My friend Jill recently visited from Florida and stayed with me for a while. One evening, she, another friend, and I were sitting around, having a few shots, and as old friends do when they haven’t seen each other for a while, we started reminiscing about old times.
It started with me mentioning a memorable night when a bunch of us went to the Roxy in Manhattan. Three of us in the group got all dressed up in skirts and heels (I don’t remember why), and being that the music was good, we went right out onto the dance floor. It was still early in the night and we had much of the dance floor to ourselves. The three of us, all femmed out, danced. Very seductively. Suddenly, the spotlight went on and focused on us, as did all eyes. We did not disappoint.
Back in my living room, we laughed about that night, had another round of shots, and started talking about the clubs we used to go to, and how many there were at the time. Indeed, the ’80s and ’90s were a golden age for lesbian clubs, at least in New York. Proprietors were no longer afraid to advertise their bars and clubs for what they were, and the customers came. On any given Friday or Saturday night, any of the bars or clubs you picked would be jammed, wall to wall, with women. The dance music of the ’90s was spectacular, and it was typical for me to get on the dance floor with some friend or another and spend hours moving to the music until I was an exhausted, sweaty mess. Me and a couple of hundred other women.
Just in my time alone, I can recall a whole crop of bars and clubs: The Cubby Hole, which became, and is currently, Henrietta Hudson’s, The Dutchess, Sweet Sensations, Crazy Nanny’s, Meow Mix, Julie’s, the current Cubby Hole, Rubyfruit’s, Ginger’s, Cattyshack, and Escuelita. There was also Spectrum’s, a club in Brooklyn that was equally popular among men and women (and which was originally The 2001 Odyssey, the club that John Travolta danced in in Saturday Night Fever, and it still had the dance floor that lit up; that, by the way, has gone to a private collector). My friends, who are a little older, fondly recalled a club called Rhythms and another called Bonnie & Clyde’s (it had a secret door and everything). There were other transitory and pop-up clubs throughout the five boroughs of New York City and Long Island (Carrie Nation and WOW Club come to mind). And then there was Shescapes, the circuit party network that hosted lesbian dances at different clubs throughout the city (which is how we ended up at the Roxy that night).
Then we lamented about how there are very few places left. Most of these places have shut down, with the exception of Henrietta’s, Cubby Hole, and Ginger’s. (The Stonewall Inn has women’s night on Fridays.) SheScapes is also still around but their events have scaled back a lot.
And I pointed out that it was probably because of the same reason that other lesbian-only spaces aren’t as abundant, and why a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter about the impending reboot of The L Word said that maybe the show was no longer needed: we’ve become so mainstreamed that young people don’t feel the need to seek out “their own kind.”
Maybe the little baby dykes that are just coming of age don’t necessarily want to go to a lesbian bar because all their friends are hanging out at XYZ club, and being gay is no big deal to them, so why not just go there with them? Maybe they, unlike like those of us 30 and over, don’t crave or need a refuge from the hetero world because they haven’t had to hide like we did.
When I was first coming out, the fear of being found out that you were gay at work was still a thing, even though things were already changing. Truth is, most of the people I worked with knew (or suspected) that I was gay and tried to get me to admit it. I learned how to play cat-and-mouse games with them, which amused me greatly (think of the character “Pat” on Saturday Night Live). It’s not that I was afraid of my co-workers’ reaction—I knew they’d be okay with it. It was just the idea of it being known generally that scared me. Today, young people just coming out aren’t as frightened as we were. Of course, I’m speaking very generally, because there are many people out there who still fear for their jobs and safety. But back in the day, the fear was across the board. No one was exempt.
I wonder, though, in the age of Trump Hatred, if lesbian spaces will make a comeback. Fartnald Trump has made it okay to hate again—or be open with it, anyway—and his administration is even rolling back laws that protect us. And although the gay community has proclaimed that we will never go back into the closet—and I really hope we don’t—it still might come to pass that lesbian spaces may be needed again. Places where we feel (relatively) safe, where we have each other’s backs, and where we can just be who we are and revel in it. Places where a butch can put on a suit and tie, a single woman can flirt with another woman, or a couple can kiss or hold hands without prying eyes or smirks and comments.
This is the double-edged sword that’s been the topic of much discussion in recent years: is our mainstreaming a good or bad thing? Are we becoming homogenized? Does our gaining of the right to marry, adopt, serve our country, etc., come at a price? The price being the disappearance of our identity and our uniqueness, and the decline of lesbian spaces.
Personally, I’d love to see an L Word reboot. It wasn’t a true representation of the lesbian community. I’m sorry, but I simply don’t know an entire group of lesbians who are all beautiful and glamorous (in that Hollywood way), high-powered and uber-creative. There are no celebrity athletes in my crowd, nor wealthy screenwriters. And I know lots of butches—the only butch in The L Word went to the extreme of wanting a sex change. AND she had sex with a gay guy. I mean, WTF???!!!! I’m not knocking the choices, I’m only saying that it’s not typical. Everything on the show was larger than life.
But the show was about US. It was about women loving other women, and getting into all sorts of situations with other women. And—let’s just say it—the sex scenes were hot.
Anyhow, it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming months and years to our collective lesbian identity. All we can do is stay true to ourselves and fight for what we believe in. Maybe someday, we can just…be.