Thursday, September 22, 2011

U of T students get tour of Toronto’s sexual landscape

Toronto the Goody Two Shoes? Forget about it.
Despite its reputation for being prissy and morally uptight, Toronto has a rich – even dark – sexual history that’s getting dirtier by the day with anything goes strip clubs, pansexual nightclubs that cater to sexual appetites of all categories and an exploding swingers scene in the far-flung suburbs.
It started over a century ago.
From red-light districts on long-gone Henrietta Lane in the 1800s, to the brothels on Lombard Street, Toronto has an illustrious history of getting down and dirty.
University of Toronto course instructor Scott Rayter thinks it’s important for today’s youth to appreciate the city’s sexual history as well as its current sexual landscape. So he developed a sexual diversity class for first-year students in which students can choose to map key landmarks in Toronto’s sexual life – past and present. The tour illustrates larger issues such as the establishment of a gay neighborhood or the particular areas where prostitutes ply their trade.
The year-long course offers a sexy way for students think about loftier subjects like civic involvement and community identity by using neighborhoods and buildings as a guide.
A lot of these students weren’t born in Toronto, explains Rayter. So these spaces and the stories behind them are new. It’s a way to help them engage with the city.
The course sites the home of the Pink Triangle Press and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as key to appreciated the city’s gay neighborhood. The course deals in part with the development and dismantling of a neighborhood. For decades the Church and Wellesley area was the epicenter of Canada’s gay community. “But many young people today don’t like that space. It’s interesting to think about why they are moving out and why they prefer integrated spaces,” says Rayter. “Younger gay people, they are asking, ‘Why do we even need gay bars anymore? Why should we even identify as anything?’”
Rayter acknowledges Toronto may not be the sexiest city in the world. Amsterdam has a notorious red light district. Cities in the Philippines attract sex tourists. Havana is a magnet for sex-thirsty cougars. But Toronto? Seriously. Can Toronto be sexy?
If you come here from New York or certain parts of Europe maybe not. Berlin and Amsterdam have a sexual identity. But so does Toronto, insists Rayter. He says the films of David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan – “lots of sex, all rather twisted and strange” could be a result of Toronto’s hot and cold, schizophrenic relationship with sex.
Rayter also doesn’t shy from the big question. Which city’s sexier – Montreal or Toronto? “If we’re going to play that game we’d lose,” says Rayter.
In the spirit of things the Star mapped out its own list of Toronto’s hot spots and erogenous zones. Some are still around. Many are gone.

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