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The Mystery of the Disappearing Lesbian Bars
A queer whodunit
If you’re connected at all to lesbian or even to wider gay circles, then you’ve likely heard that lesbian bars are dying out. It’s true. In the late 1980s, there were more than 200 lesbian bars in the United States. Now, most major cities don’t have even one.
Things got so dire that the Lesbian Bar Project was created in 2020 with a 30-day fundraising campaign to support the few lesbian bars that remained. Despite these efforts, a Smithsonian piece declared in January 2021 that there were only “15 nightlife spaces dedicated to queer and gay women” remaining in the United States. Later that year, PBS put the number at 21. Whatever the actual number was, it’s clear that lesbian bars were and continue to be on a downward tailspin.
But, for some reason, the good, progressive, inclusive, “LGBTQIA++” community just can’t seem to figure out why.
Well, one brave writer by the name of Krista Burton set out to investigate what was going on. She went and visited the last 20 lesbian nightlife spots she could find and turned her road trip into a book titled, Moby Dyke: An Obsessive Quest to Track Down the Last Remaining Lesbian Bars in America. According to The Washington Post, she
visited every bar at least twice in an attempt to figure out why, when as many as 20 percent of Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ, the number of nightlife establishments catering to lesbians has declined so precipitously.
I’m already sensing a problem here, and it’s that Burton seems to take self-identification as a member of the alphabet community to mean anything at all. Could this push for complete and total “inclusivity” be a part of the problem? Surely not!
In her interview with The Washington Post, Burton mused that the real causes for this decline were potentially that:
People get sick of the same spot, or everyone decides their current lesbian bar is too full of straight people, or there are too many bachelorettes happening, so they all move to another bar, and they turn it into a lesbian bar.
She also blamed the current political climate, noting that one bar in Huston was apparently “denied insurance coverage because it hosts drag shows.”
And then we get this gem:
Lesbian bars are doing as much as they can to be as welcoming as possible. That feeling of inclusivity was, for the most part, almost tangible.
Hmm. Again—could this desperate push towards unbridled inclusivity be a part of the problem?
Indeed, in the PBS piece on the decline of lesbian bars, sociology professor Greggor Mattson does explain that, “as transgender issues became more prominent, and we began to recognize genderqueer and gender nonbinary folks, bars that seemed to be open to all genders became the dominant kind of LGBTQ+ space.”
I do realize that a combination of many factors likely contributed to the decline. PBS interviewed many lesbian bar owners themselves who cited reasons like assimilation, gentrification, and dating apps. Nearly all of them also mentioned economic factors.
But the factor of over-inclusivity and the inability for lesbians to have spaces just for lesbians consistently rears its head. Another bar owner interviewed for the piece said of the many roles of lesbian bars: “Even for queer allies that just want to come experience some fabulousness and leave with some glitter on their shoes, who doesn’t want that?”
It seems like lesbians are expected to cater to the needs of every other letter in the acronym that is seeking a “safe space,” and it certainly seems that many have internalized that role. There is an odd strain of self-hatred that believes it is wrong for lesbians to have any boundaries whatsoever.
“Lesbian bars have never been perfect,” writes Sarah Marloff for Smithsonian Magazine. “Like the outside world, racism, transphobia and biphobia existed within, and many were inaccessible to disabled women.”
Smithsonian Museum curator Katherine Ott agreed: “So there was always tension,” she said. “The bars were never a really good solution to all of the discrimination and hate. Inside the bars, or inside the groups of women who went to the bars, was all the shit that was happening outside.”
Lesbian bars, unlike gay bars and straight bars, are meant to be social justice centers, you see. They aren’t a place to socialize and meet new people. They are a place to showcase virtue and do the work of progressive politics.
If these weren’t factors that initially led to the rapid decline in lesbian bars (though I would argue they certainly are), then at the very least they are factors in why these spaces continue to shutter and why new lesbian nightlife spots have a hard time getting their doors opened.
Two managers quit immediately after the grand opening. Then other employees anonymously formed a workers’ collective and demanded the bar’s owners turn the business over to them, writing on Instagram that they felt “misled about the space being safe and welcoming.”
The bar was accused of being racist and transphobic, and employees started a “marie_equi_workers_collective” Instagram page, which is where they demanded owner resignation.
Miraculously, the bar reopened in August and remains open today, likely only surviving because of its oxymoronic tagline: “A lesbian bar for everyone.”
Godspeed, Doc Marie’s.
A similar but sadder story played out in France earlier this year at a lesbian bar named La Part des Anges in Rennes after it, too, faced accusations of transphobia. As reported on Charlie Hebdo, on April 14, a group of people entered the bar, harassed a waitress, broke a window, and wrote “Fuck TERFs” on the storefront.
The bar had been dealing with accusations of transphobia for years, even though the owner, Orane Guéneau, insisted it had always been an “inclusive” space that never refused trans people. Issues seem to have stemmed in large part from the fact that she did stand up for young women at her bar who were accused of transphobia for refusing the advances of trans-identified males.
Guéneau said [translation by Google]:
It was several times the big clash. If the young woman said: I prefer women, then the trans woman was offended and cried transphobia. But this young woman is not transphobic, it's just a question of consent, she doesn't like penises, since she is a lesbian! It reminds me of the heterosexuals who came to flirt with us saying: if you're a lesbian, it's because you haven't met the right guy.
Guéneau also reported getting death threats in the mail and under her door with messages such as, “Save a trans, commit suicide.”
Nevertheless, in May, the feminist collective Nous Toutes 35 also came out against the bar on social media, calling for a boycott of the establishment.
“There is no feminism without trans people,” the statement began.
While decrying the acts of violence and vandalism committed against the bar, the statement quickly turns the tables on La Part des Anges by accusing the bar of victimizing trans and intersex people.
“We are fighting for a just, free world and against the patriarchy that carries within it all the systemic oppression that we denounce,” the collective asserted. “Feminists and trans people are connected in this fight.”
La Part des Anges closed its doors a few days later.
It is doubtful that La Part des Anges will be the last target of trans terror before there are no lesbian bars left anywhere at all. Even those that open their doors to trans-identified males are to be cowed into submission—by violent means, if necessary—if they don’t give those males free rein to make advances on uncomfortable young lesbians.
The only allowable lesbian bar is a lesbian bar for everyone, which means that it isn’t a lesbian bar at all. If lesbians are allowed to set boundaries around our spaces and our identities, then it reminds men who wish that they were lesbians that they aren’t, and that they can never be. This is the madness that helped kill and continues to suffocate lesbian bars. It really isn’t that much of a mystery at all.
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