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Why is a drop in female LGBTQIA+ clubs concerning?

Queer nightlife spaces have consistently been at the heart of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, narratives of misogyny and the dramatic decrease in the number of lesbian bars force us to ask – who has the right to take up space in a queer venue?

Modern queer culture is a wonderful thing.

It’s more diverse, more inclusive, and more outspoken than ever before. We’re seeing queer representation on prime time TV and queer people in advertising campaigns. More open discussions on trans rights, gender fluidity, and other poignant LGBTQIA+ issues are now beginning to happen within society too.

Nightlife has historically played a huge role within the queer community. The Stonewall Riots themselves started off at a gay bar. Queer nightlife venues have continuously provided members of the LGBTQIA+ community with a safe space to meet, dance, have fun and be authentically themselves.

Despite how far queer culture has come, recent years have seen a huge decline in the number of female-only queer nightlife spaces. Since the 1930s, lesbian bars became increasingly present in liberal metropolises such as Berlin, New York, San Francisco and London. Today, their numbers have dropped dramatically.

There are various factors that have influenced this decline. The gender pay gap can be cited as a major one. Women still don’t have the same access to finances as men and are therefore in less of a position to open businesses, especially in increasingly gentrified and expensive cities.

Online dating and the pandemic have also played a role. People simply aren’t meeting partners and members of their community in bars anymore. Online dating has made it more convenient (and potentially safer) for members of the queer community to connect with one another.

It could be argued that what we’ve come to think of as gay clubs today provide a safe haven for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including women. However, gay clubs today are not only male-dominated but the women that do attend are often subjected to the same groping and sexual harassment they experience in non-queer spaces.

There’s been a lot of conversations about misogyny within the queer community in recent years. The idea that “the oppressed cannot oppress” is a belief still held by many. The reality, of course, is very different.

What about us?

Not only do modern gay bars cater almost exclusively to the gay male, but they also seem to want to almost entirely exclude the presence of women in general.

There’s been frequent comment within mainstream media on the presence of straight women throwing bachelorette parties in gay bars. While it’s without a doubt that a group of straight people treating queer spaces as tourist destinations is highly inappropriate, this narrative only serves to fuel misogynistic attitudes within the community.

Women are queer too. We mustn’t forget that. But modern queer nightlife spaces provide little to no evidence of this.

Because they have no sexual attraction to women, it can be easy for gay men to forget that women, and especially queer women, actually exist. Furthermore, the opinion that vaginas are disgusting is one shared by many members of the gay community. Misogynistic undertones also affect the gay community themselves. Feminine gay men are often shamed and mocked and masculinity is seen as more attractive and desirable.

These attitudes of misogyny, combined with the decrease of queer female nightlife spaces, force queer women to pose the question, “what about us?”

As a queer woman, it can be extremely intimidating to attend a gay club or bar. More often than not, you’re in the minority. There will be posters of muscular gay men everywhere and people might even grab your boobs and grind on you because of the redundant notion that “if you’re gay it doesn’t count.”

Who belongs where?

Gay clubs are supposed to be inclusive and welcoming. And they are. But only to certain people. There seem to be specific criteria that define who is allowed to take up space in a queer venue.

In an essay by Tylor Baldor entitled ‘No girls allowed?: Fluctuating boundaries between gay men and straight women in gay public space’ he claims that; “men make situational claims to gay space by drawing distinctions between who ‘belongs’ in gay bars and who does not.”

Of course, not every queer woman has the desire or the need to have a bar to go to. But for those that are queer, female, and lovers of nightlife, it can be a tricky world to navigate.

In male-dominated gay venues, it’s not unusual for women to be met with the sense that they don’t belong. The exact opposite purpose of what a queer space should achieve.

This alienation of the queer woman is not only apparent in gay bars. The dating app HER surveyed its users back in 2016 to find out how they felt at events held during Pride month. Respondents shared that they “feel things are more catered to gay men,” and that events are “mostly organized by men, with not a lot of lesbian influence.” Queer women are being isolated from their own community, which is a problem.

The queer community has undoubtedly become more widely accepted in modern society. But perhaps this change in attitude has simultaneously decreased the value of queer female spaces.

The lack of female representation and therefore acceptance in queer spaces is clearly down to a number of factors. From the pandemic to narratives of misogyny, the question of who is entitled to take up space in a queer venue is subjective.

Being queer is not something that should be sold as a marketable product. Similarly, the purpose of queer spaces should not be to provide a venue to dance to ABBA.

With the decline of lesbian bars, it now seems more important than ever that queer spaces provide a safe haven for all members of their community, and that includes everyone that identifies under the umbrella of LGBTQIA+.

So here’s a second, and final reminder, that women are queer too.


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