Are you a straight person considering a night out at a gay bar? Danni Glover has some words of caution.
The festive party season is upon us once again, and workplaces everywhere are eyeing up party venues. I’m from Glasgow, home to a nightlife so vibrant it more often resembles wildlife, and I’m dreading it. Not because I’m particularly introverted – you should see me when the DJ hits I Feel Love – but because the resolution of mixed company to “go somewhere fun” often leads them to the zaniest place they can think of. A comedy club, a student night with a bouncy castle, or, if you can imagine it, a gay bar. They descend en masse, fresh from a Christmas two-course with cocktails at Yates’, screeching with delight at the club version of Adele and the dance floor that, at 10pm, still has ample handbag-swinging space. It’s clear that the club holds an extra layer of entertainment for The Office Night Out, gawking at drag queens, cheering at kissing twinks, requesting I Kissed A Girl while pretending to flirt with Beth from Accounting who’s always kept her hair short. It’s a spectacle that they wouldn’t normally experience, because they wouldn’t normally be invited into such an intimately queer space where people are free to enact their most authentic physical and flirtatious impulses, because, as mostly straight people, they don’t belong there.
I’m not against straight people coming to gay clubs. I’m really not. I’m happy to bring along a friend or two for a dance in a place where I feel comfortable and the drinks are cheap and the bartenders are good looking. I just think that when they come in a group where they outnumber queers, they kind of take over the space. I hypothesise that it’s a mix between privilege, overstimulation, and Bacardi. Whatever it is, it really chafes my chaps and I wish they’d sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up, Felicia. When you’re offered a welcome, it’s not polite to overstay it.
They descend en masse, fresh from a Christmas two-course with cocktails at Yates’, screeching with delight at the club version of Adele and the dance floor that, at 10pm, still has ample handbag-swinging space. It’s clear that the club holds an extra layer of entertainment for The Office Night Out, gawking at drag queens, cheering at kissing twinks, requesting I Kissed A Girl while pretending to flirt with Beth from Accounting who’s always kept her hair short.
Hen parties are the worst. That sentence doesn’t require the suffix “…for misbehaving in gay bars”; it’s perfect as is, without context. But for the sake of my argument, imagine it there anyway. A group of (usually entirely) women, upon entering a gay bar, will almost invariably make a joke of the sexuality of everyone there by coyly and facetiously flirting with women and boldly but asexually flirting with men. Frankly, when people outside the club treat my sexuality like a joke on a daily basis, I don’t need it happening in a space that’s been dedicated to my tribe either. The trouble with hen parties, of course, is that they’ll all too often find one misguided, unattached, and under-confident gay man, either invited along or drawn to them like a moth to an oedipal flame, who is content to be called “one of the girls” and doesn’t mind posing for photographs where he’s getting a mimed blowjob from a rowdy bridesmaid. This photograph will not be taken on the nightclub setting of the camera in question and will later appear on Facebook with regretful red eyes and the mother of the groom cackling wildly, uncropped at the side. He’s alright. Well, he’s annoying as fuck and the reason he’s there with a hen party is that nobody who actually comes to the club wants to talk to him, but whether he realises it or not, they’re all thinking “It’s alright, as long as he’s here we’re welcome.” By a quarter to midnight they will have alienated all other gay men in their radius by unreciprocated and unwarranted touching. By two, one of them will tear across the floor saying “I did it! I snogged a lezzer!” Now that same sex marriage is legal in most of the UK, I hope we return the favour by, I don’t know, having enemas in strip clubs or moving in quickly together in wine bars.
I’m not against straight people coming to gay clubs… I just think that when they come in a group where they outnumber queers, they kind of take over the space. I hypothesise that it’s a mix between privilege, overstimulation, and Bacardi.
I know how mean and grinchy I sound. For what it’s worth, when I have this discussion with my friends, they’re pretty evenly divided on the subject, though most of my gay male friends have had at least one negative experience with straight people in their favourite bar. I’m trying to look at the role queer people find for themselves in mainstream social spaces holistically, though, and it strikes me that there’s a genuine problem where we struggle to find a celebratory space for ourselves where we don’t have to share ownership with straight people. The corporatisation of Pride events is its own problem, but is also a symptom of the movement of Pride from a protest and a celebration to a marketing opportunity, and LGBTQ+ people are not any better off for it, chiefly because our problems are for the most part not corporate. The problem reaches its apex when straight people are organising for and directly profiting from us. It’s important to maintain spaces that are just for us so that we can have some freedom from that. Gay bars are only one frontier, but as I see it, they’re an important one. They’re the place where our sexual and romantic desires are most openly celebrated and included, and they’re often the place where (in particular the transgender members of our community) feel comfortable making a first public outing as the person they feel comfortable being, and I am not in favour of turning them into observation zoos. We worked hard to have these spaces. We suffered. Many of us still do. And I think we’ve earned the right to a bit of Kylie, a flirtation with an interested hottie, and a night where we’re the normal ones.
(Author’s note: gay bar is a colloquialism I am happy to use as a non-gay queer person, but I accept and understand that some people may find the use of this colloquialism objectionable.)
(Another author’s note! When this post was written, I had straight transgender people in mind under the “queer” umbrella, as they are and should be absolutely welcome in broadly queer spaces due to our shared struggle. Though I did consider them in my writing, I did not make that consideration explicit and the result was erasure. I’m sorry for this and will be mindful of it in future.)
Follow Danni on Twitter (@danvestite)