by Taro Williams 

I walk through the village on Church street, a neighborhood in downtown Toronto, often called the “gay village” to outsiders. It’s changed a lot over the years, shaped by the forces of gentrification and so-called “urban renewal”. It’s been “cleaned up”, gone are the hookers and rent boys along Jarvis Street, the strip clubs and adult video stores on Yonge Street, even the drug users have been cordoned off to a single section of the park. I often wonder how things used to be here. What kind of spirits roam the streets here? What stories do these ghosts wish to tell? How many voices have we lost due to these forces, and which voices do we continue to lose with drug overdoses rising?

Church street has met a fate similar to almost every gay village in the West. In Montreal, a similar phenomena is happening, with the village on St-Catherine and the Mile-End, botg become more gentrified and bougie, while at the same time, the poverty and drug use resulting from late-stage capitalism becoming more visible and policed.

There’s a hauntology over contemporary queer life, one that is shaped by the ghosts of AIDS, colonialism, and neo-liberal policies. The term ‘hauntology’ is used, in this case, how the late philosopher Mark Fischer uses it in his book, “Ghosts of My Life” (2014). A spectral ontology that ‘haunts’ the cultural imagination, but not as explicitly as ideologies do. In this case, in reference to how capitalism cancels out possible futures, leading to what Fisher would call ‘capitalist realism’, or, gentrification culture. 

The last major pandemic before COVID-19 was AIDS in the 90s, which hit the queer community hard; a mass death event right in the heart of cities across the world. That, paired with a recession and economic instability that came with austerity, shifted queer culture, especially gay male culture, towards a hyper individualistic one.

In the fight for surface level symbolic wins, like gay marriage, what did we lose? I explored these themes of sanitization of queer counter culture in a retrospective of the film, “Totally fucked up” (1993), where I observed how normativity became heavily valued in the early 2010s, writing, “I’m thankful for the progress made, but why did that progress have to come at the expense of our counter-culture? What have we lost in the name of ‘progress’?” (2022). It should also be noted just how much of LGBTQ discourse has been structured to value white perspectives during the post-AIDS era. Lesbian writer Sarah Schulman notes this, arguing in her book, “Let The Records Show” (2020) that, “The history of white gay rights politics, […] has led to race- and class-based reconciliation with the state” (31).

The writings of Schulman feel more relevant than ever. In her book “The Gentrification of the Mind” (2013), she defines gentrification as “spiritual” as well as political, saying “Gentrification is the removal of the dynamic mix that defines urbanity—the familiar interaction of different kinds of people creating ideas together. Urbanity is what makes cities great, because the daily affirmation that people from other experiences are real makes innovative solutions and experiments possible” (21). Thus, we need to learn how to recognize gentrification ideology within ourselves, as well as in our cities.

As queer people, especially white queer people, we need to have an honest conversation about the gentrification of our cultural and urban spaces. It’s in vogue right now to complain about rainbow capitalism, but we invited corporations and cops into pride parades, thus, bringing capital into vulnerable neighborhoods, raising rents drastically, and encouraging a culture where queer people regularly police each other. Many radical grassroots organizations have tried to call attention to the gentrification that has been happening, most notably Black Lives Matter held a protest at pride in 2016 over the inclusion of the police. Infamously, the gay establishment and many white queers sided with gentrification ideology during the incident. Now, seven years later, we can see the hot mess we’re in with everything becoming unaffordable.

This brings us back to hauntology and imagined futures. What if during the 2010s, queer movements sided with Black Lives Matter? What if we valued housing and the material well-being of all Queer folks, and chose to follow grassroots leadership over that of the state? What if we had authentically processed our collective trauma from the AIDS era, instead of suppressing it? What if we had chosen community building over gentrification and assimilation? What would this possible alternative future have looked like? Sure, maybe we wouldn’t have gay marriage and less reality TV shows, but perhaps our sense of queer urban solidarity would look quite different.


– Fisher, M. (2022). “Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures”. Zero Books.

– Schulman, S. (2013). “The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination”. California University Press.

– “Totally F***ed Up”. (1993).

– Williams, T. (2022). “Greg Araki’s Totally F***ed Up (1993), a Love Letter to a Messy Gay Adolescence”. School Schmool.

– Schulman, S. (2021). “Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York”, 1987-1993. First edition. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.