If you’ve been to a gay bar recently you might have noticed a new trend: a ton more straight women. A growing number of straight women have begun to frequent gay bars, coming alone, as part of bachelorette parties, and even on first dates. The reasons are many; women claim to feel more comfortable in gay bars where they don’t necessarily need to worry about being hit on, straight men view gay spaces as “non-threatening” areas in which they don’t mind a female partner attending without them, and, of course, as a show of allegiance and unity with the LGBTQ+ community.
Unfortunately, the increase in women partaking in what the New York Times first dubbed as “gay bar tourism” has left many gay men feeling as if their spaces are being taken over. And, sadly, this has led to a rumble of misogyny through the gay community. Gay men claim that straight women behave differently in gay bars, acting in ways that they wouldn’t in straight bars because they don’t see gay men as “threats”. Whether it’s unwanted touching, excessive drinking, or a general sense of entitlement, it seems as if gay-bar tourists are having a hard time acclimating to gay spaces.
The problem isn’t who comes into these spaces but rather how those spaces are treated. There is a culture and atmosphere that has been created to make LGBTQ+ individuals feel welcome. That’s not to say that the LGBTQ+ community has always been good at this; just as much misogyny, racism, and toxic masculinity permeates our community as any other. But the gay community has always put its best foot forward in course correcting issues as they present themselves. Gay bars have historically been places of safety for LGBTQ+ folk; a place where non-heterosexual individuals can gather, share in experiences, and, yes, cruise.
And, as gay bars continue to fall prey to financial stress—a reported 15 gay bars close their doors every year (hyperlink: https://www.advocate.com/small-business/2018/7/03/43-dead-or-dying-gay-bars-united-states) --and even more are in danger of going the way of the dodo, gay bar owners find themselves trapped. Do they cater to the growing heterosexual demands—which are often over-the-top misrepresentations of the LGBTQ+ community at large—or stay true to what they have always been and risk closing their doors? With the advent of apps like Grindr and Scruff, and the general increase in societal acceptance which allows for gay men to frequent straight bars more comfortably, gay bars are suffering with no end in sight.
So what’s the answer? Is it possible for gay bars to remain gay without becoming misogynistic? It’s clear that gay bars need to find some balance between revenue, social climate, and inclusivity but how can they do this? There’s not finite answer but perhaps there are a few changes that gay bars can make to ensure these spaces stay inclusive of everyone without feeling as if they are slowing being turned straight.
Post The Rules
I’ve rarely seen rules posted in the gay bars I’ve frequented. But it seems like high time that gay bar owners take control of their spaces and post clear rules. Unwanted touching, harassment, excessive drunkenness, and whatever attributes they might deem unworthy of maintaining the culture of the gay bar should be some of the top issues noted. As with any other rule a bar might enforce these posted rules should apply to every one. And, most importantly, make sure that the bouncers enforce these rules. Gay bar bouncers aren’t just gatekeepers but the guardians and protectors of these safe spaces. It is as much their duty to educate, intervene, and enforce the climate of these spaces as it is the owners.
A Special Notice for Straight Allies
Let me be clear: straight men and women should always be welcome in gay spaces. Without many of them LGBTQ+ folk would not have the rights afforded to us that we do. However, gay culture can be confusing for even the gayest of us. For those who are coming to a gay bar for the first time it might be helpful to receive a gentle but firm reminder that this space is gay and to approach it as one might approach visiting a foreign country: be respectful, understanding, and acknowledge that this space—though welcoming of you—wasn’t made for you.
Gay Men Need to Be Educators
This is probably the most difficult for gay men to accept. We often feel as if we get pushed into the role of educating straight individuals about the most intimate parts of our lives. It can grow frustrating to explain to yet another person what the difference between a top and bottom is, and that we are both “the man in the relationship”. Yet, despite these frustrations, gay men need to remember that it is an honor to be asked these questions. And that every positive interaction we have is a moment to create another much-needed ally. Rather than becoming misogynistic when we feel the climate of our spaces is being overrun, we should take the opportunity to befriend and explain to gay-bar tourists what this space means to us and how their actions demean that feeling of safety.
Gay Bars Should Host Ally and “Fag-Hag” Events
Gay bars are one of the few places that a straight person knows they can go to see gay culture in action. It’s unsurprising that we have gay-bar tourists then as the climate of acceptance increases. But perhaps gay bars can take more active roles in facilitating these acts of tourism—while simultaneously remind gay bar fixtures to be particularly patient on certain nights—by creating events aimed at gay allies.