Queerdopes, Gay Culture and the Cellblock

I’m only putting this thread in the pit out of FEAR that it will take an ugly turn…but I honestly have some questions and without anyone accusing me of being a bigotted bitch, I want you to know, in the words of Bloom County:

Lord knows…I cherish gay people.

OK, no. Here’s my question:

What IS, exactly, Gay culture, and what is so different about it that I am unable to understand it? I’m told that the purpose of the proposed “Queerdope” is so that you can get together and celebrate gay culture. And yet, no one is able to tell me what exactly that is. Or rather, what aspects of it are unable to be shared with straight friends. I love to go to museums, parades, film festivals. I like to go out to eat and drink. I like to talk about sex and flirt and go shopping. I like to do touristy things…I mean…what am I missing?

All my life, I’ve strived to tell the conservative, close minded, idiot people who are ‘scared’ of gay people that “they’re just like you and me” “they like movies and music and going to ball games and they have jobs and families and going to Chilis for an awesome blossom.” The only difference between us is what they do in the bedroom.

Today, as I peruse the boards, I’m learning that indeed there IS a gay culture and scott evil assures me that it’s because they are ‘different’ and they want to ‘celebrate’ the differences. That gay pride parades are for homosexuals to celebrate their differences from us.

So…we’re not…the same? What IS gay culture? Aside from the man/man woman/woman sex…I betcha we’ve got a lot in common.

Which brings me to The Cellblock…a leather bar in chicago that will not allow women in unless they have a gay male escort. I don’t think this is fair. I don’t know any straight leather bars in Chicago. I don’t know where I can watch some hot D/s in action…and yet…they feel it’s not right for me to go in. Nor do I think it’s fair that women are asked to leave The Manhole, a gay dance club. Would it be fair for ‘straight bars’ to kick out gay men and women because they make us ‘uncomfortable’? I’m confused as to why I’m not allowed to even go in to a bar and dance with gay men. It’s not like I’m going to scatter Jack Chick tracts around.

I’ve tried to word this as delicately as I can. I don’t know how to say that I “love gay people” without sounding false. I attend the parades, I go to Halsted market days…I go on double dates with gay men…I interact with them in the same manner as I do with anyone else.

I guess it just hurts my feelings that I’m excluded from things because homosexuals automatically assume that I won’t ‘understand’ them, when really I’ve been striving for a long time to make them feel comfortable and welcome.

Does that make sense?

tell me if it doesn’t, I’m on back pills today

Dammit, I had a beautiful response, and then the computer went and crashed on me.

Anyway, as for Queer culture, you’re right it’s difficult to pin down. But so is any kind of culture, especially new and evolving ones - Canadian culture, American culture, Deaf culture, Québécois culture … I could reel off a couple of Queer cultural items, but it would just sound facile and incomplete. Just like for any culture.

The question about “being just like” others is - well, it’s difficult. The best I can say about it is that it’s a quick and dirty way of getting through to otherwise intractable homophobes. But it’s self-defeating in the long term, I feel, because the fact is that queer people are different. If for no other reason than what we do in the bedroom. And attempting to use the similarities to butter up homophobes leaves in the dirt all those whose differences run deeper than that. If I REALLY AM different from straight people (en passant- WHICH straight people? What are straight people like?!), then if gay rights is based on how much we’re the same, then I’m pretty much screwed.

Anyway, one of my favourite authors, John Ralston Saul, said, “All the lessons of psychiatry, psychology, social work, indeed culture, have taught us over the last hundred years that it is the acceptance of differences, not the search for similarities which enables people to relate to each other in their personal or family lives.” I agree with him.

Moving right along to Cellblock and Manhole - I feel your pain. I spent the better part of a recent week trying fruitlessly (ha!) to find a lesbian chatroom that’d let my Queer male ass in so I could ask if anyone could send me the mp3s of my misplaced Lea Delaria cd.

Let me try to figure this out, then. I suppose it comes down to the idea of creating a safe space. To create a supportive environment in a very un-supportive world, it’s very important to ensure that you have a safe space in which to express yourself. One way of doing that is to exclude people who aren’t members of the subculture in question. I’ve had the same thing happen to me too, except it was based on the way I was dressed rather than my gender. It’s hard to tell if people who are manifestly not part of the subculture (gay leather - you’re not a gay man, I wasn’t in leather) are going to be supportive or not in advance, and I know from experience that one unsupportive person can shatter the safe space and ruin the experience for everyone.

If it helps, try comparing it to women’s only space, like the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, lesbian bars, and the like.

It’s certainly not a perfect system. There are definitely trenchant arguments that can be made against it, not the least of which is your own hurt feelings - it excludes a lot of supportive people. But even if I don’t necessarily support it wholeheartedly, I understand the reasons behind it.

At any rate, I imagine there’s supportive space for heterosexuals into leather somewhere in Chicago - it may just take some digging, or serendipity (quite by accident, I found a great polyamorous-queer-geek-friendly sex-positive party series that I just love here in Mtl.) Or get one of your gay friends who’s into leather to invite you, if only to scout for other women who might know what’s going on with the straight kink scene.

I should flesh this out a little. It could be argued, I suppose, that there’s a difference between exclusionism in a little club and exclusionism in the mainstream - people who aren’t in the little club have the whole rest of society to play in, but people who are excluded from society are severely hampered. Not to mention the fact that the leather soirée eventually comes to an end, whereas mainstream society doesn’t; and that exclusionism from the subculture doesn’t come with harmful repercussions for the outsider attached, as other forms of exclusion often do. I’m not sure if I buy all this, but it could be argued so.

As for queer culture, I posted something in the IMHO thread which may be helpful.

I’ve always envisioned “Gay culture” as similar to the numerous other mini-cultures that dot the universe, in that there are customs, in-jokes, fashions, trends, habits, and routines that are commonly present amongst the members of that mini-culture.

Except, y’know, they’re gay.

Matt: Another way to put it would be that people who go to gay clubs aren’t required to be gay… but they’re expected to be. Yes? (I’m guessing, here.)

I don’t know the answer to your question, exactly. I mean, I’m gay, am 26 years old, and, to the best of my knowledge, have always been gay, and yet, I don’t lead a stereotypical “gay lifestyle”. I don’t go to gay bars, am not an activist, am not particularly effeminate (not to offend anyone who is effeminate, or gay, or suggest that there’s actually a relationship between the two, but the stereotype, you know…), and most people who know me casually probably don’t know I’m gay.

And yet…

In some ways, I feel a kind of shared identity with gay people, and especially gay men, that I don’t feel with straight people. It’s not some overwhelming or exclusive emotion, but there’s something there. There’s some sort of shared experience there, which I don’t know that straight people CAN fully understand, at least not in the same way. There’s something about growing up with sexual feelings and desires that you need to keep a secret, that you’re afraid to tell anyone about, that you, in some sense, hate yourself for, and then, sometime in your life (in my case, it happened at 20), saying, “The hell with this. It’s ok that I feel the way I do.”, and starting to tell other people, and trusting them enough to tell them that, and all the while knowing that there are some people you can’t tell, there are some people who won’t understand, and who will hate you just for that. I used to resent straight people some…maybe I still do. I resented the way that they could be so unguarded, so frivolous about their sexuality…they could go ahead and flirt, and talk about their husbands, their wives, their boyfriends and girlfriends. And I resented that they could look forward, and take for granted, a future raising a family, with a partner by their side, raising kids, having grandkids, etc.

So, yes, I think there is something that gay people share with each other that they don’t share with straight people. I don’t know if I’d elevate it to the level of a “culture”, but there’s something. I guess no one person can ever fully understand another person, and, on the other hand, straight people can, to some extent, probably understand these feelings. Maybe this doesn’t make any sense, and maybe it doesn’t really represent most gay people…I don’t know. I can only speak for myself…your mileage may vary.

The problem with any argument about whether there is a gay culture or not is that it assumes gay people can all be lumped together into one big group to have their social behaviors analyzed. It doesn’t work that way at all. “Gay Culture” breaks down into a million subcategories just like every other group.

Personally, I don’t associate much with the activist gay scene, nor the bar scene, nor the drag stuff, nor any of that. So am I part of this “Gay Culture” I keep hearing about? What about straight people that attend parades? Are they part of “Gay Culture” even though they are decidedly heterosexual?

There’s no answer for any question about Gay Culture as a whole because there is no singular culture for gay people. I’m sure you could easily identify and be a part of certain gay subcultures, and I’m sure there are groups of gay people you would have not a thing in common with.

Telling people that “gays are just like the rest of us” or pride parades that display only the most um… fabulous variety of gay folk just contribute to the idea that we’re a homogenous group, when we’re as individual as everyone else. (Although I do much prefer the “we’re the same” argument to the “we’re remarkably loud and very likely annoying! Deal with it!” one.) Most people don’t generalize and attempt to narrow “Straight Culture” down to one description. So why does anyone, gay or straight, attempt to do that with us?

I post this with all due respect: I think it’s important that people who (rightly) complain about exclusionary actions on the part of others understand that some of us are very surprised to find they then claim “just us” activities from which they seek to exclude others. There’s a fundamental disconnect there that IMO is perhaps understandable but nevertheless at bottom indefensible. I mean, what does it say about the strength of your “culture” if even the presence of supportive and accepting “others” threatens or inhibits it? It should go without saying that I reject the rationale that “we’re a little group, so we can exclude people, but you’re a big group so you can’t.”

So I see JAR’s point of view and I share it. I also found the idea of a “Queerdope” (as if we straight people can just stay home) to be . . . well, strange. Hard to reconcile with principles of tolerance and inclusion, which most gay people rightly advocate.

And I’m not focusing only on gays. I feel the same way about “it’s a black thing” and even about all-girl/all-boy schools.

If we’re all equal, then IMO we should all have the choice of coming in or staying out. We shouldn’t find the door barred to us (any of us) by characteristics we cann’t change.

I see MATT’s point as well, but this is MHO.

I’d say it’s a mix of that, what we’ve learned from our Queer predecessors, and what we’ve had to experience in common by coming out in this cultural context.

Well, it depends on the club. Jarbabyj was referring to fetish clubs, such as leather bars. However, there are plenty of women at your average big-city gay club, and even the occasional straight guy, although such a one would be well advised to have a patient/amused attitude towards getting hit on.

I’m coming at this as an outsider, of course, as I couldn’t be more straight if you tied be to a pole and evened me out with a level, but I don’t see what the problem is with saying “They’re just like us”? I mean, if that implies that GAY people are all alike, then the STRAIGHT people must all be alike in the same way, too, right? But that’s not what it means. It just means that gay people are not Scary Non-Human Things To Be Feared, right?

I think I may have been misinterpreted, Jodi. I never meant Queerdope to be a queer-only space or to exclude straight people who wanted to come. (LaurAnge, I believe, has vocally evinced interest in attending.) I just wanted to convene the Queer Dopers, many of whom I’ve wanted to meet for some time. Usually Dopefests are geographically based, and I wanted to see if I could get Queer Dopers from hither and yon to attend.

Straight people may not wish to attend a possible orgy ;), but there is no reason and certainly no intent that they not celebrate either Queerdope or Divers-Cité.

Well, I’d say if the intent is to say that queer people are human, why not say, “queer people are human”?

To reiterate, the problem is that if we say that queers should get our rights because we’re like straights (whatever that means), that sort of sets up a gradient where those of us who are least like straights are left holding the bag. It would be better just to say “we’re human, and we deserve human rights for that reason,” rather than setting up an expectation that a lot of us are not going to be able to, and shouldn’t have to, fulfill.

Right, that’s the way the argument should be interpreted. However, many people understand that argument as saying that gay guys are like straight guys in that they like football and beer (see, there’s inaccurate straight culture stereotypes too) and lesbians are just like straight women in that they don’t like football and beer :smiley:

You get it, but unfortunately many people hear “they’re the same” and apply the straight stereotypes rather then your interpretation.

I went to London several years ago with my then-girlfriend, and we stayed with some of her friends – including Cambra.

I’ve never met anyone so androgynous as Cambra; though the name sounded feminine, Cambra looked like a young man. It wasn’t till I heard the pronoun “she” attached to Cambra that I knew for sure.

Anyway, the three of us went clubbing one night. Cambra is, I think, lesbian (I never did find out for sure), and my then-girlfriend hated being sleazed on in straight bars, so we went to gay clubs. The first place we went, some sloshed Brit guy sloppily hit all over Cambra, until finally he furrowed his brow and said, “Are you a guy?”

Cambra regretfully shook her head, and the poor Brit visibly wilted. But then Cambra, always helpful, pointed me out to him. He brightened up, came over, and bought me a drink. Quite the cutie.

We later went to a gay men’s dance club. We paid to get in, and then went down the stairs. I passed the bouncer; no problem. Cambra passed the bouncer; no problem. My then-girlfriend passed the bouncer

– and he stopped her. “YOu do know what night this is, right?” She nodded. “You do know what kind of club this is, right?” She nodded again. “Uh, this is a gay male dance club. You know that, right?” Again with the nod, and the bouncer shrugged. “Right, whatever,” he said, and let us in.

It was a blast.

In a lot of ways, I prefer gay clubs to straight clubs. Since I know I’m pretty straight, there’s little sexual tension there for me. When I was in college, therefore, the only times I went clubbing with my (mostly straight) friends was when we went to a local gay disco night.

I think the idea that breeders can’t understand queer culture is foolishness and betrays a lack of imagination in the folks who think that way. We’re all people; we all had different experiences growing up. It’s a basic part of our humanity that we’re able to step beyond our own identities to try to understand those of folks we meet.

I don’t see how pride parades do this. I see how they can be wrongly interpreted that way. But a pride parade is a party, and anyone who believes that a party is representative of the other 364 days of the year is more misguided than I know what to do with. Misinterpretations committed by others are not my responsibility.

Indeed, the point of a safe space is to protect a something fragile. That’s why it’s not done where the culture is already afloat - the gay bars in Montreal don’t keep straight people out.

As far as I can tell, the point is to have privacy. When a fetish night is declared closed to non-scene people, it’s precisely because the people inside feel insecure - literally, not secure. They want to create a semiprivate space for their activities.

  1. I see what you mean about the “they’re like us” thing now… I guess… I mean, I take you at your word, and will just accept that that’s the way things are because I am incapable of comprehending the homophobic extreme anyway, and have never had to deal with that extreme either, while you have. So yeah.

  2. QueerDope is open to non-queers? Whee! I was just saying a few days ago that I wished for a fest in Montréal, and was told of QueerDope, but dismissed it as I thought it was, well, just for the homosexual folk. I was disappointed; I’d like to meet y’all.
    Y’know what’s kind of… not ironic, but I can’t think of the proper word? I’ve no homosexual friends, although in high school I was friendly (if not close) to a bisexual boy who wore lovely evening gowns to school (and I helped him fight for the right to wear them, too). So one bisexual cross-dresser is the extent of my experience with the Non-Straight World. And yet I fell into the role of counselor to help my Mississippian roommate figure out how to a) reconcile herself and b) support her friend when one of her friends from her hometown came out of the closet. Because that bisexual cross-dressing goth was about fifty thousand times more “out there” than anyone she’d ever experienced. It really made me think.

Ok, that makes sense. I just find flamboyant stereotypical gay behavior to be non-representative of me, yet that’s always what pride parades are about. People should be responsible for not making assumptions about gay people as a whole based solely on parades and such, but it would help if “normal” (for lack of a better term) gay people had more exposure. Maybe I should start a gay pride parade where we just sort of march down the street being remarkably uninteresting. :slight_smile:


I see your point, but it doesn’t address my problem with the idea of “celebrating the differences” between gays and straights. Aside from JAR’s puzzlement (which I share: What differences?), it seems to me to invite exclusionary actions on behalf of straight people because they are “celebrating their differences” (i.e., their straightness).

The whole Boy Scouts thing, golf clubs, service organizations, the Red Cross – there’s a whole realm of non-government activities and services that could easily maintain their implicit “No Gays Allowed” policy if they justified their actions by saying “Hey, we’re just embracing our straightness and celebrating how we’re different from you gay people.” Good idea? Or not?

I don’t think anyone has said that gay people should have to “pass” as a prerequisite for full rights in society. But it seems to me obvious that if you choose to set yourself off from society by “celebrating your differences,” then you give society a handy excuse to set you off from it when it chooses to do so as well. I mean, you can have your equal rights and all, but that doesn’t mean you can be in the Junior League. Because you’re “different.” Not Our Kind, Dear. And because I despise that attitude, I’m sort of puzzled by actions that I perceive as reinforcing it, intentionally or not.

DanielWithrow, you said something about liking gay bars because of the lack of sexual tension. I think that’s why I’m interested in hanging out with gay folks - I’m always nervous and self-conscious when I go out to parties or clubs because of the sexual tension, and I’d like to be able to have a good time without that. I’m not much of a clubbing person to begin with, but the sexual tension just makes it worse. I like bawdy jokes and innuendo and stuff but I don’t want it to lead anywhere, so I have to refrain from that sort of thing 99% of the time lest people think I’m leading them on.

There are three new replies that weren’t there before every time I write one and get the damn page to load. Grrr.

I think there are a couple of strands that have gotten twisted up here.

  1. Just because there’s a gay culture doesn’t mean that straight people can’t understand it, to varying degrees. My mom is American by birth, but after living here for thirty years it’s pretty safe to say she understands Canadian culture as much as anyone.

  2. However, it’s foolhardy to assume that any culture can be rapidly grasped by an outsider. I’ve lived in Quebec for seven years, speak fluent Québécois, have lots of Québécois friends, and yet there is plenty about Québécois culture I don’t know about, grasp the subtleties of, etc. Even simple everyday stuff. It’s not because I’m unobservant, but because any culture is such a complex tapestry and relies so heavily on shared experience that for an outsider to become “fluent” in it is very, very difficult.

  3. Arguments about gay culture are only tangentially linked to the current discussion of safe space. Remember, we’re talking about gay leather bars, not gay bars in general.*

*On preview, I notice that Jarbaby doesn’t mention Manhole as being a fetish bar. I don’t know if Chicago is the kind of town where a gay bar needs to be a safe space, but if not, then I fully agree with her about that bar. I’d be disgusted to have a straight friend turned away from a mainstream gay club I frequent.