With a robust population of over 400,000, London, Ontario is spotted with swimming pools, labradoodles, and Winners/Shoppers/Tim Hortons clusters every two kilometers. While I had no illusions about an underground queer scene here, I didn’t expect to feel these feelings. Where are you, gays? Where are you walking your schnoodles and bassetdoodles? I’m just a Vancouver femme waiting for someone to wink at me. Waiting for someone to say without saying: I see you.
I’ve been here seven weeks and I have not encountered a single queer person. I wear plaid shirts with the sleeves cut off and hang out at horse barns. I drive with the windows down blasting Maxine Ashley and Marzz sprinkled with Tracy Chapman and KD Lang. I go to thrift stores and loiter by the beer fridge in Superstore (bless) looking for hazy IPAs with rainbows and unicorns on them. I am swimming in some seriously over-cooked, heterosexual porridge.
I wish I could say this has been the first time I’ve suddenly found myself in an environment devoid of queer people, but that is not the case. I’m studying at the University of British Columbia; in our class of 60, there are 57 pairs of Blundstones and one self-proclaimed homo (hi). Like at UBC, this southwestern Canadian suburbia reminds of the immense fatigue that creeps in when you find yourself in a place without queers: a place where you have to “come out” over and over again.
Disclosure is private, intimate, and requires vulnerability. It’s an emotional labor that sometimes subjects you to awkward acceptance if you’re lucky, and judgment and discrimination if you’re not. We look desperately for signs, signals, and pithy enamel pins. We listen carefully for lilting speech, pronouns, and politics. Not every girl at the horse barn is a horsey girl. Not everyone who watches Queer Eye or Drag Race is an ally. It can be an exhausting exercise.
I suspect that’s why gay bars and Pride parades swing so far in the other direction, screaming: I SEE YOU AND I AM TOO, LET’S DANCE BECAUSE BEYONCE. At the parade, this unbridled freedom manifests itself in a cocktail of too much sweat and little clothing. Feather boas exploding onto hot concrete. Glitter and sequins and Cher. It tastes like perfect freedom, acceptance, and love. It’s the equivalent to ripping off your clothes and running into a cool lake at nighttime with all your nearest and dearest sloshing in beside you. Not hiding behind anything. Not guarding your piles of clothes on the beach. Not starting every interaction with a silent calculation of whether you are or whether you’re not.
There is no gay village here in London, Ontario. There is one gay bar that is open Friday and Saturday nights only. Despite this, queers have a way of finding each other. Like sexy rainbow magnets. When I was a teenager in Chilliwack, B.C., all of my friends were creative, magical weirdos. Within the next five years, we’d all be out and running around Davie Street. We knew each other before we knew ourselves. How did we find each other? An internal homo-ing device?
Last week I found a copy of a queer Muslim memoir at the Goodwill Boutique and bought it. I spotted a trans flag on Wortley Street. I found secret gays in Disney Jungle Cruises and explicit gays in superhero flicks. I can happily report that the admins of Forest City Queerios have added me to their Facebook group. I’m openly rejoicing in all forms of queerness. The smallest glimmer gives me hope that there are gays thriving in London—even from Sunday to Thursdays, when the bar isn’t open.
So where are all the gays? As Samra Habib acknowledges with the name of their memoir: we have always been here. Even if we’re not dancing on floats or riding motorcycles topless down Davie, we’re here. And without maybe even knowing it, we emit our big gay energy into the universe. This energy speaks for itself.
Whether we are queer Muslims or gay suburbans, some folks living in some places may not have the luxury of broadcasting their big gay energy. But like all forms of energy, big gay energy cannot be destroyed. So rather than lament the apparent absence of queers in this new space, my job is to channel my own BGE as a queer femme with micro-bangs and leopard-print flats. Because even if London, Ontario isn’t ready for you yet, I am. And hi: I see you.