I move onto the dance floor myself, ready to unwind after a long week and get my dance on among my fellow queers, unencumbered by the threat of wayward dudes looking to accost unattended ladies with their arrhythmic gyrations. I want to cut loose to the thumpa thumpa thumpa of Robyn and Gaga, enjoy the sight of ladies with ladies, men with men, and the smattering of straight allies who are happy to blend in and play along.
Something isn't quite right, though. Within a song or two I notice that the dance floor is positively teeming with straight couples in full-on make-out mode, and clutches of bros awkwardly trying to avoid the notice of the few gay boys on the floor while simultaneously cruising for women. A couple of them even try it with me - though I pride myself on being one of the most unapproachable people on the dance floor, simply by dint of my dance style being heavily reliant on contained flailing.
It is, I realize, the first time I've noticed that the number of identifiably straight people clearly outnumbers the identifiably queer people - at a gay club.
It's not the first time I've run into problems at this particular venue - or any of the ostensibly LGBT-specific establishments in this admittedly small city. A certain amount of population overlap is inevitable when there are all of 250,000 people total in your liberal Midwestern berg. That's all right, that's OK, that's even encouraged - but what is up with this total takeover?
Straight bars don't have to advertise themselves as straight bars because the default in our hetero-centric culture is still "straight." You have to call it out when you're labeling yourself as a gay establishment, just as you still have to come out as gay because not-gay is still, for better or worse, the unspoken starting point.
In a perfect world it wouldn't matter what your sexual orientation was, of course, or where you chose to go dance/drink/hang outside of the home - and you could safely hit on someone, fly your freak flag, dress and act how you wanted, regardless of the gender make-up, without fear of verbal or physical harassment.
We do not yet live in that world, however, and so LGBT-friendly and/or specific businesses are still a crucial part of our community. They are supposed to provide a safe space to be yourself, regardless of how flaming or button-up you might be. To connect with other members of your community. To let loose.
And yet...and yet...
Straight bachelorette parties think it's the bees knees to hit up the gay bar and ogle or even grope the male go-go dancers, to take over dance floors with their little penis hats and glittery sashes, essentially proclaiming loud and proud that WE HAVE STRAIGHT PRIVILEGE AND YOU DON'T.
Straight men (or heck, sexually insecure men trying to convince themselves of something that may not be true) think it's the best idea ever to cruise gay bars for women, circling dance floors in hopes of finding that rare unicorn of a woman who goes to a gay club to pick up dudes (then again, the very trend I'm whining about here may be what's emboldening them).
My Friday night ended in me leaving the dance floor in a bit of a huff, pissily wondering why the hell straight people felt the need to co-opt all of our safe spaces. There are plenty of options in this city for people looking to don their finest preppy apparel and bump and grind with members of the opposite sex. There are precious few spots where queers can go to do the same, with the same level of comfort.
I can barely begin to imagine how all of this feels for the transgender community, who run into discrimination even among their fellow queers - let alone straight cisgendered people.
I've been having this conversation with friends on der Facebook ever since, and the various reactions have been incredibly interesting. First of all, I am definitely not the lone queer in the wilderness bemoaning the perceived straight takeover of LGBT establishments in Madison. And this venue in particular is not the only one suffering from the problem.
Secondly, the question of whether or not straight people should go to gay establishments - in general, but more specifically to celebrate marriage-related events - is supremely fraught.
I'm all for straight folks coming to gay clubs. Hell, I'm a queer woman in a straight relationship, and benefiting from straight privilege as a result. This is an issue to which I give a considerable amount of thought. It's why I generally prefer to go out to these places without my S.O., and why we keep the PDA to the barest minimum when we do go together.
And I would never, ever go to a gay establishment as part of a straight bachelor/ette or anniversary party, just as I generally don't go to the bear bar downtown at all, unless specifically invited.
I'm waiting for the day when none of this matters, but until then, it does. It just does. And even our allies need to check themselves when they decide to celebrate straight weddings or go cruising for straight tail at gay clubs. At the barest minimum, it's your turn to keep things on the down-low.
The Abbey, a famous West Coast watering hole for the gays, recently went so far as to place an outright ban on bachelorette parties. It's sad that this is what things have come to, but I don't blame them in the least for making the decision. As the folks over at Unicorn Booty commented:
Ladies, we LOVE you. My foster mother, sister, and mother-in-law are three of the most brilliant, most beautiful women on the planet. The Unicorn Booty team is neither women-phobic or afraid of lady parts. There are far more important women in our lives than men.
But with that said, there is a right way and a wrong way to behave in a gay bar. And celebrating your marital rights while we possess none of our own is lowdown, dirty, mean-spirited and ignorant. Don’t do it. Ever.I would suggest this extends to the bros who feel it necessary to troll gay bars for ladies. It's one thing for a straight or bi guy to go to the club and casually meet, chat up, and then dance with a woman - it's another thing entirely for you to go for the sole purpose of aggressively seeking action. Especially when the women are making clear indications that you should GTFO.
And yet that's exactly what happened out on the dance floor Friday night: to my straight, femme-looking friend, but also to my super queer soft-butch self.
It must be a tricky thing for the owners of these places to address. It's a business, and turning customers away for whatever reason is generally not preferred. But I would think that, in any establishment, there should be basic standards of respect and decorum enforced. The longer you let this shit go unchecked, the more prevalent it's going to become.
But I don't run a club, so I don't get to tell folks how to run theirs. What I can do--and intend to do--is organize our own queer-centric dance parties with those rules of respect and decorum being politely and strictly enforced by the community.
I can also encourage everyone to do a little something those of us in the non-white-Christian-straight male community like to call "check your privilege" - not just in regards to LGBT people, but when you're trying to relate to any community to which you don't entirely belong. Think about how your attitude and actions impacts them, and ask questions, get an idea for what their experience is like.
That's the start of positive change. Even for something as seemingly small as gay bar etiquette.