Queer dating. A complex, often uneasy and occasionally a nauseating string of disappointments. Of course, there are labours to heterosexual dating, I am sure. However, it is impossible to effectively explain the toils of attempting to find someone to share your life with whilst simultaneously tackling internalised homophobia, fear of harassment in public, the online pursuit of couples for a ‘unicorn’, and of course, if her cats don’t like you – call it a day, it’s game over.
Illustration by Laura Buckell
It seems the cards are stacked against us. Finding a safe space to be unapologetically you, with no limits, boundaries or fear of persecution, is paramount for queer folks. Whether you live openly or aren’t yet out of the closet, having the support of an entire buzzing community at bars and clubs can be a huge source of solace. Be it so that most people in big cities across the UK are ‘okay’ with homosexuality, I am yet to kiss a girlfriend or lover in public without being heckled or approached. I am yet to go on a date without being ogled by strangers, wondering whether we’re on a date or just really, really good gal pals…
Ultimately, the only places I feel truly able to express myself are queer spaces. In these spaces we can imitate the behaviours that those outside the community are able to comfortably display publicly, without trepidation. But with more and more people who don’t identify as queer going to gay bars just for a fun night, are our spaces becoming less ours?
In a world where the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida happened, where consensual homosexual sex was only in recent months decriminalised in India, where Kenyan film ‘Rafiki’ was banned in its home country on account of ‘promoting homosexuality’, it is assured to say we, as a people, are still being persecuted. So now, as much as ever, we have to cling to our sense of community and to our spaces.
Less than 40 years ago it was a bold act of rebellion to even be out of the closet, let alone marching for our rights. Those who did march knew to expect harassment and beatings.The first pride march in London wasn’t held until 1972. The Sexual Offences Act, a law which highlighted personal privacy, consent and legalised homosexual acts between consenting adults over 21, was not passed until 1967 in the UK. It wasn’t until 1994 that the age of consent was lowered to 18 under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
This is modern history. Even within the community, we are moving towards an era in which our youth don’t recognise how recently their rights were actualised, and in turn, how easily they could be taken away.
It is widely known in London that there are certain LGBTQ clubs which will refuse entry to large groups of ‘straight looking’ people. On numerous occasions I have invited straight friends out to gay bars with me, and if ever we are refused entry by bouncers, on the assumption that the reason is our ‘straight girl aesthetic’, it is shit. The night’s ruined and I had genuinely wanted to pull. Yes, we want to reclaim our spaces, but are we not abandoning the original ethos of these places? To be inclusive? Where do we draw the line?
Between 2000 and 2016, 151 gay bars closed down in London due to rent increases and the venues simply not making enough revenue to cover it. Considering these alarming rates, perhaps we shouldn’t be turning down service to open minded, accepting allies of the community who would be massively contributing to the turnover of our queer spaces.
A fundamental query at the core of this debate is how can queerness be accurately measured anyway? What is deemed ‘appropriate’ or ‘enough’ when you’re defining an entity as fluid as sexuality? If denying entry to certain people becomes more consistent in the community, then what aspects of a person’s appearance could possibly determine their orientation?
Clubs such as Heaven, G-A-Y bar and KU bar, all in the heart of Soho, have long been venues where querying young people go to explore their sexual identities. Had I not had access to local gay bars growing up, it would have taken me many more years to come to terms with or fully understand my own queerness.
There are fundamental principles which we as a community have fought for since the dawn of the gay liberation movement. These principles include tolerance, inclusivity, freedom, and acceptance. By turning against the core values at the heart of this movement, are we not straying from the ideals of the pioneers of gay liberation?
Edited by Ruby Hinchliffe and Stephanie Kleanthous