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Queer Mirror: Pop-up Queer

Wednesday 08th, October 2014 / 08:50
By Kevin Allen

QM_PlazaCALGARY — A lot has been written about the idea that we are living in a post-gay world. This means we have crossed a magical threshold where the marginalization of queer people has been reduced enough that we are melting into the dominant culture. No longer resident in gay ghettos we also have given up gay bars en masse and now socialize in mixed groups (Calgary’s Beltline was historically our claim to an urban gaybourhood.)

Some of this phenomenon has been researched empirically. Between 2005 and 2011 the number of listed gay or lesbian bars in the queer international travel guide Damron decreased by 12 per cent. An academic study that sought to describe how urban gay communities were changing in 14 countries found that despite the growing numbers of queer people, the visibility of the community was in decline. Fewer bars, an exodus to the suburbs, less attendance at gay events and lower volunteerism in the gay community were all documented developments.

Online culture has often been characterized as the evolutionary force at work here. With smartphone hook-up apps like Grindr and Scruff, men who have sex with men have never had it easier in locating each other. In addition, communities of any interest can find each other virtually for community and peer support.

However, in all of this transition, queers are still craving a public social experience with their peers. In Calgary, we are seeing the phenomenon of temporary – or pop-up – queer spaces that are proving to be popular, flexible and entertaining places to hang out.

Since July 2012, a monthly queer dance party called Hot Mess has attracted a significant following. Founded at the now-defunct Calgary Eagle, it currently hosts events at Local 522, the Palomino and the Republik. Moving around to different locations is part of its charm, with every party creating a pop-up gay shaker in sometimes rather staid places.

Blake Spence, one of the co-founders, laughs, “I like the guerilla gay bar aspect of Hot Mess where you go in and take over a space that typically would not be queer. Local 522, where we do a lot of our parties, when you go in during a weekday, all you see are white businessmen – a completely different crowd.”

Hot Mess likes to partner with community organizations and has worked with Fairy Tales and Sled Island recently. “Our parties are typically sold out, but it’s important for the community not to get tunnel vision and still work as a community,” Blake adds. Hot Mess’s October events include a Thanksgiving long weekend ‘80s-inspired party and a huge Halloween bash.

For the last six months or so, Tuesday night has become Beers for Queers night at The Pint Public House, a blue-collar sports bar on the corner of 17th Ave and 14th St SW. The pub is both philosophically and in practice open to all customers, and has yet to encounter a negative response to hosting the queers on a weekly basis. Initially organized by gay party group YYC Bad Boys, the weekly event is doing bristling business, and has lots of word-of-mouth advertising. In a nod to the post-gay world, the event is even sponsored by Grindr, adding the tagline: #Beers For Queers: Zero Feet Away, referring to the proximity feature of the popular app.

When going myself recently, my friends and I were hard pressed to find seating on the Pint’s patio on a warm Tuesday evening, post snow-pocalypse. Wedging ourselves between two other parties on a long bench, the friendly crowd – predominantly gay men of all ages – chattered and drank into the late hours.

Finally, a fledgling queer pop-up in town is Velvet Cinema: a monthly queer screening series at the Plaza Theatre in Kensington. Organized by David Cutting and Garrett McCoy, their intention is to make a cultural “happening” for the queer community.

“I love watching movies that are cult classics that everyone can enjoy,” David explains. He adds that he is not a drinker and the bar scene is not a place he feels fully comfortable socializing in. He says that Velvet Cinema is an attempt “to create a space that I would be able to have, and for those other people who feel the same as me.”

Velvet Cinema is featuring the film Mean Girls on October 15th and opens with a Snap Boys YYC performance. The boys-in-high-heels dance group, promises to energize the audience and queer the evening fully.

Calgary has seen most of its gay bars disappear in the last few years and the number of queer venues currently is but a fraction of what existed 30 years ago. Yet, as society changes, the niche for queer socializing is popping up all over the place.

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