was no lesbian media production or popular cultural icons from Quebec. After a few successful years of online community building, they noticed that the party scene was beginning to run thin. LSTW decided to try to fill the gap, and started their Ou sont les femmes? Regarding its unofficial queer status, Tasha explained that it comes down to the priorities and attitudes of the staff.

Colas spent years attending queer dance parties and organizing after-hours parties not queer but queer-inclusive before realizing that half the people present were straight, and no one was getting to know each other outside of aggressive sexual encounters. While these parties can be a good time, she wanted to foster a space for queers that was a little bit different. I asked if there were any events she knew of that were specifically for lesbian people of colour, and while she raved about the Vogue Balls, Cousins parties, and other queer events which celebrate and center queer people of colour, neither she nor any other interviewees knew of any geared toward lesbians.

In the meantime, LSD is wildly successful as a place to both find dates and make new friendships. Most of the queer and lesbian event series listed in this article were or are organized by individuals or by small, informal collectives. And Montreal is always a bit of a hustle if you want to survive. Eventually my other hustles took more and more time and the parties had to take a back seat.

Finding space for these events is another obstacle. Every organizer I spoke to emphasized that in creating a lesbian social space, prioritizing the safety of their guests is critical. Ensuring the right to control access to the space often requires renting out the venue, and of course, this costs money. As a result, some lesbian events have cover fees for entry; the cover for LSTW events has been noted as a major barrier to access.

Like, people should pay us to come to their parties. So gentrification pushed lesbian bars out of the Plateau and into the Village, and then gentrification pushed them out of the Village, and continues to limit their existence. Podmore spoke to me about some of the common explanations for this. So, while queer culture becomes more accepted in the mainstream, the effects of gentrification still negatively impact queer women and non-binary people more than men, as they continue to struggle against patriarchal labour inequalities.

There are many stereotypes about the domesticity of lesbians, yet as made clear by the experiences of organisers, it is evident that lesbians do have a different relationship to public spaces than gay men. Perhaps women and non-binary folks have been socialised not to see the public as inherently theirs, as it is so often an unsafe space for them, irrespective of their sexuality.

In thinking about lesbian spaces it is worth considering the ways in which different spaces are set up to meet different goals. The lines between wanting to build community and wanting a place to express lesbian sexuality seem blurred. Can we not have it all? Part of the stereotype about the domesticity of lesbians is the idea that they are less likely to pursue casual encounters in an intentional and recurring manner, yet many of the lesbians I spoke to for this piece expressed frustration over the lack of a lesbian bathhouse or cruising space.

Within gay male culture the practice of cruising, i. Bathhouses have long existed as spaces for gay men to have casual encounters, yet how to arrange the same for lesbians?

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The Moment: Paris Fashion Week often resembles designer speed dating, what with all the dashing between catwalks, showroom appointments, coffees, and cocktails over nine days. It really looked that way on Wednesday night when 30 up-and-coming designers from around the world were installed in closet-sized booths within an LVMH building on Avenue Montaigne. He was very chill. The finalists will be named next week. Meanwhile, the shows are off to a rousing start, with a strong influence of the s appearing in the fall collections, most vividly in the Op-Art patterns that hypnotized at Dries Van Noten.

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I was at a party a while ago which was exclusively populated, more or less intentionally, by queer women and non-binary folks. Like gay men have their bars, but where are the lesbians? There are no lesbian bars in Montreal. There certainly have been — Julia A. Lesbian Speed Dating. What is our social history? What kind of social spaces do we want and need right now?

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