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When Gay Nightclubs Act as Safe Spaces for Straight Women

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image from Jezebel

When I heard of the shooting in Orlando my stomach sank. Once again so many innocent people had been the victims of gun violence and a hate crime. Later as I began to process the staggering number of victims, I knew that among the gay men tragically lost, there would likely be at least one straight cis-woman as well. Sadly as the names and photos were released they included Amanda Alvear and her best friend Mercedez Flores. Amanda’s brother said she frequented gay clubs because they were fun places and she felt safe to be herself. Most nights at gay clubs you can find at least a few straight cis-woman. While gay nightclubs are intended to be a safe space for LGBTQ people to have fun and be themselves, one of the most amazing things is how welcoming most clubs are to straight cis-women too.

My prime party years were in the late 90’s. I went to college at Cal, lived in a sorority house (that’s a whole other story), later moved to Oakland and was a BART ride away from San Francisco. This was before the phrases “rape culture” and “safe space” had entered our vocabulary and consciousness, but they still existed. I wasn’t a particularly confident person in my teens and early 20s and clubs and parties always left me feeling uncomfortable. Although I couldn’t explain it at the time, I felt like a target, always being vigilant and was never free to relax at fraternity houses and straight nightclubs. I was careful to never have more than a couple of drinks, but one night I actually became a target and was given a drink by a man that had drugged it with GHB. Luckily, a bouncer was cognizant enough to realize what was happening and made sure my friends took me home safely. Even more horrifyingly, two years later my friend’s roommate was kidnapped, raped and murdered after leaving a bar in San Francisco and any lingering feelings of safety in nightlife vanished.

One of my best friends growing up, Brett, had come out when he was 16. He endured a painful amount of harassment and threats at our small suburban high school. It came from students, parents, and even teachers, but after graduation he had one of the coolest lives of all our classmates. He moved to San Francisco, was a radio DJ and had this beautiful garden studio apartment on Nob Hill with fabulous young neighbors. I used to joke that he was living at a real life 28 Barbary Lane and I was waiting for Mrs. Madrigal to appear at any time.

the-end-up

image from hg2

After so many uncomfortable nights out in the world of fraternities and straight clubs, I found solace in Brett’s world, among his friends in the bars and clubs of the Castro and SOMA. We would grab drinks at the Midnight Sun, that we jokingly referred to as the Midnight Scum because it was not quite the renovated place it is today. We would go dancing at The Metro (now the Lookout) or the End Up. Intellectually, I knew was an interloper but not once did anyone ever make me feel that way.

I could dance how I wanted, wear what I wanted, drink all night and know I would be safe. There was a huge freedom I had never experienced in being in a room full of men that would treat me with respect, and a dance with me had no other motive than the joy of dancing with a friend. I realized that every person in these clubs had experienced harassment and feeling unsafe and no one would every turn it onto me. When Brett took off to dance with someone, it was always just a matter of minutes before someone else would ask me to dance with them or start up a conversation with me at the bar. My nights almost always ended with some new friends, laughter, or greasy late night eats at the Baghdad Café.

One weekend I went out with Brett during sorority rush, where technically we were supposed to be dry and not be seen at bars drinking at all. The fraternities always used this as an excuse to have secret parties for sorority girls in their houses. That night I ran into the president of the fraternity next door at The Metro. He spotted me across the bar and we both took on a look of panic. This was not a time you could be out and be president of a fraternity. I walked over and asked him “please don’t tell my house I broke dry rush”. He laughed and said “I think my secret is a lot bigger than yours” and took me out to the dance floor. The irony that we were both finding an escape from fraternity men in the same place was not lost on us.

440-castro

image from Time Out

When I was young I saw these were just fun nights out where I learned to feel safe and be confident again when the rest of the world at night seemed overwhelmingly scary. Now, as I look back I know it was more than that. It was a neighborhood of really amazing and brave people who worked hard to create a community of love and safety for themselves in the cafes, drugstores, bars, and nightclubs that lined the Castro and dotted the City.  I now see how generous it was that I was included in a world no one needed to include me in.

In the days to come while the LQBTQ community gears up for the political fight of its life to protect the rights and safety of all LGBTQ spaces, I hope every straight cis-woman who danced the night away in a gay club remembers the joy and safety she found there. We need to be the voice that Amanda and Mercedez no longer have and support our friends and community members and be the allies they have long been to us.

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Amiee Kushner

Amiee Kushner

Amiee is SF's favorite ginger Jewess, a native of the Bay Area, and in charge of the money stuff at Broke-Ass Stuart. Unless you are a writer who hasn't got paid yet, then she is just a contributor. She was also the campaign manager for Stuart's quixotic quest to be mayor in 2015. She travels, hikes, stays up way too late and occasional cooks more food than anyone should eat. You can check out some of her super not-kosher recipes at www.JewishHeathens.com

6 Comments

  1. Hyde
    June 15, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Hey Amiee, I believe Brett the DJ and I are old friends, too. He and I had a gay radio program at San Jose State called Diagonally Speaking. I hope he’s well. I’m glad you are, too.

  2. nsuviolin
    June 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Nice as the sentiment in this column is, I was reading through, waiting to get to part where you progress into talking about how too much of a presence of straight, cis women in gay bars/club actually becomes a big impediment to the safety of the LGBTQ patrons, and how many of us are tired of the over-saturation of cis, straight women in those spaces……..sadly, that part of the article never came up.

    It sounds like you, specifically, were fairly respectful in your occupation of queer space, which is fine. But a lot of cis-hetero folks aren’t, so I don’t believe this piece paints the most thorough, all-encompassing picture of cis-hetero women who come into our spaces for safety. I just really want more straight, cis people to be fully cognizant of the fact that, while they are, in fact, welcome to join, they’re ultimately guests in a space that many of us desperately NEED.

    • Jodi Shaw
      June 16, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      I know exactly where you’re coming from. I keep waiting to get to the part in any column where the author progresses into talking about how MtT people in women’s spaces (like locker rooms, for example) becomes a big impediment to safety of the women (including lesbians) in that space. Seems like we both might be waiting a long time . . .

  3. […] have turned me away. After scores of gay men were denied from donating blood in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings, many of our gay leaders and elected officials decried the ban on blood donations from sexually […]

  4. 10songsblog
    June 17, 2016 at 12:56 am

    And thank you straight girls for bringing the creepers into our spaces because they know there is less competition.

    Seriously for all the cockblocking I do ffor you I should get paid. LOL! But I’ll still be there if needed. One queer ass grind and most straight dudes flee.

    Frankly I hope ee can do away with gay and straight clubs and just all come together and dance.

  5. Mark Waltz
    January 17, 2018 at 11:27 am

    Just this past weekend, a lady friend of mine & I were having a nice chit chat in a West Village cabaret, a gay hangout that fortunately is not overrun often by hen party’s or “woo girls”, but when it happens, the vibe changes very much. This drunk chick comes up to us and tries to intervene in our conversation. I politely told her that my friend and I were having a private conversation. No “Get lost”, no rude observations about her intrusion. She excused herself, and my lady friend, knowing that after a certain time it was “boy’s time”, made her departure. This drunk chick continued to weave around the bevy of gay men as if she knew all of them, but would make her way back to me to try to engage me, which by this time I was not about to allow. I politely moved away, but the following continued. It simply came down to her or me, and I chose to depart, about 2 hours earlier than I normally would, because she simply ruined the vibe. Needy entitled straight white girls can find their own places to hang, even though real ladies like my friend are always welcome.