The first time I waddled into a gay bar I was immediately thrust out of my comfort zone. At the time my eardrum was punctured, so I said ‘what?’ a lot and my English sounded broken. I wore ill-fitting vests that hung like a potato sack over my body and every guy I encountered looked at me like I was an exhausting roadblock between them and the bar. ‘I’m going to stay at least an hour’ I said to the female friends I’d convinced to accompany me – a chore that took a lot of nagging and a lot more vodka. Nervously I explored the venue, clinging to my friends like a toddler to his mother in a busy supermarket; peeping out from behind them with occasional curiosity. I was very new to the gay scene, and at the time I felt like a scourge upon gay men everywhere. If it wasn’t for my two straight female friends that night, soothing my anxiety, a bouncer would probably have found me in a drunken, fugue state, stapled to the floor of a bathroom cubicle.
Fast forward (a few) years and now I’m strutting into a gay bar with ease. I no longer need the comforting crutch of a straight female friend, because I consider these bars a safe-haven. I walk around fearless and the bitchy remarks and daggering glances don’t even register anymore. But something else has changed. Now, when I see a gaggle of straight cis-girls walking into the bar or club I suddenly become a lot of vigilant and grow slightly uncomfortable – particularly when they’re all sporting sashes that announce the arrival of a hen party. Like your mobile phone ringing at 2am, this sight quickly becomes an instrument of terror. I have nothing against straight people going to gay bars – female, male, it really doesn’t bother me. What does irk me though is when they abandon all consideration and manners and start treating the place like a petting zoo. I stand back and watch as they point at rainbow flags, or smirk at the skimpy fashion choices of the twerking twink in the corner. This chain reaction of observations and implications repeats itself throughout the entire evening, culminating in a couple of them quite literally pointing and gawking at two guys energetically making-out on the dance floor.
I understand the appeal of a gay club or bar for them. It’s the idea they like; the curiosity, an excitement about getting up on a dance floor and letting their freak-flag-fly without the burden of some drunken oath drooling all over them. I get it. I totally get it. It’s a night off, right? You deserve that, ladies. But when a gaggle of straight girls zig-zag into a gay bar armed with party banners and a gay stereotype, then I take issue. When they approach me on the dance floor during a Britney song and expect me to have a dance off with them, because that’s their ‘GBF’s’ favourite song I have to take a deep breath. When they giggle at the uncensored dance moves going on around them, I have hold back the urge to spit my disappointment in their face. I get this is new for you, but don’t treat our safe-space like it’s a Netflix show you’re going to binge watch. It is not a novelty.
I’ve expressed these views to straight girls I know when they tell me ‘they love gay clubs’ but always get knocked back. This rejection sees brief phases of ‘it’s not fair’ come my way and I’m left trying to explain to them – calmly – why they’ve perhaps been knocked back. One girl says to me, she adores gay clubs because gay-guys always tell her ‘how hot’ her outfit is, her dumb gloating face demented with pride. Another then squeals, ‘Is it because I’m not butch enough?’ and I tell her no, it’s because you think sentences like that are appropriate. I tell them there are hundreds of clubs and bars women can go to and not fear judgement – where as we have a handful. I tell them that the bouncers’ job is to protect the club and its clientele. LGBTQ communities face enough prejudice and accidental ignorance daily, so we don’t want and/or need it on a night out.
Then suddenly the situation shifts and I’m accused of brandishing a mucusy misogyny. I’m told I’m being sexist by saying women aren’t allowed in gay bars. Suddenly the hoard of females is up in arms and I’m no longer a gay guy trying to express his community’s issues and concerns; I’m a man who is telling a woman that she can’t do something – and that isn’t the case at all. This isn’t about gender; it’s about a fundamental lack of respect some straight women have in gay bars. I welcome women and others to be part of our culture in any space. I welcome them to celebrate with the LGBTQ community. But that’s not what certain troupes want. Hen-party hostess Sarah and her friends see us as mere props on their night out. I’d gladly welcome Sarah and her sea of hetero-cis women into our space, as soon as they understand that the same welcoming isn’t extended to us in their space.
I love the idea that gay bars and clubs are going the way of the dinosaur. As we become more accepted by the rest of society, we should expect bars of all kinds to become more-mixed. That isn’t the case right now. Gay venues are our spaces, created by and for queer people. So, when an army of women march in and start commanding the place, treating it like a circus, we have a right to be annoyed. Hetero-cis women, I can’t help but wonder what your reaction would be if a hetero-male bachelor party acted the same way as you in a bar for women? You don’t know what it’s like to be gay, or lesbian, or bi or trans. You haven’t had to suffer the indignity of being mocked and ridiculed every day because of who you are or who you love or sleep with. Even when I go into straight bars I would be very hesitant about displaying any type of PDA for fear of remarks being made or worse. I don’t want to feel that want in a club that I consider a haven. You’re welcome here – I’ll have a double gin lemonade, if you’re offering. All I ask if that you treat our haven with respect and refrain from gawking like a child on its first visit to the zoo.
Also, don’t expect me to dance to Britney. Nobody wants to see me preen and jig like a desperate animal.