There are push and pull factors that lead straight women to gay bars…
By Bobby Box
When I first moved to Toronto, I briefly worked at one of the city’s most popular gay bars. I loved my co-workers and the environment, but the sacrifice to my social life and sleep schedule didn’t seem worth it. Neither, I should mention, did the harassment.
Since I worked at a gay bar, one might assume that I, a queer man, was being aggressively grabbed, solicited and shoved by queer male patrons – but you’d be wrong. The culprits were almost exclusively straight women.
The bar I’d been hired at has a reputation for attracting young heterosexual women, and local gays generally steer clear of it for that reason. A novice gay at the time, I didn’t think the clientele would be a problem. And, as a person who’s foolishly pursued a career in journalism, I needed the cash real bad.
During my employment, I began to better understand the argument. The place was a complete zoo and straight women behaved like they owned the place. And on top of that, they rarely tipped. Still, for every misbehaved hetero woman there was another woman supporting her GBF, and she was an absolute pleasure to serve.
For this reason, I wanted to dig deeper into the collective mindset of straight women frequenting gay bars. And, honey, the opinions came pouring in.
“I don’t mind as long as she recognizes that she is a guest in the space and acts accordingly,” says Tabz, 27, adding he would only have an issue if the women regularly consort with homophobic men.
Tommy, 38, agrees. “Straight women who respect that they are in someone else’s space are fine. Bachelorette parties that treat gay men as a spectacle for their amusements? Hell no!”
In addition to the fact that these bars are safe spaces for queer people, many are sexual spaces as well, hosting backdoor corridors for people to hook up in various, very gay ways. Understandably, having a woman present does not feel appropriate. With straight women present, there is a discernible shift in energy. Even in a less extreme circumstance, the presence of straight women might influence gay men to reconsider taking their shirts off on the dance floor – a wildly freeing act synonymous with our culture.
Women in bachelorette parties are near-unanimously considered the worst offenders, with gay men describing them as “belligerent,” “rude” and “disrespectful,” often shoving their way to the front of a performance and hopping on stage with drag queens without an invitation. These designations mostly boil down to the same thing: among a certain collective of hetero women, gay bars and its patrons are a novelty and a source of entertainment. “I was once in the Village bar in London and a group of women were trying to pull one of the go-go boy’s jockstrap off,” Greg, 30, recalls.
“The only time I’ve ever had my ass grabbed in a gay bar was by straight women with a bridal party,” Mikhail, 34, says. “Last year my hubby and I went out dancing and a group of drunk straight women kept pushing us into each other while chanting ‘kiss!’” he continues. “Another time, a bride pushed her finger through my shorts and touched my asshole. And just last month, my husband was knocked over by a drunk group who arrived at a drag show 10 minutes late and wanted to be up front.”
Despite these harrowing experiences, Mikhail says he understands that straight women need a safe space to let loose as much as we do – a non-violent space where they can be themselves without inhibition or looking over their shoulder.
For a studied opinion, I spoke to Jason Orne, a queer sociologist and the author of Boystown: Sex And Community In Chicago. He calls this behaviour being “on safari,” meaning straight women often visit queer spaces just as one might visit a zoo.
“I argue that there are push and pull factors that lead straight women to gay bars,” Orne shares with IN. “For every straight woman who is pushed to go to gay bars because straight bars are full of creepy bros who won’t give her any peace, there is another who caricatures gay men’s culture as safe and fun eroticism without questioning heterosexism or the rejection of respectability that comes with it.”
Orne brings to light an important counterpoint. He argues that while gay men are viewed as objects to be consumed at a gay bar, many women report gay men feel like they can touch a woman’s body.
As one Mel Magazine writer shares, the first instance of sexual harassment many women face is likely around self-proclaimed “harmless” guys, whether gay or straight, who feel emboldened to make comments about women’s appearance, touch them inappropriately, and say sexually explicit things, feeling justified because they don’t actually want to have sex with them.
And let’s not forget, hetero women’s money helps keep our spaces open. “In my town, Savannah, there’s only one gay space left,” Jacob, 34, shares. “If the bachelorette parties didn’t come, that space couldn’t financially stay afloat.”
As Orne explains, our culture is being watered down and sold to straight people to keep the lights on in our bars. “It’s not just because some people aren’t going to [gay bars] anymore because gay men are assimilating into straight culture, but because rising rent prices and gentrification are forcing businesses to seek widening clientele, and gay culture sells,” he says. “I’d rather have a straight woman in my queer space that is knowledgeable of queer culture and respectful of her position in the space over a queer individual who is disrespectful to the sexuality and radicalness about the sex and gender variance that created us.”
He has a proviso. “I don’t think all spaces are for all people. I want straight people to question themselves when they go to a queer space: why do I feel entitled to go to this place?” he explains. “It’s the same question I think people should ask any time they enjoy something that doesn’t stem from a heritage they have. Not to not do it, but to just ask why. That act, I hope, would make them be a bit more respectful.”
While it can be easy to shrug off the answer as “queer spaces are for queer people,” we can’t forget that, for many, straight women were our greatest allies during adolescence. They protected and defended us against homophobes and bullies, and took us in when nobody else would. These women loved us regardless – many knew we were gay even before we did.
But I do think we understand that. In speaking with many great men, most of us are very comfortable sharing our spaces with straight women – though we all agree that certain places are more appropriate than others. All we ask for in return is some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
And, please, tip your bartenders.
BOBBY BOX is a prolific freelance journalist in Hamilton, Ont. He currently works as contributing editor at Playboy.com and has had the privilege of speaking with the world’s most recognized drag queens, including, most recently, Trixie Mattel and Alaska Thunderfuck. While proud of his work, Bobby is not above begging. He asks that you follow him on Twitter at @bobbyboxington.