Lesbians, Scissors and Gratitude at the Theatre
Excitement in my DMs! A new message from a changemaker: Linda Dawn Hammond, the photographer whose iconic pictures of the 1990 police raid on the Sex Garage party changed everything. "I have an extra ticket to tomorrow's performance of Ciseaux - Do you want to come with me?"
Umm, yeah I do! We met first for a drink then took the bus together, unaware that we were an hour and a half early. Linda admitted that she hadn't eaten since the pancakes she made for breakfast, so maybe this was a sign that we should grab a bite. We ended up at Guadalupe Mexicaine on rue Ontario Est, where we were as charmed by the murals of mariachis as we were by the enchiladas.
Linda Dawn Hammond and I under the mariachi mural
Back at Espace Libre, a former fire station converted into a performance space, we settled into our seats and I still didn't know exactly what I was in for. Linda had already seen the show and just gave me enough basic info to pique my curiosity. She had made the trip from Toronto to check it out because it features her famous photos from the Sex Garage party and resulting riot. Ciseaux (Scissors) starts off with Geneviève Labelle and Mélodie Noël Rousseau, who both created the show and perform in it, standing at the top of two staircases, facing the audience, wearing gigantic scissors attached to their waists. They immediately break the fourth wall and introduce themselves (No fictional characters, here). The audience now knows that the following hour and forty minutes will be a wild ride through the history of Montréal's LGBTQ2+ communities, with a strong concentration on the L.
I was compelled by the subject matter. I admired the way they crafted the storyline and filled it with humour and truth. Their research was strong. They went deep. They interviewed many of the city's most prominent Lesbian changemakers and the recordings of these interviews work as the backbone of the entire production. In a way, I couldn't separate how this show felt like a sister to my own passion-project, the QUEERSTORY walking tour of Montréal's LGBTQ2+ history, which I launched in the summer of 2021 and continue to run. Both projects discuss and dissect identities, recall historical events, consider cultures and perceptions, and call out the bullshit, the tons and tons of bullshit that our communities have been subjected to. Despite the overwhelming heaviness of some of the subject matter, Ciseaux chose to do something that I also chose to do in my QUEERSTORY tour: Show gratitude. Generations like mine, that came of age after 1990 had a much easier time of it, thanks to those who came before us and fought the hard battles. My QUEERSTORY tour and Ciseaux are both, in a sense, love letters to queerness and to the wonderful queers, especially lesbians, who were pushed, beaten, and humiliated so that those of us who came after them could have an easier time of it.
Taken just after the show. Me (left), Linda Dawn Hammond (middle), Mélodie Noël Rousseau (top right), Geneviève Labelle (bottom) Ciseaux is important. The production company, Pleurer Dans' Douche (Crying in the Shower) should be applauded, not only for their awesome name, but for getting this show made. Geneviève and Mélodie Noël are outstanding in their frankness and authenticity. Everyone should go see this. Especially queer people under the age of 50 and straight people of any age. At one point during a scene with archival video footage of police beating queer people in the streets, I overheard someone sitting behind me say "I didn't know this really happened here." It's crazy to me how quickly we can come to take certain liberties for granted. Or how, if discrimination doesn't directly affect you, you can pass right by without even being aware of it.
A polaroid picture pinned to a board. Linda and I basking in our Ciseaux glow.
Let us never forget that the very existence of queer people was illegal just a few short decades ago. Let us never forget that our governments and their police forces harassed us, intimidated us, beat us, humiliated us and even killed us. Just a few years ago. Here, in Montréal. It might be easy for Gen Z and millennials to forget or even ignore this truth.
But not if Mélodie Noël and Geneviève have anything to say about it. And thank the universe, they do.
The use of Linda's black and white photos from 1990 was jarring. Blown up to fit a massive screen at the backdrop of the stage, the audience was rightfully horrified by what they depicted. The pictures still do today what they did when they were first published in La Presse, all those years ago: They prove to those who didn't already know, with brutal honesty, that the LGBTQ2+ communities of Montréal were victims of police violence. As Linda and I rode the metro home after the show she told me about how people used to think she was a lesbian organizer. I can't imagine a nicer compliment.