By Jean Ryan
There are several theories about the extinction of lesbian bars. Some attribute it to social climate change, a rising tide of women no longer interested in the excesses encountered in drinking establishments. Other believe that lesbian bars died along with their fuel: disco. Some suspect infection: the bars, weakened by curious heterosexuals, lost their dyke mojo. After the most famous of these bastions—Amelia’s, Maud’s, Peg’s Place—closed down, a few survivalist versions popped up in empty warehouses, just for a night, but it was not the same. Last call had arrived and we all went home; most of us were partnered up by then anyway.
Recently I heard a woman on the radio proclaim that lesbian bars could not exist today, that social media and online dating sites have rendered them obsolete. What a bold comment, I thought, comparing the bar scene with the cyber scene. In what ways are they analogous?
The lesbian bars in San Francisco flourished in the 70s and began to wane in the early 80s. I was in my twenties then and so our glory days coincided. For those too young to remember that golden era, let me assure you that we were on top of the world. There is nothing like being a twenty-five-year old lesbian in a place all your own, with the music pumping, and you in a red tank top, with your tanned arms and flat stomach, running the pool table as a crowd of women eye you like candy. Oh that moment when you lock gazes with one and smile just a little before heading her way. Top that, PinkCupid.com.
We did not have cellphones back then—imagine! We looked at each other. We could not, in fact, take our eyes off each other. There was no hiding behind screen names: what you saw was what you got. The reaction was visceral, not analytical. And we talked. We talked for hours, sharing our histories face to face, loosening up with drink a two. We warmed to each other, started with kindling and built a fire. We didn’t wait for an online wink or message. We struck there and then.
The woman on the radio also said that gays and lesbians enjoy greater tolerance and exposure now and no longer need to “shelter” in bars. I will not deny that we felt safe in those bars, but that is not why we went. We went to find each other, to live in the moment we were given. We were young, and there was no time to lose.
Jean Ryan, a 2014 Lambda finalist in Lesbian General Fiction, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review and The Blue Lake Review. Nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister. Her debut collection of short stories, Survival Skills, was published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press. ‘Manatee Gardens’ has previously appeared in Blue Lake Review. Please visit Jean’s website at http://jean-ryan.com/