No More Places

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.

HH

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.bonnie-and-clyde

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). travolta

 

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. rubyfruits

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.”gingers-bar-brooklyn-nyc

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.pat

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.thelword

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.

 

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16 thoughts on “No More Places

  1. Love your walk down memory lane. There are two clubs devoted to lesbians in Columbus, Ohio, the closest metropolitan area to me. One, Slammers, has been ‘the’ place for years. The other has changed hands a half a dozen times and has always been a hole in the wall type place where pool was more common than dancing. Dancing at Slammers happens mostly in the dance club behind it as it has no dance floor itself unless you count the makeshift one, out in the patio area in the summertime. Interestingly, Slammers does attract a younger crowd. There’s a good mix of ages there, anytime I’ve ever been there including the 18-20 set with their hand stamps signifying they’re not old enough to drink.

    There are gay clubs, of course, but if Slammers fades away, like the LGBT bookstores in town already have, a cultural icon in the area will be gone and that’s a shame. It really is serving a wide swath of women who are looking for a place to just be who they are, without judgment.

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    1. It’s true, Anne. So many places have faded away, and not just lesbian clubs. Women’s and LGBT bookstores are really hard to find these days. Again, it remains to be seen what happens from this point on. Thanks for commenting.

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  2. I know some kids think that it isn’t “a big deal” to be gay, and to a certain extent, I agree. We’re all just people, right? No need to segregate, abuse, or try to convert us. But, at the same time, I never got to see a truly lesbian-only place. I’m from a small town in Texas. There weren’t any places just for us. The handful of gay bars we have seen in the three neighboring counties in which I have lived have come and gone so often, it makes your head spin, and even when they’re thriving, they’re doing so because they’re mostly clubs for gay men. I don’t think hate – or the need to be oneself in a place one will not be judged – is going anywhere anytime soon, and I’d love to know that there’s anywhere out there where I could go and just exist.

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    1. It’s a shame that you’ve never experienced it, Adan. Walking into a room filled with lesbians, drinking, laughing, and dancing, is an amazing thing to see and feel. And you do feel it. It’s a vibe that you just don’t get anywhere else. There’s a sense of togetherness and oneness, even if you never interact with most of them. Of course, there are always the assholes. I’ve seen brawls (yes, brawls with lesbians–tables being turned over, chairs being thrown…), and I’ve seen crestfallen women who got shot down by the women of their dreams. I’ve seen people get sick in the stairwells and getting thrown out. I’ve also seen things that I won’t repeat here and I wish I’d not seen. But, overall, I loved being in those spaces. You should seek them out, Adan. It’s worth it. 🙂

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  3. Fabulous post, thank you. My son (17) tells me no one in his generation cares if you’re gay or bi or whatever… and yet I too miss those mega gay dance parties where there are no ‘straight folk’ bringing us down! 😘

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    1. Well, it’s great that he can say that, but those of us who lived on the outside know what means to have those safe spaces. But it’s progress, and that’s something. 🙂

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  4. Thank you for reminding me. I do miss the lesbian bars in LA, but what I really miss is being young and beautiful with all my glamorous friendships intact. I don’t miss the hiding and the discrimination.

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  5. Thanks for this blog. I believe you are right to be concerned. And thanks for the photo of Bonnie and Clyde’s. I never liked that tricked-up bar, but we didn’t have a lot of choices and it was in a safe area. My impression at the time, right or wrong, was that it was the in place for lesbian feminists who went to bars.

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  6. My bars were in London, they were few and could be pretty grotty but we loved them! I agree with R.G. Emanuelle, there was nothing like the energy of a bar full of women, drinking, dancing, chatting, stealing each other’s girlfriends, it was wonderful. I emigrated from Ireland in the mid-eighties and the dyke scene in London was like a whole new world. One that I knew I belonged in. I think it is great that there is much more acceptance now, but I don’t think a bar full of all sorts of people could ever compare to the feeling of sidling into a dimly lit room full of lesbians, all moving to the beat. Better stop now, getting hot under the collar..!

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    1. No, there is no comparison. Especially when you were just coming out. It gave such a feeling of empowerment. The thing is, we still need empowerment, only young people today don’t know. They think they’re free.

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  7. I’ve never been in a gay or lesbian bar, I’m more the coffeeshop crowd. The idea of safe spaces seems as distant to me as the ‘golden age’ of… well anything. I do however look around at the world today and I see a need for them more than ever. It is so easy for things to change as legal protection is no guarantee of a life without persecution. We do need to keep organisations and groups petitioning for our ongoing equal rights. They provide political focus and fund research but we can’t all do that. The challenge of more acceptance is to maintain integration within society without being subsumed into it. I think it’s great that some young people feel comfortable coming out at school and I think the internet is great but nothing beats just being around people who understand you at a core level without the feeling that you are representing every LGBTQ+ person. I would like a global coffeeshop/bookstore with a rainbow in the window and no questions asked other than cappuccino or latter / McMan or Beers? Well I’m old.

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    1. Good point about the need to keep our organisations and groups, after all, today’s freedoms only came about because we carved out the places where we could organise and fight. Now we know that there are no guarantees and that the rights we won can be rolled back. Yes, there is much more acceptance around now, but mostly concentrated in large urban areas. This does not reflect the reality for many of our people. I live in rural Ireland and am proud to say that our county voted for marriage equality in the referendum two years ago, but only just, almost half of the population said no. We discerned more acceptance amongst the young, and we got them out to vote, but they are not running our schools, hospitals, workplaces, local councils etc. There is still a lot of work to do, both in maintaining what we have won and in continuing the fight.

      For all of this, we need our own spaces. Places where we can listen to each other’s stories, organise and blow off some steam.

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