Yasmin Nair

Gay Bars and Bachelorettes, Oh My!

Filed By Yasmin Nair | May 03, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: bachelorette parties, bisexual, Chicago, gay bars, gay marriage, illinois, lesbian, LGBT, men, Sidetrack, sign, straight, straight bar, women

Remember all the fuss about gay bars banning bachelorette parties? The story erupted with Dawn Turner Trices's piece in the Chicago Tribune. In it, she wrote about Geno Zaharakis, the owner of Cocktail, putting a sign outside stating that the establishment would not welcome bachelorette parties. According to Zaharakis, watching straight women celebrate their upcoming unions was especially grating given that gay marriage is not allowed in Illinois. And, as anyone who has been within sloshing distance of a public straight bachelorette shindig knows, something really weird happens to straight women in the presence of gay men - they turn into drunken, pawing creatures from the Victoria's Secret Pink Lagoon and treat the men around them... much as drunken straight men treat women in their immediate vicinity in a bar.

Turner Trice's story prompted a lot of discussion, and most of it centered around the issue of gay marriage. But it set me thinking about the history of gay bars, and the different forms of exclusion practiced in and around them. After all, it wasn't too long ago when Chicago bars were constantly raided by vice squads, and there are raids practiced on gay establishments and/or or gay cruising areas to this day. At the same time, a lot of gay bars still perform implicit forms of exclusion by asking for forms of identification only from some, often people of color. Gay bars are often located in gentrifying or vastly gentrified neighborhoods, which makes them complicit, willingly or not, in economic purges that displace residents.

But there are also gay bars that are swept away in the rush to gentrify, the ones that cater to a clientelle that's drawn from their neighborhoods and that disappear once the developers have had their way. My recent piece in Windy City Times looks at such complicated histories of exclusion and inclusion, and places this story of bachelorettes and gays in a wider context.

This was written as a short news analysis piece, and I got some insights from Jennifer Brier, who teaches history and women's studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago; she had some especially interesting thoughts about what this reveals about straight women and their ownership of their sexuality in public spaces.

There's still a lot more to be said and discussed, and I'm especially interested in the issues of gentrification and racial and class differentiation that are inevitably a part of the history of gay bars. I wonder if we forget, in all the talk about gay marriage and bad behavior in relation to bachelorette parties, that our establishments are as much markers of social stratification as they are symbols of liberation.

Here's an excerpt from the article; you can find the entire piece here

...clearly, these women desire a kind of sexual freedom that has no space in heterosexual institutions. That, for me, suggests that women are not able to safely have a kind of freedom of sexual expression in straight spaces. That's intense. But instead of looking at those issues, we're concerned with this story of exaggerated behavior around certain bodies, with gay men being pawed and straight women being so tragically drunk that they can't control themselves.

Read the rest of the piece, "Bar None: Gay clubs reject bachelorette parties," here. What are your thoughts about these issues? And do you have fond or unhappy memories of a gay bar (or two, or three, or more) that could shed more light on all or any of this?

You can also read Alex Blaze's No queers allowed at straight bars and blushing brides at gay bars.

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It has been my experience that lesbians and gay men rarely socialize in sexualized atmospheres, such as bars.

Dances and bars in my area are characterized by the ads that clearly state "women only" or charge costly prices for non-female clientelle. The male counterparts are more implicit. Making an environment unpalatable for lesbians by body language hostility toward women, or flat out ignoring them.

Social circles also function similarly. The gay men go one way; the lesbians another. Usually the "circle" being solely for meeting new potential sexual interests.

Lesbian bachelorette parties simply don't go to known gay male bars. They create their own spaces, much like gay men do.

We're not as much of a community as some would like to believe. And it does make sense. The gay crowd of this generation is particularly ignorant about the oppression that brought the community together once. Thus, you see fragmentation into cultures and sub-cultures.

I, for example, am usually limited to hang with a Hispanic crowd. My traits are white European, but my accent and socialization in macho South America has isolated me from developing an interest in camp and pop culture that is often so popular among the American gay men. My accent, my comfort with speaking Spanish over English divide me culturally as well. It gets to the point where the gay community is very clique-y.

Personal observations aside, I don't find why an issue gay bars face suddenly needs to be replaced by a discussion on the hardships of women in straight bars. Gay men should not bear the brunt of escapist behavior straight women choose to engage in. Obviously, there's some implied disrespect by the lack of inhibition. They need to stop using gay men as their venting sources, and rather get to work on the straight men instead of avoiding the issue. If they want sexual freedom, they can practice their sexual harassment on someone else.

I find Yasmin's article to be a good one and quite facinating, albeit with one slight personal change. It seems to me it is the women (straight or not) who are the ones being pawed and the gay men are so tragically drunk they can't control themselves - and are subsequently pawing the women.

I have gone to LGBT bars for over 10 years, but something has apparently changed. This year I have been groped, smacked, felt up, otherwise physically assulted on multiple occasions when in gay bars. I am surprised because this has never happened before. It started when, during a Pride fundraiser I was working as part of my duties as a local LGBT Center board member, a very intoxicated gay man tried to feel my boobs "to see if they were real" (his words). Similar incidents have happened quite frequently since then.

WHY is this kind of behavior permissible in a gay bar but NEVER is a straight bar? Do gay men think they have a 'free license' to sexually harass or physically assult women because, by being GAY men, they are not a "real" threat to women? When I asked a gay bar owner I know about this, he replied, "that is just the way it is."

That's bullsh*t. Just because I am a woman in a bar does NOT mean I have to expect AND accept this kind of behavior from anyone else, gay OR straight, drunk or not.

Sadly, none of the other center board members seem to comprehend how deeply upset and frightened I have become now as a result of this. I wonder what they will say when I resign...

Thank god it's not a lesbian bar, dear. I've been to those, and they get really frisky among each other ;).

I went to the Eagle last night here in DC- for research purposes only of course. And out on the patio, in the back, where all types of nefarious things go on (and is the point), a gay man had brought a woman friend.

There was one leather guy that went up to the guy and was like why did you bring her here? And walked out...

I probably never would have said anything, but agreed with the sentiment. I wasn't really mad at her, but him- I mean Jesus Christ- this is where, gay men go to have sex on a patio.

I've seen lesbians make out there as well- but she seemed to be his straight friend that he had brought to the Eagle. I was rather amazed.

Yasmin- one thing I don't understand- is how can bars legally say "no women" or "no men" aren't those in violation of public accomodation laws?

As to Jenny's comment... I'm sorry you were groped. If you had been going to the Eagle- that is kind of the point. The whole "don't touch me" line has worked for me most of the time. But when it hasn't, the, if you touch me again I'm going to send a knee into your crotch has usually done the trick.


Good question. As I understand it, restaurant and bar owners are legally entitled to not serve people whose *behaviour* they deem undesirable (hence the signs outside some establishments about "no shoes, no service." I have to imagine that this is legally constructed in such a way that they can't deny service on the grounds of race, etc. And, I think another issue here might be that they've made it clear they're banning events, not people. For instance, I don't believe a sign could say, "No service to straights," but it can say that no bachelorette parties are allowed. That's my understanding - but are there legal minds out there who can shed more light on this? For instance, if someone bans quinceaneras, could that be construed as a ban on the grounds of ethnicity, given how integral these events are to the community?

I feel the same way when straight people come up to feel lesbian breasts at the Pride Parade; not everyone who's walking around topless is asking to be handled (and I've seen "straight" women do this to lesbians). I don't think I would have a problem with being groped in a place that's, well, about being groped (and I personally wish we had more public groping places, but that's another post). Jeremy's solution sounds good to me.

I see your point about straight women needing to address things with straight men, but I also think that's what Jennifer Brier was getting at. This isn't about "an issue gay bars face suddenly [being] replaced by a discussion on the hardships of women in straight bars." I don't think Brier or I are concerned about hardship as much as about commenting critically on where sexuality finds its expression and how. Part of the issue here is precisely the intermingling of spaces - and to what extent one group (gay men) can dictate where another (straight women) can enter.

I wasn't really mad at her, but him- I mean Jesus Christ- this is where, gay men go to have sex on a patio.

Where gay men go to have sex? Hello! What about queer men?! Grrr...

I live in DC, consider the Eagle my home, and will repeat my response to Father Tony's post on the subject: as someone who fucks men, women, and everyone in between, I'd be happy to leave [the Eagle] with a wider variety of tricks.

As long as they're cute and think I look good in boots and cover, I'm all for it! There is a difference between being there for the freak show and being there because you have a genuine interest in the people/culture or want to cruise the scene -- but I don't believe being a woman necessitates the former any more than being a gay man necessitates the latter. That kind of essentialist thinking can, frankly, eat shit and die.

As for the guy who walked out -- I'm sure there are often plenty of people on the patio that he is not necessarily attracted to or interested in, for any number of reasons. But if that reason happens to be gender rather than looks, age, personality, or kink then suddenly some arbitrary line has been crossed and he can no longer enjoy himself? Give me a break!

I assume that anyone in that space is comfortable with witnessing and/or participating in public sex -- and act accordingly. Trust me, I've met women at the Eagle that can run sexual circles around these big bad leather daddies.

I dunno, Nick. Bringing your straight female friend to the gay bar to gawk as if we're in a zoo is bad enough. To take her to the sex area? Tell her to rent a video and go home.

Woman = Gawking
Man = Watching / Cruising

Riiiight... can you please explain that difference in a way that doesn't devolve into sexist, essentialist garbage? Because I'm just not seeing it.

It constantly blows me away that leather culture can create welcoming space for a man dressed in a latex bodysuit and dog mask into electrical play, but not for the possibility that a straight woman and her gay friend might be going out to the Eagle to pick-up a hot, leather-bottom third to pound/peg his ass all night. I can tell you from experience, such things happen. And no, you can't see the pictures.

I'll definitely acknowledge the possibility (and even probability) that this guy was just trying to scandalize his friend and show off. I agree that is way, wayyyy out of line, and it wouldn't really surprise me. But then again, neither would the situation I mentioned -- so can we avoid the snap judgements?

Hmmm - I have to say that Nick's thread opens up a lot of questions around how we construct these spaces as gay/straight and how we consequently decide what counts as gay/straight/queer desire, if you'll forgive that last '90s word...

I do think that showing off and gaping/gawking is/should be part of a sexual erotics we don't acknowledge. I think I'd be a lot more tolerant (loaded word) of straight men/women ogling gays/lesbians/queers if straight sexual culture was more open about acknowledging the erotics of such. Instead of which, it can only punish itself and queers for the same. And here, I should of course add that categories of straight/queer are hardly fixed in my mind...

In a perfect world, the scenarios Nick describes really wouldn't be a big deal.

My two cents, as I ponder this more.