A List of Guidelines for Straights in Queer Spaces (And More)

A queer space, however temporary, is the one space that’s both physically and emotionally safe -- where, for once, heterosexuality isn’t assumed, and queer people are the default.
Publish date:
August 23, 2012
friendship, straight people, queers, queer spaces

While I was out at gay pride last month, one of my friends turned to me, pointed to another friend and said, in a stage whisper, "Isn't she straight?!"

"Yeah," I replied.

"Well, what's she doing here? This is OUR party."

The me of 10 years ago would have been shocked at such a comment. The me of 2002, though, was also shocked when she found out that people of color could be homophobic, that lesbians could hate bisexuals, and that gay people could be Republicans. Teenage-me also didn’t know the word intersectionality.

But 2012-me brushed this comment off as just another impediment to a night of smooth drunken sailing. All I was concerned about at that moment was how long I was going to have to wait in line to get my next shot of overpriced well vodka from an appropriately surly, tattooed bartender. I shushed GayLadyFriend and proceeded onward into that colorful queer night.

But in the sober, hungover light of morning, I saw the shrill question for what it was: shitty.

Because you know what? My straight friend probably had a million other things she could have been doing that night other than escorting a bunch of completely blammo’d lady-lovin’ ladies around. But she, a happens-to-be-straight-girl, chose to hang out with us, her happen-to-be-queer friends, in our very, very queer space. Just like we choose to hang out with her in her legions of mostly-always-very-very-straight spaces. Like the movie theater. Or the library. Or ever other bar every other night of the year, everywhere.

Outside the obvious differences in the sexual orientations of its inhabitants, the main way straight and queer spaces differ is in intent. Straight spaces happen by default -– no one declared the Rite-Aid on 10th to be a straight space (although if you pay attention to gendered norms in marketing material it certainly feels that way). But gay and lesbians spaces happen on purpose –- a gay person decides to open a bar and works hard to make -– and keep -– it a safe space for her or his queer brethren.

Since queer people work hard to keep their queer spaces queer, it’s understandable that a straight presence in a queer space can feel like an invasion. Even the most outgoing queermos can get a little lonely in the overwhelmingly default heterosexual world. Queer spaces –- bars and clubs, resource centers, book stores, concerts, whatever –- provide a refuge found nowhere else. A queer space, however temporary, is the one space that’s both physically and emotionally safe –- where, for once, heterosexuality isn’t assumed, and queer people are the default.

But forbidding straight people from mingling with their queer pals in queer spaces can’t be the only answer for keeping queer spaces mostly queer and entirely safe. I certainly don’t intend to stop inviting my straight friends out with me to all my queer activities, just as they would never consider disinviting me from a party simply because it’s at a straight bar or a straight couple’s house. What, then, can be done to prevent the awkward “What’s she doing here?” reaction from the less socially savvy among us?

Unfortunately, not a lot. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and some people don’t fancy the intermingling of sexual orientations. I, however, disagree –- and offer this list of guidelines –- for Ye Straights and Ye Gays -– that all y’all can consider before venturing out into the Queer World, in order to minimize any uncomfortable social situations:

For the straights:

So you’ve decided to go out to a queer bar! What fun! A few things to consider:

•It is much better to go out to a queer bar with a group of your queer friends than with a group of your straight friends. A large group of straight people showing up together in a queer space can feel like snide cultural tourism at best, and plain intimidation at worst.

•Bachelor/bachelorette parties: See above. A few queer bars have recently outright banned bachelorette parties and/or bachelorette party attire. This might feel like discrimination at first, but remember, kids: We can’t get married. It’s illegal. In fact, in some places, just holding hands with our beloveds will get us beat up or killed. Having to entertain you with our flamboyant gay antics while you prepare for wedded bliss by doing body shots off of total strangers might not be our idea of a good time.

•Don’t ask questions that you wouldn’t ask in mixed company (like, at a work lunch or a tea party with your Auntie). Would you ask Bertha in accounting how she has sex with her husband? No? Then don’t ask your lesbian friends how lesbian sex works. God invented Google for a reason.

•If someone makes the mistake of thinking you’re queer, too, and asks for your phone number, react like an adult and decline politely. There is no reason to proclaim loudly that you are JUST NOT THAT WAY, with an uncomfortable and slightly-too-loud chortle.

•Keep in mind that even within the queer community, opinions on gay rights issues can differ wildly. That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss it, but your opinions count less. Don’t get offended.

For the gays:

So you have discovered a wanton straightie in your midst! Before you start throwing rotten fruit, consider:

•Has one of my queer friends invited this person? Are they behaving themselves? If the answers to both questions are yes, you have no beef with this person. Stop worrying about labels and save your energy for dancing.

•Don’t be rude. Queer spaces should be about inclusion, and well-behaved, well-intentioned straight allies deserve to feel safe in them, too. Don’t force him/her to explain his/her reasoning for being out.

•Don’t ask them how straight sex works, or challenge their marital status. Basically, all normal social niceties apply –- save your rants for after you’ve gotten to know your new straight pal.

•Don’t be caught saying any of the following within earshot (if it helps, imagine a straight man saying these things about a gay woman, and think about how offensive and threatening they would sound):

o“All straight people are a little gay! (pointed glance at straight interloper)”

o“Oh yeah? Give me 20 minutes alone with any straight girl, I can turn her.”

o“I just don’t understand straight people. They weird me out.”

What do you think should be added to these lists, dear readers?