by: Zachary Stafford
The other night I went to a gay bar on Christopher Street in New York City and left feeling like a broken piece of a larger, broken gay community that doesn’t seem to be whole. As I walked into the bar, I was excited to see drag bingo being played on a moderately busy Sunday evening, and an array of different kinds of people. This was New York to me, the New York you always hear about: fun, vibrant, diverse.
My friends decided to stand next to a group of people in front of the drag queen who was moderating bingo, and we befriended them instantly. This group, like mine, was a mixture of lesbians and gay men. While my friends, new and old, played bingo alongside the other bar-goers, I moved to the restroom for a moment. During this break from bingo, I suddenly heard the drag queen yell over the mic, “Hey, I know you’re lesbians and all, but this is a gay bar!” among a few other hateful comments. I let my brain absorb what had happened, and I thought, “Wait, did a man impersonating a woman just yell at women for being in a ‘gay’ bar?”
When I got back to my friends, I saw that the lesbians of the group were clearly pissed off and confused; one friend pulled a bartender over to ask him why they were being targeted by the drag queen’s hateful remarks when they were paying customers just wanting to play bingo. The bartender looked at us and responded, “I can’t kick you all out, but I can say that you all should probably leave. You’re not going to get served anymore.” This stunned all of us, and in complete anger one of my friends started yelling at the bartender that she was being denied service because she was a lesbian. She said, “I am staying and finishing my drink. You will just have to deal with me being here, a paying customer playing bingo.” The bartender shrugged the statement off, rolled his eyes, and walked behind the bar.
By this time, a gaggle of older gay men who had been watching this happen began yelling things at us: “This is a gay bar! Go home, lesbians!” “Why do you have to be here?” “Don’t you people have your own bar?” I decided to talk to these men. I approached two of them, but one looked at me and said, “You should leave here, too. You don’t belong, either!” This came off as racist to me, and I responded accordingly to the older white man: “Sir, you should be careful with how you word that sentence; you’re at risk of sounding racist along with already being misogynistic.” He glared at me and once more said, “Leave!” while grabbing my half-full drink, trying to pull it away from me, as the bartenders watched in apparent support of his actions.
At that moment I pulled back, yelling, “Excuse you, I am not done yet, and do not touch me!” I drank the rest of my beverage and slammed down my drink in front of them, but once again, they insisted that I leave along with my lesbian friends. Finally, I looked at the bartender with hopes of help, but he just shook his head at me. His only response was, “Don’t provoke them.” With that statement I went for my coat and my friends, who had each been individually cornered by a combination of staff and the older regulars who frequented the bar. We left, defeated.
With the letters L, G, B and T, we see different identities being pushed in tandem in order to present a united front. At times, this has caused controversy and turmoil within the “gay” community, but with recent advancements in legal rights, we seemed to be piecing together a more equal future and even beginning to look more whole. However, I want to point to this moment above and ask us, as a community, to look within our own group and recognize the ways in which we are fragmenting each other. The incident that I went through is not rare, and many of my lesbian friends can point out past moments in which they were harassed for being in a gay bar. Although I understand the importance of having certain spaces for certain groups, we should not be subjecting women within our own community to the same discrimination that we are fighting against, whether we happen to be in a gay bar or not.
Zach Stafford is a Tennessee writer currently living in Chicago. His work has appeared at places such as: USAToday, Thought Catalog, The New Gay, and Bookforum. Outside of writing and watching Ally McBeal on Netflix, Zach is in the process of applying to PhD programs in the field of Cultural Geography & Urbanization. Also, Zach is the Production Assistant and a Contributor to the 50Faggots.com web series, which explores the lives of effeminate gay men in America. Follow him on Twitter @zachstafford.