Recently Grace Walsh interviewed me for this great piece about straight people going to gay bars. You can read my full thoughts here on straight people going to queer venues and events like Pride here…
How can straight, cis people be respectful in LGBTQ+ spaces?
This is a topic that comes up a lot around Pride season. Some of the bigger prides becomes so inundated with straight, cis people who want to enjoy the parade and festivities that it stops feeling like a proud – or safe enough – space for the LGBTQ+ people it was designed for. This also often elevates the prices making them increasingly inaccessible for more marginalised LGBTQ+ people.
Similarly LGBTQ+ friendly areas like Brighton, London Soho, or Canal Street in Manchester have become go-to places for stag-dos, hen-dos, and other straight, cis celebrations, perhaps seen as appropriate places for people to experience one final ‘walk on the wild side’ before tying the knot.
Why are queer events and spaces important?
It’s worth remembering the roots of queer venues and celebrations like Pride. Back in the late 1960s in the US gay, queer, and trans folks had to fight not to be ejected from venues like the Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco, or raided by the police in pubs like the Stonewall Inn in New York. The first Pride marches had their foundations in the riots that took place to protect these queer spaces, often led by those who were also working class, sex workers, and/or people of colour.
It’s easy to imagine that things are far better now than then, but rates of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic hate crimes and discrimination have all gone up markedly since the Brexit vote, and we’re in the midst of a huge moral panic against trans people, as well as ongoing battles around how sex, gender and sexuality are taught in schools. Globally there’s still the need for a trans day of remembrance every year to mourn the frightening numbers of trans people – mostly trans women of colour – who are murdered annually. Related to all of this, mental health and suicide rates among – particularly young – LGBTQ+ people remains a big concern.
In many places LGBTQ+ people still don’t feel safe enough to express themselves – or their relationships – openly. Even where they do the backdrop is of heteronormativity: the assumption that people are straight and cis unless they ‘come out’ otherwise, and that being LGBTQ+ means being different from the norm in ways that we need to explain and justify in some way, with pressure to prove that we’re ‘normal’ in every other respect. Many LGBTQ+ people have strained or non-existent relationships with previous friends and family, so building their own friendships, support networks, and social spaces is important.
LGBTQ+ people often become used to having to come out repeatedly, to being asked intrusive questions about their bodies and sex lives, and to being treated as an object for people (the weird one in the office, or the gay best friend, for example). They have to be part of everyday workplace and family conversations which assume that everybody wants – for example – to find a partner, get married, and have (and gender) kids, and that those things require celebrating in ways that transitioning, finding a community, or coming out, do not. It’s understandable that they might want some spaces where they don’t have to worry about that stuff or self-monitor constantly: where they can assume that everyone will ‘get it’, relax, and breathe easy.
Think about your motivations
So if you are straight and cis and thinking of attending an LGBTQ+ space or event, think about your motivations. Generally speaking it’s probably a bad idea if you’re looking for the following:
- To share your opinions about LGBTQ+ people or get into arguments or debates
- To see something strange, exotic, or titillating
- To flirt or get off with somebody LGBTQ+ because you’re curious or want to have a story to tell – this involves treating people as objects for your pleasure, not full human beings
- To have a laugh by doing something a bit crazy and out-there
- To exploit or appropriate the coolness of LGBTQ+ culture in some way
These are better reasons:
- You want to support your LGBTQ+ friends who are keen for you to go along
- It’s an event or space that’s particularly looking for allies to support it – and the people going
- You’re genuinely questioning whether you might be LGBTQ+ yourself
- It’s an educative space and you want to learn something
What not to do
- Go with your straight, cis partner and get off together very publicly in the space – remember that everyday spaces are safe for you to do that in a way they aren’t for the rest of the people there
- Go with your straight, cis mates and take up a lot of room in the venue with your bodies or your noise – many people will feel less safe if you’re doing that
- Go to places with a maximum capacity which are already pretty full – better to let LGBTQ+ people be the people who get to use the space
- Ask intrusive questions of anybody there or touch anybody without consent
- Get super drunk or high so others have to look after you
What to do
- Check beforehand whether you will be welcome there – with staff or others attending
- Be friendly and treat people as full human beings, not just their sexuality or gender
- Do your homework if it’s an unfamiliar community for you – there are plenty of vids out there about things LGBTQ+ people are sick of hearing, or what not to ask them, as well as easy 101 introductions to language
- Be kind, consensual and unobtrusive – it’s not your space and you’re privileged to be welcomed here
And LGBTQ+ people need to remember…
Not everybody who appears to be straight and cis in an LGBTQ+ space actually will be. There are plenty of people who, for whatever reason, are not safe to be out as LGBTQ+, or don’t identify with that terminology, but are still attracted to the same gender or more than one gender, or living in a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth. There are also lots of people who don’t look like the common image of an LGBTQ+ person (which is so often white, young, slim, non-disabled, and middle class). There are many who aren’t into the LGBTQ+ ‘scene’ but are still LGBTQ+. This is often an issue particularly for bi people. Remember that just because somebody is with a different gender partner, or hooking up in that way, doesn’t mean they are straight. And even if they are straight, they may not be cis. They may be there because they are trans. Also femme women can feel very invisible in LGBTQ+ spaces.
Many people may access LGBTQ+ spaces because they’re questioning their gender and/or sexuality and that’s a really good reason. Insisting that they make definite decisions, identify or express themselves in certain ways is not okay. Also remember the + on LGBTQ+. There are good reasons to consider including asexual, intersex, kinky, and/or non-monogamous people, as well as sex workers, under the broad umbrella of people who are excluded from heteronormativity and discriminated against by virtue of their gender and/or sexuality. There are legitimate conversations to be had about who should and shouldn’t be included, and in what contexts – for example, not all intersex folk want to be added to the LGBTQ+ acronym and it’s very important to respect that – but generally it’s worth being as careful when making assumptions about somebody who doesn’t appear LGBTQ+ as we’d want people to be when coming into contact with somebody who does.