Queering the air: Do straight cisgender folks belong in queer clubs?

Queerly Political


It was a Friday night. I was in the car with a group of lesbians on our way to celebrate our friend’s birthday. Not having a large array of queer celebratory spaces, we trekked the long ride to The Abbey Food & Bar in West Hollywood, California. This place is famously known for being a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community — its website even claims to be the two-time winner of “The MTV Logo Best Gay Bar in the World.”

After a 90-minute car ride, we were finally there. We walked into the crowded club alive with people dancing and enjoying themselves. We picked a spot in the dead center of the dance floor to celebrate.

It felt so nice to be in a safe space where I was able to embrace the beauty of the queerness around me — or so I thought. It wasn’t until I started dancing with my girlfriends that I noticed men uncomfortably staring at us. I ignored it, deciding to enjoy myself rather than confront them.

But a little later, I kept feeling random hands grabbing me. Then suddenly, I felt someone in the crowd tugging my hand towards them. Not knowing who it was, I turned around only to realize it was one of the creepy men.

He insisted that I dance with him, acting as if I was grinding on women merely to attract the eyes of men. When I told him to leave me alone and that I wasn’t interested, he refused to listen. These men all kept grabbing at my hands and body, as if I was public property.

These men treated me and my sexuality as if I was a spectacle for them to watch, consume and conquer.

I thought that this experience was the result of a bad crowd, but when I returned to The Abbey a few weeks later, I found that my first experience there wasn’t an exception.

It was the last night before my queer girlfriend moved across the country, so we wanted to have a queer night out to celebrate. This time, we decided to check out the myriad of other gay bars in West Hollywood.

We walked into a few of the bars only to find ourselves in the minority — these clubs were singularly full of gay men. On a mission to find something more inclusive, we walked into at least five other bars — but they all seemed to cater solely to gay men. In a last-ditch effort, I decided to give The Abbey another shot.

For a good hour in The Abbey, I was dancing with my friends without anyone staring at or touching me without my consent. And then suddenly, I made eye contact with and smiled at an attractive man dancing not too far from me. That was the end of that, until he suddenly went behind me and groped me.

I felt disgusted and violated. And on top of that, whenever we walked through the crowd, men continuously touched me inappropriately.

Sadly, this is the norm of being at a “straight” club or bar. Every — and I do mean every — single time I have gone out to bars, men have groped, grabbed and touched my body without my consent. This behavior is repulsive in straight spaces, and it’s repulsive in LGBTQ+ spaces too.

I was fed up, so I sat down far from the crowd, simply observing. That’s when I noticed the herds of heterosexual men intentionally invading the queer space to find women.

But on top of that, I was struck by the pure lack of queer women. Maybe that’s because queer women are stuck between going to straight bars or gay clubs — neither are safe or welcoming of our identities.

Too often queer spaces are created for, and by, gay cisgender white men. This has lead to the extinction of safe spaces for women, trans and gender-nonconforming folks, as well as people of color. So when The Abbey says that it’s the best gay bar, they literally mean gay — as in for gay men and no one else.

And too often straight cisgender men and women invade queer spaces, treating us as a spectacle of consumption. Either it’s to find a queer woman to convert to straightness or a group of straight people wanting to tokenize our existence for a night of fun without even caring about our humanity.

If you don’t understand the importance of a nightclub as a safe space and refuge, then you’ve probably never felt ostracized for your sexual identity. Every space in this world exists for straight cisgender folks, so can queer folks at least have one?

So, if you’re a straight cisgender person going to partake in the spectacle of queer clubbing, be respectful of the space, but also maybe think to yourself, “Should I really be here?”

Kaitlyn Hodge writes the Thursday blog on queer issues. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kaitlynhodge.

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  • California Defender

    “So, if you’re a straight cisgender person going to partake in the spectacle of queer clubbing, be respectful of the space, but also maybe think to yourself, “Should I really be here?”

    Could this sentence be used for any other group and activity?

    So, if you’re a __________ person going to partake in the ________, be respectful of the space, but also maybe think to yourself, “Should I really be here?”

    Looks like segregation is increasing in popularity again.

    • davio bozzio

      You don’t get it. In any city 99% of the bars are hetero and many do not make LGBT people feel welcomed. In fact, in 26 states in this country it is 100% legal to discriminate (refuse entry at bars) to gay people based on religious freedom laws. There is a need for gay bars as safe spaces in most cities and it it ridiculous for swarms of hetero people to take over gay spaces when they can go ANYWHERE and many gay people can not and only have few (if any) gay bars to go to. The majority always has the upper hand and the gay community doesn’t want their bars taken over 100% by the majority.

      • California Defender

        I’m not arguing with the author’s (or your) position as it is valid.

        Which is exactly why segregation is becoming popular again. Everyone should be allowed to work, live, and play with any group they please. Right?

        • StanFromSomewhere

          Oh, you can count on the rules to morph depending on which group we’re talking about. Isn’t it funny how the people who scream the most about being the victims of discrimination are the ones most ready to practice it themselves?

          • California Defender

            Well multiculturalism has failed us. And the multiculturalists are arguing for segregation (at least for themselves). We might as well agree with them and institute it for all groups.

            Perhaps it is the right course for our society today, if done equally.

      • StanFromSomewhere

        “There is a need for gay bars as safe spaces in most cities and it it ridiculous for swarms of hetero people to take over gay spaces when they can go ANYWHERE” – What are you afraid of, other than we might stick a $20 in the internet jokebox and play something other than the crappy techno-house-disco garbage you listen to all the time?

  • Nunya Beeswax

    And you knew they were “heterosexual” how? Were they wearing signs?

    Their behavior is objectively repulsive, and I’m sorry it happened to you.
    But “heterosexual” (whatever that means) men aren’t the only men
    interested in s*x with women, and your status as pansexual or queer or
    whatever you’re calling it at the moment isn’t exclusive to you.

    It’s possible these men were in a “queer space” because they, like you, find
    their sexual interests difficult or impossible to categorize. You
    don’t appreciate it when people make assumptions about your sexuality;
    perhaps you should extend them the same courtesy.

    • davio bozzio

      Get a grip on reality. While women can easily be bisexual VERY few men are truly bi and I can tell you that there are more straight men at The Abbey than gay ones these days. Men are very definite about categorizing their sexuality – women less so. Stop intellectualizing it w. B.S.

  • Jorge Carolinos

    You it seems are going to clubs, club culture attracts zeros.

    If you go to actual bars people in general have the good sense to mind their own business.

    • StanFromSomewhere

      That and the fact that at most bars I am familiar with (maybe not the ones that cater to the fickle tastes of hyper-senstive 20-somethings), the people working there don’t care if you’re gay or straight, as long as you spend money, tip well, and treat the hired help and other patrons with courtesy and respect. I got this type of attitude years ago in some establishment in SF from some young shrieking militant who was quickly shut down by the bartender, who told the little child that “straight money spends the same as gay money, and I have seen a lot more from him than from you”.

  • lspanker

    Another long screed by Kaitlyn Hodge used as a vehicle to remind us that she’s “queer”, in case we didn’t know that already…

  • DHT

    I doubt the guys were “straight” in a gay bar…more than likely they were “bi” or “pan” or something else. This is something that gay men deal with regularly in gay bars…gay bars are like rape culture on steroids, they are full of predators that are usually directing their attention towards other men…thanks for taking some of the pressure off.

    • davio bozzio

      No – Sadly, The Abbey is now 60-70% hetero. I’m sure those guys were 100% straight. That is very typical there and why most gay people have jumped ship from that place.

      • Nunya Beeswax

        Like anybody is “100% straight.”

        • StanFromSomewhere

          The telltale sign is when you find yourself secretly looking through the IKEA catalog, thinking a new sofa with a more festive color palette will liven up the living room…