Gone ‘underground’? Lesbian visibility and the consolidation of queer space in Montreal

This article was part of my syllabus for another class. I thought it could be useful to share it, in relation to this week lecture and presentation.

“Over the last two decades, urban researchers have investigated how gender shapes gay and lesbian geographies in major post-industrial cities. These studies demonstrated that while gay men have often produced highly visible territorial enclaves in inner-city areas, lesbian forms of territoriality at the urban scale have been relatively ‘invisible’ since their communities are constituted through social networks rather than commercial sites. Contrasting the patterns produced by these two populations in the inner-city areas of post-industrial cities during the ‘queer’ 1990s has created a gender-polarized and historically specific interpretation of their patterns of territoriality and visibility that may differ significantly from those of earlier periods. This paper, therefore, provides a long-range historical geography of lesbians in a major metropolitan area through a case study of Montreal’s lesbian bar cultures since 1950. The focus of the analysis is on the preconditions that led to the establishment of the city’s lesbian commercial enclave in the 1980s and the factors that led to its decline in the 1990s. This case study, therefore, outlines the shifting character of lesbian territorial practices at the urban scale in Montreal since 1950. It illustrates that in Montreal lesbian territoriality and visibility have been strongly impacted by local neighbourhood dynamics, internal ideologies, and political and spatial relationships with gay men. Ultimately, these findings suggest that contemporary lesbian visibility at the urban scale may have been undermined by an increased identification with the ‘queer’ forms of community and their territorialization in Montreal’s gay Village.”

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