January 1985, No. 110

Danny Cockerline

p. ?.

Out of the Closet & Out in the Cold

Are the enforcers of gay bar door policies the new queerbashers in our midst?

A few years back, there was a news item in this magazine about a group of people who were thrown out of the Ramada Inn lounge in North Bay, Ontario, the town where I grew up. These people had been frequenting the lounge for quite some time, but a problem arose when they decided to throw caution to the wind and dance with each other -- in same-sex couples. After a few songs, the music was abruptly stopped and they were led protesting from the hotel.

On a busy Sunday evening this past summer at Cornelius, a Toronto gay bar, the muscle-bound he-man who guards the door lumbered over and ordered me to leave. Having frequented the bar for quite some time, I asked why. He articulated as best he could that "guys aren't supposed to wear makeup, only girls are." In addition to eye makeup, I was wearing men's overalls, running shoes and a military haircut: the sort of outfit I'd worn there many times before. As I was led from the bar, I thought of how many times I'd been told "guys aren't supposed to suck cock."

Cornelius is not the only Toronto gay bar that has begun offering its patrons free advice on how they should dress. Early this past summer, Chaps launched a campaign of discrimination against "new wavers" that seemed to inspire other gay bars around the city. Just recently, Boots adopted a "men in men's clothing and women in women's clothing" policy.

Men in drag have been the first casualties: Gina Loren, who has frequented the bar for the past three years and who was named Mr Boots in a competition there this past summer, has found himself out in the street. A recent survey reported in The Body Politic's free local tabloid, Xtra!, found that drag doesn't seem to be welcome in any of the city's bars, unless it's confined to the stage or the video monitor. Divine and Boy George are popular on the little screen but not, it would seem, on the dance floor.

Reports have also been received at The Body Politic over the past year of discrimination against people on the basis of sex, skin colour, age and class. Gay Asians of Toronto circulated a flyer during the summer informing people that discrimination was taking place at Chaps. And the new Club 101 decided recently that its downstairs bar, open only on weekends, was becoming too popular with the wrong kind of women -- generally working-class dykes. The management started telling women who didn't meet the desired upscale image that they could come in only if escorted by men.

There doesn't seem to be much consistency in these door policies. Some people allowed in one night have been turned away on another. Most of the problems occur at peak times, when "undesirables" are pegged for ID while preferred customers pass freely.

After being bounced from Cornelius, I headed down to Yonge and Wellesley to sit and brood. More food for thought: it was at this same corner a few weeks before that another man had decided guys aren't supposed to wear makeup. He'd pounced on me, called me a "faggot," punched me in the nose and threw me to the ground, intent on inflicting further bodily harm. Not feeling any particular need to impress my manhood on anyone, I'd fled.

Now here I was again, feeling as if I'd been thrown to the lions. Driven out of a gay bar and feeling far, from safe on the streets, where do I go now? Should 1 try my luck at Chaps? Or go home to the closet?

I'm not wild about closets. I guess I'm what gets called an out gay person. To some that means I flaunt it, but me, 1 prefer to think I just don't go out of my way to hide it. Having decided that it's okay to suck cock, despite what I've been told, I've also decided that a lot of other things I've been told are shit too. So I wear makeup and skirts if 1 want to, and 1 don't worry anymore about whether my wrists are too limp or my voice is too high or whether I "walk like a girl."

I like to think that what 1 do with my body is my business, but, alas, there are people out there who are still living in the dark ages. People who raid gay bathhouses, bars, bookstores and magazines, people who fire gay people, evict us, hassle us at borders and deny us protection under human rights codes, people who condemn us in the media and in church and people who ridicule and bash us on the streets.

And now, it seems, people who throw us out of our own bars.

Bar managers, of course, wouldn't see their door policies as queerbashing, certainly not on a par with anything so tasteless as drawing blood. No, they are simply catering to a particular clientele (which just happens to be butch, white men), and they believe they have a right to exclude people who don't fit the image they have in mind. After all, it's their bar, right?

The lounge manager of the North Bay Ramada Inn also has an image of the kind of clientele he wants. It's a "family" hotel, and he believes he has the right to exclude gay people because we don't fit that image. Well, if gay bars can cater to butch, white men and keep the rest of us out at their discretion, then can't straight bars cater to straight people and keep the queers out? And why stop at bars: shouldn't employers and landlords and governments and police departments be allowed to keep the queers out too?

Some of the bar managers seem aware of this line of logic, so they don't talk much about image. Instead they've got a truckload of other excuses to justify discrimination. Men in drag or new-wave gear are apparently rude and arrogant, don't buy drinks, use the women's washroom, start fights, drive people away and -- my favourite -- spit at the DJ if they don't like the music. Working class dykes fight in the washrooms and threaten bartenders with broken beer bottles. If all drag queens, new wavers and butch lesbians are guilty of these heinous crimes, then why are some of them allowed in on slower nights? Is the sport of spitting on the DJ forbidden only on weekends?

The tactic of holding an entire group of people responsible for the actions ofa few in order to justify persecuting all of them should look familiar to gay people: it's been used often enough aainst us. It's more than a little disturbing to see us using it against each other.

We've heard all the excuses. But what are the real reasons behind discrimination at the doors of gay bars? I think a letter in the September 1984 issue of this magazine brings us closer to an answer. It savs: "...we(the gay community) need good leaders to promote a positive image to the straight community. In order to better educate them they have to feel comfortable with us and not view us as a threat.... To them being gay means you are into drag and sex. Society has these stereo- types because we refuse to speak out against our own community members." The writer describes much of the gay scene as "dirty and perverse."

According to this theory, gay men are persecuted because of the actions of a troublesome few: the limp-wristed pan- sies and the sexually irresponsible. If we behave ourselves -- and make the troublemakers behave themselves -- then we will be granted our rights.

Gay bar managers could then be said to be promoting a "positive" image of gay people by catering to masculine, "normal"-looking men and excluding the queer-looking ones ("Guys aren't supposed to wear makeup"). And they help keep our image squeaky clean by policing our sexual behaviour, too. A friend of mine who kissed another man on the patio at Chaps last summer was reprimanded by the irate bouncer, who said such things weren't allowed because "it's a public place."

I know several effeminate, but hetero- sexual, men who similarly believe that if they can convince the world that not all un-macho men are gay, they will no longer be persecuted. They, too, are sadly mistaken. "Real Men" are supposed to be butch. And no matter how butch they are, they're also supposed to be straight. Given the chance, the pack of kids looking for a queer to bash on the street would just as happily kick the shit out of a clone or a leatherman as they would a queen. A fag is a fag, after all. And the people at the office, the police, the government, the press and the church don't care how respectable we are, either. Beine gay and being respectable is, to most, still a contradiction in terms. The only good fag is an invisible fag.

Invisibility is the inevitable result of any move to sanitize the image of gay people in order to make us palatable to straight society. The strategy of'good" gays policing "bad" gays must be seen for what it is: a recipe for self-oppression that offers all of us -- the "respectable" and the "dirty and perverse" alike -- the quickest route back to the closet.

When gay-bar managers and their lackeys throw us out for kissing each other or for wearing drag, they are not simply excluding people who can go somewhere else. Because they control the only constant public spaces where most of us can go to be openly gay, they are, in effect, forcing us either to fit the mold as dictated by straight society or to stay at home. Even the butch man may find himself bounced from his favourite club one evening if he decides to be a little daring by wearing a drop earring or a touch of eyeliner. If we're busy trying to force ourselves back into the closet, what's to stop straight society from giving us a few shoves to speed us along?

While brooding at Yonge and Wellesley that summer night, I thought back to the winter of 1981, when 3,000 people had gathered at that same intersection to protest the arrest of 300 of us in the police raids on our bathhouses. That was my debut as an openly gay person; at the age of 20, marching with all those people ! felt powerful and free for the first time in my life. I believed I'd never have to go back into the closet again.

Sitting there again under very different circumstances in 1984 and feeling any- thing but free, I wondered what had happened.

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Created: January 12, 1997
Last modified: July 2, 1997

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