Being a woman can be difficult. Being a woman of color has even more challenges. Being a LGBTQ woman of color too often means intimidation from others and erasure in society. Simply put, many people are uneducated about what it really means to be particular letters of the LGBTQ family. In San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood--known for its prideful rebellion against social norms and unity of the LGBTQ community--bars and clubs are mostly occupied by gay, cisgender men. As a cisgender lesbian, I was always outnumbered by gay guys when I partied in the Castro. But it was still my sanctuary from the challenges I met elsewhere in the world.
When I first started to go out in the Castro in 2010, I was immediately impressed by how polite people were. If someone bumped into you or accidentally spilled their drink on or even near you, there would always be a sincere apology. When I was feeling upset or depressed, I always came to the Castro where complete strangers would tell you without any hesitation on how fantastic your outfit was or how hot you looked. There was always a self-esteem boost whenever I left there.
I understood my attraction to the same sex since I was in elementary school, but I grew up in a traditional Hispanic and Filipinx Catholic household. Sex and sexuality were never discussed, especially homosexuality. When I came out, the process was a very difficult one, but I was lucky enough to have friends, and I was able to get on my feet and make due independent of my parents. I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to live under my parents roof, nor their rules as long as I needed to express who I was.
However, in the Castro, I was allowed to feel free, to be who I was for the first time in my life, and not feel judged. I wasn’t expected to go home with a guy at the end of the night! Unlike other clubs in the City, I was always treated with respect by the security in the Castro (and sometimes got into clubs for free; it pays to be friendly with security, to treat them like human beings).
Meanwhile, I had been constantly discriminated against at regular straight clubs. There were many times which the security tried forcing me to pay covers even if it was “Ladies Night.” Women were supposed to have free entry, but since I wasn’t dressed like a femme with a tight dress and high heels, I was expected to pay.
Castro was my safe space and unfortunately leaving the clubs to jump into a taxi (before Lyft was available) was just another reminder that our small LGBTQ world was surrounded by a bigger world of close-minded people. There were numerous taxi rides back to my apartment in which I was interrogated and told I was wrong for being a lesbian or even for hanging around any “people who live like that”. I was told, “You are too beautiful to be with women, you should be with a man. I don’t understand how anyone could be like that, it’s disgusting.” One taxi driver scolded me because I had told him I attended a Christian high school and knew the ins and outs of the Bible. A constant phrase I would hear was, “It’s just not right.” I craved my safe space. I needed my sanctuary.
I’ve luckily never encountered any type of negativity towards me personally while out in the Castro, at least not anything significant from any LGBTQ family. If anything, I’ve had my butt grabbed a handful of times (pun intended), but I’ve always thought it hilarious when the gay male figured out I was a woman. These encounters would always follow up with an apology and compliment which I took wholeheartedly because a lot of work and time at the gym was put my booty gains. I’m not into drama, I love going to the Castro to smile, laugh, drink, and dance the night away with my friends and LGBTQ family like many others do in order to forget about life for awhile. (That said, consent is a thing, so you should avoid uninvited touching, please.)
Recently, I’ve noticed an increasing number of highly intoxicated straight couples in some of my favorite bars. Places like QBar, for instance, have a few more than many of us are comfortable with. The mutual respect, the compliments to strangers, the freedom of being--these things are less-so than what it once was. The straight couples will bump into you without apology, and act like they’re the only ones on the tiniest of dance floors. This is *our* safe space, and they act like it’s just a bar. But that’s a whole other conversation…
Bartender, pour me another.
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