Having recently moved to Montreal to study for the next six months, I didn’t have much of a background on its queer scene, except a vague notion that it is fairly LBGTQI+ friendly. In fact I managed to arrive just as Montreal Pride (or Fierté Montréal) was starting— a ten day celebration throughout the city. Despite the event’s increasing commercialisation, which has prompted various alternatives (such as the more underground ‘Pervers/Cité’), the occasion of Pride still seems like an apt time to delve deeper into the place of queer culture in Montreal today.
What I was especially interested in, when looking to people to interview for this article, was how the queer community of Montreal manifests itself through space— i.e. safe spaces, the place of nightlife, or of particular ‘queer’ areas. It’s pretty fortuitous then that I managed to meet the wonderful Jessica Simps on my first night in Montreal. Simps is an amazing queer femme activist/director/artist, who is also lovely and let me interview her at a bar, even as I was falling asleep from jetlag. This woman is very busy and very capable. She started the political sex work movement Votes4nudes in 2015 for the Canadian federal election and Tramps Against Trump in the 2016 US election. She also runs Girl’s Club with the help of ‘brilliant meme queen Goth Shakira and creative genius Maiko Rodrig‘.
“Girl’s Club” is a queer community platform (which you should definitely look up) which ‘highlights QTPOC artists online”, and has created a tee-shirt brand as “a visual sign of solidarity for anyone who works to dismantle the boring boys club mentality’. From speaking to Simps, it seems that Girls Club got pretty big in Montreal (which seems legit, considering they have 11k followers on Instagram). Asking Simps for her reasons behind its founding, she explained that when she arrived in Montreal three years ago, as a femme queer, she found the queer scene to be incredibly homogenous and exclusive to those who did not fit this homogeneity, and that Girl’s Club started as ‘a need for an identifier, a need to feel seen’, as well as a way of diversifying the scene itself.
Girl’s Club then, is obviously an organization which works within the guidelines of ‘safe(r) spaces’. The creation of safer spaces ties in which notions of activism. They aims to create ‘supportive, non-threatening environments that encourage open-mindedness, respect, a willingness to learn from others, as well as physical and mental safety’. On a theoretical level, it is ‘a space that is critical of the power structures that affect our everyday lives, and where power dynamics, backgrounds, and the effects of our behaviour on others are prioritized’.
Simps acknowledged that ‘safer spaces is definitely a hot topic, as it should be’, but also that they are becoming more prominent. Montreal-based project PLURI for example promotes safer spaces in a music/nightlife context, as well as running various panels and community engagement programs around the concept of safer spaces, providing protocols for promoters and club owners to ‘reduce the instances of marginalization and harassment in their spaces’ and more. Simps actually contributed PLURI’s Zero Tolerance poster, which acts ‘as a tool to mark clear boundaries of what’s acceptable in a space’. As she notes dryly; ‘it’s easier for a venus to tell someone to fuck off it they have a cute list of rules clearly posted’.
Simps is also currently working on Body Politic a queer porn project made by queer femmes, born between Montreal and New York co founded with ‘erotica goddess’ Allie Oops! The project stemmed from her work in the Votes4nudes initiative – where a group of activists offered to send personal nudes to anyone who voted in the 2015 Canadian election – in an effort to engage the youth vote against conservative candidate Stephen HArper. Simps noted that the (somewhat satirical) movement was a way of ‘taking action and using our bodies as a resource’. It was through this action that Simps met Allie Oops. As she tells it, they ‘got to talking about how sex work fuels so much of our economies but how so little of those earnings are funnelled back to the sex workers themselves’, leading them to start up an independent queer porn project; Body Politic. Body Politic aims to ‘create hot queer porn that is well made by hot queers, paying everyone fairly in our all queer and femme production team’. Pretty cool! And popular too, apparently- Simps explained its success in saying that ‘people have be starved for good accessible porn’, and ’as soon as people caught wind that we were making queer porn in the city, everyone wanted a piece of it’. It does however (perhaps unfortunately) have to be ‘marketable to all audience’ (i.e. white cis straight men have to like it too) as ‘that’s where the money is’. Simps explains ‘we can’t revolutionize the industry in a day and make the most niche queer porn that we could dream of, so we have to work within the hetero market values, so us queers get paid.’
From speaking to Simps, it seems that in a similar way to Sydney or Canberra, much of Montreal’s queer scene is based around the notion of safe(r) spaces, especially within a nightlife setting. The concept of ‘PLUR’ (‘Peace Love Unity Respect’), is also a popular method of promoting a safe space on the dance floor – originally stemming from 90’s rave culture. However the same issues that exist in MTL basically also seem to exist here – the need to compromise within the queer scene in order to work with the more ‘powerful’ hetero world, the homogeneity of the queer community (i.e. ‘the gaytriachy’), the push to be ‘gay enough’, and so on. It seems that through community organizations, and the work of activists — space can be created for marginalized and queer voices— albeit through inclusive porn, spaces or protocols (such as PLURI’s cool ‘Zero Tolerance’ poster pictured above). Though Canberra may be slightly less ‘radical’ than Montreal, I really think (and hope) it has the same foundations on which it could build a super vibrant and inclusive queer scene.
Video still by Jessica Simps with @tommy_topgunn and @cummanifesto, from upcoming queer trans porno (directed, shot and edited by Simps).
Jemimah Tarasov has written for Overland, SMH, Stir, Bossy & others. She is a current editor of Overpass (https://overpassmag.com/) and a previous editor of Demos Journal. She is especially interested in queer issues, pop-culture and (of course) feminism. She wishes she could write like Chris Kraus, Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas.