Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ladies' night

We at WWPD are familiar with the arguments against straight women going to gay bars. These, however, assume that the bars in question are for gay men. Jezebel has now reposted what I think is a rant about straight women popping up at lesbian bars.

This I'm having trouble wrapping my head around. Is this a thing? Groups of straight women, unaccompanied by lesbian or bisexual female friends, just showing up at lesbian bars/lesbian nights at gay bars? Not because they happened upon the establishment - and who among us hasn't, in our more social youth, ended up at a bar geared to a sexual orientation or gender not our own, because it was a bar and it was there, not cared once we noticed if we even did, had a drink or two, and moved along - but because they sought this out? Isn't the idea with gay bars that women believe they can escape being hit on? Wouldn't a bar where everyone likes women (as vs. a straight bar, where maybe half do and half don't) defeat the purpose? Isn't it more likely that a gaggle of girly-girls who've sought out a bar for gay women are gay women, but just femme gay women, or - if ill-at-ease - semi-closeted/newly-out?


Flavia said...

Huh. I'm also not familiar with this as a thing. For one thing, there just aren't that many lesbian-specific bars (a great complaint of my lesbian friends; even in Manhattan I can only think of two, though I'm obviously not the expert).

On the one hand, that might make minority spaces more precious. On the other hand, the rent's got to get paid, and it seems to me that suffering possibly-straight women in your lesbian bar might be preferable to splitting space with a mostly-male gay bar whose patrons aren't thrilled to have any women there--even their sexual-minority siblings.

In the city I now live in, the gay bars are broadly ecumenical--male, female, all ages and subcultures--and necessarily have a smattering of straight friends-of. This is obviously about economics, but there's also something very nice about the way it brings people together. (Say I, but so also say my gay friends, many of whom formerly lived in much bigger cities with a more diverse gay nightlife.)

Phoebe said...

"there just aren't that many lesbian-specific bars"

Absolutely. But this post title is referring to the Jezebel post, in which the author complains about women showing up at a ladies'-as-in-lesbians night at a bar that isn't otherwise serving that purpose.

In terms of "ecumenical" gay bars, my impression (as a straight woman, grain of salt, etc.) is that there are on the one hand gay-friendly bars, restaurants, other public spaces, where a same-sex couple will feel comfortable being affectionate, but where mixed crowds gather, and on the other, gay pickup bars/lesbian pickup nights at gay bars, where a straight friend would be out of place. Asking that straight folks stay out of the former would, as you say, be a losing proposition financially, and denies the happy reality of mixed-orientation groups of friends. But the latter...

Flavia said...

First point taken. And in any case, I was basically seconding your take on the matter.

For the second, I'm actually talking about specifically gay bars that aren't primarily pick-up scenes: places where gays and lesbians go to hang out with and/or run into their friends--but that aren't unwelcoming to straights (though straights are a decided minority, and the bars aren't catering to them). It's like the equivalent of the neighborhood (straight-ish/mixed) pub vs. a scene-y meat market: you might conceivably pick someone up there, but you're mostly going just to hang out. Such gay bars exist in Manhattan, though I think they're more common elsewhere, where it's harder to support a bar catering just to Chelsea boys, or leather daddies, or whatever other subset of the gay community. You need all kinds.

So my point is that those kinds of ecumenical gay bars, as long as they're not in danger of being overrun by straight people and losing their distinctive character (which, uh, usually they aren't), are just as happy to have the occasional straight couple or trio of straight women as your local pub may be to have occasional gay couples: everyone's money's green.

Phoebe said...

Agreed, agreed, and now more confused than ever by the Jezebel gripe. I'm assuming, if it's not about sex-oriented clubs, it is that whichever establishments are in fact "in danger of being overrun by straight people and losing their distinctive character." But if that's happening at a lesbian bar, maybe the bar needs to publicize its identity better? Or maybe a community needs a lesbian night, but demographics don't support an entire bar for gay women? (Why am I thinking of an analogy to Israel-Palestine, and the need for borders to acknowledge demographic realities, not fantasies?)

David Schraub said...

I think to begin with there is in our society a sense that for het women to express at least bicuriousity -- even in just attending a lesbian bar -- is something transgressive and hip (remember the Community episode where Britta "makes a lesbian friend" who also turns out to be a het woman looking for a "lesbian friend"?). So that could be a motivator.

On the problem of being hit on, a few things might mitigate the problem. The first is that the prospect may seem less threatening -- more socially acceptable to reject, or perceived to be less prone to be aggressive or backed by physical threat. But I'm also reminded of a Reddit thread where a guy relayed his experience at a gay bar -- it's not that he was expecting to be swarmed by the men, but he expected something, only to quickly find out that, in his words, "this was a league I was not prepared to play in." As Joseph Steffan put it upon being kicked out of the Naval Academy for being gay: "Heterosexual men have an annoying habit of overestimating their own attractiveness." (See also Gay Women will Marry Your Boyfriends).

Phoebe said...


I don't think I've ever seen Community, but I kind of see what you mean. If nothing else, societal homophobia is such that men are far more afraid of being/somehow becoming gay than women are of being/somehow becoming lesbians. This is reinforced by the popular belief that straight men if anything prefer bisexual women, but that straight women consider bisexual men semi-closeted gay men and steer clear. But as for lesbian friends being "hip" - I'd never heard of this. I thought the thing was for straight women to want gay male friends for that purpose.

Re: getting hit on, true, women may seem less threatening in terms of sexual violence. But some of this whole conversation (the broader one about straight women and gay bars) seems to come down to straight women overestimating their irresistibility. I suppose there are environments where unsolicited groping is the norm, but very few women are swarmed simply upon showing up at a bar with friends. My own theory about why (some) straight women like gay bars is that it allows them to look and not worry about being looked at. Looked at and hit on or looked at and rejected. At a gay bar, the hot guys don't notice you, but it's nothing personal. But it sounds a lot better to present this as, gay bars are the only way to avoid a swarm of admirers.

And... "Gay Women will Marry Your Boyfriends." I'd seen the gay men version, which I think worked better. For so many reasons, some obnoxious and some kind of important, straight women identifying with and hanging out with gay men is a thing in a way that straight men bonding with lesbians is not. Not, of course, that individual straight men don't have lesbian friends. Also, there's already this popular assumption that lesbianism isn't a sexual orientation so much as a phase. (Dan Savage has lots to say on this...) But basically, it wouldn't shock anyone if one or all of the women from this video ended up with a man, whereas gay men are assumed to be gay for life.

David Schraub said...

Dude(tte) -- you need to watch Community. Seriously -- the priority of this thread just shifted dramatically.

Phoebe said...

Duly noted!