The gay and lesbian demographic is like no other minority group on the planet. Ethnic minorities can identify each other by sight, by shared dress and by language. Religious minorities, while not linked by a common cultural history, are brought together in churches, mosques and temples. The queer community, however, is composed of people from many different national and ethnic backgrounds.
Some of us are monogamists, others have multiple partners. We are boys who like boys and girls who like girls, girls or boys who like both boys and girls, transgendered, femmes and dykes, twinks and straight-actors. Yet, despite our differences, we remain united — not by traditional bonds, but, then, we aren’t terribly traditional anyways.
In the lesbian community, there is a divide — consciously or unconsciously — between the older and younger women. Whether this is due to the natural constraints of the age gap, or a difference in the lesbian experience in society now and 20 years ago, the gap exists. I would imagine there is a similar phenomenon among the gay male community, but given that I am neither a man, nor interested in sleeping with men, I’ll stick to what I know to be true.
Being in my early twenties, I am (obviously) no stranger to the gay bar scene here in Ottawa. I have stumbled my way home from my share of drag shows, knocked back a few with the girls and crashed a few straight bars with Guerilla Gayfare. I don’t, as one older lesbian I spoke to for this column suggested, “live at the bar,” — it’s more like a summer timeshare. The effects of partying until 4:30 in the morning and then heading off for an 8:30am Canadian Literature class aside, there is a lesbian community outside of night clubs, Tegan and Sara, and drag shows. (It’s alright. Just take a moment to digest that. I had to, too.).
A few Saturdays ago, on Jan 19, on an absolutely irrationally cold but lovely evening, I had the pleasure of attending the the Lesbian Outdoor Group’s women’s only dance. The group, according to Marie Paquette, LOG’s director of marketing, attracts lesbians between the ages of 30 and 70 — that is to say an “older” (not old!) demographic. The group is women only, and members take part in a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, creating a lesbian-friendly environment for members to socialize in. The dance, which was the first one hosted by the group in three years, was held at the Legion on Kent St in downtown Ottawa, for $15 at the door. By the time I arrived at 9pm, all 150 tickets had been sold out and several unlucky couples had already been turned away.
After a slight detour into what appeared to be a party for an extremely aged and very drunken gentleman in the basement (I really should have followed the signs) I found myself in the upstairs dance hall, where a disco light threw electric rainbows across the floor. A bartender with porn-star bleach blonde hair dispensed drinks to a long line of women, the majority of whom appeared to be somewhere between late thirties and early fifties. In other words, women who, by their own admission, no longer feel comfortable in the “bar scene.”
Mingling, but mostly watching and occasionally chatting — I was loathe to disturb the fun — I found many women had the same complaints about nightlife after 30, and the same praises for LOG’s women-only dance. There were too many straight people taking up space in the gay and lesbian bars, some said, they didn’t feel comfortable with the younger crowd, but still needed some sort of safe, alternative space where they wouldn’t feel like they were being watched by the heterosexual community.
“There is absolutely nothing out there for lesbian women after 30,” one reveller said, “so something like this is a safe environment.”
LOG is planning on putting on another dance in February, hopefully in a larger space. Meanwhile, Ottawa’s annual Heart’s Desire dance is Feb 9 at the National Arts Centre (get tickets at mother tongue and Venus Envy, $15 in advance.)
“We could have easily sold another 50 tickets,” said Paquette, “We turned away at least 20-30 people at the door.”
So, amid the flickering tail of a rainbow flag, these women came together as a community. The murmur of conversation, of delighted squeals and “Oh hellos!” and teasing jokes buzzed on beneath a layer of ’80s-esque dance music and the din of drinks of being opened. They weren’t faces I recognized from the bar, although there were a few I could have picked out from the street.
Before that Saturday, I had never been in a room full of so many women (unless you count the girls locker room at the rugby finals) let alone lesbians. Standing there, trying to be discreet (and failing — several patrons teasingly informed me I looked suspicious there in the corner and should get up and dance) I saw that women’s dances have everything a community needs: good tunes, a safe place, and each other. And beer doesn’t hurt either.