This year, Rhubarb is partnering with Kensington’s queer performance venue Videofag on [color]Vigil(ance) [/color]a Mobile Works project that names and reclaims unsafe spaces in our city. For today’s blog post, we asked Vigil(ance) co-creator [color]Jordan Tannahill[/color] ‘Where do you feel unsafe?’
Where Do I Feel Unsafe?
Vigil(ance) is a project Videofag has undertaken to identify, map, and reclaim – even if only for a moment – spaces in our city that we feel unsafe or unwelcome in. The performance intervention involves a group of Torontonians gathering at Videofag, anecdotally identifying these spaces, marking them on a map, and selecting two or three to visit over the course of the evening. The group will be provided lanterns and, upon arrival at each site, will hold a one minute vigil there – dispelling, momentarily, the physical, socio-political, and personal darkness of the space while commemorating the numerous undocumented transgressions of personal liberty/safety that have occurred there over the years.
The germ of the idea came a few months back while I was biking past Ossington and Dundas and was suddenly reminded of two separate incidents in which I had been heckled at that corner: once when a car full of young men jeered me while driving past, another time being called a faggot by an agitated elderly man as my partner William and I walked past on our way to the Lakeview. As I biked by I remembered thinking: it’s unfortunate that this intersection, where some of my favourite bars and restaurants are, so close to where many of my closest friends live and to many of the theatres I work at, has suddenly become marked by these two negative incidents. When I pass Ossington and Dundas I do not feel unsafe, but I do feel as if this intersection has been taken from me. I still imagine clever retorts I could have shouted back at that car driving past or wonder if any of the roughly-hewn men lingering outside the Delta Sports Bar (the one between the Dakota Tavern and the TD Bank) was the one who slurred at William and I.
I continued biking and imagined the city as a mosaic of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ spots where queers felt included and excluded, safe and unsafe. How would this map look differently if it wasn’t queer-specific? If Torontonians of every stripe and from every region of the city were solicited? Furthermore, how would the map look different if it wasn’t limited to circumstantial experience? What if it was also about inference: ‘I imagine I would be unsafe or unwelcome here’. This, of course, could become problematic, relying on stereotypes and assumptions about spaces and the people who occupy them.
I have never been bashed while walking down King Street West at night, through the Richmond and John club district, or past the Brunswick or Madison pubs in the Annex… but there is something about the large crowds of drunk, horny, hetero-identified young men milling about these spaces that puts me on edge. Certainly I am repulsed by the regressive gender/sexual politics I’ve experienced in these spaces – in this sense I certainly feel unwelcome. But unsafe? Perhaps it’s the potentiality of violence (misogyny, homophobia) that is so often the result of these gender dynamics. Ultimately it’s a feeling I have rather than an actual incident that I’ve experienced. Is that still legitimate? What personal prejudices am I bringing to the table? In many ways I hope Vigil(ance) surprises me and dispels some of my personal assumptions about ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ spaces in the city.
So, all that to say, it is a complicated question: ‘Where Do I Feel Unsafe?’ I feel unsafe in locations I have both experienced violence and the expectation of violence. Perhaps in order to transform these spaces, we must also transform their connotations and our assumptions about them. Ultimately, I see Vigil(ance) as an invitation for discourse, an activist act of reclamation, and a gesture of public healing.
– Jordan Tannahill