I am newly engaged to the woman of my dreams, and we are a very affectionate couple. This matters in the grand scheme of traveling as an openly queer couple.So for our first trip abroad, we wanted to go somewhere that felt safe to just be ourselves. Our sickly sweet, moon-eyed, queer selves.
And as it turns out, a long weekend in Montreal was exactly the right fit for us.
Know before you go
Whenever I’ve done research on LGBTQ-friendly places to travel, my priorities are safety and avoiding hostility. It had never even crossed my mind to think of places in the world where warmth and kindness could be expected. In Montreal, we were welcomed, not just tolerated, but embraced. There aren’t words for how nice that feels when you’ve never experienced it before. And although Montreal’s history of the Gay Village will tell you otherwise, it showed us a new frontier is on the horizon. And just as everywhere may have a history that’s not so great, many destinations are forging a new generation that is much more welcoming and safe for LGBTQ travelers.
But as a queer traveler, this trip meant something to me in a way that other destinations just haven’t. So it’s important to know the places where presently queer people are safer, look into what initiatives certain destinations have that support LGBTQ people, and as I’m doing, spread the word.
Representation matters in choosing travel destinations
I was drawn to Montreal when I heard about the opening of an exhibit on queer portraits at the McCord Museum. I’m always looking for unique travel experiences, particularly in the arts. It’s currently on display until September 18, 2022, “JJ Levine: Queer Photographs” takes an intimate look at queer identity through three different portrait series.
The first, “Queer Portraits” is described by Levine as a “life project” that intimately examines queer identity through photos of daily life. The second and third series, entitled “Alone Time” and “Switch” respectively, both question and push back against traditional binary gender roles by exploring the subjects in alternating masculine and feminine presentations.
As a queer woman with a growing sense of gender anarchy, the exhibit was powerfully stirring. I highly recommend adding it to your must-see activities in Montreal.
Shopping in the Gay Village
Inspired by the challenges presented in Levine’s artwork, both my fiancee and I were feeling excited to do some genderbending of our own. Naturally, the first place we went was the Gay Village, a neighborhood in Montreal that holds the honor of being the largest gay village in North America. There we found Evolution, a men’s clothing boutique that “prefer[s] the human touch by offering you a unique shopping experience in-store.” And wow, was that true!
The small shop was staffed by two men who did everything from putting together matching outfits to helping us into our little vests and suit jackets. As a couple of queer women who had never seriously bought men’s clothing before, it was absolutely heart-warming to be guided through the process with so much kindness and patience. I have never felt that welcome in any kind of store, much less a men’s boutique with my wife.
Ideally, we are not ones to neglect the feminine side of shop options. We later took a short walk from the Village to La Brise du Sud, another small boutique that specializes in pretty underwear. Similar to Evolution, the shop attendant was friendly and excited to assist us. She helped us try on matching bathing suits and lingerie, complimenting me on my freshly cropped hair as I got fitted for a bra. While checking out, she noticed my wife was paying for something that I had tried on. With a smile, she said it was an “excellent gift.” (And it was.)
Queer dates and dining
Our first sit-down meal in Montreal was lunch in the Village at Notre-Boeuf-De-Grâce, a high-end burger joint with enough rainbows on the walls that we didn’t hesitate to do our usual hand-holding across the table. As is our habit, we spent more time talking than we did eating. Yet no one rushed us or seemed eager to usher us out. The staff was helpful and friendly, a trend that continued everywhere from Thai restaurants to French creameries. In most cases, people seemed somewhat charmed by having a queer couple on their hands.
On our last night, we opted for Indian food at India Rosa. My wife wore a “little gentleman” outfit that we got at Evolution, and I went slightly more femme for the occasion. The hostess offered to take a picture of us, and our waiter was super personable, letting us know that he liked our vibe and thought we were cool people. It felt like a major win to cap off a very queer and gender-nonconforming travel experience.
Montreal is definitely a city worth exploring for queer travelers looking for a place to exist comfortably.