- Olivia Whitelaw
Taking the L: Lesbophobia in Queer Nightlife
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
*Names of persons and establishments have been omitted for privacy reasons.
To claim that the LGBTQ+ community actively facilitates homophobia seems wildly paradoxical. Historically, queer people have cultivated a public image of solidarity in the face of shared adversity, so, does it not seem inconceivable that such a unified community could be harming the very people it aims to protect?
While certainly a mystifying concept, the prospect is neither new nor uncommon. Against the backdrop of a rampantly misogynistic society, it is unsurprising that queer women are falling victim to this specific niche of prejudice. A toxic concoction of homophobia and sexism, the term ‘lesbophobia’ primarily denotes bigotry towards lesbians, though, in my use of the term, denotes bigotry towards all queer women. While conventionally affiliated with straight, cisgender men, the capabilities of gay men to perpetrate lesbophobia is a vastly undervalued topic within queer discourse.
Newly eighteen and desperate to integrate with the queer social scene, I was turned away from the UK’s biggest LGBTQ+ nightclub. Perplexed, I watched as parades of shirtless gay men drifted past the male bouncer with no ID, no pre-emptive check on club capacity, and no questions asked. I knew what the implication was. This was a gay club, established by gay men, for gay men. There was no place for women here. By allowing me into their space, gay men felt threatened, as if my presence would diminish the quality of their evening. Every single one of my queer, female friends has a story like this to tell.
So, why are gay men so resistant to having queer women in their spaces?
At the root of the problem is misogyny. Though not always outright and callous, misogynistic conventions undoubtedly underpin the lesbophobic attitudes of certain gay men, and manifest in a multitude of harmful ways.
Take, for example, the excessive gatekeeping of queer environments by gay men. It certainly appears rational for an ostracised group to feel protective of the few spaces which offer them safety, comfort and community. If gay men wanted to exclusively gatekeep queer spaces from heterosexual, cisgender people, I believe there would be a fair justification in that. The problem is that gay men persistently assume the heterosexuality of queer women. Thus, they feel justified in excluding them. This deep-rooted misogyny ensures that feminine queer women are incessantly invalidated on the basis of their femininity. Constantly pressured to ‘prove’ their queerness; to ‘prove’ that they should be allowed to take up space in an environment which was literally created to accommodate them.
If you are lucky enough to make it through the doors, there is more bad news: you might have felt safer outside. Once inside, an experiential switch occurs, whereby misogynistic profiling metamorphosises into realised sexual harassment. Speaking on one of Edinburgh’s most high-profile LGBTQ+ bars, a queer woman studying at the University of Edinburgh states:
“I’ve been there three times, and every time there have been men who made me feel uncomfortable with excessive touching. I started to hate going. there would always be a guy who made me feel really objectified. One time some guy who said he was gay came up to me, staring at my chest, and said ‘you have such amazing tits, you should get them out more’ – It made me feel so icky, even though I know he probably wasn’t sexualising me in that way.”
In another testimonial concerning the same Edinburgh venue, a second queer woman expresses:
“A man roughly in his thirties told me he was gay and had just divorced; he used that as an excuse to be touchy with a lot of women in the club, as well as pick up one of my friends without their consent and grind on them. Two middle aged men spent the night pushing into groups of women on the dance floor and grinding on them…we immediately felt very unsafe and uncomfortable”
As queer women, we should not be expected to make the choice between exclusion and harassment whenever we enter a bar – much less one which promises to embrace us. So many of us are turned away, and taking our place are men who fetishize and objectify the few of us that make it in.
Queer women are entitled to safe, inclusive environments: so, why are we being left behind? Why is our presence so polarising? Why are we being pushed to the side-lines of a community we helped to build?
Queer women deserve to take up space, and take up space we will.