Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spark of Wisdom: Gay Only Spaces

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky. 
There is a brouhaha in the UK recently regarding gay only spaces.

Recently, there have been a series of cases in the UK, where straight people have tried to hang up straights only signs and make gay free zones. In particular, there have been several court cases with hoteliers deciding to run straights-only establishments to deny service and accommodations to gay visitors.

And, in addition to the Christian groups and MPs banging the homophobia drums, inevitably people have turned round and glared at gay bars and similar gay spaces. And I sigh, I do, because it's not the first time.

"Why are there gay bars and no straight bars?" "Why is there a gay community centre and no straight community centre?" "How come there are gay friendly hotels and no straight friendly hotels?" "Why do you need gay bathhouses?" It gives me a migraine it does. I've spoken before on respecting safe spaces, but it really can't be emphasised enough why marginalised people need these spaces.  

Every bar that isn't a gay bar, is a straight bar. 99% of the community centres around the world are straight. The vast vast vast majority of hotels are straight friendly. 

Let's be clear here. The world is a straight space. 99.999999% of the world is a straight space - not only a straight space, but an aggressively straight space, that fiercely resists being anything but straightness. The whole damn world is straight dominated, straight ruled, straight controlled and straight enforced.

We are grudgingly allowed to be barely tolerated guests in this straight world. Most places actively erase us at best, and every step we take is viciously fought by some of the most powerful organisations on the planet. We are not encouraged or appreciated, if we are an active and open part of this straight world and the straight world makes it abundantly clear.

And, even aside from the outright rejection and hostility of the straight world, sheer demographics means we are overwhelmed by the straightness all around us. Straightness that demands the world cater to them and not leave room for us.

If I go out I feel unnerved. Being in large crowds outright panics me, because I know I am surrounded by straight people and I know that's not safe - I've had it proven over and over that it is not safe. I am on edge, on alert all the damn time. It's exhausting, it's draining, it gives me migraines, but I cannot relax in this straight-lead, gay-hostile world.

I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would be out. That I wouldn't creep back into the closet, that I wouldn't hide in it. But I still do, a 100 times over I do. I still find myself hiding behind careful wording, desperately avoiding any gendered words. My partner, my spouse, my other-half. I still don't touch Beloved in public, I don't hold hands, I certainly don't kiss him. Even when I'm having one of my mini-meltdowns and desperately need his reassurance, a touch, a hug - I pull away or we both avoid it - uncomfortable and nervous and frightened by the straight world around us.

Going out for the night round pubs and clubs outright frightens me. If I am pushed into a straight space or club, there's no way I can relax. Often, I won't even drink because it may make me careless or foolish or less alert and ready. It's not a great night out, I have to say, it ranks a little behind having to leaf through Aunt Marjory's holiday photos.

If I go out, I try to go to gay bars, clubs or centres. Some of these places have had so many straight tourists there that they no longer feel safe or like home - and I eventually move on elsewhere and strike it off as a place we have - it's another place straightness has taken over, another place I'm not safe, another place I can't relax. And it's sad when one of our oasis are claimed and overwhelmed. It's more than just losing a pub where the seat cushions have now molded themselves to the shape of your arse, or you've spent so long propping up the bar, you think it may fall down without you, it's another one of our few spaces lost. 

Maybe we wouldn't need our safe spaces, if the world wasn't so aggressively, overwhelming straight. Maybe if the world wasn't so hostile to us, maybe if the world were happier with us being in straight space, rather than grudgingly tolerant at best. Maybe we wouldn't need "gay-friendly" establishments, if gay-hostile wasn't the damn norm. 

We need our spaces where we can be. That's it - a place where we can exist as us. And maybe if that wasn't so damn hard in the rest of the straight world, we wouldn't need them.