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CN: Homophobic language

Anyone who identifies as LGBT+ understands the intrinsic value of queer spaces, especially on a night out when drunkenness and hormones diminish self-control and inhibitions. The freedom and security of a queer club cannot be replicated elsewhere, even in a liberal university town like Cambridge. Whether it’s being called homophobic slurs in Lola’s or being gushed over by a straight girl who “just loves gays” in Sunday Life, events which have become dominated by straight and cisgender people can leave you feeling alienated.

Queer spaces are meant to be liberating and inclusive, so understandably a lot of non-queer people are drawn to this too – but dominating a space meant for those who have nowhere else dilutes their liberational potential. For this reason, we need to confront the fact that many queer clubs are undermined by their own popularity. Increased awareness of the vibrancy and fun offered at nights such as Glitterbomb is a good thing, but it comes at a cost.

Dominating a space meant for those who have nowhere else dilutes their liberational potential

As a cis-presenting gay man, I’ve had minor issues at straight clubs – an odd look here and there – but they pale into insignificance compared to the experience of non-binary or trans individuals, especially those presenting as women. With only one regular club night a week dedicated to the LGBT+ community in Cambridge, these spaces take on a deeper meaning for queer people, becoming a weekly ritual for many. Compared to the smorgasbord of options for everyone else, it is important that these spaces are given the respect they deserve.

But there is a more straightforwardly sinister element to this. Queer spaces can be a sanctuary for both LGBT+ people and straight friends who don’t feel safe elsewhere. Many queer people are put off other clubs by some straight men who feel the need to be violent and combative in order to emphasise their masculinity. This can be as petty as pushing at the bar, but it often descends into fights over bruised egos, whether slights are real or imagined. The fact that queer clubs tend to be free of this is a welcome respite for those whose very existence can offend drunken male sensibilities, and it is thus understandable why even seemingly innocuous peacocking can be alarming.

With only one regular club night a week dedicated to the LGBT+ community in Cambridge, these spaces take on a deeper meaning for queer people

This is only the most obvious example of non-queer attendees undermining the liberational potential of queer spaces; it gets a lot more insidious. The disdain displayed towards gender neutral toilets by newcomers may seem trivial, but to trans and non-binary people these represent a lifeline. Often unable to go to straight clubs due to the gender binary enforced by bouncers, the freedom to simply use a toilet in peace is incredibly important. Cis-presenting people standing outside questioning loudly why they are necessary lets in the hostility that queer people are trying to escape.

Furthermore, the growing number of women who, in a space mostly neglected by straight men up till now, feel they can let their guard down has put queer clubs on the map for the wrong reasons. Anecdotally, men preying on women who are drunk and vulnerable has become worryingly commonplace, and it is stealing away the feeling of security which makes queer clubs a liberating environment. Personally, I have had to rescue friends, straight and queer alike, who have been the victim of unwanted attention from men. Worse than that, one of my friends was the victim of sexual assault after being taken home from Glitterbomb, and she is still struggling to come to terms with that today. We should all be aware of this, and be willing to call it out whenever we see it.


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Glitterbomb

I am not arguing that straight cisgender people are not welcome in queer clubs. A great deal is owed to those of our friends and family who are active allies in the struggle for LGBT+ liberation, and no one denies this. Nor is it my intention to single out all straight men, most of whom would be sickened at the toxic behaviour which can mar a night out for women or LGBT+ people. However, I would urge straight people, particularly straight cisgender men, when choosing to access queer spaces, to use their privileged positions to call out behaviours that otherwise might go unchallenged, particularly when it may be dangerous for queer people to react. Ultimately however, issues are caused by those who come uninvited to gawk at people just trying to express their authentic selves, or to prey on those who finally feel able to let their guard down in what is meant to be a safe space.

As more and more queer people become aware of this, attendance at queer events may suffer. Proprietors of queer spaces should be more proactive in monitoring the behaviour of their clientele if they want to preserve not only the character of their events, but the patronage of the queer community. Straight cisgender people who wish to share in our spaces should educate themselves on the LGBT+ community and be active allies, instead of bringing in well-meaning but ignorant stereotypes. Allies should also attend with queer friends if possible, acknowledging their position as guests. Without action, we risk our spaces becoming less safe and less free.

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