A Comment on Ottawa’s Attitude towards the LGBTQ Community, from the Perspective of an Ally

Last night, I attended an event at Babylon called “Zombie Strippers”. This annual Halloween show is put on by Rockalily Burlesque, a sex-positive group established in Ottawa in 2006. The event was pretty much what it sounds like: burlesque performers doing halloween themed performances, preceded by a band and sponsored by some local business, such as Auntie Loo’s (why yes, I did eat two of her delicious vegan cupcakes!) and Venus Envy (a really great women-positive sex shop). All proceeds from the cupcakes or merchandise sold at the show (including some fancy sequinned pasties) went to Pink Triangle Services. PTS is a great community organization around Ottawa that offers counselling, parenting help, and lots of other programs touching topics like creating safe spaces, or queer health. All this said, with all this positivity surrounding sex, identity and individuality, I overheard a few comments that really made me sick.

Situation #1: One dude looks around the room, and lists off all the costumes he sees that are slutty to his friend. Problematic on SO many levels. For one thing, you came to a burlesque performance… did you not expect to see women dressed in skimpy outfits? Another thing, who the hell gave him the right to sit on his patriarchal high horse and judge each and every woman in the vicinity? Prime example of a raging virgin/whore complex.

Situation #2: The harsh judging of an LGBTQ man who did a hula hooping routine. Claiming he didn’t have a talent, speculation on his sexual preferences and just plain old laughing at him abounded from the men behind me. The same goes for any performer who didn’t fit conventional beauty standards, although for this example I found them particularly vocal.

Situation #3: My shorter friend and I asked if we could squeeze in at the front. The man beside us said there was no room for him to move, but he would let us go in front of him since he can see over our heads. There was a condition, though: he had to be able to put his drinks on the banister, and reach for them every now and then when he wanted a sip. But ladies, beware! His hand has a mind of it’s own! Yes, he told us that. My friend and I laughed politely, as women are wont to do, and I stood their awkwardly wondering if she heard what he said, and if I should have done something differently. But at the risk of causing a scene? Maybe not.

Yes, my feminist buzz kill side is showing. All these things seem like common, minor, perhaps “faux pas”s. Or maybe to some people, they aren’t even a problem. But they reflect the need for events like Zombie Strippers, or organizations like PTS. They show a culture in Ottawa that fosters misogyny and discrimination. I look forward to the next show the lovely ladies and men of Rockalily will be putting on, and keep on working Ottawa! We can always think critically about what happens around us, and try to be as inclusive as possible. Ottawa’s awesome LGBTQ community is part of what makes it a wonderful city to live in.