The relationship between girls and gay bars (male-only crowd, for our purposes) is fraught at best. While treatment of queer women at such establishments is another article entirely, a gaggle of straight women in one of "our" spaces can provoke confusion and intolerance on both sides.
So this is an insider's view of a gay bar, and what it means to have straight women there, that I hope can be helpful for folks on either side. I reiterate that this is just my view on things (I can't speak for everyone) and as always, you should feel free to leave corrections and refutations in the comments.
1. Understand What A Gay Bar Is
A gay bar is not just a bar full of gay people. If they were, I might enjoy them more. Instead, gay bars are the simultaneous womb and mausoleum for a Freudian-field-trip's worth of hope, desire, acceptance and regression. They're a bit like a family reunion. Take a group of otherwise sane, intelligent and respectful people. Plop them down in the same room together and watch the sparks fly. Gay bars are social spaces, meat markets, therapy groups, pop-up bacchanals. They are repositories for the cripplingly horny and terminally lonely alike. Not every gay bar looks like what you've seen on TV. They will be filled with gay men who don't look like Kurt from Glee. There are leather bars, hip-hop bars, dive bars, shitty shi-shi lounges and everything in between. Yes, they are all playing the same 12 year-old Whitney Houston remix but they exist for different purposes. Do some research before you go out to avoid embarrassment. Generally, your presence will be expected at a mega-disco, tolerated at a sports bar, and santorumed upon at a leather/fetish bar like Green Lantern or The Cock. Know what you're getting into.
2. Why are you here?
For every woman who just wants to grab a drink with her homo friends or legitimately likes the music at Town, there are sixty more who show up for all the wrong reasons. Most of those I've laid out in previous articles. The summation is that if if you think gay men can give you something that straight men can't, you are in the wrong place. Follow grade-school levels of decorum around strangers and you'll be fine. Don't overshare — your bodies and your sex lives aren't necessarily of interest to us. Don't expect us to dance with you. It's not my senior prom. Do not use us as as fonts of information about all gay men, either in general or at that bar. We are not all gay men. We are ourselves. Fawning over couples as being "soooo cute" comes off as condescension at best and overcompensation at worst.
And if you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: keep your fucking bachelorette party out of our bars. If you treat my safe space like your zoo, I will seduce your fiance while you're out selecting stationary.
3. Nobody knows you, nobody gives a damn.
This one will take the most getting used to, and is the source of most "girl-at-gay-bar" conflict. At other bars, you might be used to being hit on, getting priority treatment from the bartender and being the end-goal of guys looking to get laid. At a gay bar you are invisible. That is the point. After all, we only get a few watering holes. What might be taken as "rude treatment" — blind eye from the bartender, inability to strike up a conversation, bootmarks on the hem of your dress — is just indicative of the fact that this place doesn't revolve around you. Complaining about that just enforces the reasons why we don't trust you. However, there is a thin line between ignorance and misogyny. Some bars have a "no high heels rule." Wear flats, just in case. Outlandish outfits might get you mistaken for a drag queen. I apologize in advance. If anyone jokes to your face about "bleeding for a week and not dying" kick ‘em in the balls and say "that was from Zack."
4. Your Body Ain't A Wonderland
Don't talk about your boobs. Don't put them in my face. Don't ask me to touch them. Don't ask me to weigh them. I know it's cool to be in a place where you're not objectified, but that goes both ways. It's commonly understood that's its inappropriate behavior to go into a public place and ask strangers to grope you. Treat us like any other strangers. That said, the physical boundaries at a gay bar are different than other spaces. The sexual atmosphere lends a certain publicness to men's goods. It's not necessarily OK that groping, cupping and stroking of a guy's body is more acceptable here than at a poetry reading, but it is more expected. That does not mean that anyone should disrespect your boundaries. Gay guys can forget that their lack of attraction isn't license to man-handle you. No matter how a guy might treat his other girl friends, you should feel just as comfortable around us as we would prefer to around you.
There are also some straight guys who will lurk in gay bars to pick up fag hags. This can either lead to an unexpected love connection or something more sinister. It sucks, but keep your guard up as you would at any other mixed-gender space.
5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Forget this and I'll make you drink my pee.
Most of the other items here have touched on this, but it's really important. The rest of the world is straight and we just live in it. Yet a couple magical nights a week we get to visit a place where we don't have to talk about being gay, explain what a bottom is or risk harassment for being ourselves. Turn your offense-o-meter up to 11 when talking to the locals. If it seems offensive, it probably is. Don't ask for our insider's opinion on the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Don't scream "is he gay?" at every guy that isn't dressed like a Tom of Finland model. If he's there, he's probably gay. Even if he has a beard, even if he's not dancing. Don't trample us on the dance floor, cut in line at the bar (see number 4) or wonder why we get peeved when you're in the men's room. Whether I'm trying to take a shit or play "how many fingers" it's just uncomfortable to have a girl in the place where I'm absolutely not expecting one.
And all that stuff I said about acceptance? It doesn't apply to hetero PDA. By all means take your boyfriend, but please no dry humping. You can do that anywhere. Why would you want to do it here? "I'm so edgy, I got off at a gay bar" isn't a mark of honor. Many people would read it as an invasion and won't hesitate to tell you off.
6. Do not cock block.
Any gay bar is, at heart, a pick-up joint. No matter how "respectable." I've made some great girl friends at gay bars — usually ones with a clear distinction between gay men as a person and gay men as a concept — but at a certain point my eye will start to wander. That's the trap of going to a gay bar with your friends or just wandering in: When "dick-o-clock" (TM Margaret Cho) hits, you'll be in the way. No matter how much I've been enjoying your company (or pretending to), when the Zachary Quinto look-alike smiles at me I'll be off like a condom at a meth party. Same if I'm talking to a guy you're there with. It's only polite to include you in the conversation. But if I've got my hand in his pants and we're headed towards a private corner? I can think of very few reasons you'd want to follow.
7. Be nice to the DJ.
If it's a rock-n-roll night and you keep requesting Lady Gaga, I might just put on Nickleback and ruin everyone's fun. Likewise Madonna, Janet and Britney. You wouldn't order pizza at a sushi restaurant. No matter how much you wanna dance, make do with the theme and crowd of the bar.
8. I don't wanna go home with your friend.
That's why I'm not talking to him. Pimping out your buddies makes them look desperate and you look nosey.
9. Call me "girl" or "bitch" and I'll call security. On you.
And with that, I'm done.
Zack Rosen is a freelance writer. You can contact him here, or follow him on Twitter. Those in DC should check out Zack's new retail project, Pop-Up Vintage, this Friday at The DC Center. He thanks everyone who provided suggestions for this article via Facebook.
Image via Robert Adrian Hillman/Shutterstock.com