What’s in a name? This question has been on the minds of many queer women since Vancouver’s only lesbian bar, Lick, re-branded itself as The Mix last month.
While Lick’s metamorphosis to The Mix means a philosophical and physical makeover, its lesbian manager Lisa Howell promises it will remain primarily a queer women’s space.
“The name [Lick] to me, I’ve never felt connected to it. It seems like a sexual branding of a sort,” says Howell, who started working there shortly after it opened during Pride Week 2003. “I need to feel proud of it and the name didn’t make me feel proud.”
The name Lick and the bar’s early days of burlesque and fetish nights meant losing customers, Howell continues. “I think what happened is some people started to feel this is too much sex, too over the top.”
Some lesbians are concerned the change to The Mix will literally mean a more mixed crowd.
“I heard about it on superdyke.com. Someone posted: ‘I’m having a crappy day because of this, this and this’-and one of them was the changeover from Lick to Mix. Just the name of it, I kind of got the idea it was changing from a lesbian bar to being integrated,” says Jessica Sutherland, who frequents Lick mainly for its fundraisers and other special events.
Maintaining The Mix as a women’s space is crucial, says Sutherland, especially since there are several clubs already geared towards a predominantly gay male crowd. “For me, that’s the thing that gets me out-that there is a lesbian space that’s available for me to go to and not have to worry about it.”
Seeing men at a lesbian bar can “put a bit of a damper on things,” Sutherland adds.
Sylvia Machat, an events promoter for Lick and now The Mix and a “bit of a regular to put it lightly,” first heard about the changes in early February. Machat posted the information on superdyke.com.
“The initial reaction I got was: ‘Is it still a women’s bar? Is it still a dyke bar?'” she recalls.
“I know people are really hesitant about the change because of the history of dyke bars in Vancouver-the changes that happened with the Lotus, from Milk to Lick and now it’s going to be The Mix. It’s just constant change so people are kind of wary of it,” says Machat.
Machat doesn’t think the name change will affect the dynamic of the club nor represent a loss to the lesbian community. She points to an e-mail sent by Howell to promoters promising The Mix would “still hold the title of Vancouver’s predominantly women’s space.”
“It’s not like they’ve brought in some fresh, newbie guy,” says Machat. “They’ve brought in somebody who was already running the place, who is a woman, who is queer and who is a women-for-women person.
“It’s the same crowd,” she adds. “I’ve been there since the changes have taken effect and for the most part, the same people are coming out.
“I think ‘women’s bar’ is a slightly more PC way to say ‘lesbian bar’ to be honest,” Machat continues. “Because not everyone identifies as a lesbian. It’s a broader way of saying lesbian bar, like a women-for-women bar kind of concept.
“If you’re bisexual or identify as queer or any of the other 50-million LGBT letters that we have going on-not everyone falls under the same umbrella word any more,” Machat explains. Not only that, she adds, but not everyone identifies as a woman. But that’s “a whole other can of worms.”
Howell agrees. “If it’s just a women’s-only space, how do we accommodate the women who are going through transitions? What we started getting down to is gender identification and all that kind of stuff.
“We’ve always been known as a women’s bar, a lesbian bar, but we’re also a queer bar,” says Howell, “because we have the trans community and we have a lot of gay boys who are seeking out a different experience.”
The Mix will exercise more control at the door, Howell notes. A woman not identifying as queer will need a queer female escort to get in. Straight men are not allowed in unless it’s an extremely rare occasion “like it’s his birthday and he’s with his five best friends who are lesbians,” she says.
Though initially she was uncomfortable asking someone at the door if they were queer, Howell says it’s necessary. “It’s a small space and it’s so fragile that we’re going to have to ask you,” she says, adding, “I want women to still feel that it’s their space and to feel comfortable there.”
Howell hopes the renovated bar will soon host more special events inside and outside its walls, including a monthly potluck dinner, women-only speed dating and basketball games.
“We’re trying to create the feel of a community and women being more connected to each other. One thing I’ve noticed is you’ve got these little groups of women who know each other but if they all merged together more, there would be way more happening and way more support for us in the long run,” says Howell.
“As long as women keep supporting us like they always have, they’re not going to lose that space,” Howell concludes.