The blues jam on Sunday afternoon at the Strath was running at a full-throated gallop when my friend Brian, glancing at the group gyrations on a crowded dance floor, leaned toward me.
“I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to get out there,” he confessed.
“Why not?” I asked, straining to be heard amid the din. “You got up and danced at Bart’s a few weeks ago.”
“Yeah, but …”
The “but” in this case was that Brian is a gay man. A married gay man. And, half a dozen years after same-sex marriage became legal across Canada, there remains a strong hesitancy for gay men, pledged or otherwise, to grab a male partner and trip the light fantastic in what is considered a “straight” venue.
I bring this to your attention today because we have arrived at the tail end of Victoria Pride Week, a 10-day, born-this-way jubilee during which the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community celebrates truth of self and, at the same time, ponders its advances. Many in the LGBT community will ask this question: how far have we come in society?
I prefer to ask the question in reverse. That is: how far has society come?
It’s a difficult poser to answer.
I mean, we have same-sex marriage. Terrific. And scarcely a day goes by when I don’t see two women walking hand-in-hand on the streets of Victoria. I see women dancing together. Snuggling together. Kissing. It’s almost as if being lesbian is as hip today as long hair and beads were on men in the 1960s. Again, that’s terrific.
But what of gay men, like my friend Brian? I know of at least one gay bashing last year, an ugly, unreported incident that resulted in thousands of dollars in dental work and invisible emotional scarring. Only once since moving here 11 years ago have I seen two men holding hands in public. That was in Bastion Square and they were tourists from Europe. The sight of two men showing affection toward one another under the judgmental eye of society is as rare as a virgin in the Playboy Mansion.
Should men desire to get cozy here, they must go to Paparazzi Nightclub, which is the flagship of the LGBT community and a safe haven for those who wish to openly express their true self.
That’s not to say the town is devoid of gay-friendly venues in the so-called straight society. Bartholomew’s is a prime example of a spot where patrons are treated fairly and squarely by staff and other customers regardless of their sexual orientation.
If, however, gays/lesbians truly want to let it all hang out (figuratively, not literally), they go to Paparazzi or the Ledge, which is where the girls generally gather. But those venues are out of sight. Paparazzi is 18 steps below street level, in the basement of the Carlton Plaza, and the Ledge is on the second level of the Bedford.
Has society not arrived at the point where gays congregate in comfort at a street level bar? With a patio?
And I wonder what society will tell its children on Sunday when the Pride Parade meanders through the streets of downtown Victoria. When the kids see adult men in gowns, feathers and makeup, and women kissing and cuddling, what answer do they get when they ask, “Why is that man wearing a dress?” Does society tell them the truth and say, “Some men like men, some women like women, some like both, some people were born male but are now female.” Or does society say, “The circus is in town, kids. Smile and wave to the bearded lady?”
That’s why I can’t say how far society has come.
I do, however, know this: Until the day when my friend Brian and his partner can dance during a blues jam without fear of scorn, ridicule and possibly being punched out in the men’s washroom, it hasn’t come far enough.
Patti Dawn Swansson is a former News reporter.