There is one remaining lesbian bar in London, called ‘She’ bar. The decor is about as imaginative as the name, with it resembling something of the inside a shipping container. But it’s all we have, so it’s where everyone goes. It’s underground, down a flight of stairs leading from a busy Soho street. Little signage outside means most people would likely walk by without knowing of its existence. The point, I suspect, is probably to be nondescript and discrete, so that lesbians catch knowledge of it by word of mouth, but general passersby wouldn’t bother descending the steps.
Lesbian spaces are often guarded like that. This is partly because some men like to leer at us (women generally, but especially women kissing) and also what exactly would be the point in having a very mixed lesbian bar? Chat-up attempts would have a significantly higher fail rate(!) and the whole point of lesbian bars is to make lesbian connections possible, whether platonic or romantic.
Into that social context, the last time I was at She bar there was a very tall, large man in hyper feminine clothing (mini skirt, stiletto heels, bright lipstick) stood at the bar. Not simply getting a drink at the bar, but hanging around in front of it, staying in everybody’s field of vision, purposefully making a show of himself. He would titter about on his heels and sort of look around, swaying back and forth, then stroke the sides of his torso down to his hips, suck the end of his straw, twirl a strand of hair on his big blonde wig, before cat walking up and down a bit more. His presence meant the bar wasn’t very busy. Lots of lesbians sat at their tables with empty drink glasses because this man was putting everyone off going up to order.
Maybe it would’ve been different if he was sat on a stool, or chatting to bar staff, but he just seemed to be loitering and looking to be noticed or for ‘something’ to happen.
In the end, out of frustration, and as an experiment to discover what would happen, I said I would buy everyone at my table a round of drinks. The bar is short, there’s not much space, so I ended standing very much in the vicinity of this colossal man as he had placed himself smack bang in the centre of the bar. “Hello lovely...” he said to me, to which I briefly laughed, having expected something cliché like that. “Alright mate”, I said back, grinning at him. But he didn’t like my response (because it is assertive, pointedly friendly, and often how people who are equals address one another i.e how men speak to each other) and so he turned away, wandering off.
The rest of the night everyone sat at their tables chatting whilst this glammed-up bloke switched between hovering around the bar and sort of vaguely dancing in the middle the floor. No one else could dance because we all felt too uncomfortable by his presence. In a way, had he not been asserting himself physically in this manner it wouldn’t have been such an issue. She bar isn’t ‘women only’, it even has male staff members (to the consternation of some), but it was this guy's manner and attempt to dominate the space that made all the women present hold ourselves back from readily ordering drinks, or milling about between tables mixing, or dancing.
The entire point of lesbian bars is to create a relaxed atmosphere for meeting one another. The fact of a man’s presence, and how he wielded his presence, meant we all felt like we had to breathe in, be guarded, and worry about what he was trying to engineer. This defies the purpose of a lesbian space entirely. It took just one man dominating the space to make dozens of lesbians feel uncomfortable. He didn’t care, he was enjoying himself, and probably felt hard done by that he wasn’t ‘included’ by any of us socially (or sexually) that night.
Male entitlement like this risks robbing lesbians of the few spaces on the planet we have left. Make women feel uncomfortable, or at risk somewhere, and they simply won’t visit that place again. That’s before we even consider things like male sexual harassment, presumably the next step in the encroachment on our sexualities and advancement on lesbian existence.