"Did you guys hear that there's a new lesbian in town?"
If you are an Out, Gay woman and you come to Iqaluit, that sentence will surely be uttered after you- from airport, to North Mart and all the way to the legion. Get ready!
I have survived in many countries where it was more than just frowned-upon by the neighbourhood to be gay, it was actually condemned by enforced state laws. In terms of progressive LGBTQ+ rights, Canada as a whole is one of the better places to be born gay.
Who doesn't love the GAYS?!
Siena, Italy: Well...at least the food was comforting! Rural tuscany is beautiful, but if you can't blend in then prepare to have cute little nonnas wave their fingers and rolling pins at you on the way to church. I did my best to fit in (I even learned Italian), but then I had to endure greasy men trying to whisk me away on their vespas to their casas. (Ironically, most men in Italy, and Europe, look very metrosexual...aka GAY!)
Western African: Not only is it very illegal to be gay there, but one can be sent to Witch Camp if caught in the, um, Act of Gayness. Culturally, women (who call each other Sisters) are very close and caring toward each other. And when they go out dancing, they get up right against each other in a big, booty-shaking group, so I had no problem living there, and my Sisters looked out for me!
Though, around the world there ARE lots of people who love the Gays!
Like my city, Toronto. OMG. I feel like in the last decade, everyone in the T-Dot is now on some part of this, so-called, Sexuality Spectrum. There is no doubt that Toronto is overflowing with PRIDE: They boast their Gay-Bourhoods and growing Diversity of EVERYTHING. My once very-straight friends are now Open or Experimenting or Queer-Positive and Androgynous-Gender-Neutral or Rainbow-Aura-ed. Good for you Toronto, I am so happy for you...but also, confused! Call me unoriginal but I am going to stick with just being Lesbian. Classic.
What about Nunavut? Are there arctic Gays?! And if there are, how do they survive if they have to be so bundled-up?!
Like just about everything else in Nunavut, what actually goes on up here is a mystery to most people in Canada. Sadly, Southerners neither know nor seem to care that they have absolutely no idea what real life is like North of 60. I was definitely that ignorant white girl in my Canada Goose parka on the airplane ride up to Iqaluit, praying to The Goddess that I might one day see an avocado again, learn to build my own polar bear-proof igloo, and if I had to live in-the-closet so as to not upset the community I was trespassing upon...so be it.
Well too bad for you, especially the Southern LGBTQ communities, because up North we are sizzlin'.
Note: I am only one lesbian. And I am a white, privileged lesbian for that matter... so my views are very much my own and do not reflect that of all of the other Nuna-Gays.
Iqaluit is the fastest growing "city" in Canada. With a population of around 7000, people are literally landing here everyday. I believe the population breakdown is something like 60% Inuit and 40% Annoying-Settler. Since reputable psychologists all agree that (at least) 10% of the world identify as Gay, that would mean that there are 700+ LGBTQ folks in Iqaluit at any given time. WOWEE!
And what do these Gays do up here?!
According to the bubbling activity I have observed on social media, the crowds of folks lining up to get into the recent Iqaluit Pride events, and the gossip the hangs over this city more thickly than the Dumpcano smoke of 2014, I can safely say this is one of biggest queer communities per capita I have ever been a part of...EVER!
And the most diverse too. There are Gays/Lesbians who have grown up here, immigrated across oceans, and of course, flocked North from all over the country, East coast to West. While there isn't an official, organized LGBTQ group per se (we are working on it, building on what others have done in the past), there are so many Gay/Lesbian families and friend-groups, living comfortably and contributing to the community as a whole.
Unlike many young people, gay and straight , trying to make a living down South, the Gays up North have jobs! REAL JOBS! Many also have kids, dogs, Subarus, skidoos, home-renovation projects (it's a lesbian's paradise!!!) etc, etc. We can all fit right in here. Yes, the Gays are definitely alive and thriving in Iqaluit...with or without a Registered-Pride Organization- Who needs structure and socialized-gay-norms anyway?!
FYI: The best guacamole in the world is made by Gays in Nunavut.
But what about dating? How does that work in such an isolated place, where everyone knows everyone and the only way to come and go is by expensive plane ride? (Or very, very, very long snowmobile trip...)
Yes, dating can present an...interesting...challenge...
"So, this girl gave me her number at yoga and we went out a couple of times. It was kinda awkward. Now her ex, who seems like a really cool chick, is asking me out. Is that weird?"
Nope. Not in Iqaluit! Even if you are Straight, Single and Looking you will eventually end up dating a cousin/brother/best friend/ex-ex lover/brother's adoptive mother's ex/father/best-friend's brother's ex/etc. of someone you have already dated. So for us Gays, it can- and probably will- get even weirder since there are less of us. Think of Alice's Chart from The L Word; I am pretty sure everyone in this town is linked somehow...
Oh and beware of: Emotional-Experimenting Straight Girls! And their jealous boyfriends.... And no more comments on that.
Back to dating... Instead of waiting impatiently for the next Lesbian/Gay Boy to walk, shell-shocked, off the plane and across the frozen tarmac, you can take matters into your own hands. When Bell 3G service hit Iqaluit airspace in 2014, along came the dating apps! Despite the limited bandwidth, Grindr and Tinder are actively beeping up here. Montreal and Ottawa may be 1550+kms away, but who cares cuz you can find a match or midnight hook-up 3km or less away!
My girlfriend would not be too excited if I found a match on Tinder (even for research purposes), but we did scroll through the Tinder-ers together one night...and not-surprisingly, we knew almost all of the faces we swiped by- or at least recognized the photos (kinda hard to tell with all the bedroom eyes and gym selfies). It was like watching the Legion heat-up on Saturday night: right at the drinking stools, where all the Eligible Lesbians and Glam Gays (and then some) liquor up with their blazers on, looking out for a good match- but from the comfort of our own home, in pyjamas.
But wait...if we can see them on Tinder...they can see us too, right?! AHHHH!
Well..is it possible to find true and lasting love in Iqaluit?
Absolutely! The arctic is the perfect setting for that U-Haul to a perfect fairytale ending you have always dreamed of. You just need to have a sense of humour and accept every situation for what it is: SO RANDOM.
Why should Gays stay in Iqaluit?
My favourite thing about being Gay in Iqaluit is the adoptive family I have found. There is no such thing as a typical family or social structure in Iqaluit, so it is easier to relax and find people who will accept you, just as you are!
In Toronto and other urban centres with established Gay communities, it is sometimes hard to fit in: queers can be cruel, especially if you're NOT:
flashy/flamboyant/chill/nonchalant/indie/artsy/gay-enough (whatever that even means!)... In my lifetime, I have witnessed LGBTQ sisters and bros be pushed off dance floors or shoved out of line-ups. And don't get me started on the cat fights that can break out at Lesbian Nites. Come on girls, be nice!
But in Iqaluit, my crew is a loving, mismatched ensemble of supportive, talented individuals from EVERYWHERE and RIGHT HERE, so we are always open to new orphans to joins us: gay-straight-queer-questioning-whatever-whoever-you-are. It takes a special kind of Gay to take the plunge and move North, and an even more fabulous one to stay, or never want to leave. Since going out is expensive, we open our homes up and have Drag Parties, Margaret Cho Marathons, Big Gay Brunches...whatever is cheap, creative and keeps us safe from trouble.
Even the young people at the high school know it's cool to be Out aka Yourself. Positive Space Club, a permanent LGBTQ bulletin board hanging up in the front hallway, and the most popular kids in school are lesbians?! Times have changed since the Stonewall riots of 1969 and my school days in 1999..and for the better! Thank The Goddess. Let's hope it continues this way...
I am not of Inuit heritage, but I do try my best to respect the culture and traditions of this land that I have come to love so much. I know that colonization by those white settlers, not even 100 year ago, brought so many horrors to this territory that the effects are still rippling through communities today. I also learn every day from the strength, determination and humour of the Inuit people who I call my neighbours and teachers. Many are very accepting of who I am, but I understand the reservations of others. I know that acceptance comes with time and trust, so I try my best to be compassionate.
NOTE: White colonizers did NOT bring Gayness to the North- they brought oppression, addiction and stupid ideas. The LGBTQ rights movement has a traumatic, oppressive history too, especially with police brutality and by being forced into invisibility and shame by their own government and society. Let's not let these not-too-distant tragedies happen again...
People are people, all born human..some of us are just gayer than others.
The Northern-most communities in Nunavut do not have cell phone service, flights are infrequent and cost more than a trip around the world, and internet is sketchy at best. It is crucial to reach out to these LGBTQ members and let them know they are our family, too. These communities are tight-knit and truly some of the most breathtaking places on the planet! I am lucky to have visited a few of them and met more than a few gems along the way.
Cambridge Bay, NU just celebrated its second Rainbow Day at Kiilinik High School. Right on! I hope these kind of positive initiatives continue and grow. No one should be discriminated against or feel invisible, no matter what part of the world they happen to be born in. And all people should be celebrated, regardless of who they like to bring home to bed after a fun night dancing at the Legion.
So what are you waiting for...pack your glitter, smart phone, most-colourful parka and HEAD NORTH!!!