By Aditi Ohri
I am curious about place, belonging and the embodiment of subjective experience. Doreen Massey describes place as a social process, a living relationship between emotions, observations, and movements in physical space.
The same place can be terrifying to one person and a source of immense comfort to another. Urban landscapes come alive through thoughts, words and actions, which trace the contours of buildings, parks, sidewalks and parking lots. People identify themselves as connected to or alienated from their surroundings for a number of geographic and physiological reasons. Every person lives a reality that others will never experience. How do people feel in relation to their physical environment, and how does that affect how they move through space? I began my research by talking to long-term residents of Point St Charles in the hope of better understanding the emotional geography of the neighbourhood.
I first met Steven Wells at Share the Warmth on a Thursday. I was curious about his life in Point St Charles, what brought him here, what keeps him here and how he envisions his future in the Point. We met for two interviews in November. He was very open with me about his life and his experiences as a gay Black man living in Montreal. He grew up in Little Burgundy, moved around the southwest and finally came to the Point in 1999. He spoke of racist vandalism in the Point and police harassment in Little Burgundy. He spoke of not feeling comfortable walking hand-in-hand with his partner in public. Our conversation reminded me that people who are different from what society deems normal often move through the world in a way that is felt through exclusion and avoidance; feelings that are otherwise invisible to people around them.
When I began researching I felt like an outsider to the Point. Coming into the neighbourhood with my colleagues once a week, I wanted to understand the experiences of “insiders” in the area. Through talking with Steven I realized how complicated the idea of being an insider or an outsider truly is. Steven has lived in the Point for fifteen years, and although he is an active community member with friends and family nearby, he does not always feel like he is in a place where he belongs.
Following our conversations, I took my colleagues on a walking tour of Point St Charles, moving to and from places where significant events in Steven’s life had occurred. At each place, I asked people to read a relevant excerpt from Steven’s interview transcript. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to meet Steven briefly at Share the Warmth. He is a very warm, generous and courageous person. I feel grateful for having had the opportunity to glimpse into his reality and to share his words.