As of October 2012, I will have been Out as a Lesbian for about six years, and Out as having some type of interest in women for about eleven years. I hear a lot, these days, about how I should be thankful that the Gay (or GLBTQI) movement has come so far, and that things are so great here in Canada for being Lesbian – and to be fair, I will admit, that when you compare us to places like Russia, where they’re still passing laws that decree you can’t even talk about being Gay ; or areas of India where you can still be put to death for homosexuality, yeah, we’re clearly somewhat ahead in the race.
That having been said, however, I live in what I would very seriously define as the most Conservative capital city in the entirety of fucking Canada – and that’s Alberta included. Now, I’ve lived here for almost eleven years, and in a great many ways I’ve grown accustomed to that Conservatism, but for the most part it’s something that I have blatantly chosen to either disregard or very specifically act in polar opposite to. For example, I have walked the city for years with buttons pinned down the chest area of my bookbag strap which fairly obviously describe my sexuality, I used to have a tank top I’d wear in the Summer that said “Tickle Me Lesbo,” and I generally Out myself in a conversation with someone I’ve just met in less than ten minutes.
I’ve had countless conversations with people over the years about how being a Femme Lesbian puts me in a situation where day-to-day life is about constantly Outing myself and reasserting my stance in juxtaposition to my sexuality. I am by no means conceited, and when men flirt in my direction I very often miss it, as men very rarely register on my radar, but very often I am met with suspicion on all fronts (hetero men and women, professional, personal and my own subculture), until I state my sexuality for all to hear so they can begin building the boundaries they feel are necessary to make themselves comfortable.
It’s true that you can “be Gay” in Fredericton. Nobody is going to chase you down the street and attack you (certainly not in the light of day, anyway – and it’s been years since I’ve heard of attacks downtown in the bar district), nobody stands around protesting with signs, nor are people very publicly verbal about slurs or comments. But you don’t have to scratch very far below that surface to notice things, if you really pay attention, which reaffirm the city’s Conservatism even after eleven years.
I’ve been fired for being a Lesbian in this city, I’ve been harassed on the job and had to drag co-workers in front of Union reps for formal apologies. I’ve had managers who got very noticeably uncomfortable when I honestly answered the (very gender-specific) question of “Do you have a boyfriend or husband?” I’ve been admonished for being “too visibly” Lesbian, I’ve had verging-on-screaming matches with Pastors in the city about whether or not God really hates Gays. (I’m also a Lesbian Christian, but that’s a ran t for another day.) And none of that is even including general, indignant “Why do you need a Gay Pride Parade?” conversations I’ve had with people who were supposed to be my friends.
Some days are easier than others, for dealing with all of this knowledge. Unfortunately, today wasn’t one of the easy days. When I go out places with my girlfriend, it becomes even more visibly obvious that we are not just two friends out and about. She is the sinfully hot Butch to my bubbly Femme, and we present that way without having to work at it. And ever since we began dating, I started noticing more and more that even though Fredericton tends not to be forwardly verbal with their discrimination, they love to stare in a way that very often insinuates their distaste. It was this side of six weeks ago that we went to a popular Sports bar and restaurant here, and upon getting up to leave I asked my girlfriend why she was making her “what the fuck is your problem?!”face, to which she responded that there was an older gentleman at another table that had been making faces at her the entire time we were eating our meal.
We get stared at almost everywhere we go, and while on the good days I can ignore it or pass it off in some sort of flattering way, there are some days (such as today) where it just irks me. Because if you’ve ever lived in Fredericton and been aware of the Gay subculture, you can see that even though Fredericton is not dangerous to be Gay in, most Gays chose NOT to be visibly Gay here. So for those of us who do, we regularly get gawked at by people too faint of heart to scream their slurs at us on the street. I completely identify, at 28 years old, what animals in cages at a zoo must feel like every day - that sensation that people are looking because you are a curiosity; as though they expect you to suddenly perform Circus side show tricks for their amusement during their afternoons they’re away from Hicksville. I get the most frustrating and angry urges to walk up to these people who do quadruple takes at me and my girlfriend holding hands and ask them if they’d like some cotton candy.
Today was one of those frustrating days – to the degree I wanted to escape the public entirely. Upon sitting in the same side of a booth table in the restaurant we chose for breakfast, the waitress eyed us with very thinly veiled disapproval and asked us if we were “expecting others.” She then proceeded to SHUSH me while I was laughing (and I’ll be the first to admit that my laughter is intensely unique and loud, yes), but my gut told me the shushing was much more about “Oh God, don’t draw attention to the Lesbians in the corner booth now that the restaurant is filling up!” than it was about volume. Breakfast was followed by getting gawked at by just about seventy dozen (yes, frustrated exaggeration) people in Wal-Mart. I imagine that some days the monkeys find it easier to be in the zoo than other days, as well.
I am blessed to have a strong, magnificent Butch woman who, even though she is new to being in this type of spotlight when it comes to the subculture and the city, handles this particular frustration very well. I often worry that the gawking upsets her, as she would be much less used to being stared at than me, if we’re talking years in experience. But somehow she manages to keep any embarrassment or frustration she may have from surfacing, and also soothes mine in the process. Until this point in my life, I was never entirely convinced of that old adage “falling more and more in love” with someone, but my God that woman has converted me completely.
So yeah – you won’t die in Canada for being Queer, and in this particular city, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever get picketed or beaten to death for it, either. But don’t let the complacency of a city full of Conservatives fool you. Most of them don’t like you in their backyard any better than they ever did. They’re just too traditionally Canadian-raised polite to spit in your face. They wait until they get home behind closed doors to bitch to their hetero partners about the Dykes they saw at the restaurant this morning. And while I appreciate living somewhere that I won’t die for being a Lesbian, it would be nice to be able to walk down the street someday while I hold the Love of my Life’s hand and not have to feel a hundred sets of eyes burning holes in my back.