Last Friday night some friends and I went to check out Guerilla Queer Bar. In case you haven’t heard of it, this is a monthly occurrence here in Boston in which 1, 500 or so queers and allies are notified via an email list at the last minute which straight and misogynistic club we are going to show up at, with the hopes of overrunning the place.
This time, The Liquor Store was the target. I had never been there before, despite hearing that some Harvard events have taken place at this venue in the past. The place was in part chosen this time around because on the same night they were having a wet t shirt contest and a mechanical bull riding contest (I feel that the sarcastically toned feminist rampage i feel an urge to place here is unnecessary. I have faith, in you, reader. You get the picture. Or at least you see the picture right above.)
I went for several reasons. Firstly, as one of the event organizers is a friend of mine, I had heard that last month the bar of choice refused to let the queers and allies upstairs, and had only allowed them out of the building one at a time to smoke. It’s easy to forget that blatant homophobia exists completely unchecked and un-self aware when only frequenting queer friendly spaces, or at the least, surrounding myself with queer-friendly people to shield me from the structural homophobia in the institutions I choose to inhabit nonetheless. (This is a good place to insert a shout-out for two of my favorite QUEER and QUEER CELEBRATORY dance nights Boston: Gross Anatomy and The Neighborhood- which is happening this upcoming Saturday night.) And so, as hearing this enraged me, and I was filled with HOMO-militant desire to be a body in the loving struggle towards claiming woman hating and queer hating spaces as our own.
Secondly, I have a friend who really wanted to go as well. Her enthusiasm definitely sparked my own. I was particularly excited that as a straight ally she felt excited and also felt the need for this kind of social reclamation of queer and woman-positive space. (I also, I admit, tend to feel surprised and very excited whenever a behaviorally straight person in my life shows an authentic desire and willingness to enter queer space with me. I think that this is- again, i tangent- a response inspired by my internalized homophobia. Yes, even I have some of it. I have had this response historically with many female friends- feeling thankful that they would treat me, a queer person, and my spaces as though we are comfortable, “normal,” good, healthy. It also manifests itself when I feel an enormous amount of self-consciousness being physically close with “straight” female friends immediately followed by a feeling of overwhelming gratitude that they, and this includes this friend in particular, are not concerned that I, the faggot/queer/dyke/genderqueer, will pray on them sexually.)
Before we left our lovely home, my friend and I tried to convince a group of close friends to come with us. None of them seemed particularly excited to join. They voiced concerns about supporting the misogynistic club financially and not enjoying the space or culture of the club. A different friend of mine told me earlier in the day when I tried to convince hir to go with me that whenever ze walks around that part of time at night ze feels a hate crime about to happen. My friend and I decided to give it a shot nonetheless, hoping not to miss a spectacle at the least. And so, after seeing the place’s dress code delineated in an email (please note that they do not allow athletic wear but do encourage, based on the photographs, female nudity), I changed out of my super-awesome teal spandex and neon yellow sneakers and into some black pants and the farthest thing I own from athletic-wear in terms of footwear, some black converse. And off we went.
Upon our arrival the line was wrapped around the building. It was before ten P.M. and I recognized many of the stealth queer people in line. Dressed in collared shirts and black leather shoes, I hardly even recognized them. Luckily for my friend and I, I had good friends who arrived long before we did, and were at the very front of the line. We ran up front and joined them. It turned out that my black canvas shoes, in fact, did count as “athletic wear” to the bouncer (at this point I also wonder if my septum piercing and short hair made my shoes look more athletic, but, speculation will really get us nowhere at this point.) Lucky for me, another friend of ours (this one with black leather shoes?) was also told that his shoes were too athletic. So my friend from school, my friend with the athletic shoes, and our five or six other acceptably clad queer friends decided to ditch The Liquor Store and head to a lesbian club night around the corner, called Pure (of which I have my own criticisms, but those will have to wait).
My frustration upon confronting the reality of the situation allowed me to move from romanticizing it into being able to see it in a more critical light. My Co-op friends were right. Had we have been able to get into The Liquor Store, we would have each paid $8 to support their exclusion of “queer looking” or “nonconforming” people and the misogynistic and woman-objectifying spirit of their space. We would have, also, been actively withholding those funds from the queer night around the corner, which is not even established enough to have its own space (to the extent of my understanding there is absolutely no queer woman’s or trans social space in Boston owned and run by queer people for queer people. Talk about illustrations of the way that power plays into the acquisition and control of space.)
I also ended up hearing from my roommate, who did get into The Liquor Store, that despite the incredibly high population of non-conformist queers and allies who went with the intention of disrupting the misogynist display of female objectification and the hyper-normative exclusion of anybody outside of a rigid gender binary the prevailing culture ended up ruling. That is to say that a group of queers who had to dress as The Liquor Store told them to enter and had to pay for the privilege to be a part of the space ended up without the power to create the kind of disruption in the hegemonic culture that they, at least for the most part, had intended. This just goes to show that when we let those in power dictate to us how we need to dress in order to get in, make us change to conform to their standards in order to attempt to reclaim space, we (our Selves) are in hiding and in that way end up not taking up any of the space we deserve, at all.
Next time I will put my money (oh, capitalism), my voice, my teal stretch pants, and my strap-on in the spaces that I believe in and want to see flourish. I will try to give power and rise to my place in emerging spaces that I believe in, and I will hope (as Andrea Smith said in a powerful talk she gave this year at the National Students of Cooperative Organizing conference in Ann Arbor, MI) that if I continue to do this with passion, fervor, sweat, and laughter and that if you do, too, we will eventually begin to make the change we want to see in the distribution of safety and space amongst people by crowding out those spaces that crowd the rest of us out.
No dress codes here, friends. Welcome to the revolution.