Years ago, back in the roaring ’90s, I had what turned out to be one of the most memorable and most infuriating nightlife experiences of my 15 years in New York City.
The action unfolded at Sound Factory, an after-hours dance party for gay men, where I’d gone for some boozy early morning fun with my friends Laura and Brian. I made it past the burly bouncer behind the velvet rope with no problem, but then he blocked Laura and Brian from entering. Their entwined hands had given them away as … straight. The horror!
“Sorry, but this party is for gay men only.”
We pleaded with him to bend the rules just that once. It was, after all, my birthday (a lie). The bouncer was firm: I was welcome, but my friends weren’t. We started to mouth off, and Brian became a bit belligerent. A scuffle almost ensued, but before anyone got hurt (it would have been poor half-the-bouncer’s-size Brian), I pulled him away. The after-hours dance party would have to go on without us.
It was a disappointing ending to our big night out, but today, I’m rethinking my loud objection back then to Sound Factory’s men-only rule. It started with a recent night out at The Peel, a gay dance bar in Melbourne, Australia. Like various other gay venues around town, it’s gotten around local anti-discrimination laws to enforce a strict men-only code.
I’d been to The Peel many times during its more flexible co-ed days, but it wasn’t until I returned for the first time in nearly half a decade and found the place packed almost entirely with gay men and a few scattered drag queens that it hit me. I realized how much I missed the good old days when gay bars were practically 100 percent boy zones.
It was nice to order a drink and not be squeezed aside by any messy bachelorette parties bulldozing their way to the bartender. There was no-one doing that I’m-too-sexy dance that women sometimes do in crowded spaces where pushing often comes to shoving. There were just a bunch of guys who all wanted the same thing — to have a good time and maybe make out with another guy between dance sessions.
My reaction surprised me because The Peel is where I met one of my exes in 2010. If it hadn’t been for a woman, we never would have gotten together. She was the girlfriend of my future boyfriend Jayden and the de facto ringleader of his group. I met her first, and as Jayden recently reminded me, she was the one who introduced us.
But those were different times. Gay culture has changed dramatically in the past five years, becoming less exclusively about gay men. Even Grindr, which, for many, has replaced going out as the best way to meet eligible gay men, is no longer a hook-up app just for gay men. Trans women and the gender fluid now crowd the grid in many cities, looking for action.
Sometimes when you click on a cute guy, his profile offers non-negotiable instructions: “Trans only” or “No men.” Different strokes and all, but we already live in a straight world where most guys are interested in women only, and homophobic straight men routinely reject gay men. Why should we now have to deal with them shunning us on Grindr, which was initially intended as our meeting space?
I’ve been to gay bars and clubs in cities like Buenos Aires, Bangkok, and Berlin that are more welcoming to women than to straight men, who are far more likely not to check their homophobia at the door. I’ve had bouncers who seemed almost aggressively straight question me before allowing me inside.
“Do you know this is a gay bar? … Are you gay? … Are you sure? … Can I see your I.D. again?”
Their interrogations can be insulting, but I know they’re only looking out for the best interests of their gay patrons.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to screen out straights on Grindr. Lately, I’ve been getting messages regularly from guys who insist they aren’t gay. Some are just looking for someone to, in the words of one who recently approached me, “worship their c**k.” Others are hoping to work out their sexuality issues while their girlfriends are out of town.
There’s no way around them, but every time one messages me, I find myself appreciating those suspicious bouncers who are so dedicated to deterring straight men from entering gay premises, even if it means weeding out — or insulting — some of their target patrons. I wish the owners would apply the same rigid gay-men-only policy when hiring hot bartenders!
This is not me giving in to transphobia or heterophobia. But the proliferation of trans women and trans chasers on hook-up apps can sometimes be an unwelcome reminder of the heterocentric world we’re supposed to be escaping. I love that transgender people are more visible in everyday life, and I welcome trans men to the grid with an open mind. However, I wish trans women and the men who lust for them exclusively — especially the men who lust for them exclusively — would fulfill their fantasies somewhere else.
As much as I love hanging out with straight men, I’ve never been a fan of the ones who go to gay bars solely to meet women. Sure they may have less competition there, but don’t they already rule the rest of the earth? They can get lucky by hitting any of the myriad straight bars in any city … or by going to the supermarket … or by walking down the street pretty much anywhere? I certainly would rather not have to keep stumbling over them on Grindr.
I don’t want gay culture to go back to being as isolated as it was in the ’90s, but we can unite with our allies at Pride, at RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties, and pretty much anywhere in everyday life. When the clock strikes midnight, though, gay men deserve the right — we’ve earned the right — to a few sacred spaces that still belong to us alone.