I was out in Manchester on Saturday, for the first time since Pride. God, I love the Village. It reminds me of my godforsaken youth, of three magic years when I lived there and going out was essentially my life. I’m a scene queen, I admit it. And despite so, so much of it that has changed – since I lived there, since I was last there – so much of it is the same. I met old friends and new, I went to some of my favourite haunts from the bad ole days and I went to bars and clubs that have been rebranded, reopened a dozen times or more since I called that place home.
But some things never change. The attitude of some of the men there to women, for a start.
Firstly, there’s the two guys who I met in the toilets of Cruz. I seem to meet a lot of people in toilets – always completely innocently!! They had a lovely young lady with them, and the way their faces lit up when I walked in, I knew exactly what was going to happen. So I’m at the sink when one of them says hello. The other comes over, the pair of them all bright-eyed and grinning impishly. Am I single? Have I met their friend? (Cue dragging over of a very reluctant lesbian.) I seem lovely. Their friend is lovely. This is clearly a match made in heaven. They look from me to her and back again, before nodding at each other in a very self-satisfied manner. Job done.
The friend and I, of course, engage in some embarrassed eyebrow-raising and general eye-rolling and we all go our separate ways with lots of urging to have a good night. It’s kinda sweet. And it’s not something my own friends haven’t done to me a hundred times before. I don’t know if it’s a man thing, or specifically a gay man thing, but lord they love to set up us girlies. And while they mean well, there’s always just something a teeny bit…condescending is the wrong word, because it’s not. They think they’re doing us a favour, giving us the push we so clearly need if we want to get laid because, well, we’re girls. We’re not supposed to make a move. So when you’re a gay girl, clearly without outside help you’re never going to get anywhere.
And they will not leave anything up to chance. It’s not enough to go out and drink a bit and dance a bit and maybe work your way towards bumping and grinding with the hottie on the other side of the dancefloor, nooooooooo they have to engineer it, which usually means pimping you out to every stranger who walks into the bathrooms. Subtlety is a lost art on the club scene.
Don’t think I mind it, because I genuinely don’t. It comes from a good place; it’s a sign that they care. They want to see you happily hooked up, be it for an hour or a week or for life. But there is something a teeny bit infantalising about it; in the way you never get a choice about who they approach, they never ask you what you think of someone before diving in to set you up, because they know best. And maybe they do. Maybe the woman I didn’t hook up with on Saturday night, despite all her friends’ efforts, was The One. Maybe she’d have been perfect for me. And maybe I’m a stubborn, contrary bitch, but I hate, detest and positively loathe being set up.
It’s something you get used to, certainly in Manchester and certainly if you’re a gay gal who knows more gay men than women. The scene there isn’t as divided as it was when I first moved to the city, but there’s still boy-bars and girl-bars. And I’m one of the few gay girls who always goes to the boy-bars. Firstly, because I don’t hang around with any lesbians socially. Almost all my friends are male, and almost all of them are gay. Nevermind that if I’m the only woman in a group of ten or more it stands to reason we’re going to the boy-bars, often a group that penis-heavy isn’t allowed into the girl-bars. Secondly, I prefer the boy-bars. They’re less…serious, somehow. I like the music. I’m a disco diva at heart and always have been. Come 3am if I’m not dancing to Donna Summer on a podium, something’s gone wrong.
That does make me, and others of my ilk, something of an oddity. Usually in the big clubs there aren’t that many women anyway; they tend to stick to the smaller, poppier bars. The women that do go to those clubs, more often than not, are the straight friends of some of the guys. Something I’m frequently mistaken for. I’ll never forget one Pride, more years ago than I care to remember, some guy who I’d never seen before and clearly only comes out for that one weekend in summer when it’s half-way cool to be gay turned to me on the stage downstairs in Essential (back when Essential was 1. Still open, and 2. Cool) and sneered, “You don’t belong here. Pride is for gays.”
Suffice it to say, it didn’t end well for him. I don’t think he’d have got the imprint of my VIP membership card off his forehead for at least a week. But his is an attitude I come across more frequently than I care to acknowledge. Because I happen to have long hair and curves and generally my appearance doesn’t scream “dyke” from a distance, I’m often assumed to be straight. This by men of all shapes and sizes and walks of life. We’re surrounded by the tiniest sampling of the staggering diversity of the queer community, and I’m assumed to be straight. It’s more than a little galling. Especially when I’m greeted by a new person who opens the conversation with, “So, whose hag are you?”
Yes, someone really said that to me on Saturday night. And it’s not the first time. Firstly, I dislike that expression – hag. Secondly, I dislike the inherent sense of ownership implied by that statement. Like straight women are a kind of pet that some gay men collect. I also dislike the assumption that I have to be at that club with someone – that I have to have been brought in by someone – because, of course, women have no place being there.
Now I understand all about safe spaces and closed spaces and the value of having somewhere you can go where you’re not considered a freak; where you don’t have to worry about your personal safety if you want to simply be yourself. That’s why I love the Village – and the scene in general – as much as I do. I even, in general, agree with the unspoken policy of most bars (and certainly the clubs) to deny access to groups of (straight) women. There is nothing worse than being in a gay bar when a hen party or similar rocks up. Especially hen parties, especially when we’re fighting so hard for marriage equality. That’s just plain insensitive.
But segregationism doesn’t get us anywhere. Like it or not, we need the support of straight allies if we are ever going to get full equality. We need their numbers; we need them to vote for us and get outraged on our behalf and generally support our goals. Alienating them won’t do that.
After climbing down off the ceiling and finishing ticking off the gentleman who’d asked me whose hag I was, I turned to one of my friends and remarked that I’d forgotten how misogynistic the people in the Village could be. Rose-tinted glasses, and all that. My friend surprised me slightly when he replied, “It’s not misogynistic, they just don’t have any use for women.”
Thinking about it, he is of course right. Misogyny is defined as “The hatred or dislike of women or girls.” Guys like that one don’t hate women, they’re just irrelevant to him. And why are we irrelevant? Because our squishy girl-parts don’t turn him on.
It’s strange and sad, but true, that – to some gay men, and indeed some gay women – the opposite sex is a creature they simply don’t interact with if they can help it. Those kinds of gay men have (gay) male friends; they socialise in environments which are (gay) male-only (or close as dammit); they sleep with men and have relationships with them and women simply don’t enter their life in any social way. Same with those kind of gay women and men.
I think that’s kinda sad. After all, friendships aren’t founded on sexual attraction, so what does it matter what bits your friends have or what you would or would not theoretically like to do with them, were they on someone else? But this is a big area, and part of a wider conundrum. It’s a given that straight men will be friends – predominantly – with other straight men; straight women with straight women; gay men with gay men and gay women with gay women. To an extent, like cleaves to like. You’re friends with people who have similar experiences and aspirations and world-views as your own – in short, people you have things in common with. There’s an argument to be made that but for the heterosexual imperatives of the majority, men and women would barely interact at all.
So doesn’t it make a sort of sense that the further towards the queer end of the homosocial continuum you slide, the less heterosocial you become? Well yes and no. Because while on the surface you might think that people that share a gender and/or orientation would by default have more in common with each other than with people who aren’t like them, in real life that is so often not the case. People are so diverse that there is no unifying experience of anything – being male, female, gay, straight or anything in between. Those who insist on proscribing a set identity on any of those traits are delusional. (And yet there are enough of them out there.)
And there’s a wider point to be made. If we limit our experience and our worldview strictly to what we know and nothing else, we will never know anything. We will never grow or develop, either as individuals or as a race. It is by sharing our experiences that we learn. By reaching out to others who are not the same, and – most importantly – finding the common ground where we are – we can further all our causes and work together for a common good. Them-and-us attitudes breed nothing but distrust, dislike, resentment and rejection; a vicious cycle that keeps the minority suppressed – worse, encourages the minority to suppress themselves; to cling to their cliques and ghettos – and the majority oblivious.