The disappearing lesbian spaces of herstory
Where are our lesbian spaces? With the LGBT slowly gaining mainstream acceptance, it would seem strange that safe spaces for lesbians would be dying out. But that seems to be case now, with the last lesbian in San Francisco– the Lex– going under in 2015.
More importantly, questions are being raised on where future generations of queer women will go to find themselves, mixed with questions with regard to wider LGBT acceptance in its own spaces.
How lesbian spaces are disappearing
From the post-World War 2 Daughters of Bilitis to the rise of lesbian bars in the ’90s, lesbians have always sought spaces where they can be themselves.
“It’s no secret that lesbian bars around the country are shutting down. In 1975, there were eight lesbian bars in the Castro district of San Francisco, and today there are none. There is an extreme lack of spaces for queer young people under 21 and those who do not drink,” Meg Ten Eyck– writing for Elite Daily— pointed out.
In her book The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture, Bonnie Morris recorded the disappearing lesbian culture as the LGBT becomes accepted into the mainstream and its subsequent assimilation.
Morris noted that “as we advance further into the 21st century, we are witnessing the almost flippant dismissal of recent, late 20th century lesbian culture, particularly the loss of physical sites such as women’s bookstores and women’s music festivals, and their material legacies (books, journals, albums, tapes, magazine interviews with artists).”
She identified several factors for this disappearance, ranging from “a potent mix of conventional sexism, cycles of conflict where women are set up to attack one another (the old “horizontal hostility” within minority culture)” to “lack of representation in history institutions such as museums, and the mainstreaming of the LGBT movement.”
Also, she highlighted “the economic loss, aging elders, more lesbian-friendly vacation and business options, and the next generation’s reliance on social media and Kindle rather than their local women’s bookstore.”
Eyck likewise wrote: “We were forced into creating a subculture of inclusion because we weren’t accepted anywhere else, but now we have more mainstream acceptance and digital alternatives to physical spaces.”
Disappearing lesbian spaces– or evolving?
However, as Sascha Cohen of VICE pointed out, this disappearance of lesbian spaces could be more of an evolution as future generations of queer women look for wider acceptance.
“Since then, lesbians have turned toward venues that host weekly or monthly nights geared toward queers (and their friends) of all genders,” Cohen wrote.
Cohen cited a number of bars and bar events in LA, Chicago, New York, and Boston that “are providing similarly genderless nights and hotspots for women, men, and any gender identification in between to let loose.”
“They are spaces open to all comers, including those who identify as trans, agender, asexual, and straight,” Cohen said.
Irene Urias, a curator of the Mustache Mondays bar event– when asked by VICE about the “lesbian angle” to their event– said: “I don’t want to be defined by any one thing, I don’t want to put a label on the party. There’s no mold here.”
Morris also noted this changing needs between generation in her book, citing the “political and theoretical disagreement between “radical lesbian feminists” and younger lesbians that “prefer to identify as queer” without the “woman-identification as a reinforcement of limited gender binaries.”
However, Eyck noted that these safe spaces are still important: “While we need queer spaces, we also need queer spaces that are relevant to the needs of our most at-risk populations. We need queer spaces because most queer people are not interested in complete assimilation into mainstream culture.”
The website Advocate noted that there are still some remaining lesbian bars throughout the US. These include: Cubbyhole in New York; Wild Rose in Seattle; Phase 1 in Washington, DC; Sue Ellen’s in Dallas; My Sister’s Room in Atlanta; and Gossip Grill in San Diego.
For more on Morris’ book on the disappearing lesbian spaces, check out this month’s latest issue of Lesbian News.