Editors' Note: Guest blogger Drew Cordes is a transgender woman from Albany, N.Y. She is a 2004 graduate of Vassar College.
I used to get pissed off seeing heteros while enjoying a night out at one of my friendly neighborhood gay bars. Nowadays, I'm torn between myriad feelings on their presence.
My personal history largely colors these thoughts. Allow me to explain: I am a trans woman now, but I wasn't always. I grew up a boy repressing all desire I had to be a girl (quite successfully, as I was very masculine), but by the time puberty hit, I couldn't ignore my attraction to men. I believed/convinced myself I was a gay man from about age 12 to 22. After that, the denial started to crumble and blah, blah, the usual clichés about a "journey." As a tgirl, I now enjoy the luxury of passing, which leads me to be perceived as a just another straight girl.
I both welcome and loathe being seen as just another straight girl. I loathe it because I spent a large chunk of my life embracing and wrestling with a gay identity. I was out of the closet in my very early teens. I always joke "I grew up a gay man." Being queer is, and always will be, a huge part of who I am. It shaped me.
I welcome being seen as a straight girl, because, well, that's kind of my goal. I want to pass. I want to be pretty, whatever that means. I want to fit in, in that way. If someone asks me for a tampon in the bathroom or makes a joke to me about pregnancy, I'm on cloud nine. When asked as a kid, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" my brain could never think of anything besides "a girl." Now I am a girl.
So, back to the bar. In my gay-male youth, I relished the bar as a queer-only space. It was our little piece of vengeance - a place where the tables were turned. When straights came in for cheap drinks because all the other bars were closed, it was my duty to make them as uncomfortable as possible. Especially straight men. I gave them dirty looks. I danced too close, too aggressively. I performed overt displays of affection right next to them. I loved fucking with the breeders, as I fondly referred to them then. "This is OUR space, asshole. In here, you're the freak. And you're not welcome."
Ironically, I'm now often on the receiving end of similar dirty looks and eye rolls when I enter those same gay bars. "Just another straight girl coming into our place," is what I know they're all thinking. It hurts. It makes me reconsider my former opinions.
What are our criteria for belonging in queer spaces? What should they be? How do we stop making assumptions about the people who enter? The drag queens are celebrated, but are the hetero male crossdressers welcome? What about the male-female couple who are both bisexual? Our straight friends? The passable trans man who no one can tell is trans?
Assumption becomes divisive in these cases. People are thought not to belong, when actually, they do. However, the root principle that some belong and some don't, is what causes much of this confusion and sadness in the first place. Certainly there are places and events that are justifiably exclusionary - support groups come to mind -- but I've come to believe that queer social spaces should be inclusive. We can safely take a stranger's act of coming to a gay bar to have a drink as a sign that they're sympathetic to our cause. If he wasn't comfortable hanging out around queers, why would he enter? As such, this stranger should be welcome. We need all the allies we can get, after all. And if this stranger happens to be queer in a way even the most finely tuned gaydar can't detect, like the passable trans man above, then he is spared alienation and his sense of belonging in the queer community remains in tact.
A gay bar is always a gay bar, even if there are straight people in it. Being inclusive does not threaten the spirit of our community. Besides, bar owners can always use a few more customers.