Straight man tries Gay Night: A response
Yesterday’s article on being a straight man on a gay night was well-intentioned but offensive, says HANNAH GRAHAM.
Saturday marked the start of LGBT history month and, with that in mind, I’m glad to see that this publication has released an article about one of the alternatives to the standard Cambridge club options: Monday night Revs, aka Spectrum. Unfortunately, the article in question didn’t hit quite the right note.
I don’t want this to turn into an attack on what was, I’m sure, a well-intentioned piece. I’m glad the author had a good night and I hope that everyone in Cambridge, regardless of sexuality, would feel welcome and comfortable at Spectrum. It sounds like he approached the night itself in exactly the right way: going along with queer friends to have a drink and a laugh. It’s a shame, then, that his piece reads more like an anthropological investigation into the cultural practices of a tribe hitherto unknown to the outside world. If you want to know what the LGBT scene in Cambridge is like, talk to some LGBT people. As one Tab comment put it, we don’t need ‘a straight intermediary to explain us to the rest of the world.’ Yet this is what an article like this implies: “I hear there are some people a bit different to us over there, don’t worry, we’ve sent someone to find out what it’s like.”
I understand that the article wasn’t meant to silence anyone or undermine their experiences. In fact, I’m sure it was meant to undermine misconceptions and stereotypes: a noble aim. But the thing is, even without the slightly patronising tone and awkward mention of ‘It’s Raining Men’, the best way to do that isn’t always to consult the experience of straight guys. There’s a certain irony in the idea of ‘Tab Tries: Being a Straight Man…’ because our media has already tried being a straight man. If you’re a straight, cis-gendered man your experiences are reflected back at you from every aspect of culture. By listening to and reporting the experiences almost exclusively of straight men, we deny others the chance to show that they are equally complex and interesting people, which would be a much better way to destroy stereotypes. The article in question is a problem because, given that we don’t hear many queer voices talking about anything at all, it would be nice if an article about a gay club night could at least come from a gay perspective.
Again, I’m sure unintentionally, the article portrays Spectrum as a curiosity for straight men to observe, comment on and enjoy. But I’m really sorry guys, unlike almost everything else in the world, gay nights aren’t there for you. Obviously, no one is saying that straight people shouldn’t be allowed in: you’re welcome. The fact is though that one of the reasons that such nights exist is to give gay people a space in which to meet other gay people. Sometimes to get off with because, yes, that is what people of many sexualities do in clubs.
On an ordinary night your chances of meeting someone who is also into the same sex are statistically slim – it’s nice to know your offer is more likely to be considered. But also sometimes these nights are valuable as a space just to meet people who also identify with a queer sexuality or gender, not necessarily for sex. There just aren’t as many of us around and, in a world that still isn’t free from prejudice, both subtle and overt, it’s a fairly significant shared experience. It’s nice, for once, to be in a room where you’re not as much of a minority. I’m not saying this is important to all LGBT people, but it’s a valuable resource for many. Fill the night with straight people, and that resource is gone. So where the original article ended on the suggestion that you ‘give it a whirl’ I’ll say this: do go along to spectrum, do have fun. But go with queer or trans* friends, if they ask you, and respect the fact that they might not want all their straight friends coming along. And if you are interested in what a gay night is like, try talking to gay people. The suggestion that a straight man’s experience can be used to help everyone understand what such nights are really like is, however well-intentioned, offensive.