Here’s generally how it works in gay bars: Guys dressed as females are applauded. Actual females are not. Oh, yes, we love us some “fag hags” or “fruit flies” (as we dismissively call them), but a lot of guys feel all icky when confronted face-to-face with real womanhood and it somehow spoils their fun. They feel invaded—and cockblocked—though, as drag historian Linda Simpson noted, they were certainly thrilled to see Adele and Jennifer Lawrence at the New York bar Pieces in March! Hypocritical much?
I personally love a mixed crowd and welcome the influx—which is inevitable now that drag is so across-the-boards popular—as long as what was intended as a gay bar remains primarily that. For other opinions, I asked a bevy of nightlife staples—and they truly had stuff to say.
“Straight girls should absolutely be welcome in our gay bars. But don’t get it twisted: Showtime is for the house entertainers/queens! Learn the protocol and don’t be a ‘Becky’!”
“I think it is our job as entertainers to welcome anyone into our bars and performance spaces. I think straight girls get a bad rap, but I’ve had many encounters with rude gay men, as well. I don’t think it matters if you’re straight guy/girl/cis/bi/trans/+. Some people are just assholes.”
“I don’t like the blantent sexism that some gays show straight and, at times, gay woman in the clubs and bars. It’s strange that we needed them as we grew up, but now that it’s gotten better we turn our backs. I say no! You are welcome wherever I am—just respect the space and the people. Don’t think just because you are at a gay bar that means you can act like your in the 16th installment of Girls Gone Wild. And that goes to everyone that is just in public. Don’t act like a jerk!”
“I don’t think you get to fight for equality and then say say ‘No straights allowed.’ We should consider that maybe women feel free to be loud and crazy because for the first time perhaps they feel free from the same toxic masculinity that so many gay men have been bullied by our entire lives. I think the world is changing and there’s gonna be some growing pains with this. Maybe we can have some patience and realize that this is a generation of women that won’t raise their sons to be homophobic assholes. What a great world that will be.”
“Apparently, we draw the line at drunken bachelorette parties with their plastic tiaras, low-density feather boas, and chocolate martini vomit flavored hair. But if you are Jennifer Lawrence and Adele coming in to look for some attention from a roomful of men that don’t care that your Spanx are taking the night off, we’ll throw you a parade. And I’m tired of being told that straight women need gay spaces to feel safe from heterosexual men. They have literally every venue on the face of the earth to congregate in. If they can’t hang at the Olive Garden or Lane Bryant without feeling manhandled, there’s always every other bar on the planet to try, instead of drunkenly strong-arming a mic away from a drag queen while clawing at our tucks and falsies. I don’t care that straight women are comfortable in gay places if it means that LGBTQ people feel unsafe in them. But I’ll worry about heterosexual-inclusion in American gay spaces when there aren’t still laws in 26 states that allow the discrimination of LGBTQ people in housing and employment.”
“We do this for everyone—straight, gay, bisexual. It doesn’t bother me if a straight girl comes to see me perform. It brings horizons to our community.”
Marti Gould Cummings
“Straight girls are fine, so long as they understand that this is a safe space for queer people. All people are welcome, but we’re not to be gawked at, we’re to be treated like human beings.”
“I don’t mind, as long as they’re buying drinks and acting respectful, which is usually the case if they have a gay friend with them to tell them, ‘Stop being an asshole!’”
Tobell Von Cartier
“I think the one advantage of having straight girls in gay bars is that they bring more dollars for the performers. Hey, lets face it. Money is money, honey, and it all spends the same! It’s hard for some drag queens to earn an honest living as performers in these bars and some performers survive solely on tips. So it could be a good thing if you look at it from that perspective. However, honey, if you’re at the club on Grindr, looking to get laid, having a bunch of girls there will definitely kill the vibe. I can totally see both sides. When I worked at the original XL nightclub, girls weren’t allowed except for on my night, which was mostly club kids, drag queens, and freaks…You know basically all of our friends were there, LOL!”
“Because of the way drag is today, the exposure is so much higher. I can’t turn away a patron, even if they’re acting ridiculous. There have been many gays who have acted ridiculous.”
“All money is good money—until it’s annoying. And then it’s,‘Go be annoying somewhere else.’”
And some non-drag folks…
John Blair, Rise Bar Co-owner
“Rise is a gay bar. It is for gay men and their friends, no matter who that is. Having said that, sometimes we have a problem when the girls drink too much. When we have to ask them to leave or refuse them service because they are too drunk, we often get accused of being anti-women by their gay friends. So it is a tightrope we walk, but that is just part of the business.”
Ian Ford, DJ
“It’s fine when anybody shows up to have fun as part of what we’re doing, but it’s not cool when a group of girls comes in and expects to take over (what my friend calls ‘pussy control’) like they do at a straight club or bar. We gays lose a little something every time our safe spaces become smaller or less distinguishably ours. We went from being the place to hear new music to slaves of the Top 40 charts in just over a decade. I’d prefer that gay clubs be an extension of the gay community, not just a gay clone of pop culture. That having been said, gay clubs should be a place where anybody can come have fun and be themselves, as long as it doesn’t take away from everyone else’s party.”
And finally, I thought I should ask a straight woman for her point of view…
Eileen Shapiro of Get Out! magazine
“I’m the biggest fag hag on the planet who actually owned the Bunk House, a historic gay men’s establishment in Sayville, Long Island. For me, there is nothing better, more fun, more handsome, well-mannered, or considerate than a gay man, which is why 99% of my friends in this lifetime are gay men. And while your friendships can be lasting and tremendously emotional, you are never obligated to form a commitment…and you get to look at everyone’s picture on Grindr.
“I’ve been frequenting gay bars for as long as I can remember, and in all those years I can count on my fingers any derogatory comment regarding straight women in their natural habitat, the bar. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard more complaints about lesbians invading their space. I have been awarded the task numerous times of actually starting a relationship between my gay cohorts, kind of like a mascot. I am attracted to the unapologetic self-confidence that many gay men seem to possess. It also helps me gain control of the insight a straight man has…sometimes. One of the most popular shows ever, Will & Grace, says it all.”
The Details on Retail
Barney’s has always been a sort of grandiose gar bar—in a way—but it’s been hurting, like so many other retail outlets. And so, I hear the uptown NYC store plans to close four floors, which will send shockwaves through the shop-till-you-drop crowd. Even downscale stores of the type I frequent every day have been going through this trajectory; KMart on Astor Place closed their third floor and so did Jack’s 99-cent Store on 31st Street. Horrors!
As for the middlebrow venues, when I went to Macy’s to get something not long ago, the guy wanted to charge me twice what it would have been on Amazon. I walked away and he shrieked, “People like you are helping kill this store.” So blame me! I killed retail! But at least we still have our gay bars. Don’t we? Don’t we?
And we’ll always have Broadway, which leads me to this exclusive bit of info: Last year’s revival of Mart Crowley’s 1968 dramedy classic Boys in the Band, co-produced by Ryan Murphy and starring gay heavyweights like Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer, is going to be filmed! To paraphrase a line from the play, I’m so excited my face looks like I’ve been rimming a snowman.