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In defence of segregated spaces

Ideas

In defence of segregated spaces

It seemed like another tempest in a teapot. Once again, those who feel entitled tried to penetrate a women’s (now women and trans) space and created a virtual Facebook army to which a real-life gathering of dykes responded. In the end dykes managed to protect our little space (with help from a lawyer) and a wonderful gathering at the Black Eagle ensued – the first ever of its kind. But it raised questions, whether legitimate or legal, about separate spaces that are so integral to the lives of gays and lesbians and those in between.
 
Queers have been enjoying separate space for decades. Discrete entrances have marked many gay bars, like Platform 9 3/4 in Harry Potter; you had to know where they were to find them. Remember the Quest? Nestled on Yonge St near Bloor, it was practically invisible! And yet gay men and their allies found it. The Cellar is no different today.
 
We need our separate space to find each other, like needles in a haystack, often invisible in the straight world. I can speak of women, who are often shorter and more softly spoken than men, who disappear in mixed spaces such as Pride. That’s only one reason we started the Dyke March. There are others. Without the presence of dominating men, or worse, sexually harassing men, women are able to relax and connect in their space, with guards down.
 
We’ve also enjoyed a degree of mixed space. I’ve been going to gay men’s bars since I was a teen. They were easier to find, more numerous and better supported by the wealthier gender. Eventually, I found lesbian bars and occasionally brought my fag friends. I danced many nights throughout the '80s at The Barn, which was raw and dark and leather, with an aroma of poppers on the dancefloor.
 
In those days, like now at the Eagle, all washrooms were men’s rooms. At the Rose or the Chez, all were considered women’s. We used them indiscriminately – long before trans became an issue. The fags had the Barracks and other bathhouses to go to. The dykes gathered at political social groups, working hard to improve the status of all women, fighting for the right to abortion, pay equity, equal access to employment and more. We made our erotic connections there. And the desire to change social structures meant threesomes were politically correct!
 
Queer is the new term, used to encompass all. In recent years, the trend among butch women in the dyke scene has been to transition, lop off tits and take testosterone. As a result, the dyke community has been forced to deal with a whole new set of gender issues and adjust to them. Bois and trans men were at first denied access to our women-only spaces, until we figured out that those we were barring were us!
 
It doesn’t seem the men’s community has experienced the same significant number changing gender, though there are high-profile t-girls and drag queens competing for the stage. We created genderqueer! We are a diverse community, with many subgroups; the leather community is but one of them. Now we’ve even got liberal straight people calling themselves queer, because they feel comfortable among us. What has happened to the world?!
 
There have been so many improvements to gay life that we could not fathom decades ago, and gay marriage is, strangely, at the top of the list. It seems to have created a platform in which we really are considered equal. Many rights that we now enjoy have come from that gain. But while equal, we aren’t straight. We are different. And while some of us have assimilated, right down to the white picket fence, others have Leather Pride flags distinguishing their homes from the others on the block, and there are play spaces in our homes that make Fifty Shades of Grey seem beige.
 
Why is it that straight men expect access to every space? And what is it they hoped to gain? Could it be hot lesbian sex? And why do straight women think they should be allowed to bring their husbands? They have plenty of space of their own. Plenty of gay men have had the unpleasant experience of cruising and finding a hookup, then being pestered by unwelcome people who want to watch. Dykes have, too. We didn’t need our tiny gathering crashed by the pansexual community – a euphemism for straight.
 
Other men’s spaces exist. Rough House is a men’s play event that happens on Sunday afternoons. It’s taken years to slowly build from a social gathering to a place that actually has play. I commend the management for doing an excellent job of creating space. They have a clear invitation policy. It’s a gay men’s play space that welcomes the few leather dykes who feel we belong there. We are also the ones who’ve been going all along. We few women, who are familiar with primarily men’s spaces, know how to act, how to blend and enjoy that particular environment. The organization specifically does not welcome the pansexual community. It does not try to be all things to all people.
 
We have women and trans play parties that are private (by invitation only) that have been happening here in Toronto since 1999. Our parties have a very clear statement of what constitutes trans – living 24/7 as a woman, if born male. All those born female are welcome, regardless of their chosen gender. These parties are for women who play with women. Some might be predominantly straight, some bi, and some gold-star lesbian. Straight male crossdressers are not invited. There are plenty of other parties in Toronto for heterosexuals. And there are mixed genderqueer parties for queers.
 
Thankfully, it turned out that there are legal exceptions to the rules that allowed us a segregated women and trans space for our night at the Eagle, so the assaulting army backed down. And the bar was packed! I haven’t seen that many women at the Eagle since the Ms Black Eagle competitions. And never have I seen that many leather women and trans people have a space of our own in Toronto. And that space we fought for was the size of a living room.
 
That same weekend I went to the Leather Ball. It was a wonderful party, with the dancefloor comfortably filled with men and women and those in between, in full fetish gear. Men danced with men. Women danced with women. And we danced with each other. It’s hard to describe the feeling, the energy of a very queer space, but I will say that it nourishes my soul. And the attention I received was desired.
 
Pride now appears half straight, and something is lost. The Church St Fetish Fair turned into a family fair – then disappeared altogether. We need to protect our cherished spaces.
 
We have all taken the risks to go against societal norms to come out as who we are, queer, stereotype challengers, who have fought for our lives against our oppressors. The leather community is an even smaller minority, distinct among queers. When we come together, it’s a kind of magic. But we still need our separate spaces. Lesbians have house parties. Gays keep the bathhouses in business. That hasn’t changed.
 
What has changed is that trans men slip into Toronto bathhouses discreetly, and play. Inferno is welcoming trans men this year. Women are allowing trans men and trans women into their intimate space. We are developing, and we need our space to develop in. It would be nice to allow these minority communities to exist and not be swallowed up by mainstream. It’s our diversity that makes us interesting. In order to thrive, we need spaces in which to develop and explore that diversity, with a sense of affinity for those who are, like us, different.
 
Acceptance is a double-edged sword. Ironically, I prefer playing with a straight edge.
 
 
  
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Comments

Truth 2
as this statement makes it clear their true intent, as this is the type of comment you make when you don’t want unwanted guests!
In fact according to your logic, men should be able to enjoy the space free of women and those who have lopped off their tits and are take testosterone.
Seems to me this article has been obviously manufactured to line the pockets, and suit the hidden agenda of the organizers of these private for profit parties.
In defence of the Truth
Nancy It was not solely dykes who made up the”facebook army” and the group who came together to meet, but people from various sexual orientations including gay men!
The Black Eagle front room is not the size of an average front room, as the space holds up to 75+ people and there is women washroom at the Black Eagle, which could arguably use a few more stall doors.
Another truth: In her article Nancy mentions women and trans private parties that have been happen since 1999 that only allows women and her narrow definition of transgendered people to attend, but fails to mention that she is the organizer and benefactor of these events at Patricia Marsh’s dungeon space. I know this to be true, as my spouse and I were refused entry once, as my partner wasn’t “trans” enough for her.
Also strangely added into the piece is the blatant commercial for the Rough House events, which is produced and profited by none other than Brandon Matheson chief editor of Xtra Magazine and the same person I overheard giving Nancy instructions about the upcoming article during a party on the Friday night of Leather Pride just before the women and trans event.
Even more strange a week later Matheson’s Rough House sent out a press release with a noticeable change to the invitation list that now reads:

“Who is Rough House for? Rough House is not a pansexual event, neither by design nor goals. Rough House was created as a BDSM space for gay leather men to foster play, sexual networking and education. Leather dykes show up at each event and are always welcome — but Rough House is decidedly targeted as BDSM space for gay leathermen.”
So it seems Nancy that you really are not as welcomed as you may think, as “leather dykes show up at each event and are always welcome”, I guess as long as they know how to behave properly! “But is decidedly targeted as a space for gay leathemen” Time to read between the lines Nancy, as it is very clear they really don’t want you there, as this statement makes
Don't be an idiot. You know better.
"...long before trans became an issue."
You mean befoere it was an issue to YOU. You may be old, but you're not that old. There was community and connection and all kinds of other good things LOOOOONG before you were even thought of.

"the trend among butch women in the dyke scene has been to transition, lop off tits and take testosterone."

Calling someone's transition a "trend" is totally offensive, Nancy. Then glibly describing hormone replacement therapy and surgery as to "lop off tits and take testosterone" is just fucking stupid.

Also, gay men (and transfolks....you know, the people who were present at the Stonewall inn on June 28, , just for the record, have done a helluva lot of organizing over the decades. Don't be an idiot. You know better.


(oh PTP, I know this is an opinion piece...but, really???)
Ah, now I get it.
When I came out at home in a small norther ontario town and a few years later moved to Toronto one of the first bars I frequented was the Kurbash. I loved it. It was dark, dirty and direct. Young and recently out I hated the fact that some of my female friends were told they wern't welcome. 22 years on and after reading this and all of the comments I now understand completely why both straight and gay men want their own spaces.

...and this quote - The fags had the Barracks and other bathhouses to go to. The dykes gathered at political social groups, working hard to improve the status of all women, fighting for the right to abortion, pay equity, equal access to employment and more.-
Are you fucking kidding me? Yeah yeah, a few out Lesbians did all the political work while all the fags were busy fucking. fuck you.
Answer the charge of hypocrisy, lady
Interesting that author Nancy Irwin hit and run here. Dumps a scathing indictment of many but is too chickenshit to respond to questions. Why is she so special that she can "manouvre" in male leather space (never it seems thinking that many of the men there abhored and resented her presence) yet everyone else must segregate. She is the problem with her "i am allowed to do it but no one else". Maybe YOU, lady, ruined possible sex scenes for men by your self-entitlement and demand to be in male sex space because you are special. Obnoxious! Answer the charge of hypocrisy.
Irony
Rich, as always, you make some interesting points. But I do find it ironic that as broader society is finally becoming more open, equal and free of discrimination, there are those who want the LGBT community to become more closed, discriminatory, and segregated.
why not have it all ways?
I totally understand why lesbians and gay men would want their own spaces and why others would want mixed spaces, why gay men's bathhouses would have a problem with non-post-op trans men, gay men looking for sex want cock, not vaginas even if the top looks like a man. If its a transsexual man who has a cock that's different. I don't see a problem with mixed bathhouses where anyone is welcome or having mixed nights but if its a gay men's bathhouse then it should be for gay men only. Surely Toronto is large enough that everyone can find a space they like and are comfortable in, for some that's mixed sexual orientation, sex or gender. For others that's all gay male or all lesbian spaces. York U used to have a Queer Night pub, but then it became so that more heteros than LGBT people were going and it became the same as any other pub night. Back when it was all queer there was a sense of community, a safe harbour and a way to identify other queers for sex and/or dating but once it became mostly hetero all of that was gone. There is no contradiction between diversity, including diverse spaces, and equality. I can understand why Pride has to be mixed, its a public event on public streets. But I see no reason why there cannot be a bar just for gay men or just for lesbians as well as mixed spaces. Face it LGBT people are a minority, most of our lives are lived in mixed environments where we're the minority, it feels good to have a space were you're not the minority surrounded by others similar to yourself. We can not only have it both ways we can have it all ways. Toronto is not a one bar or bathhouse town, there's room for everyone's preferences. Btw there are an awful lot of hetero bars and spaces which may not explicitly exclude LGBT people but they definitely make it extremely uncomfortable for LGBT people to be there. Perhaps some bars should just have hardcore gay or lesbian or whatever porn playing on all TVs at all times, that could be a way around the legal problems
@jimbob
jimbob, while the Ontario Human Rights Code does have certain limited exceptions from its anti-discrimination provisions for gender-based washrooms (section 20(1)), gender-based recreational clubs (section 20(3)), affirmative action programs (section 14(1)), etc., I think the LGBT community is always better off when it advances equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. I don't think we should be banning straight people from our public places like bars and restaurants. That's my opinion. I know you have a different one. Cheers.
Actual Facts
Wow!! Yet another person with a lot of opinions with no actual facts to back them up.

Skid you couldn't have stated any farther from the truth than your post.

Respectfully, I think you should do some homework before passing on such hearsay nonsense..

A lesson we all could learn from...
Exclusivity not Misogyny
My understanding is this: as part of the recent Leather Pride Weekend, the Eagle and HOTFF advertised a Friday night trans/womens event. Dudes then complained, feeling their space was being scarily co-opted (on a weekend no less!). Eagle Mgmt - heeding their loyal clientele's concerns, then backtracked, cancelling the event. Women and trans then threatened legal action based on "discrimination". Eagle caved and event then went forward. Seems to me L/D guys - and guys who love L/D guys - are being vilified here, force-fed this newfangled p.c. inclusiveness thing. While many of us respect women and the trans-struggle, there seems to be a certain coercion happening here where dick is being crowded out - in its own living room/play space. Commenter Mandom was correct - the bar is a business, not a community centre. The Eagle has opened up a Pandora's Box (no pun intended) - how soon before women/womyn begin (legally) demanding access to the backroom, female bartenders, female-oriented videos? Male "exclusivity" doesn't necessarily mean misogyny; I wish women/womyn would stop treating us like oppressors; some of us in the leather/denim community just wanna hang on to a little space we can call OUR own. You want your own space to express yourself and play safe? Great. Go build one to call YOUR own. Wish you all the best. As for The Eagle - a friendly once-hot establishment sending out increasingly confusing signals - here's the dirty prevailing muttered street view: Black Eagle bends over and takes it up the ass...with a strap-on. Sad. Just my 2 cents...

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