Straight People, Queer Spaces

Work Hard, Play Harder | The Rival | March 22, 2016

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Written by Rachel Casper

If it’s not a designated queer space, it’s a straight space. Gay bars are designated gay because every other bar is assumed straight.

We live in a heteronormative society. That means that we assume children are straight, and queer kids, kids who identify with anything on the LGBTQIA spectrum, have to come out as the other.

That means that when I walk into a bar, especially when I’m looking particularly hot, men hit on me.

Greek life, in many ways, epitomizes the heteronormativity of college life.

I am a cis woman in a sorority of 90 other cis women*. I am a queer woman. I am a lesbian in a sorority filled with straight women. While it’s true I’m not the only queer woman in my sorority, I am absolutely one of a few.

Every weekend my sorority has mixers with fraternities and men’s sports teams. We exclusively mix with men because Greek life reinforces that my sisters and I want to hook up with only men. Until this year, and until I spoke up, my sorority hosted a date party that was explicitly gendered and thus de facto required dates who are men. Furthermore, the sorority has songs that make reference to hooking up with men.

Greek life is making strides to become more inclusive, and I’m proud to say my sorority is right there with it. Slowly, although sometimes painstakingly so, we are moving forward.

One aspect of Greek life that feels completely stagnant to me is the party scene. Fraternity parties are often misogynistic, usually loud, generally sticky, and always heteronormative. Bars, especially college bars, are often the same. The UR social scene on Thursday nights, especially for those of us in Greek life, consists of bars (tbh probably just Mex) and barties. Every Thursday night we pile into our hopefully only $3 cabs, wash off the X’s on our hands in the bar bathrooms, push through sweaty crowds, and dance on elevated surfaces.

One of the more unique bar experiences I’ve had was at Tilt: the resident gay bar in the neighborhood. While there are a few local places that do so, Tilt is the one that welcomes people of all genders, is not predominately men, and definitely caters to the queer college crew more than the others.

On your average weekend night you can always find the group of drunk straight girls with their ~gay best friends~ there, but they’re the outlier. The average person at Tilt is queer. It’s femme girlfriends hoping to make out on the dance floor without being harassed by straight fraternity boys. It’s drag queens hoping to bask in their fabulousness. It’s non-binary folks dancing because they feel safe and because they can.

Tilt is made for queer people.

In a world of straight bars and assumed heterosexuality and misogynistic gendered party themes (looking at you GI Joes and Barbie Hoes), Tilt is a safe place. It’s a place to be queer, and to be you.

Tilt is not for straight sororities trying to make a statement.

It does not make you accepting to have a straight party at a gay bar.

It does not make you rad to have a straight party at a gay bar.

In fact, to those of you who think it’s rad, I’m not queer because it’s radical or pushing boundaries, or because it’s cool. I’m queer because I am. It’s not rad to be oppressed, systematically discriminated against, and for many queer individuals, consistently in physical danger. That is not rad.

I am all for expressing the inclusivity of your organization. I am all for being proud of the diversity of your members. I am even okay with a few straight cis people going to Tilt. I am not okay with a sorority of 90, predominately straight women, imposing their straight organization on a queer space.

Having an accessory party with themes of taking things out of your closet at a local gay bar is not accepting of queer people. At best, it’s misguided and although well intended, lacks understanding of queer issues and community. A sorority hosting this event disregards the historical and current structural prejudice against queer individuals in Greek life. At worst, it’s fetishizing queerness and is outright offensive.

Queer spaces exist because queer people need them. We need them to feel safe holding hands, kissing, and dancing with whom we want. We need them to foster community. We need them to feel comfortable with ourselves. We need them because the rest of the world, the straight world, often tells us they don’t need, and they don’t want us.

Changing your theme and minimizing publicity is one response to criticism. Actually stepping back, opening yourself up to critical discussion and the possibility for change is another.

I don’t think you should have this barty. I’d be happy to go into further detail and tell anyone why.

Even so, no one has any obligation to me. So, if you go ahead with this party, please consider to whom you do have an obligation. Consider the queer women in the closet in your organization. Consider the people who go to Tilt for a refuge. Consider what you as an individual, and you as an organization, want to stand for on Thursday night.

*As far as I know, everyone in my sorority is a cis woman. Cis=cis gender. A cis gender woman is someone assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman.

** I am a lesbian cis woman. I am speaking from my own experience. If you fall under a different letter in the queer umbrella and disagree (or agree) with me on anything expressed here, please reach out. I’d love to listen to what you have to say.