Yesterday, an acquaintance of mine interviewed me for a radio demo she’s preparing to submit to a few programs. The topic: “Which city is sexier, Toronto or Montreal?”
It’s an interesting question, and particularly timely these days for me. This coming January, I’ll be making the big move from Montreal to Toronto. Yep… after twenty years living in Montreal, I’m off to seek my fortune in the wild urban landscape of a new, bigger and (gulp) more expensive city. There are all kinds of things drawing me to Toronto; the queer intellectual culture there has a lot to offer, including a grad school I want to attend and a burgeoning queer literary scene in both the academic and popular arenas. Not to mention, the place draws a fantastic array of speakers and film screenings, and they’ve got at least four queer bookstores and a vibrant kink scene. Plus, I end up there at least six or seven times a year to teach already – these past couple of years, it’s begun to feel like a second home. (Doubtless the friends whose couches I’ve been crashing on can attest to that.)
Of course, as soon as I also mention the fact that I’ve also fallen head-over-U-Haul in love with someone there, and have several other wonderful sexy connections there too, everyone assumes those are the main reasons and they kinda forget about the rest. But I’ve been thinking about making this move since before any of that happened. I swear, it’s true.
But back to the original question: which city is sexier?
Well, Montreal has a certain warmth and pulse that I fell in love with almost two decades ago, and my love affair with her is nowhere near ending. Montreal manages to embody the historic charm of an old city stirred together with the slick hipness of an innovative business class and the grungy artsiness of a young and transient student population. Sprinkle in a low cost of living, perfume it with a distinct European flavour, and bake the entire dish in a rich crust of the city’s particular socio-linguistic multiculturalism, and you wind up with a dish that’s sweet, savoury and ever-surprising.
There are, of course, tons of swingers’ clubs, sleazy sex shops and strip joints here; in terms of straight sex, really you probably couldn’t ask for more, or find it less expensively. But for me, while the existence of a massive heterosexual sex culture is nice and all, it doesn’t get me all excited either below the belt or between the ears. I have a hard time rating the sexiness of a city on anything other than a queer scale. Luckily, in that sense Montreal is doing fine and dandy; people are as laid-back about queerness here as they are about everything else, and the queers themselves are a raucous and randy bunch with sex-positivity to spare and plenty of creative ideas about how to party.
That said, it’s also a little hard to rate a city’s sexiness without factoring in the whole question of “am I getting laid there,” and the answer to that question has been “not really” (or at least “not nearly enough for my taste”) for a while now. Apparently, the intellectually inclined poly kinky queer tranny boy/butch gal bottoms all live in Ontario and the States these days. Not that there were ever a ton of them here in the first place. Same goes for the intellectually inclined poly kinky queer femmey non-trans boy bottoms. What can I say; I have a type (or two). I’m not honour-bound to exclusively hit on folks who fit those particular profiles, but friends, I don’t choose these things; I follow my pink bits, and that’s where they take me pretty reliably. Every once in a while, my heart follows, and then things get really interesting. And these days, my pink bits and my heart are both keeping company with an amazing boi in a city across the provincial border. It’s just the rest of my life that’s about to follow suit.
Which leads me to consider the sexiness of Toronto.
Toronto has a bad reputation among Montrealers. “New York Lite,” it’s been called, and not in a nice way. Or to recount a joke that my charming brunch date told me this morning, “third prize, three weeks in Toronto.” To elaborate: there’s a radio station that’ s offering prizes; first prize is a week in Toronto, second is two weeks in Toronto, third is three weeks in Toronto. Ha, ha, ha.
I’m not sure why Montrealers have such a hate-on for the place, really. It’s bigger and louder and takes up a lot of space on the Canadian cultural scene, sure; and why bother hating Vancouver when it’s so far away and Toronto’s right around the corner. Of course, there is definitely something to be said for the generalized navel-gazingness of the place. Not that this is reflected in everyone’s individual attitudes, but there is definitely a feel there that the city itself takes for granted it’s the centre of the universe, and that can be a little irritating. But from there to denigrating Toronto as though it were a massive gathering of complete losers clattering around in a culturally void collection of concrete buildings is going a little far, in my humble opinion.
I think in the past it may have been true that Toronto’s queer culture was a little on the drab side. But over the course of regular visits, I gotta say, I’ve been seeing a growing cultural presence and vibrancy that makes me feel a lot more at home there than I’d ever have thought. One might also argue that the people in Toronto are excessively focused on money and status; true, I suppose, depending on who you hang out with. And yet, there’s a flip side to that – Toronto is a city full of ambitious people with big dreams who are willing to find the resources to make them come true. That attitude may get applied to people’s personal wealth, but it also applies to things like cultural organizing and creative work. It’s easy to champion Montreal as being a city of artsy grassroots work, but the truth is that a lot of queer groups and cultural endeavours here struggle and fold because they never find the resources to get firmly started up in the first place. Organizers burn out, support wanes, and everyone bitches about how nothing lasts in this town. So really there are simply different lenses through which each town can be seen – ambition can be read as superficiality as easily as underground cred can be read as frustrating transience. I’d personally rather take each city on its own terms and forego the pooh-poohing in either direction.
Besides, I like Hogtown. Despite my everlasting love for Montreal, I started seeing Toronto on the side a few years ago, and since then we’ve gotten pretty tight. I raved about it in June of 2006 in a post appropriately titled “Blasphemy and Sacrilege: I Love Toronto!“, when I realized that I’d gotten just an incredible dose of queer intellectual stimulation there. And as far as rating scales go, that’s a pretty strong criterion for me. Layer in the existence of a massive women/trans bathhouse, dyke parties where the gals tear off their tops at the drop of a hat, a brand-new world-first queer literary festival, a huge grassrootsy dyke march during Pride, and all the cool stuff I mentioned earlier in this post, and you’ve definitely got the makings of a major seduction. Then, bring on the sexy people… and hoo boy, I’m hooked. I have a distinct recollection of showing up at a Leslie Feinberg reading last year and looking around the room, and… I don’t think I’ve seen that much butch and transman eye candy outside my own fertile imagination, well, ever.
And then the getting laid question. Well. Um. Let’s just say the answer is a very enthusiastic and satisfied “yes.”
So does that mean I’m about to get sucked into the black hole of Toronto, never to emerge again?
Not bloody likely. Montreal rocks, and it rocks no less because I want to go pursue new experiences elsewhere. It’s still home to fantastic people, places and experiences. I’m greedy; I intend to spend a lot of time here even once my area code changes from a 514 to a 416 (or a 905, or a 647, since they seem to be multiplying them in T-dot). In a way it’s like breaking up with your ex, moving out, staying best friends and falling into bed together every once in a while. You can still fully enjoy all the good stuff even when your time as an item has come to an end. So just because I’ll be shacking up with an exciting new flame doesn’t mean I’m going to forget the joys of the one that’s been by my side for two decades. (Needless to say, it also doesn’t mean I’ll stop sleeping with San Francisco, admiring New York from afar, going to bed with Boston once in a while, vacationing with Victoria or Vancouver, or taking occasional comfort in Ottawa. For starters.)
So, Toronto or Montreal: which is sexier? Well, they’re both gorgeous places, in completely different ways. And the truth is, I’m a poly girl at heart, and I don’t want to choose.