Why are there so few women in gay bars? | + Voice
By Georges Costanzo
One night I was sitting at Leather Stallion, a gay bar in Cleveland, and I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing.
“Where are all the women?” I asked one of the other guys at the bar.
“Women?” he said, and he thought for a moment. âThey come in spurts.
That night, however, there were none in sight, and the energy was overwhelmingly masculine, like most other gay bars I knew.
At the time, I was the youth coordinator at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. I have worked with people who expressed their gender in all kinds of ways. Why didn’t this seem to happen in bars?
I wanted to learn more about queer women’s nightlife in Cleveland: how it used to be and how it is today. So I asked some of my friends and colleagues.
âI came out when I was 19 and I’m 55 now,â said Phyllis Seven Harris, executive director of the Center and my former boss.
His favorite bar in the 1980s and 1990s was called Isis.
âI was just that nerdy black girl, you know, trying to find her way,â she said with a laugh. âAnd Isis was little. You know, you walked into the bar, like the door was here and the bar was here, and there was a bit of a dance floor. It wasn’t much, but it ‘was our place. “
Seven said she believed lesbian bars had started to close because women were at least seen to drink less or stay at home more than men.
The rise of “third spaces”
Today, there aren’t any bars exclusively dedicated to women in Cleveland, and that’s not unusual. A recent study showed that there were only 21 lesbian bars left in the United States, up from 200 in the 1980s. And with the rise of the Internet and other types of “third spaces” such as coffee shops, bars are just one of the many ways to meet up these days.
“I don’t go to any type of bar,” said my friend Agatha Eydenberg. “It’s not that I’ve never been there, but I like that that’s not where I do most of my space experiments, if you will.”
She said one of her third favorite spaces is actually a friend’s house.
âShe’s been a snake wrestler, worked at Trader Joe’s, and her apartment is exquisite,â Agatha said. “Like, just whatever you want from such a space.”
Agatha said hanging out at her friend’s apartment is a way to connect with people who identify with all kinds of ways. She discovered more about herself and her own identity while spending time there, much the same way Seven Harris did to Isis.
Throughout the process of collecting the interviews, I began to fear that it would be much more difficult to meet queer women as these public spaces continued to disappear.
But Seven reminded me that even if the spaces disappear, gay women won’t. She encouraged me to continue building community where I could.
âWe find ways to be apart, and it’s just silly when we need each other so much,â she said. “We’re only the 10%, if that. We have a lot against us. And so if you stray from heteronormativity, then I want to love and embrace your weird self in any way you want to be.”
Seven’s words inspired me to invite women out on a date.
Towards the end of the work on this story, I contacted my queer girlfriends, JT and Marge. Cocktails, a local gay bar, was having a karaoke night, and I was hoping they would be interested in a girls night out with me.
They were, and the two sang a duet that got me loudly applauded by the audience – not just for the performance itself, but for the joy of being different together.
â+ Voicesâ shares stories from LGBTQ + youth, in partnership with the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. This is part of Ideastream Public Media’s “Sound of Us” initiative to empower people in Northeastern Ohio to tell their own stories, facilitated and co-produced by Justin Glanville of Ideastream Public Media.