Ok, ok, a bit of a sensationalist headline…. But, what do you do when you don’t quite fit in with the commercial queer scene, and how do you find your scene?
This week I’m joined by writer, director and filmmaker Joseph Amenta to talk all about The Henhouse, a small, queer dive bar in Toronto’s west that closed in 2015 as a result of rapid gentrification in the city. Expect to hear about Celine Dion Dance Parties (which are a thing in Canada, apparently), and taking inspiration from the magic of safe spaces….
Make sure you follow Joseph on Instagram.
And check our their amazing films on Vimeo.
Joseph Amenta 0:00
I think that there’s something beautiful about people in the queer community who have nothing in common with and would not be able to hold a conversation with for more than five minutes, but we’re still sharing a space and and taking something from it and giving something to it.
K Anderson 0:15
Hello, I am K Anderson and you are listening to loss spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there and the people that they used to know. God, Joseph Amenta is a Canadian writer, director and filmmaker whose films including house cherry cold and wild youth explore queer narratives. We caught up to talk about the hen house, a small queer dive bar in Toronto’s West, that closed in 2015. As a result of rapid gentrification in the city.
Joseph Amenta 1:31
I remember there was a night where it was a big dance party, and we were all we were all sweaty on the dance floor, just kind of giving it everything we had, it was maybe 130 in the morning, and we stopped, the performance was about to begin and everyone stopped dancing, we made it, we made a small little semi circle. And instead of being a drag queen, it was a Go Go dancer. It was a Go Go dancer. And he was like muscle muscular, and, you know, masculine and white, like a beautiful body, of course. And I remember my first instinct was to like roll my eyes or feel threatened or uncomfortable in some way. And I remember experiencing in that space, when he started dancing, and he wasn’t a great dancer, he was just enjoying himself. And people were googling him and laughing with him and dancing with him. It felt like a different form of a gaze, it felt it felt like we were laughing and dancing with him, it didn’t feel the same as it would feel in the village. It didn’t feel icky, or elite, it just it felt open and satirical, almost. And I remember how much contextually a space and an environment and the people within that space can alter your frame of thinking, and how things that we’re we’re prone to judge or not understand or, you know, raise an eyebrow that can completely shift if you allow yourself and you feel comfortable, comfortable enough in this space to do that, you know,
K Anderson 3:05
hmm. And, but like that, I mean, are we able to talk about the village for a while, because that, sure, I think that kind of resonates to me, ultimately, with that type of thing that you know, the, the conventionally handsome man who is used to being appreciated in a certain way, and the rejection of that is, for me, at least, rejecting him before he rejects me. Anyways, and, and, and that’s why I’ve always kind of struggled with that more mainstream queer scene is that I know I’m not going to like fit in I know that there. I don’t kind of have the qualities that are stereotypical or expected in that space. And so there is that protectionism that kicks in.
Joseph Amenta 4:05
And it’s based off of the, it’s based off of an insecurity, it’s based off of something that’s, that’s still a really big problem in in the queer community. I mean, there is such a hierarchy of, of our experiences, our privileges and our stations within within our community. And I think that that’s beginning to change. I think that there’s an interest to not fit in. I think there’s an interest in exploring elements that discover being the smartest or the most creative or the most interesting person in a room and not necessarily the most physically fit. I think that that community is still important for what it is the idea I’ve seen two very, you know, masculine presenting men kissing or holding hands is is is still important, and I’m not going to judge people who choose to go to the gym six days a week and you know, our masculine presenting and are interested in other people like that. I just think that it’s all linked to insecurity. And I’m someone who identifies as gender fluid. My, my physical stature is is fairly masculine. But I’m fascinated with feminine expression. I’m fascinated with colors and drapery and nails. And I am excited to be able to explore that more. And I’m liberated in the fact that both the masculine and the feminine, feels sexual and empowering to me. And I think we reject that when we see when we see members of our community in those spaces dominating. But they’re not dominating, they’re taking up space, and we take up space as well. And we have to take up as much space as we can. And I think that I think that things are changing in the village. They’re changing as well.
K Anderson 5:56
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I guess it’s that thing, if that’s your entry point, to the scene, and, and for most people it is because it’s the most commercial and the most visible, then you do kind of think, oh, okay, I have a choice here. I either try to conform as much as possible, or I reject this.
Joseph Amenta 6:20
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that is, that’s a demographic that is very, very much. So linked to a few bars. In our study, I would say Woody’s is probably the biggest one. Woody’s is a bar that has been here for a long time. It’s a staple. It’s a refuge for a lot of people. But it is very male dominated. It is very white, it is very masculine. And it tends to be a bit of a cruising bar. And I just choose to not to not enter those spaces, because it doesn’t have what I’m looking for. And what I’m looking for is intrigue and sparkle and an unconfirmed attitude. So I think it’s important to have both, I think you’re right, though it can be dangerous, when that’s the loudest, the loudest noise, and it’s attracting, you know, the the youngest and the most vulnerable people for influence. But I think that’s why I discovered the henhouse. Later on in life. I was about 2324. And I’d experienced queer nightlife in the village. And it was beautiful. It was fine, is exhilarating. It was terrifying. But it didn’t feel like me. It didn’t feel like I could settle in take up the space. I wanted to.
K Anderson 7:36
Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, it’s, it’s fascinating as well, this the relationship with drag in those spaces? And how? I don’t quite know where I’m going with that. So you’ll just have to buy do I agree with you, I’d like a really great point, like they viewed as entertainers but not part part of their community.
Joseph Amenta 8:01
Yes. And I think that you can sense that with drag performance in those spaces, you know, there, there, there does tend to be a bit of a wall, a distancing. Especially, because just historically, you know, queer drag performers are not sexualized in our communities, I think that’s beginning to change because femme expression is, is still sexual in in a queer body, and it definitely has a place and people are discussing that more more. But I think that when we have dragged performers in the village, it feels like you’re here for entertainment. And I’m going to hook up with the boy who’s leaning against the wall drinking a beer, it feels like there’s a separation between them feeling like they’re a part of the experience as well. And, and I like that drag in the West End is gender Fuck, it’s like, you know, it doesn’t need to be dragged in the same way we understand it. And those lines are continuously blurred.
K Anderson 9:04
Yeah, that must be so fucked up. To be a drag performer in those spaces and and have that or like, you know, even if you are, if you are sexualized, you’re sexualized in a very, very specific way that you’re not able to shake hands. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And
Joseph Amenta 9:20
you feel that energy, you know, I think, I think the village is is the village is is a magical place because it is a beacon of light for people who are driving down from the suburbs for an hour and a half to experience queer nightlife. And it is important because it is a constant in in the city. It’s a refuge for a lot of people. But I think once you outgrow elements of that you yearn for more you yearn for for a community outside of that.
K Anderson 9:51
So then shall we go back to that community, back to that community? Shall we go to the Absolutely, yeah. And so when did you first Go to the henhouse.
Joseph Amenta 10:03
Um, I would say, early 2014, I had just moved back downtown, I was living in an area of the city called Little Italy. And I had just secured a job as a creative writer on a drag feature musical for worldpride. And I was just thrust out of film school and I was looking for contract work. And it was my first experience really diving into the queer community in Toronto. And I remember being extremely overwhelmed and, and feeling distant and guarded. And, you know, it was a drag musical. So I had to do a lot of research about the queens and the history of culture. And whilst writing that, I realized I needed the real job. So I applied to an art studio that was essentially two minutes away from my new apartment. And in that art studio, we worked with other artists and created pieces and taught painting classes. And I worked there for about six, seven years following that, getting that job. So I was essentially fresh to the city and fresh to living on my own. And I had been living with, you know, creatives in the film industry, a lot of which are heteronormative, folks. And being at this, this art studio, I befriended a Japanese artist, namely a, and she was a bit of a quirky character who showed me parts of the city that she instinctually knew I would react well to. So we would work at the studio until about 1130, sometimes 12 o’clock at night, it was more of an evening studio, we would work like a 1011 hour shift. And then we would in our pink clothes, just kind of get ready, have a drink in the back alley, we would saunter over to the hen house. And it became a tradition and introduction to this world. And I was experiencing the queer community in Toronto outside of the village, it was more of a subculture and underground, like, you know, underbelly of the city. And it was a small, little, small little shack, really, but it was beautifully charming and overwhelmingly interesting.
K Anderson 12:17
And so you were saying that at that time, you felt overwhelmed, you felt guarded is a word that you used? Yeah, about the scene was like, other than the fact that it was brand new and and so much to take in. Was there a particular reason that you use the word guarded?
Joseph Amenta 12:41
Well, I think I think it stems from a life prior to that, where I wasn’t experiencing the level of interest other people were taking in me, you know, what I mean? And that extends to sexual interest. I, I went to a Catholic school. So the idea of, of romance, the idea of connection, beyond friendship on a base level was was foreign to me. So when I was entering spaces with with people who are expressing themselves openly and honestly, and they were engaging with one another, and using femme expression, it was it was hard for me to adjust and let those walls down. I think I was stuck in this idea of, of maintaining the guard, maintaining an idea of, of maybe masculine representation, it was, it was just insecurity, I think, yeah, and just kind of testing the waters.
K Anderson 13:35
And so in Toronto, there is the village, which is the kind of stereotypical, mostly white male scene. And then hen house sat apart from this.
Joseph Amenta 13:51
Yeah, substantially apart. It was on the other end of the city, it was done das West, which is a Portuguese Italian area, a lot of young people lived there, because the rent at the time was fairly cheap. So you had an upswing of culture that was beginning to emerge and kind of set root in that area. And these business owners were finding these small, little, little little spaces and turning them into West Coast havens for for queer people. And Toronto culture was shifting at that time from being bar focused to be event focused. So you would moreso follow an event that was happening at a venue, then you would just go to the bar, because you want to kind of track these different events. And henhouse was, was kind of a touch point in the West End that we would, we would often go to.
K Anderson 14:43
And so the first time then, do you remember that that feeling of going in and taking in the space?
Joseph Amenta 14:51
Yeah, absolutely. I remember I remember going on I believe it was a Wednesday It was a fairly slow day. And mainly I just went there for lunch. Frank. And I think when when people were used to those spaces or people who are straight enter those spaces, they could engage with them in a different way than when you’re young and queer and trying to find your footing. I think when you’re discovering what it means to be queer in a city, and you’re simultaneously exhilarated and terrified by these spaces, and these environments, you’re kind of constantly observing and absorbing what’s around you. And I remember walking in and everyone was friendly, but everyone was very, very casual. It was a very diverse crowd. And there was a jukebox that people would play music on. But mostly it was from, you know, an iPhone or something over a speaker, the small bar and, and most particularly, I remember the bathrooms, they were downstairs, and you would walk into these small rooms, and the walls were just covered with wallpaper that was made out of old yearbook photos, that had then been kind of graffitied on with mustaches and things and memes on a rudimentary tangible level, I guess you could call them. But it was an interesting space, it was a really interesting space.
K Anderson 16:11
So should we stay in the bathroom?
Joseph Amenta 16:14
Yeah, the thing is, like a bathroom is the bathroom is such a, it’s just such a watering hole for, for people in nightlife spaces, right you, you have a moment where you can pause, or you can connect, you can find distance from life outside of that, that bathroom. And I just remember being kind of awestruck by by the bathroom, it feeling more comfortable to me than, than I initially expected it to be. And I mean, when we started going there regularly, they would turn it into a bit of a dance party in the evenings with a DJ, a very local crowd. So we’d start seeing familiar faces. And that’s when you started making connections with members of the community. You started understanding what it means to be queer and have a community and what a queer community even means. And sometimes just seeing familiar faces a DJ, a bartender, a business owner, a few regulars that like to accompany other friends to a space regularly. And that’s essentially an extension of your family. That’s what it turns into. There was a sense of comfort in the space. And that bathroom was the sense of refuge to
K Anderson 17:26
Well, yeah, I mean, I find that there’s always one of two things that happen in bathrooms in queer spaces that I’ve talked to people about, and it sounds like yours is going to be the PG version. So are you from Toronto?
Joseph Amenta 17:43
Yeah, I grew up in a suburb of Toronto. So my parents. My parents, basically grew up in Canada, but our immigrants and we grew up in a suburb. They grew up in a suburb of Scarborough, primarily, Markham and Scarborough. And then I grew up in Ajax, which is essentially just a cookie cutter suburb outside of the city. And then I’ve been living in the city for about eight years. I went to school here after high school as well. So it’s, it’s my home now.
K Anderson 18:17
And so when you live in the suburbs, is going into Toronto, a big deal.
Joseph Amenta 18:25
Well, I think it depends on your upbringing for me, I didn’t. I wasn’t really exposed to the city much. We didn’t we didn’t make many travels. But it’s only about 45 minutes from my, my childhood home to the city. 45 minutes to an hour depending on the traffic.
K Anderson 18:40
Okay. Yeah. And so then what did move into the city II mean,
Joseph Amenta 18:46
I went to a Catholic school, and then suburbs, I come from a religious family. And the religion is linked to the culture. And I was kind of thrust into a Catholic grade school and a Catholic High School. And I was a bit of a big fish in a small pond by the end of that journey. But I was making films when I was about 1213, buying camcorders with my savings and writing scripts for my friends to act and successfully or unsuccessfully. So I knew what I wanted to do when I was when I was very young. And I knew what that required. So I came to the best film school in the country in the middle of Toronto, it’s smack dab in the middle of the heart of the city. And it was overwhelming, but it was exhilarating. But I still commuted for for about three and a half years because I was paying for my own education and I was working. And you know, my parents were frugal, and I was determined to not live in debt. So I was experiencing the city in small bursts, small kind of bracketed bursts of being able to go back home to the suburbs and live with me familiar and experience. You know, that juxtaposition of moments of freedom. And then I eventually moved out my last year. of school I had an opportunity to live on the floor of a living room in a one bedroom with with someone else who, who I was going to school with. And I took the opportunity. And it was kind of a crazy moment from then on. I moved back home after graduation, went to Australia for the month and then decided to move back downtown. And the journey began. Yeah, the queer journey began.
K Anderson 20:25
Oh, say the queer journey wasn’t happening before then.
Joseph Amenta 20:31
Well, I mean, not in a tangible way. I was I was out to myself at the ripe age of like, eight. Wow. Yeah, I was very young. I remember being in school, and it was a winter, a winter day. And the winters here are grueling. So it requires many, many a layer when you’re going in and out from recess in school activities. And there was a boy named Corey who I was friends with. And he was placing his coat on a rack, and I was reaching over him to place my coat on the other rack, and my stomach, like pressed against his back for maybe a little too long. And I remember liking it a little bit too much. And as soon as he walked away nonchalantly as if nothing happened, I remember standing there for a few minutes being like, okay, bitch, like get ready for the journey.
K Anderson 21:25
And so is that your thing? Now? Do you like rubbing your belly against people? No, not
Joseph Amenta 21:29
at all. I think it was just a moment of physical contact, when I’m feeling something that you you read about and see in film, but you don’t really feel until you know, you’re supposed to film it.
K Anderson 21:41
So what were you reading eight?
Joseph Amenta 21:44
I mean, you know, you’re experiencing stories in school and you’re reading rudimentary novels and things like that, but it’s all antiquated through the lens of religion, right? I mean, Catholic school is a whole other beast. It’s a whole other experience.
K Anderson 22:03
Yeah. Well, let’s mass prayers in the morning. It’s kind of crazy. Well, let’s not dwell on that. Do you? Do you know what happened to Cory?
Joseph Amenta 22:16
I don’t we we kind of grew grew apart, we went to different different schools, I think that in in childhood queerness is this kind of abstract idea. And it can be it can be a point of contention for other people who are a little bit older that notice that you’re different, of course, but when you’re friends with with other boys, or you know, girls, it doesn’t matter, your friends, and as soon as puberty hits, and those differences become more apparent. I think people draft it’s it’s challenging to maintain relationships heteronormative straight men when, you know, they realize that you’re a bit of a duty.
K Anderson 22:58
Do you use that? Do you use that phrase?
Joseph Amenta 23:01
Yeah, of course, if I if I see an actor and a film or a show, and, and you know, they’re playing a straight character, and I see a twin or a moment or an eye roll and like, Oh, she might be a Judy. Judy is, it’s like a code term for a queen.
K Anderson 23:16
Were we Oh, yeah. But I thought it was like, cuz it’s Judy Garland dry. I suppose that that’s the origin. Yeah. Yeah. So he said it was like, you know, I was gonna say outdated. I don’t want that to sound like offense, you know,
Joseph Amenta 23:33
it probably is. Sure. Okay. She had clear history. And the traditions that accompany it.
K Anderson 23:40
And so have you ever googled him then?
Joseph Amenta 23:44
No, you know what? I’m okay with the mystery. Okay, with the mystery. Yeah, absolutely.
K Anderson 23:49
I am. I don’t remember anyone who I had crushes on, or don’t remember their full name, so I can’t Google them. Which is really a good thing. For me, it’s a good thing. Let them within the imagination. Yeah, it’s better. Yeah. And let’s talk about then the people that you met there is there anyone that sticks out?
Joseph Amenta 24:12
I remember the owner, Bobby, Bobby Beckett, I believe, and they are a trans business owner and a bit of a beacon in the community. And I remember them always being very kind, very interested and in love with the space. Very happy when people would come. I remember meeting a DJ, DJ Phil, who’s now a good friend of mine. And he would just kind of own the space. He would do an event called Tibet. He still does the event. It means the F word I get. I don’t know if I can say that. It means that in France, you can
K Anderson 24:53
say it’s okay.
Joseph Amenta 24:54
I can say I can say yeah, and it just ended up being like a Celine Dion. French, you know, queer Rave Party in this space
K Anderson 25:05
as Celine Dion rave party?
Joseph Amenta 25:07
Yeah. Wow, they kind of got crazy. And it was just it was just an aspect of the queer community that I was, I was discovering where sis women and trans people and people of color and femme expressing people were taking up the space as opposed to just the white mask, muscle gaze, you know. And it was it just felt it felt familiar, it felt safe, it felt like a space where you could make those connections in an honest way. Even if someone was reeling off of cocaine or, you know, high on MDMA, it still felt like a refuge and honest connection.
K Anderson 25:46
And so what do you think made it that way?
Joseph Amenta 25:51
I think it was, I think was an amalgamation of things. I think the fact that it was fairly isolated from other queer spaces, made queer people grateful to have it there. I think when people would go there, they were looking for that, as an experience, they were happy to be at that specific space. And you could feel that in, in the energy in the vibe, that everyone was excited to be there. And that they felt comfortable there. I mean, the walls and the decor itself were were interesting, but fairly fairly basic in comparison to a lot of small Toronto bars. It just felt for me even on a nostalgic level, like an a strong introduction to queer nightlife, you know, things got wild, but also felt relaxed and uncomfortable. And the staff there, you know, the staff there was, was always very friendly, always very accommodating. The the owner, Bobby was always again, very excited to have a family there to party with and celebrate with. And it was an artistic scene, right? The the West End of Toronto was a very young, creative environment. And having that creativity jammed into one space in a blender of queerness was a gift,
K Anderson 27:08
a blender of queerness. Shall we talk about then? So I mean, obviously, you’re unable to talk this Celine Dion rave night. But what are the kind of nights and events were held there?
Joseph Amenta 27:20
I believe it also did. Drag Race viewing parties and Western drag and drag shows, in general are much more alternative than the main seating in the village, a West End drag show, you really never know what you’re going to get. It truly is like a box of chocolates. You could you could have you know, someone stripping down naked and sitting in a birthday cake and then eating it and throwing it out the audience you can have a performance with a queen in a 1920s flapper outfit and get handed small bags of popcorn before throwing it at the performer. And then having a breakdown before stripping off into a revealing outfit doing a number by Taylor Swift, you really don’t know what you’re going to get. It does does feel like a naughty performance art piece with a select crowd of maybe 40 people. And it felt intimate. It felt like I was witnessing queer performance for the first time and an honest interactive way. I felt like I was seeing things that I shouldn’t be seeing. And that made me want to see them even more.
K Anderson 28:31
So you weren’t like acting in the stereotypical Catholic schoolboy way?
Joseph Amenta 28:36
No, I rejected those those notions at a very young age, I was having debates and arguments with my priest, and with the school figureheads in religion classes since I was, you know, in grade five or six, I was always questioning, I was always having discussions about what it means to to send what it means to obey why these rules are in place to begin with? Why we follow the faith. You know, who’s who’s guarding after these rules and regulations.
K Anderson 29:09
So were you the kid that whenever you put your hand up, the teacher rolled their eyes? Absolutely. knew I had to say always had something to say. Okay, so you so so you’re not like hanging on to that guilt? No, no, not at all. No, no. I see like a fully realized adult.
Joseph Amenta 29:29
Yes, absolutely. I mean, I remember understanding when I was growing up that my religion was linked to the cultural understanding of religion. My parents weren’t particularly religious, culturally, they were but we weren’t, you know, embedded in the church in the same way that a lot of other families were. It just felt like an aspect of our culture that you had to acknowledge and, like many aspects of my culture, you know, homosexuality. queerness femme expression, all of these things are challenging already. So I felt why not go for the bold and just rebel in an intelligent informed way?
K Anderson 30:14
Hmm. So then okay. So you were seeing these shows, and you were it was something new, it was something that was stimulating you in a way that hadn’t.
Joseph Amenta 30:30
It was a, it was an interest. It was an interesting journey with the hen house, because I find that when I look back on it, it feels almost like a blur. And I don’t know, if I knew at the time how important it was for my development in in the queer community. I’m a filmmaker. And my work revolves around the underbelly. It revolves around nightlife that revolves around queerness as a culture and a language and a tradition and a community moving away from ideas of, of gender and sexual orientation being the defining factors of what brings us together. And I think I experienced that first at the henhouse. Why is it this is this is more than, you know, who you sleep with. This is more than if you do drag or how you identify with your pronouns. This is this is about a community and a subculture that that needs to be explored in film and in cinema. And so what
K Anderson 31:33
work came out of that?
Joseph Amenta 31:37
Well, the first queer film I made was called cherry cola. It was about two drag queens finishing a show, one of which gets a text message from her boyfriend, ending a relationship after two years, and essentially it follows these two drag queens as they tear up the city on a night of debauchery and revenge.
K Anderson 31:57
What it’s like, so did this space inspire either directly or indirectly that?
Joseph Amenta 32:03
Oh, absolutely, yeah, absolutely. Anytime I production. But at the time of my production, the hen house had closed. And I think that what I was trying to capture with, with that film was this idea of, of West and queer nightlife and how drag culture is shifted there and how the city is an extension of those spaces. And it’s, it’s integrated into the city in a lot of ways, because it’s not on a strip with rainbow lights and colors, you’re smack dab in the middle of a city with a Portuguese bakery beside you and a dental hygienist office right beside you. So the idea of integration and seeing these Queens in full makeup and drag exploring the city, after having, you know, this night of refuge after leaving this night of refuge in the space was really interesting to me. And I wanted to see if they could carry that unapologetic attitude, that accommodation of space that they have within, you know, the four walls of a small bar. But could they do that on a street car or in the middle of a city street? I just wanted to showcase irreverence? I think I did.
K Anderson 33:20
And, and so do you remember hearing about the hen house closing?
Joseph Amenta 33:28
Yeah, I remember I think it was, I think it was the a the the artists who took me there for the first time, she told me, she had been going there for quite a while prior to her introducing me to the space. And I think the last had their doors open. They had a pinata, that was shaped like a condo building. And everyone was just wailing on it. I think it said something like gentrification, fuck gentrification or something along those lines. And it just allowed for, like this celebration of a defeat, in a way, you know, this, this celebration of a release, and a way to physically stick it to the man, you know, which I thought was just a perfect encapsulation of what that bar was. And so that was the reason that it was closing because of increasing rent or because the space was getting knocked down. I think that it’s I think it’s unclear. I remember I read an article and Bobby was was kind of, you know, stating that there were numerous reasons and you know, they weren’t being clear about one specific reason. I think that there’s some rumors going around that there were condo buildings that were popping up, like right around that area. It was beginning to change and they were getting so many noise complaints that it became unrelenting and they’re like, fuck it like we can’t keep fighting this anymore. We just can’t. Because it’s becoming exhausting. And it’s it’s, it’s making us feel like this space is no longer for us. You know, we were beginning to feel like this is a space that that can no longer accommodate our brilliance.
K Anderson 35:07
But they were in that kind of weird annoying cycle of them helping to create the atmosphere that makes an area desirable to move into. And then people desire to move into that that area, live there for a while, and then complain about the noise that is being made.
Joseph Amenta 35:25
Yeah, absolutely. So I think I think the space was sold. I saw Bobby at a protest. Not too long ago, I didn’t say hi, but I wish I did. But it was, it was a moment in time. And I’m like, forever grateful to have had that experience. It closed down maybe a year, a year and a half after I started going. And I remember feeling robbed of all the years I was in my mid 20s. I remember feeling robbed of all the years I could have experienced going there. Had I allowed myself to be open to it earlier.
K Anderson 35:58
Ah, okay. Oh, that’s really interesting. Yeah. So were you aware then that it existed before you went there?
Joseph Amenta 36:07
I think that the problem was more so a lack of interest in discovery. I think it was comfort in my routine, comfort in my bubble, comfort in the friend groups that wouldn’t often go to those spaces, and attachment to an identity that was you know, dissipating in my hands. But I was holding on to.
K Anderson 36:25
Yeah, that is interesting. Howdy, do you have any mechanisms to prevent yourself from? I’m gonna use the word rot, but maybe right isn’t the right word. Like sticking to ruts that you’re comfortable in.
Joseph Amenta 36:42
I think I’m a fairly routine based person, which is, which is kind of interesting, given that I work in creative fields, but it allows me to, it allows me to mean team structure in an industry and a career path that is so unstructured. And it’s so often very messy. And I find that sometimes I’ll do things because I’ve done them before, or I’ll go places because I’ve gone there before. As opposed to this curiosity, this hunger to discover new things, especially at that time, I was fairly new to the city and I was fairly new to nightlife really, I had gone out and college with my straight girlfriends, and it was, you know, a very different environment for where people, very, very different environment, I was often the only queer person or maybe one of the only queer people and and it was, it felt like nightlife just wasn’t something that was made for me. So when you experience something like the henhouse, it allows you to understand that if you take the chances if you experience things that are outside of your comfort zone, if you put yourself in those situations, oftentimes they can become integrated in your new routine. It just takes that curiosity you have to really drop those walls off and take the initiative.
K Anderson 38:01
I did it. I love that you had like, but you’re but you’re still going to integrate it into a routine of some sort.
Joseph Amenta 38:08
Yeah. It becomes almost like, you know, my, my nightlight at home. You know, I like to settle into places I’m not met a very casual person, I think I am. I’m quite intense. So if I create an attachment to a space or a person, it feels it feels fantastically overwhelming, and I become addicted to it. Because I thrive on the feelings that it gives me, even if it’s fear.
K Anderson 38:39
But so how does that work? Like, you know, making sweeping sweeping statements about the queer community? How does that work? Making attachments of the romantic kind with people? If they’re not down for that? What do you what do you mean? Yeah, I basically mean, like, you know, speak for more candidly. No, no, I guess just from what you’re saying. It sounds like you fall hard for people or?
Joseph Amenta 39:16
No, I don’t I don’t think that that’s it. If anything, I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s the opposite. I think that I’m fascinated with people. I become, I become fascinated with the idea of people the idea of a space the idea of, of the wall paper in this bathroom and the amount of people it has seen come and go doing blow and making out and taking a pass. All of these things are interesting to me because it feels like a story. It feels like a narrative. It feels like there is intelligence and a life behind these walls. And when I speak To someone I’m like truly fascinated with what they have to say, I think in terms of romance, the obstacle is, is being interested on a different level, you know, I think I can find people very interesting. But to be vulnerable back is, is a challenge. And in those spaces, it can be easier, you know, an extended glance, a continuous interaction, you know, being able to see a familiar face over the course of a few months or regular to. And that’s, I think that that’s what it takes for me a little bit, a little bit more familiarity, so that I can, you know, get to know what someone’s about, I think that’s what allowed me to begin experimenting with was developing relationships, because I felt like I was experiencing something singular, but also shared with other people.
K Anderson 40:51
So this takes us back to that word guarded, does it? It does, yeah. So so it takes a while then to like, Ferro beneath the surface?
Joseph Amenta 41:04
I think so. Yeah. I mean, I’m a, I’m a very open person on an intellectual and creative level, but I think on like, a, an emotional level, it can be a, it can be challenging for me, I think also, because when I, when I see spaces, or witness emotional expression, from someone, my mind is always trying to digest it in a rational way, so that I can understand it, or appreciate it or dissect it. But the reality of the situation is, you know, sometimes you just have to feel it. And yeah, it’s a lifelong journey, I think, a very visceral, visceral person, but also very, very cerebral, cerebral Cerebro.
K Anderson 41:50
So and so it’s like, you can experience something on a visceral level, but you have to go away and process it before you can respond.
Joseph Amenta 42:00
Yeah, or more. So more so than respond, I would say, like, open up to it, I will ask a million questions and, you know, raise a million points. But when when I’m asked about personal things, or someone wants to get to know me, I think it takes me a while to to give them not the answer that I am, you know, revising in my mind. But the answer that’s coming from, from an emotional place,
K Anderson 42:27
do you have the say, this is me speaking from experience? Do you have that? Like, why are you so interested in me kind of reaction?
Joseph Amenta 42:35
Yeah, I think that I think that because of my, my line of work, and because of the work I make, and and the way I interact with people, sometimes I can be a little bit idealized, from the first interactions we have. And I can smell that in in the air from a mile away now, you know, but it’s not necessarily their fault. I think it’s, it’s challenging for me to be an open book, I’m certainly not an open book. So people are intrigued because of the resistance. And then that interest, you know, leads to something else. And yeah, it’s a complicated situation, I think it’s linked to a million things, I think, where people are, you know, valued in the shadows, you know, especially when they’re growing up, they’re not taught about their, they’re not taught about their sexuality or their agency or their sexual health. And that’s why we have kind of disparate relationships and sexual experiences, because we’re not really guided in the same way. We don’t have a frame of reference in the same way. And that’s also kind of beautiful, but it can be challenging. You know,
K Anderson 43:45
Armistead Maupin, I think, what book is there? And it might be in, in one of his books, or maybe tonight listener, he talks about I think he I think he refers to it as a gay age, because he’s talking only about sis men. But he talks about that your gauge starts when you come out. So your heterosexual counterparts all have a very kind of similar experience in coming to terms with their sexuality. Well, no similar experience, but a similar time frame. And queer people will have a very, very different times in their lives, depending on personal circumstances. And I’d actually know where I’m going with this. And I think
Joseph Amenta 44:36
that’s fascinating, though. I mean, like, I didn’t start experiencing nightlife and love and relationships until I was about 23 years old, you know, and I think that that’s beneficial in a lot of ways because it allowed me to really stay focused on film school when I was a child, you know, in a school with older, artistic, talented people and I really needed to learn and be focused But my work didn’t really shift into a unique place until I experienced love and loss and hardship and my community and the glitter and grit and the juxtaposition between the beauty of dancing to Celine Dion song with a crowd of of Freaks and Geeks with, you know, someone getting finger blasted in the bathroom downstairs like I love that juxtaposition, of of, you know, these instinctual, knotty, gritty human moments and seeing something that’s, you know, a half glass of beer with reflected light through, you know, through it as the most beautiful disco ball in the world. Like, I like those kind of juxtapositions of reality and fantasy. And I think that that’s what these spaces create the creative fantasy, and people are often fucked up, they’re drunk, or they’re on drugs, and it allows you to create a safe space where that fantasy is fostered. And it’s guided and it’s, it’s overseen.
K Anderson 46:05
Hmm, yeah. And you’re kind of like starting from a similar baseline with everyone else that’s there. With that expectation, there is that feeling of safety that’s encouraged. Yeah, absolutely. But like so. Okay, just a quick sidebar. Should I be familiar with the term finger blast? I don’t know. I mean, I’m pretty I’m pretty sure I figured out what it means but like,
Joseph Amenta 46:31
I think it was in the recesses of my vocabulary to be honest, I’m surprised it became jumping out but you know, maybe I’m gonna finger blast kind of mood today so
K Anderson 46:43
so maybe it isn’t what I thought it was.
Joseph Amenta 46:47
No, I think it is exactly what you think. It’s just an idea of what could be going on at the hen house and that’s another thing like a lot of people probably were like, Oh, this is you know, one type of bar it’s for queer women but it was it was open to everyone you know, femme expressing people mask presenting people, sis people straight people, it was it just felt like a bar, that you didn’t have to feel uncomfortable about taking up space or speaking loud with queer Twain or dressing up for it just felt like a Toronto bar experience, which is what queer people don’t often get to feel, you know, there are hundreds of bars in the city, just to grab a drink or a brunch, or, you know, have a bit of a dance in the evening for straight people. But for queer people, if you’re not in the village with these flashing lights and lineups and bouncers, and, you know, you don’t really get to experience what what small town queer nightlife is until you experience that at places like the hen house.
K Anderson 47:52
Did you ever go to the hen house? Well, if you did, tell me all about it. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook with the user name K. Anderson music. Share your photos, tell me your stories. Let me know what you caught up to half the henhouse. And you can also follow Joseph on Instagram. User handle is Joseph takes photos a lot of spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single from the set, well groomed boys, which is also playing underneath my talking right now on all good streaming platforms. If you liked this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribe, left a review on Apple podcasts or just told people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to I am K Anderson and you have been listening to loss of spaces.