Lesbian Bars, Gay Places, Queer Futures?

What if the lack of lesbian bars represented not a failure in the present, or a return to some bad gay past, but the future of queer sociality for everyone? There have always been far fewer commercial establishments for lesbians than gay men, but lesbian bars have been hit particularly hard in the recent wave of failures that have seen the closure of most of the feminist and gay bookstores and perhaps one-third of the nation’s gay bars. At least 12 cities have lost their only lesbian bar in the past few years, ranging from tourist destinations like San Francisco, West Hollywood, or Montreal; large cities like Philadelphia, Houston, or Miami-Ft. Lauderdale; to regional cities like Louisville, Salt Lake City, Tucson or Cleveland.

This academic presentation asks whether there is a role for brick-and-mortar places in a “post-gay” America, and if so, for whom and in what ways (Ghaziani 2011). I propose we consider the “ambient community” of the “Amazon network” as an ideal-typical form of queer sociality (Brown-Saracino 2011, Meeker 2006). These terms capture the informal social networks, ant capitalist organizing, and formal temporary occupation of spaces ranging from softball fields to cafes, church social halls, and multifunction rooms in libraries and town halls. From such a vantage, lesbian bars seem like transcontinental train trips: nostalgically romantic, but ultimately impractical, unaffordable, and noncompetitive with the conveniences and freedoms of contemporary queer sociality. I consider historical and sociological reasons for the differences between gay male and lesbian “organizational infrastructures” (Armstrong 2002), recent changes in American patterns of leisure and courtship, and the convergence between homonormativity and cosmopolitan heterosexuality (Mattson 2014). These contexts reveal other queer communities that lack brick and mortar whose places have been eroding, such as strolls for transactional sex or gay male cruising sites. They also highlight creative strategies to subvert and claim desirable places, albeit temporarily, such party promotions or Guerilla Queer Bar listservs. Taken together, these crosscutting movements suggest that the dream of a queer “post-place future” reflects the acceptance of communities fractured by economic inequality, racial segregation, the digital divide, and neoliberal governmentality. It is these factors, I argue, that underpin the capacity to claim, maintain and defend places as anchors for identity and sociality—or the ability to do without them.


Armstrong, Elizabeth. 2002. Forging Gay Identities: Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco, 1950-1994. University of Chicago Press.

Brown-Saracino, Japonica. 2001. “From Lesbian Ghetto to Ambient Community: The Costs and Benefits of Integration for Community.” Social Problems 58:3, pp. 361-88.

Ghaziani, Amin. 2011. “Post-Gay Collective Identity Construction.” Social Problems 58:1, pp. 99-125.

Mattson, Greggor. 2015. “Style and the Value of Gay Nightlife: Homonormative

Placemaking in San Francisco.” Urban Studies 52:16, pp. 3144-3159.

Meeker, Martin. 2006. Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s-1970s. University of Chicago Press.


Part of panel Queer Communities After Marriage
October 1, 2016, 11:15–13:00