I have heard it so many times in the past few months: we love Montréal.
We love the community, the endless cultures of resistance, and the freedom and joy the city gives us. But over and over again, I hear, it feels so hard to stay here. For all it gives them, Montréal also exposes its 2-qtpoc folks (two-spirited, queer, and trans people of colour) to surprisingly overt, harsh, and exhausting racism. People talk about 2-qtpoc skin and bodies as though they are food or fabric, not part of a human being. There are limited services that 2-qtpoc folks can access without fear of discrimination. In (generally white-dominated) queer spaces, 2-qtpoc commonly hear derision and disbelief about their sexuality, gender identity, and expression. But Montréal’s 2-qtpocs are working hard to change this.
Elisha Lim is presently the proud curator of 2-qtpocmontréal, a showcase of 2-qtpoc artwork and part of pervers/cite, Montréal’s radical queer pride festival. Lim has spent some time reflecting on what it means for 2-qtpoc folks to take up and take back space in the cities and communities where they live, citing that internalized marginalization leaves many 2-qtpoc feeling as though they do not have the same entitlement to space as their white peers. Lim wants 2-qtpocmontréal to be a space for 2-qtpoc folks to unapologetically demand space in Pride, in Montreal, and in Québec – where 2-qtpoc always have been, but that have not always been kind or accepting toward them.
2-qtpocmontréal’s 10-day schedule (August 10-19) includes lectures, performances, workshops, visual arts, and, of course, celebration. Organized through the collaborative efforts and discussions among 2-qtpoc folks, the festival puts 2-qtpoc artists, bodies, and voices on centre-stage. For Lim, the hope is not only to create visibility, but to push back against pressures of racism that force 2-qtpoc folks out of Montréal, and to say “we’re here, and we’re not kidding about it.” Lim credits Leroi Newbold and Eshan Rafi (veterans of art, justice, and 2-qtpoc organizing in Montréal, now active in Toronto), with showing them what it would look like for 2-qtpoc people to reclaim spaces where Indigenous and racialized queer and trans folks have long been silenced.
Newbold and Rafi moved to Toronto after years of work in Montréal, in the context of overwhelming intolerance in Reasonable Accommodation-era Québec. Such stories are part of a larger set of challenges in Montréal’s 2-qtpoc communities: in recent years, organizations have lost funding and mandates have shifted in ways that deprioritize 2-qtpoc folks. The heightened climate of public racism, along with poor job prospects and public services for racialized people, has pushed many out of Montréal and Québec. On the challenges of organizing in a city where the 2-qtpoc community experiences so much turnover, Lim said “we were working in a collective in hopes that a collective will feel empowered to do this next year.” In the first few days of the festival, the energy is palpable: something is growing here.
In a city where 2-qtpoc are less visible and have smaller communities and fewer options than in Toronto and Vancouver, self/lust co-curator Ryan Kai Cheng Thom said “I didn’t think Montréal was ready for this to happen. But then I thought, maybe this is the time, maybe we shouldn’t wait.” While it has been difficult, work has continued over the past few years. Collectives like Artivistic, Ste-Emilie Skillshare, AGIR, and GLAM have pushed, even when it seemed daunting. 2-qtpocmontréal draws strength from these efforts to build community and resistance. A series of meetings have brought together Francophones and Allophones (invisibilized, respectively in an Anglophone-dominated community and Québec language politics) with Anglophones, lifelong Québecers with recent arrivals, as well as past community organizers and people with ongoing relationships to Montréal.
And efforts to remember that they are here, of where they have gone, and of where they are going, have an impact. The festival’s programming brings attention to 2-qtpoc artists who are here and thriving, like the up-and-coming Kesso Saulnier, whose work can be seen along with five other artists’, at artist-run centre articule (262 rue Fairmont Ouest, now through Sunday). Presentations to be held at articule Thursday through Saturday promise to showcase both the history and current state of 2-qtpoc organizing in Montréal, including a look at Diane Labelle’s work on two-spirit issues and the impacts of colonization (Friday, 7pm) and AGIR’s work with LGBTQ immigrants and refugees (Saturday, 7pm). If you’re like me, though, what you will want to take in above all else is the community: a powerful gathering of people fighting to live, work, and thrive in this city that we love. Yes, something is growing here.
Thank you to Sarah Malik for writing this blog post.