Queer Spaces, Feminism and Comfortability

I’ve been in DC for about ten months now. A couple months ago I went to an area called “H Street.” I was told that this would be more of my scene compared to most parts of DC, which tend to be a bit more bro-ey formal, typically not my thing. We go to a bar there and it’s perfectly fine and I’m having a good time with my friends but all of a sudden I have this realization, I’m really not into mainstream bar culture and therefore say “I’m not mainstream”. This is a simplistic statement but that was the thought in my head. I tell my friend this and she says, “Sarah, are you just realizing this?”

This made me think about where I do like going out on the weekends both in Minneapolis and DC. My girlfriends and I in Minneapolis are regular attendees of the Gay 90s.  One of my favorite places to go out in DC is a monthly lesbian dance night, “She-Rex.” Many, if not most, of my female friends identify on the GLBTQ spectrum but I don’t. Yes, these are my clubs of choice because I go with my friends but there’s more to it as well. These are the spaces I feel most comfortable in. I identify as straight and at times feel like I am invading spaces that were not created for me. Similar to this recent article in Gawker, I understand that gay/lesbian spaces were not created for straight Sarah even though that might be the space where I feel most comfortable.

With all that being said, I’ve begun to explore why this is the case that queer spaces tend to make me feel more comfortable than traditionally heterosexual spaces. I think much of it is that queer spaces, specifically with high amounts of women, tend to be more feminist spaces. (This is not to say there is not misogyny in the queer community. Check out this zine, “How Misogyny Hurts Queer Communities.”  One of my roommates references it on nearly a daily basis.)

My experience however in more “mainstream” clubs include men grabbing me, feeling pressured to dance in a way that I am uncomfortable with and constantly being aware of my physical position to avoid random men from coming up to dance behind me. All of these things do not make the nightlife experience one that I want to come back to every week.

I find spaces to be essential in identity formation and self-confidence. This has been my experience in a realm of identities I possess. I’ve witnessed spaces transform and sculpt individuals. How do you see the importance of space? What venues are you most comfortable in? How do you feel about people of privileged identities “invading” spaces that were created to empower a more marginalized group?

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5 thoughts on “Queer Spaces, Feminism and Comfortability

  1. sonyakuzy says:

    Sarah, I too have been thinking about this since I read the Gawker article. I think it is important that one is able to identify why they feel comfortable in these spaces, which you have done. Once someone is able to do that hopefully they will be able to understand their demeanor and actions in that space and how it affects others.

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  2. Ami says:

    I know exactly what you mean re: being uncomfortable in mainstream clubs. I’ve never been good at/comfortable with the type of dancing that happens at such places, and after one somewhat scary experience, I stopped going altogether. One place that has felt more comfortable for me is First Avenue. There seems to be a wider variety of ages and dancing styles, and people seem a little less grabby and a little more chill.

    I, like you, believe that LGBTQ folks should have their own spaces and that we straight folks should not necessarily be invading those spaces. However, when so many spaces (and I mean specifically nightclubs, here) are hostile to straight women, it seems that we then have two choices – shut up and take it or stay home. I chose to stop going to clubs, but others, like you, may want to continue to go out but not be harassed or grabbed by men. I don’t really know what the answer is…

    I’m doubtful that we’ll see any sort of change in club culture until we have broader cultural change, wherein more men realize that respecting the autonomy and humanness of people includes not touching or grabbing their bodies without consent.

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  3. Kinga Gabrielson says:

    Ahh thanks so much for writing this article Sarah! I hear you! The concept of space is very important and I love that you brought it up. The best safe space I’ve ever had was a memoir writing class that I took a year ago, and the entire class wrote four pages a week and read them to small groups, we rotated and we commented, and we heard each other. It was something I’ll treasure forever and it had the perfect balance of being able to share but by focusing on the writing instead of the (very real) stories often shared we were able to come together to just act as listeners and empathizers and never get to a point where we were comparing or analyzing each other. My teacher had a knack for creating that type of space but I wish it was more available.
    Within bar culture it’s very hard. I often feel like I’m caught in the middle of which space to be in when it comes to bars, I have straight friends that when we go out — I do what many straight girls do before clubbing, the get dolled-up, drink a lot and have a night where you have fun but are also sexualized and very aware that these guys ‘want some’. I also have a queer group of friends that I hang out with a lot, and usually I am the only straight girl. I love hanging out with these girls because they are real, fun and goofy — the same reasons I like my straight friends. But of course we all notice each others sexuality, here I feel girly where with straight girls I feel like a tomboy. There is also something to be said about knowing that sexually these girls and I will never completely understand each others lives because we didnt’ experience them, but we support each other because we’re friends. I am privileged in that I can come and go within both spaces and that’s something that I must not forget.

    In the end I love hanging out with my friends and there are all sorts of bars good and bad for everyone but finding that atmosphere where people feel safe is important, and it’s also key for me to reflect on the fact that I can’t be ignorant and forget that while I may be getting treated ‘nicely’ and having drinks bought for me, and fitting in at straight bars, I have to know that many of my friends wouldn’t be accepted in these bars and I am not okay with that. In Portland it’s nice because there are many bars that appeal to diverse crowds.

    When I’m invited to queer spaces I usually feel welcome, but I don’t ever want anyone to feel like I am exploiting a space that isn’t mine, I don’t want to bring a big gang of straight people and hang out exclusively with them at a gay bar all the time because there comes a point when I think, most of the world has primarily straight bars, I don’t need to blow up this gay bar and think, “it’s for everyone!” because that’s my privilege that others don’t have.

    This makes me think of a conversation between two of my friends, where a queer woman suggested a bar, and a staight guy said, I don’t wanna go to a gay bar lets just go to this other bar, and she remarked that she didn’t want to go to a straight bar, and he said, ‘there aren’t any straight bars!? they’re just bars!’ It was an example of how the normal identity may not mean to hurt people but by not making space for people that don’t fit in, they are in fact othering them. And I think it would be difficult for me at times if I identified as queer to watch straight people that didn’t have to struggle with society’s opinion on my sexuality, come into a bar becuase, ‘it’s more fun!’ — so that’s what I’m going to try to aim for, going to bars that I could defend, because they have good hearts and just want to provide good consensual dancing’ drunken fun — for everyone!

    What do you guys think about mainstream bar culture? I’d love to hear from all y’all!

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  4. jennavagts says:

    I just want to throw it out there that I do identify on the spectrum and although I can’t speak for the entire queer community I wanted to share how I feel about straight identified people entering queer spaces.

    I personally love when straight friends join me in queer spaces. I’ve introduced queer bars to straight friends and go frequently to queer spaces with straight friends. I love my queer friends and I love my straight friends. I love enjoying my friends in a space that I feel comfortable in. I consider the friends who venture out with me to spaces that are not necessarily created for them to be more open and accepting and in the end I really appreciate it. Personally I feel that queer spaces are simply safe spaces, not necessarily anti straight or queer only places. I don’t like excluding people ever, as long as people are open to learning and participating in the space in a respectful manner I think that attendance of any sexual/gender identity should be encouraged!

    Part of LGBTQA is allies and they are so important!

    Again, I am just speaking for myself and not the entire queer community.

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  5. jennavagts says:

    and I agree that mainstream places often make me feel uncomfortable! Maybe partially because I identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, and also because I don’t like the way I am treated as a woman in these spaces. But besides that, the whole culture in general just makes me feel uncomfortable. Like its not a genuine or something.

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