Thursday, June 2, 2011

Retro: My Two Villages

Because this article appeared in print four years ago... I feel like its time to go all retro styles and reprint. (And I guess the National Post still owns the rights to this.. but like... simmer down) The edited and published version is available here!

My Two Villages

Hilary Rodham Clinton infamously published a book a couple of years ago entitled “It Takes a Village.” Lifted from the African proverb, “It Takes a Village to raise a child” Clinton espoused her unique vision about how to parent a gawky red head in America (loves ya Chelsea!).

The Village she was talking about, I suspect was NOT Forest Hill. Here it takes one immigrant nanny to raise a child, yet an entire Village to corrupt said child into a bitchy sixteen year-old wearing $90.00 sweatpants. Sigh. [Sidenote: how much do you love the fact that Old School Roots Sweatpants are back?]

Toronto, in true Clinton esque fashion, is however a city defined by its villages, neighborhoods and nabes. At the recent Toronto City Summit, the health of our neighborhoods was on par with discussions on transportation, economy and even topic du jour, the environment. In fact “Strong Neighbourhoods, Stronger Toronto Region” was one of the most dynamic and provocative session of the summit; more attendees wanted to talk about Toronto neighborhoods with Frances Laskin then those who humored Mayor Miller’s frenetic One Cent Now campaign.

In Toronto – communities and villages represent a rather simplistic, yet provocative, version of identity. Neighborhoods are instant generalized value judgments. Annex = hippie. Rosedale = WASP establishment. This list could go on and on and like any sweeping generalization there are I’m sure exceptions to the rule; that being said you can bet your Holt Renfrew Amex card that the McGregor Smith’s outnumber the Singh’s on Binscarth Avenue, Rosedale.

As a gay and Jewish man who grew up in the Faux Hill my community based identity should be pretty clear. I oscillate between two of the city’s most infamous villages: the Gay Village at Church & Wellesley is where I indulge in my love of non-kosher meat, and in the Faux Hill Village at Spadina-Lonsdale, I can wolf down a chopped egg salad sandwich from What a Bagel. Sometimes it’s hard to choose.

In funneling between these two villages I’ve realized however that I’ve never felt particularly comfortable in either. Sometimes when I go to Woody’s [That would be a gay bar for those not in know, because yes – gays love phallic gay bar names] I feel like a 14 year-old twink awkwardly venturing downtown for his first taste of homosexuals. A friend looked at me recently and said, “you really don’t like either of your identities, do you?” I stonewalled for a second before looking at him and argued, “Its not that I reject who I am,” I love being gay, and like some aspects of being Jewish, “I just reject the popular connotations of my identities.” What I meant, when I took some time to actually examine my use large, multi-syllabic words, was that I hated the public connotations of my two villages. As a happy fag and embittered Jew I don’t particularly associate or feel represented by the popular connotations of my identity groups, which in Toronto is best personified by the their respective Villages.

When I went to Puerta Vallarta over Christmas (yes - that would have been a vacation I took WITH my parents) I ended up in a hotel about a stones throw away from the Puerta Vallarta gay village. Same rainbow flags, same sex shop, phallic based bar names – and same sense of not belonging. I don’t particularly like the popularized image of the gay village for some reason – perhaps best represented by an inverse graph to the number of times I’ve been asked to “join me and my boyfriend for some hot three way action.” I’m more of a love the dick, hate the Village kinda guy. As if to exacerbate my views on gay villages, one relatively infamous Canadian fag I know had this to say about PV, “I can’t believe you went there with your folks – there are so many men there; Martin [boyfriend of ten years] really loves the Latin men.” Did you just vomit in your mouth, because I did. And as for the other village in my life – Faux Hill, my distaste with these parts has an entire blog devoted to its Lululemon clad ass so really nothing more to say there.

Too often I get accused of some form of self loathe. Gay friends accuse me of being a bad gay, Jews accuse me of being a self-loathing Philip Roth lite; and maybe they’re all correct in their assumption. Maybe I should accept who I am and get myself a nice set of Burberry earmuffs. Don’t worry – I’m not going to. I realize the problem though: at base we all love to belong. We all love to be amongst peers who we recognize and who we can borrow from a Coach purse now and again. For example, there is even a group for people ‘like myself’, Jewish-Fags, which attempts to bridge the cultural gap between uptown middle class Judaism and downtown hardcore faggotry. One could argue even that the success of Toronto is inherently tied to its Village structure and the sense of belonging it imbues. Residents feel an intense sort of pride in the common sense of identity that their neighborhood provides.

The bigger problem though beyond this sense of belonging, or in my case, lack there of is that the Village creates a sort of identity that sometimes is often more stereotypical then real. I.E. all gay men aren’t obnoxious pigs, no matter how many times the bisexual tells me that over the phone [that is called self-loathe sweetie] and no matter how many times I leave a gay bar shaking my head in revulsion. And not all Village residents are Faux Hillary’s – remember Bold doesn’t own anything from Tiffany’s.

My friend Kitty often introduces me as Jewish Jon to her friends. When I came out we discussed adding the additional adjective before deciding that one derogatory nickname was enough. The rather intelligent joke of course is that by calling me Jewish Jon, she was in fact making fun of that particularly stereotype, that Village mentality if you will, wherein cultural identity is trump. And more then that, cultural identity is a broad stereotype that everyone gets. “Oh you’re Jewish?” Her friends would say. “I love latke’s! I love hanging out in the Forest Hill Village!” Jewish Jon was a motif for the fact that for the most part the people that we associate with are happy to loudly and proudly declare their minority status. I’m gay! I’m Jewish! I’m Asian! I blame the whole multi-cultural mosaic concept; either way, welcome to Village Pride baby.

Ghettoization has never been so vogue.

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