Archive | October 2016

Where are the Toronto lesbians?

 Mar 23, 2016

How do women who love women meet in 2016? We found the answer

When Slack’s on Church Street closed its doors back in 2013, we said farewell to the last queer, women-dominant space in Toronto.

And no, you can’t cite Remington’s Ladies Night as a comparable substitute.

As someone who lives in what my best friend calls “the buckle of the fruit belt,” I immediately noticed a marked reduction in the number of women I’d see in the Village. There were fewer females on the street during the daytime hours, and weekend evenings were now strangely silent, bereft of the drunken lesbian break-ups that would frequently take place mere feet from our bedroom window.

While I don’t miss being woken at 2am with stentorian cries of “motherfucker,” I do feel a real absence of the vibrant, sexy and strong gals whose presence gives so much to any neighbourhood, queer or otherwise. So where did they all go? Where are lesbian and bisexual women hanging out these days?

Denise Benson — a legendary  DJ in the Toronto music scene — has been hosting numerous women’s dance nights around the city since the late 1980s. From her famous Dyke Night at places like The Caribou and the Boom Boom Room, to her red-hot monthly Cherry Bomb at The Round in Kensington Market, Benson is an integral figure in the scene for the city’s gay and bi women.

“When I first moved to Toronto, there were more options,” Benson says. “There was Felines and The Chez and The Rose, so there’s definitely a gap now. As the scene has changed it’s become more monthlies and one-offs.

“There may not be a dedicated women’s bar, but there are small spaces that allow you to do niche nights for the music you love. There’s no shortage out there, you just have to look.”

Benson also points to the radical changes in Church Street demographics as property values and condo development continue their skyward climb away from the average queer’s reach. “People like to socialize where they live,” she says. “But we live all over the city now.”

With Cherry Bomb entering its eighth year of monthly hijinks, Benson and co-pilot DJ Cozmic Cat have been introducing even more social elements to the night to create a space where people can have actual conversations before things heat up.

“Both of us really work to put a focus on the fact that it’s a queer women’s night that is truly exclusive,” she says. “In January we started having games set up on the tables. There’s cards, Uno, checkers, dominos and even Twister on the dance floor.

“We set it up early evening from about 10 o’clock until it’s too crazy on the dance floor. That way they can come in with their groups of friends earlier in the evening, hang out, and then stay for the dancing.”

So it’s clear there are still lots of places to get hot and sweaty with your besties on the dancefloor, but what about gals looking for Ms Right? Is a monthly women’s dance the only game in town? Absolutely not, says Ashley Magalas, organizer of Girls’ Night Speed Dating for lesbian and bi women in Toronto.

“The good thing about these events is that you don’t know in a club who’s actually single,” Magalas points out. “We’ve really geared it towards singles looking to date long term. They’re not looking for a quick fling or a one night stand.”

When Magalas started out, the events she organized were largely targeted at straight folk. But with a more crowded hetero playing field, and a dearth of options for lesbian and bi singles craving attachment, she quickly switched gears.

“It can be really hard for women looking to meet other women,” she says. “Slacks has been closed for the past couple of years, so the two main regular places in the village are Crews and Tangos.

“The only problem with that is that they’re very lively. It’s packed and it’s hard to meet people who are down to earth and get to know them.”

Magalas runs her speed dating events twice a month, generally on weeknights to provide flexibility for women who can’t make it out on the weekend. Attendance has been high, and Magalas has been particularly gratified with the positive response to her event’s inclusive and relaxed tone.

“My intention is to make it as stress-free and as fun as possible,” she says. “Women will actually leave together in groups even though the event is over, and hang out with people they’ve met from the group. I tell people it’s a good way to also make friends and do some networking in the community. Even if you don’t have any romantic matches, you may discover some good friends.”

As a performer, promoter and former club owner, Maggie Cassella knows the Toronto scene inside and out. And for those of us wringing our hands at the seeming paucity of double-X chromosomes on Church Street, she offers little sympathy but much-needed perspective.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” she says with a laugh. “Honestly, I feel like I’ve had this conversation for years. Look, it’s 2016 and there are enclaves everywhere now. I live in Scarborough for Christ’s sake. The scene is happening still, but it’s just happening differently.

“There’s individual girl parties and those dating parties, and meet-up groups are a huge thing. It’s more of a like-minded thing now, like groups for adventurous dykes, or for sports, or maybe you just want to go out to dinner and hang out.”

Cassella feels social media plays a larger role in organizing events these days, and has embraced the medium in promoting her own gigs as well as her monthly cabaret series at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. As far as a bar for lesbian and bisexual women in the Village, well, things don’t look quite as rosy.

“Who cares about Church Street,” she asks. “If it’s a good club, we’ll go anywhere. I wouldn’t even think of opening a club in the Village when there are so many other areas. There’s a huge number of lesbians in Riverdale and Leslieville. Also, women aren’t men. For some reason the boy circuit party lives on, but women don’t go out as much as guys do like that.”

So there you have it. Rest assured there is still plenty to do in the city for an enterprising lesbian or bisexual woman. And for those of us on the outside looking in, it might be a good idea to relax a little and have faith that our larger community is evolving in how it interacts along with the rest of the world.

“Here’s the point,” says Cassella. “Just like how you listen to music has changed and how you catch a cab has changed, the way people socialize has changed too. It’s just natural.”



“I’m Straight but I Fantasize About Lesbian Sex. Is That Normal?”

AUGUST 14, 2016

Hey Emily!
I’m a 20-year-old girl from England. As far as I know, I’m completely straight and in love with my long-term boyfriend. (OK, there was one time that I hooked up with a girl, but I decided it’s just not for me.)
Here’s the thing: When I masturbate (and even sometimes when my boyfriend is going down on me), I think about girls having sex with girls. Mainly, I imagine situations where a girl is having lesbian sex for the first time. Am I normal?! Am I even straight? There are absolutely no issues with my boyfriend and I really don’t think I’m gay. Am I maybe bisexual? Am I alone?
Bi-Curious Britney in Britain

Dear Britney,

I am so glad you wrote me, Britney. These are the types of questions that come up for a LOT of people, but they’re usually too embarrassed to talk about it. They worry that maybe they’re confused or in denial about their sexuality. But here’s the truth: Not only are you not alone, you are actually in great company.

It is “normal” (even though I dislike that word, especially when it comes to sex), healthy, and extremely common for women to fantasize about other women during masturbation and during sex—even when they’re with their boyfriend or husband! And just because you imagine two (or more) ladies getting down doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to be with women. Hey, you’ve actually already tried it, so you know this.

Here’s what it does mean: You have a healthy and active imagination and you know what turns you on. Good for you.

I think it’s really helpful to think about sexuality as a spectrum, rather than a fixed state. The well known sexologist Alfred Kinsey and a team of colleagues even created a scale to classify varying degrees of hetero and homosexuality. This chart rates sexual thought and behavior somewhere between zero and six, with zero being “exclusively hetero” and six being “exclusively homosexual.” So someone who would rate themselves a “three” on the Kinsey Scale would more or less be considered bisexual, because they prefer both men and women equally.

Women naturally tend to fluctuate on the spectrum, with the majority not 100 percent straight. So we are all what I like to call “fluid,” depending on where we are on any given day or based on our personal experiences and fluctuating desire.

In fact, women are actually turned on by a much wider range of sexual imagery than you might think. We usually think of men as the ones who escape into sexual fantasy and visuals, but actually, we women have a pretty solid and adventurous mental “library.” So for whatever reason, when most women retreat into that secret sexual lair in our brains, there’s some hot girl on girl action going on. Whatever “normal” is, it isn’t 100 percent straight!

I also want to remind you that everyone has all kinds of fantasies. Just because an idea or scenario helps keep the fires burning in the heat of the moment doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to play them out IRL.

I think the short answer to your question is this: you, like most women, might have an attraction to other women and find them sexy, but it doesn’t mean you have to leave your boyfriend or worry about coming out of the closet.

So when it comes to defining your own sexuality, try not to get too wrapped up in labels. Since sexuality is fluid, let’s all just go with the flow!



Can I Be a Lesbian and Date a Trans Man?

Pega Ren 06/15/2015

As a sex therapist in private practice, I’m asked all sorts of interesting questions on a regular basis. The following touched on sensitive and important issues deserving of being shared with others. Here’s the question. Do you agree with my answer?

I’m a politically active high femme lesbian. About ten years ago, I met an attractive Butch when we shared both political and social interests. We became friendly, and even sparked, but didn’t act on it.
Fast forward to the present. After years of living in different cities, we met again at a dance. Surprise! She’s transitioned to male. The chemistry is still there, and we’re both available, but now it all seems confusing. He’s asked me out, and his intentions are clear: to act on our long-standing mutual attraction.
I’m torn. I glory in being visible on the arm of a Butch woman…otherwise society reads me as straight. And my work is LGBT sensitive (as is his). My identity as a lesbian is clear.

Still, I know and like this person. We have good history, shared values, similar interests. This could be a wonderful opportunity.

Can I be seen as a lesbian and date this man? How do I maintain my identity when together we read as a straight couple?

Can you be seen as a lesbian? Nothing will change except when you are with your new lover. As a couple, you will probably be read by strangers as straight, just as you are now when alone. Outsiders will not recognize you.

You both work in queer-related jobs, and likely both have diverse circles of friends. Stay connected with your (now expanded) social network. You’ll find support there from those who matter.

You may encounter resistance even within your tribe, as identities and loyalties are sensitive to change. Some will resist the intersectionality of gender and sexual expression. However, you will come to understand difference and acceptance on a whole new level. When you analyze it, can you think of anything more transgressive than dating this man? It’s coming out multiplied!

And, don’t forget, you’ll now get to discover this person with whom you’ve shared a long term attraction, and to learn him as his authentic self!

Granted, you will be doing a lot of explaining. Even well-intentioned people will ask completely personal and inappropriate questions. You will need to be visible and vocal in entirely new ways. Dating a trans man will stretch you, challenge you to examine how you feel about the rainbow of diversity that encompasses being different sexually and socially.

As your sense of sex and gender adjusts, you may need to adapt your language. “Queer” may fit better now than “lesbian.” There’s not one right answer, nor hurry to choose personally-appropriate labels. You can get yourself T-shirts that proudly proclaim you a “Lesbian with an asterisk,” “Passing for straight,” or “Queer Femme,” and wear them while on your new man’s arm as well as when you are solo. Watch the world react, and monitor your own responses. A little discomfort is the price for challenging convention.

Make no mistake: you will be changed forever. Your sexuality will be recognized and responded to differently. Though your suitor is no more straight than you are, you’ll both be granted heterosexual privilege, even when you don’t want it. You will be in daring new territory and, as you develop your expanded identity, you’ll become more comfortable with your own way.

If you choose to date this old friend and comrade, do so because he is a trans man, not despite it. He has lived within your camp, is fluent in your language, and appreciates feminism (and feminine!) in a truly unique way. And, wow, does he ever get the Butch/femme dance!

Aim to match his bravery and authenticity with your own. The results may be spectacular! After all, the only time you run out of chances is when you quit taking them.



Miss Missouri competes as Miss America’s first openly lesbian contestant

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — After competing in pageants for generations in the closet or working behind the scenes, gays and lesbians finally get to see one of their own take one of pageantry’s biggest stages.

Miss Missouri, Erin O’Flaherty, will compete for the Miss America crown this weekend as the first openly lesbian contestant.

“Behind the scenes, we’ve been well-represented, but I’m the first openly gay title holder, so I’m very excited,” she told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I knew going in that I had the opportunity to make history. Now I get to be more visible to the community and meet more people.”

Rich Helfant, executive director of the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance, helps run the Miss’d America pageant, a drag spoof of the Miss America pageant that has become popular in Atlantic City as an entertainment and fundraising event. He said he’ll watch the Miss America pageant finals Sept. 11 with extra interest this year.

Miss’d America took its name from the fact that many gay pageant workers toiled behind the scenes during Miss America and never got to see what was happening onstage.

“They literally missed Miss America,” Helfant said.

Robert Hitchen of Philadelphia appears regularly in the Miss’d America pageant under the stage name Sandy Beach and recalled decades of behind-the-scenes work on pageants, including designing floats, and later riding on them in Miss America parades.

The “Show Us Your Shoes” parade that has become a fixture of Miss America, in which contestants ride in vehicles on the Boardwalk and show off their state-themed footwear, sprang from the interest of gay spectators, he said.

“We would watch the parade from the deck of a hotel and we’d look down into the cars and see some of the women wearing slippers or being barefoot, and we started calling out, ‘Show us your shoes!’” he recalled. “We sort of embarrassed them into wearing these big elaborate shoes, which are the highlight of the parade now.”

Antwan Lee, who won the Miss Gay America 2016 pageant under the stage name Asia O’Hara, would excitedly watch Miss America every year as a child and a young man, imagining what it would be like onstage.

“I would always gravitate toward celebrities and singers and actresses that had a high level of glam: beautiful, poised people who would live their life with a high degree of dignity,” he said. “To see that on TV with 50 women, as a young gay boy, that’s the first place you see such a concentration of that. I was like, ‘Wow, look at all those beautiful women, all the class, all the glamor!’ It’s very alluring.”

Lesbians have been more visible in pageants lately. Djuan Trent competed in the Miss America pageant as Miss Kentucky in 2011, when she finished in the top 10. She came out as a lesbian in 2014.

Patricia Yurena, two-time winner of the Miss Spain contest and a runner up in the 2013 Miss Universe competition, announced in 2014 that she is a lesbian, posting a photo of her and her girlfriend cuddling, titling it “Romeo and Juliet.”

In 2012, two openly lesbian contestants, Jenelle Hutcherson and Mollie Thomas, competed in the Miss California USA pageant but did not advance to the national Miss USA pageant competition.

O’Flaherty is the first Miss America contestant to win a state title after coming out; Trent came out after competing.

Hitchen said the social activism of many Miss America contestants resonates with the gay community; the Miss’d America drag queen parody pageant raises $300,000 a year for local and national charities and has become the top social event of the year in Atlantic City’s gay community.

Josh Randle, chief operating officer of the Miss America Organization, said the pageant reflects an evolving America.

“Through every major milestone of our nation’s evolution, Miss America has provided a voice for women from all walks of life, and, this year, we welcome our first openly gay contestant,” he said. “Miss America contestants continue to be the best and brightest in the country, and we proudly support each and every young woman who competes in our national program.”