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Girl in a Gay Bar: On being the only femme in the room

This is the third installment of the Girl in a Gay Bar series. Click to read Part 1, “Girl in a Gay Bar: A Femme’s First Time,” or Part 2: “Girl in a Gay Bar: Femme Fashion Edition.

Hi everyone! Let’s talk about being femme in a gay bar, shall we?

So you’re all dolled up, you’ve planned ahead for the perspiration and pain involved in dancing in sky high heels, and you’ve managed to find a gay bar hosting a lesbian night. (None of these things are easy.)

You walk in, and the music may as well screech to a halt – you’re the only femme in the room, and there’s a skeptical scowl on the face of every lesbian there.

Queer spaces are few and hard to come by; queer women-centered spaces are even more elusive. So I understand the cynicism that may be directed at a woman who appears straight in a gay bar. Every other club in town is a “straight club,” so I sympathize with the instinctual sense of infiltration that may be felt by the gay community when a straight person enters our space. (Not that I necessarily agree with it; I mean, eventually the goal is for everyone to be able to hang out in the same space without killing each other, right?)

But the thing is, queer femmes aren’t straight. And that assumption coming from my own lesbian community hurts me more than the thousands of heterosexual folks I meet in my daily life that make the same inference.

Shouldn’t a gay bar be the one place in the world where you are assumed queer until proven straight?

Like innocent until proven guilty, but gayer

But, as I’ve said before, I’m not going to change how I dress or present myself to be more recognizable. For one thing, that’s not fair. Also, I’ve tried it, and I didn’t feel like myself. It’s hard to have fun when you aren’t being who you are (as any closeted person can tell you). Lastly, there’s no way in hell I’m giving up my lipstick. (Just you try to take it away. Go on, I dare you.)

So, short of wrapping myself in a rainbow flag, I’m not sure how to communicate my queerness to other lesbians in a gay bar. But I think it’s time to broaden perceptions of what a lesbian looks like.

What are your experiences of being femme in a gay bar? Do you have any solutions for combating femme invisibility within queer spaces? Have you ever presented more masculinely in a gay bar to feel more comfortable?

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Categories: Femme Theory, The Archives

25 Comments on “Girl in a Gay Bar: On being the only femme in the room”

  1. August 31, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    I think a lot of it is how we carry ourselves. The way we walk, how we look at other girls. If you walk in with total confidence, like you belong there as much as anyone else you won’t get the side-eye looks. Own being femme, sit at the bar and offer to buy a girl a drink (after making sure she is solo of course).

    I have never made myself appear more masculine to fit in. God, it took me long enough to be comfortable in who I was, I was not going to buy into any more stereotypes of what I was supposed to be.

    • September 2, 2011 at 3:13 am #

      Yes! You are totally right about the body language as a way to announce ourselves as queer when we enter the room.

      Of course, there will be no sitting at the bar and buying a girl a drink for me, as I am happily taken! But totally good advice in theory :)

    • Ricky
      November 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

      I agree… I looooooove femme girls. Lipstick is hot! So is being yourself. I’m a more masculine girl, ie. I really like wearing ties… And I find it hard to find femme girls… I don’t want to date other “bros”… Haha. Basically, I just want all the femmes to know, we need you, and your style, and your “owness” of your femmeness. Please don’t give up, and yes maybe break the norm… Walk up to a girl you want to get to know and make the first move. :)

      • Ricky
        November 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

        I think I may just need to go and “hit on” more femmes every gay night so they feel included :)

  2. historicallybrownandrandom
    August 31, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Wow what’s the location though? Although I do not identify as femme I totally understand. It’s like in some places the expectation of a queer woman coming into a club is for her to somehow give off gay vibes through her image.

  3. Jen
    September 1, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Make out with a chick. Or wear a shit ton of rainbow.

    No but seriously, I hear you! I hate not being readable all the time, and I hate it most in queer spaces where I want to feel most at home. I have certainly tried to queer my appearance, NOT to look less femme but to read as queer femme rather than straight feminine. For me I do something to break up the conventionality of my femininity–wear heavy boots with a really delicate dress, wear a dykey watch. Tats, and lots of them. Though that’s a statement you might want to think seriously about before making. ;) But I think the point is that queer femme is about playing with gender presentation, and so I’ve come to realise that these things I might once have seen as compromising my femininity actually give me the freedom to express my femininity the way I want to express it–as gender play and not as making some bid for heteronormativity.

    • September 2, 2011 at 3:09 am #

      I agree that breaking up the conventionality of the feminine is a good way to do it. I like wearing all those things you suggested! Except tats. I don’t have any, but I am very much attracted to them on others and potentially on myself in the future… that’s if I can overcome my fear of needles!

  4. September 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Girl I feel you. Presentation is so tricky, and it sucks to be made to feel like you’re doing it wrong in a place that should be a safe space… I’m always disappointed when I go to gay bars, anticipating that I’ll be able to get away from people assuming I’m straight, and then encounter a whole new set of different but no less frustrating assumptions.

  5. September 5, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    I’m with you. Dress the way you like and makes you feel good. Don’t worry about anyone else. When I go to clubs I usually go to more straight ones anyway. I always go with a large group of girls so it’s always fun anyway. Jess isn’t really into clubs anyway so I just go to dance and have fun. Kara XOXO

  6. September 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    I find that if I just grin and give someone a saucy up-and-down or wink or something of the sort, it breaks the ice. *grins* Suddenly the vibe goes from, “What’s she doing here?” To, “oh, a flirt!” But then, I’m in San Fran where gay is slightly more common, and therefore so is femme!

    J

  7. September 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    I can’t speak to what it’s like to be a femme in a bar, but I can certainly tell you how excited I get to see a femme in a bar!

    From a butch’s perspective, a femme’s confidence and body language are big deals. If she looks comfortable in her own skin despite any looks she might get, that’s huge. If she touches my arm while talking, or leans in to listen while I talk, then it’s easy to get.

    As as for the side-eye lookers, well. Some people will always find a reason to throw the looks around.

  8. PV
    October 12, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    One problem I have is being a closeted femme, looking to come out, I get a little nervous reading these post. I have recently decided I was a lesbian. It seems like I might not be welcome in gay bars, and if I am, I should be looking for a butch. However, I am not attracted to butch I am looking for other femmes. I have been doing a lot of reading and every time you search for femme, it almost always associated with butch/femme relationships. I am happy to see there there are some femme couples on the sights, but it seems rare. Is it safe to go to a gay bar looking for other femmes? Am I not a NORMAL lesbian? Where can I go to talk to other femmes looking for femmes?

    • Renata
      October 13, 2011 at 9:42 am #

      PV: I can totally relate to your comment. What I think really needs to happen is some kind of universal bracelet or something?!?! I’m so totally frustrated because I feel much like I am looking for a needle in a haystack. Where they all hiding?! Where do they all meet?

    • FaeFarah
      June 9, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

      PV: I have the same problem too. I’m closeted as well and looking to come out. I was on denial that I like women, so i the me is going to fake me and go out with guys. But I dont think I could stay hidden anymore and i know I stop what I’m doing, I haven’t been i a gay bar, I don’t think i can fit in anyways. I like femme women, Im not really attracted to butch ones. Femme ones are difficult to find, especially because my gayday is so so lame hahaha.

  9. XO
    October 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    story of my (gay) life right there

  10. fixer
    October 29, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    This happens to me, though it’s because I’m butch and most people probably see me as a straight male (untrue on both counts). I don’t see a solution to it. People can’t be mind readers.

    If a feminine woman who identifies as straight comes up to me and starts flirting just to mess around/have fun/whatever, I am supposed to somehow understand that immediately and completely. If a feminine woman who identifies as les/bi/queer comes up to me and starts flirting, I am also supposed to somehow be able to understand that immediately and completely.

    Just be patient, that’s all I can say. I feel like with me if you talked to me and weren’t completely ignorant when it comes to interacting with people like me, you would be able to tell I’m female and gay from my voice, mannerisms, shit I say, etc. Maybe something similar is true of you. If you mistake me for a straight male, no problem, it’s understandable. Cut me some slack also – If I make a mistake, no big deal, just tell it like it is. I understand the frustration. I wish we lived in a world where people who look like me could be seen as female, but we don’t. You probably wish we were in a world where people who look like you could be seen as les/bi/queer/etc. It ain’t happenin’.

    Again I would just say to be patient. You have to take a risk sometimes too, and somehow come out to people. Yes, it’s annoying to have to do that at a gay bar, but bear in mind, I have to come out to these people as well.

  11. Didianne
    November 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I may not be the average femme (no lipstick, no nail varnish, no earrings), but I wear skirts and “feminine” tops most of the time, and that seems to be enough to be invisible. When in a gay bar, I just get the usual, scanning check-out looks with some additional scepticism by some of the people. Usually, this is not a problem, but I’ve been taken for and spoken to as a straight woman at some gay shops just because I do not display one of the two or three lesbian favoured “official” looks nowadays.

    But I confess: first time in a gay bar I wore some skinny pants and a plaid shirt! I never again did that. Now I do not care, even if some people assume I am not gay or just bi curious. If I’m there, I’m there and that’s my statement.

    Otherwise, it simply sucks being part of the 2% of women at a lesbian party wearing a skirt and one of the barely 10% having a shoulder-length haircut. But what it sucks most of all is meeting or being introduced to new people who are gay and who do not notice you at all and take you for straight! Sometimes I am on the brink of outing myself plainly, but I always keep my dignity and just imply it sooner or later in the conversation, unless the topic is spoken openly, and the I am open too.

    On some days I wear a necklace with a silver labris, which gives me a kind of radical fierce femme touch I really enjoy. But because pretty much no one wears that symbol around here (with the few exceptions of some butches), I feel a bit clumsy as I look like I try to overcompensate for the femme looks.

  12. KS
    November 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Get your femme on, girls! Be you. It’s all in the energy and the eyes.

  13. February 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Once I went to ladies night at my local gay bar, all dolled up in a dress & heels. I ended up having 2 guys hit on me & no girls, I felt like crying on my walk home.

  14. August 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I think it’s really important not to project femme invisibility. People are frequently more self conscious then judgemental. People are more concerned with the last time they brushed thier teeth then the spinach in your teeth until you get up to their personal space. People are wondering if their dancing is spastic while your getting up the courage to walk across the room.

    So I find it best not to play psychic and attempt to read minds. Wait until some one says some thing judgemental. Then give them the “you just said something judgemental, aren’t you silly?” look.

    Besides you might not be visible. But they are. So you can check them out with come hither eyes. Makes eyes at them, bat eye lashes, look down, look up, look innocent, look naughty. Make them want to see you.

  15. Nia
    February 10, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    I love this article and can totally relate. I’m a femme and I love high heels and lipstick. I’m pretty sure in a normal setting no one would look at me and be able to tell I’m a lesbian so when I go to gay clubs I feel people look at me like at me like ‘is she in the right place?’ lol. But I would never change and dress more aggressively to fit in. Who ever I’m with will love and embrace my extra girly, feminine qualities.

    No one should ever feel uncomfortable in a gay bar regardless of how they are dressed because gay people fight so hard to be equal in straight world, don’t make someone feel uncomfortable in a gay world. We shouldn’t have to conform to what society pictures a lesbian to look like. I say, be yourself and dress and do what makes YOU happy!

  16. May 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    haha, so true. I had finally built up the courage to a gay bar on a lesbian night shortly after coming out, and I had worn a black dress with an underbust corset with sky high heels. I was only hit on by a guy. It was a sad day. lol

  17. Pr123
    May 8, 2013 at 12:59 am #

    Being femme has its ups and downs. You’re a rare breed and get a good amount of attention without trying. But no one detects you! In high school and early college years, my group of close friends were gay boys and straight girls. I never fit in with any lesbians. Thus it was very hard for me to find any girls. The boys never wanted to go to lesbian bars (which is a big reason why I’m not friend’s with them anymore) and the straight girls loved gay bars but they were femme straight so it made it harder to be detected. Until I started forcing myself to go out on my own. I went to Orlando gay days for women with a group of older women I barely knew…I knew one girl from high school. She was 3 years older than I was. I forced myself to do that. And I wore my dress and heels and did it proudly. I eventually found a great group of femme lesbians that are now my best friends and I’ve been dating someone for 2 years now and am absolutely in love! I still wear my dresses and heels but I’ve also incorporated toms and jeans while I go out….boy, that’s way more comfortable. But… Wear whatever the hell you want. The key is definitely confidence and body language. See a cute girl? Have a stare down. She will detect you. Unless she’s an idiot. Or has a girlfriend. Whatever.

  18. kfemme
    July 2, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Well, I’m very late to the conversation but I have to say that I’ve actually been asked by an MC at an event at a lesbian bar if I was actually a lesbian and thus should actually be there! At the time I didn’t know how to respond but to be embarassed but at this point, I figure if someone can’t figure out that I’m a femme and a lesbian then that’s their loss! I mean I do tend to wear rainbow earrings or other things because I like them but I won’t wear them just to make sure I’m not invisible. I think I could tattoo FEMME on my forehead and most lesbians would still look right past me! lol

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Girl in a Gay Bar: On being the only femme in the room (via femme on a mission) | justrandomleethoughts for now - August 31, 2011

    […] This is the third installment of the Girl in a Gay Bar series. Click to read Part 1, "Girl in a Gay Bar: A Femme's First Time," or Part 2: "Girl in a Gay Bar: Femme Fashion Edition." Hi everyone! Let's talk about being femme in a gay bar, shall we? So you're all dolled up, you've planned ahead for the perspiration and pain involved in dancing in sky high heels, and you've managed to find a gay bar hosting a lesbian night. (None of these things ar … Read More […]

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