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Everyone's welcome in queer speed dating at Fox Market and Bar in East Montpelier

Two people peeking out door of colorful building with rainbow flag
Audrey Cain
Co-owners Doni Cain and Liv Dunton at Fox Market and Bar in East Montpelier.

Fox Market and Bar opened two and a half years ago in East Montpelier. It’s a place where you can stop and pick up a roast chicken and bottle of wine for home, or meet friends and hang out for hours playing board games in what feels like a big, cozy living room. It’s a queer bar and a bar for people who are queer friendly, and periodically they hold speed dating events, which are more like relaxed mixers than anything else. Reporter Erica Heilman attended a recent event and talked with some of the people there. Here’s Wanda Winters:

This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Wanda Winters: I've been to a couple of the speed dating events here and it's nothing like you see on TV. It's really more of an invitation to hang out and be in community. And if you've got a name tag on, indicating that you're open to, you know, talking to strangers and meeting new people, and I like to socialize and I love Fox Market, and that's why I'm here.

Erica Heilman: This is Gwyn Woods.

Gwyn Woods: I'm monogamous and something I've struggled with as a young queer person is finding other people who are monogamous, actually. You know, all power to polyamorous people, but for me, I'm a femme and I'm femme for butch, and specifically my type is butch for femme monogamous people. And then of course, I have my own personal preferences like any other human, like I love people who are into nature, someone, you know, who wants to raise goats together one day, which is such a typical lesbian thing.

Erica Heilman: You haven’t found any goat people yet?

Gwyn Woods: Not single monogamous ones.

Erica Heilman: What do you want? Is a component of this a desire to meet someone?

Purple lit outdoor dance party
Audrey Cain
A backyard party at Fox Market and Bar.

Wanda Winters: Oh, of course. Or someones. I'm a little older — quite a bit older — and kind of early in my transition. And it's a weird, interesting, new adventure. And if I see my friends and have some conversations, that's a big win. If I happen to meet somebody that's kind of interested in going out, then that's even better.

Erica Heilman: Since you've transitioned, are you lonely? Or are you less lonely now?

Wanda Winters: It's very interesting. I've always had a lot of friends. I've always known a lot of people. Sometimes I'm really lonely. I am missing, definitely, romantic and sensual connection in my life. And I would like that.

Erica Heilman: Have you been in love? Since you transitioned?

Wanda Winters: Ooh, you know, a little bit. A little bit.

Erica Heilman: This is Fox co-owner Liv Dunton.

What is the queer community in central Vermont?

Liv Dunton: There are queer folks in central Vermont and these rural places. But it's almost like this veil that you don't get to see until all of a sudden it's lifted, and then you're in and it's fine and it's everywhere. And it's happening on big multifamily commune houses with all the queer folks living together. And it's happening in people's, you know, backyards and barn parties. And it's just not as explicit in many ways as it is in more urban settings. And so it can be hard to find it until all of a sudden you're in and you see it, and then it's everywhere.

Wanda Winters: I had a very interesting experience earlier this summer when the Queer Arts Festival was in Plainfield — which is my hometown — and it was down at the ball field, which is a place that holds a lot of repressed, repressing myself and the heteronormativity.

Erica Heilman: You play ball there?

Wanda Winters: Oh, yes. And Fourth of July celebrations, and, you know, I played Little League there and then basketball.

Erica Heilman: So there you are at the ball field, 30 years later.

Wanda Winters: Surrounded by several hundred queer and queer friendly people, which I couldn't believe it happened in my lifetime. Because I remember the homophobic slurs and, you know, kept me in the closet, you know, back then, they would literally try to beat the queer out of you.

Erica Heilman: Here we are sitting up the road from your ball field in your hometown. You could throw a rock to your town from here. And what is it like to, to—

Wanda Winters: A lot of times it's expressed as queer joy. And it's just this giant weight that you don't worry about who you are as much anymore.

Two people talking on a couch with two bottles of winke between them
Audrey Cain
Co-owners Doni Cain and Liv Dunton upstairs at Fox Market and Bar.

Erica Heilman: This is Fox co-owner Doni Cain:

I mean, this is a pretty rural place. And you say that there are people who come here who, who are sort of able to lean into themselves for the first time in this place. What is that like?

Doni Cain: I mean, it's heartwarming, it's heartbreaking, it's a lot of really strong feelings. We — Liv and I — cry a lot at the register about the interactions we get in with people. We are that safe space for a lot of people in so many different ways, whether you're experimenting with your gender or you're trans or you have a kid that just came out to you and you don't have anybody to talk to about that. If you have a kid that just came out and said they're nonbinary, they want to go by they/them pronouns, they don't know who to talk to about it. And they come here, and they just start crying at the register, and they just start like telling you everything, it's like, that's wonderful. And the person who showed up one night, you know, they had a feminine dress on over a little more masculine kind of outer coat, and they were here for two hours. Finally, they take their jacket off and hang it on a hook. And they said, ‘This is the first time I've ever done this.’ And they sat at the bar for another hour talking to us. And it was just — it's hard, you know, it's great. But there's a lot of responsibility there, too. And we’re doing our best to, like, hold that space for people.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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