THE BLOG

Why Straight People Shouldn't Come To The Gay Bar Uninvited

01/08/2017 14:11 BST | Updated 01/08/2017 14:11 BST
Marin Tomas via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Out, an American LGBT magazine, published an op-ed calling on gay men to "stop telling women they can't be in gay bars." The piece struck many gay men, myself included, as tone-deaf and has caused quite the uproar on gay Twitter. I myself tweeted the article out and posted on Facebook, saying that actually, no straight people (regardless of their gender) should go to a gay club without an LGBT person having invited them.

What followed was a day of angry straight people accusing me of discriminating against them, without even a hint of irony that gay clubs wouldn't exist if straight people didn't discriminate against us in the first place. Amanda Prestigiacomo even wrote about how horrible I am at the Daily Wire.

Still, I stand by my assertion. Straight people, whether men or women, should not go to a gay club unless they were invited by an LGBT person. The gay club is not for you.

What this comes down to is straight people who are simply not used to being told they may not be welcomed based on their sexual orientation. This is something lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are pretty familiar with. We are ostracised from our churches, from our schools, from our families, and even from our jobs. We can't even walk down the street holding hands without the fear someone will bash us for a bit of mild PDA.

I get that this is uncomfortable to hear. It's uncomfortable for me to say, because I always assumed it went without saying if you were a true ally. True allies understand that they are not entitled to a marginalised group's space or time or companionship.

Gay clubs first began popping up in the twentieth century as sanctuaries from oppressive policing and heteronormative culture. They were one of the only places gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender people could go and express their sexuality and gender identity without (much) fear of persecution. Over the years, from the raid at the Stonewall Inn to the Upstairs Lounge Fire, the Admiral Duncan bombing, and the mass shooting at Pulse, gay clubs have been attacked specifically because they allow us this freedom that many, even in 2017, otherwise feel as though they lack in wider society.

These are safe spaces, sacred even. They are not zoos. Gay clubs are for LGBT people to retreat away from the straight and/or cis gaze, where tables of women out on "girls' nights" are hooping and hollering every time a gay couple kisses and straight men stare at their drink lest they catch site of the sodomy. I've seen it in London. I've seen it in Chicago. I've seen it in every single city I've ever gone out in.

Maybe you don't think you're like that. Maybe you're not. But for a great many LGBT people who don't know you, your presence can be suffocating and put us on edge worrying about what you and your posse might do or say. Will you grab us? Will you tokenize us? It's quite the killjoy. When you're with another LGBT person we know you're fairly likely to be safe. When you and your straight friends come in by yourselves, we have no idea what we're in for.

I understand that many of the people critical of me feel as though by being excluded from those with an open invite, I am somehow "discriminating" against them. But this misses a fundamental point. I'm not saying you don't have a right to go to gay clubs. Clearly, you do. And I would never suggest you should be turned away at the door. That would be an unenforceable policy and, frankly, illegal. You have every right to go to a gay club.

But just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Straight people, regardless of gender, have straight privilege. Any ally worth their salt would realise this and, hopefully, consider what their presence in an LGBT space means to those members of the community who are looking for somewhere to find solace away from a heteronormative society.

Of course, I have male privilege, as many people have pointed out. Some women have gone as far to accuse me of being misogynistic. They suggest that by asking straight women to not come to the gay club uninvited I am participating in some sexist policing of where women can and can't go.

The thing is, I've never said LGBT women can't, or shouldn't, come to the bar. They're as much a part of the rainbow community as anyone else. This isn't about them. This is about straight privilege and heteronormativity, nothing more. I would no more want a bunch of straight men to invade a lesbian space.

I completely understand that many straight cis women go to gay clubs to escape the male gaze and because they feel safer in an LGBT space, it still rubs me as wrong that you would co-opt our spaces as your own, though. Rape culture is a real and pernicious problem, and I sympathize and will fight with you to dismantle it. LGBT people giving up our spaces is not the way to do it, though.

These spaces mean something to our community that you, as a straight and/or cis person, are unlikely to ever understand. These are our sanctuaries from a heteronormative, cisnormative world. It is the height of structural privilege for straight and cis people to feel entitled to them.

To understand this requires a hard look at the privilege you have as a straight person and an acknowledgement that despite the incredible progress we've made, LGBT people are still an oppressed group. It shouldn't be too much to ask that, at the very least, our allies respect our right to congregate on our terms. No one is saying you're not welcome, but just like you (hopefully) wouldn't turn up on someone's doorstep uninvited, don't come to the one public place we can feel at home without someone asking you to tag along.

Still, if you came to the gay bar without an invite, I wouldn't make a scene. I'd treat you with the respect you deserve. I'm not saying this is something I police, or think clubs should police. Rather, I'm asking straight people to maybe consider their privilege and police it themselves.

Ask yourselves why you feel so entitled to LGBT spaces - spaces that were never intended for you - and why it so bothers you that you might not be welcome without an invite. Consider the fact that LGBT people feel that way about almost every other place in society and that we've carved out our own communities, bars, and clubs to escape that oppression. And think about what that means for us when you roll up like you're Jane Goodall and we're her chimpanzees.