Guest Blogger

No Straights Allowed

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 28, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: gay bars, no straights allowed, queer spaces, straight people in gay bars

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Drew Cordes is a transgender woman from Albany, N.Y. She is a 2004 graduate of Vassar College.

meface.jpgI 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.

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This is a really great post Drew - thank you for sharing. I often find it annoying when queer bars make quick judgements about who should be allowed in and not.

What goes around comes around.

Great post, Drew. I'll also add that I've often heard from adult children of gay and lesbian parents that they feel "culturally queer" even if they are "erotically straight." (Some are gay, of course--I'm just talking here about the ones who aren't.) I dare anyone to tell such a person--who may have grown up fighting homophobia like any LGBT youth, has been to Pride parades since he was two, and can recite the names of every LGBT character on network TV, that he's not a part of the LGBT community and shouldn't go to gay bars. And even barring those specific metrics, I think simply having LGBT parents makes a person part of the community, if they want to be. (A nod here to Abigail Garner, whose book Families Like Mine first made me aware of this concept.)

I, too, 'grew up gay'; and I spent the majority of my adulthood identifying as a dyke. I had the same attitude about straight people in gay bars. In those days (in NY), the lesbian bars were segregated: no men allowed. That guaranteed keeping straight people, at least couples and men, out of the bars; for which we enormously grateful. The justification was that since we weren't allowed in their bars, they shouldn't be allowed in ours. Besides, it was the only place in the world we could be ourselves.

Today, most big cities have non-discrimination ordinances, and we can go to all sorts of places, including non-gay bars. And the same ordinances which prevent discrimination against us also mean we can no longer discrimination against them.

But I am also no longer a dyke. And since transition, I am utterly invisible as a queer person. I have a certain level of discomfort about that. But hey, it's the price of admission for me being a man. Same thing with no longer being part of a women's community. It's hypocritical to want to be seen and live as a man, but still be accepted into women's spaces. It's not fair, and doesn't make sense.

But it doesn't mean I don't miss it. My partner who isn't a lesbian and has never been a part of the gay community gets to hang out with a lesbian group with whom she rides motorcycles and socializes, and I'm not invited. It doesn't seem to make sense that she can be part of that group and I can't - having been a lesbian for 25 years. Except for the whole being a man, thing. No wonder we confuse people.

Thanks for the comments folks.
@Dana: I'd never considered that perspective before. Kids of queer couples must feel a similar disturbance. Interesting.

@Rory: I totally get where you're coming from. It's very strange. Almost like trading one mind-body disconnect for another. My personal solution was just to work harder at fostering my links to the queer world. Sometimes I even purposefully choose not to pass to stay "queer" in others' eyes. No easy answers, of course. I hope you find some form of peace with it. :)

Excellent post. As a straight guy with many friends in the queer community, I've often felt out of place in such situations. I never held it against the patrons of the bar - I understand the need for feeling like one has a place to call one's own. It's similar to when a band you like suddenly becomes popular: will the meaningful aspects suddenly be diluted by these strangers?

It's a weird mix of sympathy and awkwardness, that sense of "i don't want no trouble..." as people stare daggers at you around the bar. You're not trying to harsh anyone's mellow, but you're just there with your friends. It's not meant as encroachment, but it can easily be perceived as such.

It's hard to find a place where you feel safe and secure without coming at the price of being exclusionary or discriminatory. It's a tough line to walk and calls for patience and understanding that tends to be in short supply in most people.

Great post, Drew. Appreciate your insight.

I always get anxiety when considering these issues: Am I allowed to talk about this stuff? Is it okay that I find gender identity absolutely fascinating? Can I really be an ally without being perceived as just some idiot, straight cis gal who will never truly understand this experience? Do I even have a right to party at Gay Pride Day when every day is straight pride day?

Drew, I was one of those children of lesbian parents, spent my whole life going to pride parades (my first one was in-utero). And when I first went to college and lived on my own briefly coincided with a period in which I thought I was straight -- or more specifically knew I was queer but didn't know how to explain it and allowed people to identify me as straight.

Nonetheless it made me quite worried about being percieved as an outsider. Especially because another queerspawn friend of mine literally got kicked out of his campus LGBT student group for being straight.

Coming out as trans was a big relief in that sense, it meant I no longer had to worry about proving I was queer. But yeah, I commonly meet folks who are straight (or just look straight) who are very much a part of the queer community in my mind.

Personally, I have no problem with people who are technically straight but who want to come to LGBT places (even if sometimes it can be important to have LGBT-only spaces, but most of the time it's open) and actually found it pretty cool most of the time.

Now I have a bit more problem when it's straight people who are really, well, "acting" straight. Like, heterosexual couples where the guy is all the more possessive in order 1) to show that he's here, but he's definitely not gay and 2) to show to all those predatory dykes that his girlfriend is already "taken". Or, like, straight people who come in a LGBT place on their own free will but need to talk at length of how they are definitely not homosexual at all (though I admit it can also sometimes be people who are closetted).

I guess it's the difference between someone who is honestly interested by a space and respecting it, and someone who is more interested by the "exotic" aspects.