How Gay Clubs Made Me an Awesome Straight Woman

by | January 12, 2013
filed under Feminism, LGBT

Night Club Signby Alicia Costa

Earlier this week xoJane ran a story about straight people in gay clubs and how disliked their presence is. And truthfully the examples the author used as a gay woman reflecting on how straight women act and treat gay space are pretty appalling.

As someone who has spent many many nights in gay clubs I can attest to seeing all these things: bachelorette parties gone wild, straight men and women confident all the gay people at the bar want to jump their bones, straight women grabbing and touching the gay guys because they think it’s “okay because they are gay!” Truthfully, more than once I’ve felt like throwing my drink on the straight couple making out in the gay bar.

However, as a straight woman who has gone through life with white and straight privilege I am forever grateful to the way the gay community allowed me into their world and helped to has shape me as a decent human.

I spent the first 18 years of my life skirting around the norm of society and I was desperate to find somewhere to fit in. As the only fat kid in my small elementary school in my small town I grew up with the constant feeling that I just wasn’t the same as all the other kids. This was long before the days of Michelle Obama fighting for fat kids and long before there were trendy husky kid clothes in the Justin Bieber line at Walmart. I looked different, had to dress differently than the other kids (and my average-sized sister), and had a weird and awkward body to drag around. I was conditioned from a very young age to feel there was something wrong with me.

Needless to say this all sets you up for angst-filled teenage years littered with body hatred and self-harm.  By the time I was nearing the end of high school I no longer thought I was a weird kid – I knew it. My first ‘love’ was a girl but I also liked boys, which was confusing and scary. I got into fights with the Christian kids about abortion. I had no desire to graduate and get married to my high school boyfriend and have babies. Fuck that. I was getting out of dodge and was going to do something substantial with my life.

So I got through high school mostly unnoticed. I never had a high school boyfriend and really didn’t have much interest. I preferred smoking de Maurier cigarettes in my 1990 cherry-red Mustang and plotting my escape. Me and my best friend, who was a guy and gay (although wasn’t out at the time), hatched a plan to move to the big city a month after we graduated high school. Don’t ask me how but we did it (note: I don’t think I would have the balls now to make such a huge life decisions so flippantly) but we did.

Needless to say being 18 and thinking you know everything about the world sets you up for a whole lot of disappointment. But it was the best decision I could have made for myself.  The two of us fumbled around and discovered ourselves. I found this amazing world called feminism and body acceptance and he came out.

This ended us up getting into the gay community in the city. I was mostly there for moral support of my friend in the beginning but ended up getting more out of it then I ever thought I would. We spent countless Saturdays in gay bookstores and I bought books about feminism and sexuality and gender. We’d buy cheap pornos on VHS and playing cards with naked dudes on them from the 70s and laugh our heads off.  I had a drawer full of cheap adult store vibrators (those awful ones you buy when you don’t know that they make beautiful high end vibrators that plug into the wall for the sexy business lady in us all).

But the highlight was the many nights we spent dancing, drinking, and meeting some of the most interesting people I have ever come across on the smoking patio at the now defunct Vancouver gay hotspot The Odyssey (or- as it was more affectionately known The O). Smoking with drag queens. Drinking ‘Killer Kool-Aid’. Shower nights (which consisted of hot men with a lot of foam). Swapping stories about escapes from our small conservative hometowns.

For the first time in my short life I felt comfortable in my body. It was a transformative experience for me to be in a safe place where I could dance and talk to people without feeling persecuted. It was like all the other weird kids ended up in the same place and found each other. I learned there are great people in the world that also grew up feeling awkward and different, and they are the coolest people I know.

I have no doubt those years I spent at The Odyssey made me the person I am today. It taught how to navigate my sexuality and how to connect with my big body, which I learned was not a terrible thing at all (in fact it kind of rocks). I got the confidence to wear the clothes that I always liked to wear but was always told big girls shouldn’t show cleavage, or wear bright colours, or patterns or anything tight. I started to feel comfortable in my own skin because I had the space to realize my true self (in a cleavage showing bright blue halter top no less).

It’s been almost 10 years since that time I spent at The Odyssey and I am happy to report I’ve become a pretty awesome person. I’ve accepted my body and other peoples’ “without shame, and giving no fucks” (Lesley Kinzel). I wear whatever I want, I’m sassy, I date cute boys, I take up space in this world, and I get the privilege to work professionally in the gay and lesbian community.

And I have gay community to thank for this.

(photo via Public Domain Pictures)


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  • Anonymous

    I never thought I’d prefer an article from Jezebel to one at Gender Focus, but I have to agree with this one. This sounds like entitlement – not only entitlement to our spaces, but also to your claim on our affirmation. As someone who no longer goes back to The Odyssey thanks to the straight women who have made me feel like a minority in gay spaces, I’m very uncomfortable reading this.

    http://jezebel.com/5975192/get-out-of-my-gay-bar-straight-girl

    • Alicia Costa

      I’d like to address a few things for you about my post.

      I feel no right to gay space. If you have read any of my other work on Gender Focus I am an advocate for inclusive safe space and would never personally violate this.

      However, if it was unclear, while I identify as straight now I certainly did not during the time I was writing about.

      The article you made reference to was actually posted first on xoJane and is the same article I make reference to in my post. And again, to be clear I agree with the authors points completely.

      Lastly, The Odyssey closed and was torn down in 2010 so it is highly unlikely me or anyone else prevents you from engaging in the community.

      Hope this clarifies some of your concerns as I have the utmost respect and love for the gay community in Vancouver.

      Alicia

      • Anonymous

        I don’t live in Vancouver, although I used to. That aside…

        If you weren’t straight, or more to the point, not benefitting from straight privilege when you hung out in gay spaces, then yes, that’s fine. If you stopped going to gay clubs when you began to identify as straight – or you began to benefit from straight privilege, however you may have defined your orientation – then I commend you. Far too many people who benefit from straight privilege claim the entitlement to gay/queer spaces not because they deal with homophobia or transphobia, but because they used to at one point in their lives. I have great respect for people who acknowledge their straight privilege, and leave spaces to the people who don’t have it – as a bisexual woman who has benefited from straight privilege at some points in my life (and may one day do so again, though I doubt it), I think it very important that people acknowledge their straight privilege when they are in receipt of it, no matter how they identify.

        You’re right – I read the article on Jezebel before on XOJane. And I’m glad you agree with it, because I love it.

        However, your blog post makes it sound as though a person with straight privilege is blogging about being a straight woman in a gay bar. And that’s not okay – I can understand if that’s not what you meant, but it’s hard to defend ourselves and our spaces from people who feel entitled to our spaces because they identify as allies, or who feel entitled to our affirmation though they experience straight privilege. Though you may not have meant it, that’s how it comes across – and I would worry about people with straight privilege getting that message.