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?”