Regardless of how the Church and Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA) wants to spin this story, the fact is that Fetish Fair is dead this year, reinvented as a village carnival “inclusive to everyone,” complete with bouncy castles, a mechanical bull and a climbing wall.
So, if you’re looking for some kinky sex and bondage on Aug 14, head south to Zipperz for Toronto Leather Pride. That’s where the action will be.
This is not to say the new Village Fair won’t be fun and enjoyable, although that remains to be seen.
The new name for the festival is the Church St Village Fair: Leather to Lace. Just don’t describe the event as “family friendly,” even though families are exactly who the BIA is trying to court. And not just families -- everyone. Organizers are going for a more “inclusive” focus. That’s the buzzword that was repeated to me countless times by BIA co-chair Avery Pitcher. “Inclusive.” Inclusive, inclusive, inclusive.
I get it.
The problem is that, to me, the word inclusive signifies prudishness, conservativism veiled as liberalism, and a hidden agenda dripping in public relations spin. Fetish Fair has been “re-branded.”
A participant takes in the Church St Fetish Fair in 2010.
(Xtra file photo)
In many ways, the makeover of Fetish Fair feels like another closet, a sanitization of the fair's sexuality in an effort to make the event more palatable for stuffed shirts and traditional types that may walk through the Village and be offended at the sight of a leather daddy in a dog collar.
But, even Wootton admits, the optics are bad on this, especially for a BIA that states its support for sexual liberation in its mandate. “The previous board was very much in favour of Fetish Fair. This board is not as much, so as a result some activities have been re-branded… There’s been a lot of negative talk about the change from the community, and that’s unfortunate.”
Wootton says he has tried hard to accommodate everyone, but costs, such as street closures, have continued to soar. The event swallows a quarter of the BIA’s $200,000 budget, he says. “It costs us $56,000. We put aside $40,000 and hope to bring in $12,000 in revenue. But actually, it makes only about $9,000, and that’s really over budget. So if things don’t improve this year, it could be the end of the BIA’s summer fair.”
Wootton says there’s no way to know if area businesses have gained or lost money over the years during Fetish Fair because none have kept statistics. “We have businesses that are closing up. If we lose those businesses, we lose the street.”
“As with all BIA initiatives, the board is at the helm, and they can choose to change the event,” he says. “And right now our focus is to increase traffic to the street, keep doors open and enhance the area in anticipation of WorldPride in 2014.”
BIA member and Café California owner Vince Moneva admits to Xtra
that it makes good business sense to shift the focus and attract families, older folks and teenagers. After all, the neighbourhood is changing.
“Businesses are struggling. Rent keeps increasing on Church St and we want to attract new people to the area,” he says. “There are families that walk by with children.”
But a fetish fair, regardless of where it’s held, should not aim to be inclusive, and certainly not for kids. By their very nature, fetishes are exclusive, enjoyed by a relatively fringe group of sexual outlaws.
For that reason, TLP president Jack Pearce is “outraged” at the whole mess. He says moving the leather and kink to Zipperz is for the best. The first Toronto Leather Pride weekend will take place Aug 11 to 14.
“Holding our event within the BIA area would have meant that every decision we made about our independent kinky event would have to be approved by the same board that had just recently decided to remove almost all traces of fetish from the event, except its sub-title name. This combined with their demanding, bossy and pushy attitude toward us left a bad taste in our mouths,” Pearce writes to Xtra
. “We also felt that term ‘family-friendly’ has become more about censorship of the leather, fetish, kink and LGBTTIQ communities than its supposed meaning of inclusivity.”
It’s perfectly reasonable that the BIA would decide to change, cancel or “re-brand” an event that they fund and host. Just be honest about it. As Pitcher told me repeatedly, “the BIA exists to help make the local businesses earn more money by encouraging people to visit the area and spend money.”
Even Ward 27 councillor and BIA co-founder Kristyn Wong-Tam tells Xtra
she would rather have seen the Fetish Fair stay true to its roots and a compromise found, such as a tent to house all the kinky sex, allowing it to stay on the street.
At the end of the day, the Fetish Fair fiasco is just one more example of the shifting cultural pendulum, and it appears to be swinging backward. Just 10 years ago it looked as though Canada was in the midst of a massive ideological shift to the left. Gay marriage was declared legal and marijuana seemed to be on the cusp of legalization.
Fast forward to today. We could soon face a trifecta of political conservativism. As I write this, Mayor Rob Ford, whose style of government echoes the rhetoric of American Tea Partiers, is threatening to cut grants and social programs. Nationally, Canada continues to be governed by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and in October, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak will likely be the next premier of Ontario.
We’re living in dark times, and the doors on the proverbial closet appear to be slowly creaking closed again.