Where to Meet Lesbians in San Francisco
“A room full of queer people, and I feel like I’m fucking invisible.”
I sat with my friend Michaela in the middle of a popular LGBTQ+ bar on a Friday night and noted the extent of our failure.
Our goal had seemed so simple at the beginning of the night: find out where women go to meet other women in San Francisco.
A few months ago, the answer would have been the Lexington, San Francisco’s last purely lesbian lesbian Bar. Had I been on this same quest in June of 2014, I could have rolled in looking fly, not looking at Yelp once, and had this conversion:
Me: Oh, hey. Do you like women?
Hot girl: Yeah, that’s why I’m at a lesbian bar.
Me: Sorry to bother you. Your hair is nice.
But today, the Lexington is closed, and without a well-known space specifically intended for queer women, our Friday night plans remained completely blank.
I took to Google, but the results of my online search gave me little hope.
I found several sporadically occurring parties in both San Francisco and the East Bay. Despite any discrimination and hardship they may face, I saw that a few Castro bars had willingly sacrificed one entire weeknight purely to cater to queer women. I also learned that, if you’re really dedicated to meeting people who fit the parameters of your sexual orientation, there were even parties in the East Bay, reachable if you have a DD or a car or money to take a Lyft.
If one of these parties happens to fall on a night when you’re in the mood to openly express your sexuality, you’re going to have a good time. However, no lesbianism had been scheduled in the bay for this particular Friday, and Michaela and I were out of luck. Besides, what we really wanted wasn’t a party, but a singular, solid, static location where we could drink amongst people we think are hot.
Finally, we settled on two destinations: Wild Side West, a lesbian-friendly bar in Bernal Heights, and El Rio, famed LGBTQ+ friendly bar in the Mission.
Wild Side West immediately struck me as a hipster hunting lodge: the inside looked like a bright red cabin decked out in lodge-style lighting and random art. Its surprisingly huge backyard, on the other hand, was lit by multicolored lights, while bushes and trees wound around various sculptures, creating private pockets in the open space. I was definitely digging it.
The clientele, however, did not feature the Ladies of Bernal Heights, but instead consisted of various dudes hunched over the bar with pints of beer, and co-ed groups of friends dotting the cozier corners of the establishment.
I asked the bartender if she considered Wild Side West to be an actual San Francisco Lesbian Bar. She explained that Bernal Heights used to be a lesbian neighborhood, and therefore most of the people in the bar were queer women. However, she ultimately sees the bar as a place for locals, and as the neighborhood changed, so did the clientele.
“You have to walk up a huge hill just to get here,” she says, and therefore the bar’s demographic remains the tiny neighborhood bubble.
I knew I was not about to meet any women here amongst the tired locals and tight-knit groups of friends, and so Michaela and I continued to our next location.
El Rio on a Friday was packed, but halfway through our drinks, Michaela and I, two semi-well-cleaned up ladies, realized that not one person in the entire bar had approached us.
“I feel like I’m fucking invisible,” Michaela finally said. “We’re two feminine girls, and at a conventional bar, we’d be getting slammed. But since our only option, rather than a lesbian space, is a queer-friendly space, no one knows what to think of us.
“It’s not a straight space, where people would see us as two straight friends, and it’s not a lesbian space where women would fee`l comfortable hitting on us. People aren’t sure how to approach us, so they don’t.
“What kind of visual signals do I have to give out to make my sexuality obvious? Do I have to have a stereotypical facial piercing, side cut, glasses, and a bow tie to be seen as a queer woman? Am I allowed to wear a dress? I feel like I need to walk around with a name tag that says ‘Hey, I’m not straight, so don’t worry about hitting on me if you’re a woman.’ Do I need to put on a costume to say that?
“It’s so hard to be acknowledged in this community when I don’t feel like I’m a member of this exclusive club.”
And so we left the LGBTQ+ friendly bar, feeling welcome, feeling comfortable, but feeling mostly invisible.
I frequently hear the argument that, as “gay” becomes more and more normal, we’ll no longer need segregated spaces to go get drunk. But, for once, getting drunk is not the point in this situation.
“Gay-friendly” does not always ensure representation of queer women, as Michaela and I quickly learned. We want to be acknowledged as queer women by queer women in an environment that conveys no ambiguity. We want to strengthen, or at least verify the existence of, a community that San Francisco so loudly prides itself on. And without a consistent space for queer women to meet this community, San Francisco cannot honestly don the “gay acceptance” costume it’s been advertising for the past 40 years. This mis- and underrepresentation dooms queer women to grow old with cats, bang their neighbor, and use Tinder. And fuck Tinder.
So, if you actually do wanna meet real lesbians, check out these rad weekly parties.
Image courtesy of E! Entertainment