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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] GLB Why we need gay-only spaces

Why we need gay-only spaces

Gay_spaceIt’s still a hostile world for queer people, with some places attempting to establish ‘straight-only’ venues.  This is why it’s still important to have gay-only spaces where non-heterosexuals can feel safe, writes Spark in Darkness.

13 March 2011

There is a brouhaha in the UK recently regarding gay-only spaces.

Recently, there have been a series of cases in the UK, where straight people have tried to hang up ‘straights-only’ signs and make gay-free zones. In particular, there have been several court cases with hoteliers deciding to run straights-only establishments to deny service and accommodations to gay visitors.

And, in addition to the Christian groups and MPs banging the homophobia drums, inevitably people have turned round and glared at gay bars and similar gay spaces.

And I sigh, I do, because it's not the first time.

"Why are there gay bars and no straight bars?" "Why is there a gay community centre and no straight community centre?" "How come there are gay friendly hotels and no straight friendly hotels?" "Why do you need gay bathhouses?"

It gives me a migraine it does. I've written before on respecting safe spaces, but it really can't be emphasised enough why marginalised people need these spaces.  

Every bar that isn't a gay bar, is a straight bar. 99% of the community centres around the world are straight. The vast, vast, vast majority of hotels are straight-friendly. 

Let's be clear here. The world is a straight space. 99.999999% of the world is a straight space - not only a straight space, but an aggressively straight space, which fiercely resists being anything but straightness. The whole damn world is straight dominated, straight ruled, straight controlled and straight enforced.

We are grudgingly allowed to be barely tolerated guests in this straight world. Most places actively erase us at best, and every step we take is viciously fought by some of the most powerful organisations on the planet. We are not encouraged or appreciated, if we are an active and open part of this straight world and the straight world makes it abundantly clear.

And, even aside from the outright rejection and hostility of the straight world, sheer demographics means we are overwhelmed by the straightness all around us. Straightness that demands the world cater to them and not leave room for us.

If I go out I feel unnerved. Being in large crowds outright panics me, because I know I am surrounded by straight people and I know that's not safe - I've had it proven over and over that it is not safe. I am on edge, on alert all the damn time. It's exhausting, it's draining, it gives me migraines, but I cannot relax in this straight-lead, gay-hostile world.

I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would be out. That I wouldn't creep back into the closet, that I wouldn't hide in it. But I still do, a hundred times over I do. I still find myself hiding behind careful wording, desperately avoiding any gendered words.

My partner, my spouse, my other-half. I still don't touch Beloved in public, I don't hold hands, I certainly don't kiss him. Even when I'm having one of my mini-meltdowns and desperately need his reassurance, a touch, a hug - I pull away or we both avoid it - uncomfortable and nervous and frightened by the straight world around us.

Going out for the night round pubs and clubs outright frightens me. If I am pushed into a straight space or club, there's no way I can relax. Often, I won't even drink because it may make me careless or foolish or less alert and ready. It's not a great night out, I have to say, it ranks a little behind having to leaf through Aunt Marjory's holiday photos.

If I go out, I try to go to gay bars, clubs or centres. Some of these places have had so many straight tourists there that they no longer feel safe or like home - and I eventually move on elsewhere and strike it off as a place we have - it's another place straightness has taken over, another place I'm not safe, another place I can't relax.

And it's sad when one of our oases are claimed and overwhelmed. It's more than just losing a pub where the seat cushions have now moolded themselves to the shape of your arse, or you've spent so long propping up the bar, you think it may fall down without you, it's another one of our few spaces lost. 

Maybe we wouldn't need our safe spaces, if the world wasn't so aggressively, overwhelming straight. Maybe if the world wasn't so hostile to us, maybe if the world were happier with us being in straight space, rather than grudgingly tolerant at best.

Maybe we wouldn't need "gay-friendly" establishments, if gay-hostile wasn't the damn norm. 

We need our spaces where we can be. That's it - a place where we can exist as us. And maybe if that wasn't so damn hard in the rest of the straight world, we wouldn't need them.

Spark in Darkness is a gay lawyer in the UK with far too much to say and never enough time to say it in or coherence to say it with. He lives with his husband, Beloved who is both blessed by his awesome presence and a saint for putting up with his broken randomness. He generally bounces from stress to panic to glee in random intervals and tries to look at the world through a social justice lens - which tends to make him look like a grumpy git because the world is, well, more than a little broken.

He blogs at Spark in Darkness and on Womanist Musings where this article first appeared and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence.

 

 

Comments   

0 #3 lalala 2011-10-23 11:07
alright so im working on a school assignment for law class where i have to defend a manager who kicked out a straight woman from a lesbian bar after there was a complaint about her. i think your perspective really helped because now i know how you guys actually feel about having your own space. I can be more passionate about it when i try to prove my case! If im going to be completely honest im not a huge fan of homosexuals. but we're all human and deserve equal respect, i would never go out of my way to take that away from anyone and so im sorry for how the world has treated you =( do take care =)
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0 #2 Alienated 2011-04-10 20:49
I feel as if I'm living in a different world to the people who wrote this piece and commented upon it. I feel totally comfortable holding hands, hugging and kissing my boyfriend in public. I live in an Australia where, at least from my own experience, homophobia is the exception, not the rule.

I am alienated by events like the pride parade, gay bars and gay-only spaces. I am a person who happens to be gay, but this is just a tiny part of my identity. Moreover, it is an unimportant part of my identity. It is not something I can choose. I see these spaces as an insistence that we are somehow fundamentally different. In the world that I live in this is counterproducti ve. What use is it to insist on our otherness to defend ourselves from a society which largely sees us as normal?

We must continue to challenge oppression, stereotypes, hetero- and homo-normativit y wherever they exist. But the best way of doing this is certainly not to marginalise ourselves. This cuts us off from the very mainstream we seek to shape, and gives an excuse for our opponents to dismiss us.
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0 #1 Lesbian Love Junkie 2011-03-15 13:30
Why does it not surprise me that this is happening in the UK, Australia is no better, the gay clubs are closing down or being invaded by "straight homophobic" people.

Thank you for having the courage to share so openly and honestly, to utter the words that many of us cannot... I too have the feeling that I have climbed out of the closet only to have opened the door of an even bigger one and crawled right back in. There is a level of acceptance and sometimes it is only tolerance of people in our community. I too avoid holding hands in public places with my partner, avoid any intimacy in a "straight area". On the flip side when we are in a "gay friendly area" we often find friends blushing, because we are so openly affectionate with each other. We crave those moments of honesty and freedom, where we are not afraid to be ourselves.

A couple of years ago we attended a friends birthday on the Sydney Southern Shire, our gay friends were mortified when a group of men covered their glasses and walked inside while staring at our gay friends. When I asked my friends "but what does that mean? I don't get it?" they told me it was "the straight guys covered their glasses so they wouldn't catch anything"... that was a moment I will never forget, I still feel sick to the stomach when I think about it, the sadness, the disbelief... the reality of how some people in the world see us.

It saddens me that their are fewer and fewer gay friendly spaces for us now, and that we have to fight for the right to have them... straight people try to accuse us of "reverse descrimination" , of "segregation" of refusing to "integrate" when it is evident we are not always welcome in the "straight spaces" we are not always safe in the "straight spaces" and who wants to take the chance to find out... no thanks I would rather take my chances plaing "russian roulette" then spend 5minutes in a straight bar with my partner!
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