An increasing number of hen parties are pouring into our gay bars, and it’s no fun for the regular punters. Show some respect, or fuck off, says Rob Buchanan.
LGBT Dubliners are not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to gay venues. While there is a thriving club night scene, with several queer sub-cultures well represented, there is less than a handful of gay bars in the capital and no coherent ‘gaybourhood’. We still live in a city sadly where a man holding hands with his boyfriend, or a transgender person simply walking down the street are capable of attracting anything from rude stares to open hostility and sometimes violence. Areas where LGBT people can be assured a secure and nurturing atmosphere in which to express themselves and relax are at a premium.
I was enjoying the banter with a few of my fellow queers in a certain gay bar in on the north side last week when a gang of loud women came in. In fact they were so loud, I could hear them from around the corner before they ever entered the place. I was initially curious. Where they tourists who’d accidentally wandered into the wrong venue? Where they a mixed group of straight and gay girls? Were they a gang of fag hag hairdressers on a night out to meet up with one of their boys? I decided from the way they were dressed that they were on a hen night, but perhaps, I thought, it might be for a civil partnership.
However, it became apparent pretty fast that they were a group of Irish hens, all straight, who had never been in this bar before.
Gay bars undoubtedly hold many attractions for straight hen nights. The music, the lack of predatory straight men, the uniquely friendly atmosphere, the chic novelty factor, etc. These ladies seemed to have less respectful interests in mind. The way they were forcing interaction on every man possible and clearly melting the heads of people in their vicinity was making some of the older crowd visibly uncomfortable, and this was nothing new to me. I’ve seen it on several occasions in other gay bars. These ladies were treating the gay bar like a petting zoo.
Now, you may note from previous articles that I very much enjoy the company of straight women. Sometimes a little too much. But in the context of a freak show, where you are the freak, there’s no meeting of minds. There’s only invasion of privacy and a sociological pressure to ‘perform gay’. As Panti might put it – it feels oppressive.
So what are the options? An outright ban on hen nights in gay venues? Well, that’s not unprecedented. A huge number of Dublin bars and clubs have similar prohibitions in place for stag nights. But I think that’s getting far too personal. It’s tantamount to discriminating against patrons based on their sexual orientation, and such hypocrisy from us gays, with our long history of feeling unwelcome and unsafe in straight venues, is impossible to defend.
Then there are the financial implications for banning Hen nights too. Whilst I have no doubt that these lad had money to spend and could have likely singlehanded made a hefty dent on the takings for the night, its short sighted customer to court. The regulars, the solid dependable punters would likely be scared off.
Luckily in this particular bar on this particular night, either the gawking, squawking hens got the vibes or security told them to take their party elsewhere after a half hour or so. However, I have had other experiences in gay nightclubs where hen partiers made me felt like I was on display as part of a gay safari. Hens shamelessly sticking their heads in to conversations to introduce themselves, posing for pictures with occasionally unwilling and frequently bewildered regulars, DJs being hassled for certain cliché ‘gay’ music, men being dragged up to dance with them, pinched arses and condescending giggles. And the phrase that never ceases to make my blood boil: ‘oh my GAWD, I would never have known you were gay!”
I spent a few fantastic nights on the scene in Belfast in a particular gay bar, which catered for a more blue-collar clientele with the usual ratio of gays to lesbians. I had been burning the ears off my mate about the place and was horrified on returning with him last summer to find it had gone from working class gay bar to queer petting zoo. The gay men were outnumbered ten to one by straight women, while two lesbians (also seemingly from out of town) stared in horror at the herds of hens who were being shuttled in every few minutes on minibuses (no exaggeration).
They were on a circuit. Come in, hunt for an authentic, real-life gay man to grind off or get photos with, and then on to the next place. I can safely say I will never be returning to that particular hot spot.
Hen nights would be welcome in my book if they were respectful of the three-dimensional nature of LGBT people, who are not simply there to enhance their fun. The point is there are hundreds of straight bars in Dublin, and dozens of straight nightclubs. If you want a gay experience on your hen night or if you’re just curious about gay bars, then show proper respect. We are not chic fashion accessories and neither are we performing dogs.
Stereotyping people is not just rude and ignorant; it destroys the atmosphere and makes people feel uncomfortable in what may be for some of them the only safe vent of expression, security and romance that they have.
Gay bars are more than just somewhere queers go to drink. They are havens where we can express our affection to each other without fear of censure or attack; they are meeting points for lonely people.
Perhaps one of the most important things that hen party invaders should consider is that same sex-couples in this country still do not enjoy the marriage equality their bride to be takes for granted. Hens might consider how shoving fancy dress veils and L plates in the faces of LGBT people makes them feel, when we can only hope that the people of this country, the majority, will vote for our equality in this respect.
Maybe when a referendum passes we can join the celebrations on an equal footing. Until then hen parties, show some respect, or fuck off.
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