11 reasons why every city deserves a Pervers/cité, Montreal's 'underside of Pride'
Ring in the festival's 11th edition by celebrating what makes it so important to the local queer community
Pride celebrations aren't exactly what they used to be.
The seeds of Pride were first planted as a protest against intolerance towards marginalized communities, but not everyone feels like that garden is still being cultivated. Last year's central attraction at numerous Canadian pride parades was Justin Trudeau, the nation's first Prime Minister to march in the parade while serving a term in office. Under parliament's unwavering approval, it's become clearer than ever now that Pride ain't just a phase: it's here, it's queer and in Canada, at least, it's officially taboo to resist. But has Pride lost sense of what it's proud of?
Even as Pride celebrations shut down city blocks with little to no opposition, their well-meaning festivities don't always span all avenues. Pervers/cité, a Montreal-based grassroots organization now over a decade in the making, provides an alternative to those fatigued by mainstream Pride events and looking to reconnect with the earliest spirit of the festival.
For its 11th edition, I spoke with its organizers to find out why all other cities deserve — or should at least test out — what Pervers/cité has to offer local queer communities. Here are 11 reasons why:
The festival emerged from unhappiness
We may by default associate the annual observance of Pride with loud, proud crowd fun, but organizer Stephen Sherman wants to let it be known that "Pervers/cité holds the outsider, unvoiced perspective close to heart." Just because LGBTQ people get a colourful festival once a year doesn't necessarily mean all individuals are liberated in their everyday lives, or even feel invited to participate in the festivities.
Pinkwashing and whitewashing are both serious issues
Mainstream pride parades have been wont to present an increasingly singular vision of queer liberation, one built on erasure and ulterior motives. Pervers/cité organizers have witnessed what they call the "continued corporatization and homogenization of Pride," which means that "bodies and ways of living that don't fit within the purvey of marketable LGBTQ personas (see income brackets) dreamed up by marketing teams may see their needs unmet by the bulk of what Pride has to offer," Sherman says.
Its name is a pun, and puns are great
The festival isn't afraid to makes its own fun. Pervers/cité is a riff on Divers/Cité, a bygone queer arts and music festival that used to coexist with wider Fierté Montreal before folding in 2015. Divers/Cité was bred as a reaction to the 1990 police raid of Montreal venue Sex Garage, often called "Montreal's Stonewall."
The festival's policy stands for No One Turned Away for Lack of Funds. Pervers/cité puts extra consideration into making itself accessible for as many people as possible.
Montreal Pride may have a tightly curated itinerary — but Pervers/cité, on the other hand, has no desire to govern the makeup of their events. They've (almost) never rejected an event proposal. "If anyone feels something missing from queer discourse," says Sherman, "they need only to conjure up an event concept and submit it to the festival."
Party space = political space
The festival doesn't distinguish between celebration and activism, believing both are of the same origin. Dance parties fuelled by political bases have historically served as backdrops for the free exchange of ideas and initiatives, community building and mobilization. "Some of the socialization at parties won't be politically relevant, of course, but may serve many other functions within communities and individual lives," Sherman explains.
A brand new fabric of events each year
Ever adapting to the times, Pervers/cité puts together a fresh roster of events every year to best reflect what it means to be a queer person today. This year's program includes a presentation on gay adoption and white privilege, a photo series and video documentary chronicling the Black Lives Matter movement in Toronto, a late-night screening of the 2006 film Shortbus at an erotic cinema with director John Cameron Mitchell in attendance and a guided tour of radical queer summer posters paying homage to a decade's worth of Pervers/cité that came before — just to name a few.
You can always count on recurring favourites
Perennial events like Capture the Fag and the Queer Between the Covers zine book fair have been staples of the fest ever since it began, and they're back this year by popular demand.
It could only exist like this in Montreal...
I asked the organizers if they could envision a variation of Pervers/cité panning out in another Canadian locale as resoundingly as it has in Montreal. But for better or for worse, the festival's hometown is where its heart is. Montreal isn't only the setting where Pervers/cité's founders and community members have roots, but the event a conceptual response to the textures of local LGBTQ culture within the rich queer social fabric of Montreal.
...but if the festival were mounted elsewhere, it would take the shape of that city
That being said, you need not look far to find pulsing, socially engaged communities nationwide. A parallel festival in an alternate Canadian city wouldn't make for another Pervers/cité, per se, but a completely organic reaction to that city and its specific needs and desires. Pervers/cité isn't the be-all end-all: "I bet that something both locally appropriate and strange will erupt — or already has — in those other metropolises," Sherman says.
Most importantly, community comes first
At the end of the day, there's no one right or wrong way to express pride in who you are, as long as you're making efforts to embrace diversity and stave off oppression. Pervers/cité believes in this above all else: as Sherman says, "Given that queers and other minorities have so many reasons to be unhappy in the current climate, why not find ways to strengthen bonds and create pleasure?"
Pervers/cité. Montreal. August 10-20. Get more info on Facebook.