Remember all the fuss about gay bars banning bachelorette parties? The story erupted with Dawn Turner Trices’s piece in The Chicago Tribune. In it, she wrote about Geno Zaharakis, the owner of the gay bar Cocktail, putting a sign outside stating that the establishment would not welcome bachelorette parties. According to Zaharakis, watching straight women celebrate their upcoming unions was especially grating given that gay marriage is not allowed in Illinois. And, as anyone who has been within sloshing distance of a public straight bachelorette shindig knows, something really weird happens to straight women in the presence of gay men - they turn into drunken, pawing creatures from the Victoria’s Secret Pink Lagoon and treat the men around them... much as drunken straight men treat women in their immediate vicinity in a bar.
Turner Trice’s story prompted a lot of discussion, and most of it centred around the issue of gay marriage. But it set me thinking about the history of gay bars, and the different forms of exclusion practiced in and around them. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when Chicago bars were constantly raided by vice squads, and there are raids practiced on gay establishments and/or or gay cruising areas to this day. At the same time, a lot of gay bars still perform implicit forms of exclusion by asking for forms of identification only from some, often people of colour. Gay bars are often located in gentrifying or vastly gentrified neighbourhoods, which makes them complicit, willingly or not, in economic purges that displace residents.
But there are also gay bars that are swept away in the rush to gentrify, the ones that cater to a clientele that’s drawn from their neighbourhoods and that disappear once the developers have had their way. My recent piece in Windy City Times looks at such complicated histories of exclusion and inclusion, and places this story of bachelorettes and gays in a wider context.
This was written as a short news analysis piece, and I got some insights from Jennifer Brier, who teaches history and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago; she had some especially interesting thoughts about what this reveals about straight women and their ownership of their sexuality in public spaces.
There’s still a lot more to be said and discussed, and I’m especially interested in the issues of gentrification and racial and class differentiation that are inevitably a part of the history of gay bars. I wonder if we forget, in all the talk about gay marriage and bad behavior in relation to bachelorette parties, that our establishments are as much markers of social stratification as they are symbols of liberation.
Here’s Brier quoted in the article:
...clearly, these women desire a kind of sexual freedom that has no space in heterosexual institutions. That, for me, suggests that women are not able to safely have a kind of freedom of sexual expression in straight spaces. That’s intense. But instead of looking at those issues, we’re concerned with this story of exaggerated behavior around certain bodies, with gay men being pawed and straight women being so tragically drunk that they can’t control themselves.
Read the rest of the piece, “Bar None: Gay clubs reject bachelorette parties.” What are your thoughts about these issues? And do you have fond or unhappy memories of a gay bar (or two, or three, or more) that could shed more light on all or any of this?
You can also read Alex Blaze’s "No queers allowed at straight bars and blushing brides at gay bars."