What’s the Point of Lesbian Parties?

They suck. Everyone knows it. The women are cliquey, the music is bad or no one shows up and you feel like an idiot for going. It makes sense. Lesbians are a hermetic category of human being. The few times we leave our apartments, we tend to choose intimate dinners over loud, stressful parties that go into 4 a.m.

Having grown up watching reruns of Cheers, I wanted what Norm, Diane and Cliff had, except with gay girls. I moved to Brooklyn with high hopes about queer nightlife. I’d been to Big Chicks (Chicago), Mary’s (Atlanta) and Como’s (Detroit) but it wasn’t enough. I wanted the big, sprawling New York kind of party where people do drugs in the bathroom, drag queens get tipped in double digits and the spoiled children of celebrities show up in weird outfits. I knew about Cubby Hole and Henrietta Hudson but the 24/7 lesbian bar has become a relic of another era, when lesbian separatism was cool and high heels were the devil. Visiting these bars now, they’re either empty or filled with gay men. I guess with our increased acceptance, the lesbian “community” is dispersing, or maybe we’re just too busy fulfilling our stereotype as anti-social cat people.

Then, like any young queer, I found The Woods.

It sounds like the start of a fairy tale, except The Woods doesn’t lead to witches that boil children. It leads to neo-feminist witches who can read your horoscope, make kombucha and tattoo your pinkie. They’re pretty hot.

The Woods is a straight bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and on Wednesday nights it’s colonized by queers. The party is known as “Misster” but no one calls it that. It’s just “The Woods” as in, “I can’t believe we’re still going to The Woods.” It’s been going on for four years and people love to complain about it but not me. The Woods is the sort of place that reminds you why lesbian parties matter.

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Photo Copyright Maro Hagopian

Your first time is exciting and scary because everyone is cute and they seem to know each other. The room is woman-positive and not meat-markety and you want to ask out everyone you see. This is the lesbian heaven you’ve spent your life searching for. Then you go again and again and again and it doesn’t change. It becomes like church where you don’t always want to go but if you do, you leave feeling better than you did before. Plus your friends are there and they asked you to come.

Like church, The Woods follows a specific pattern. Women arrive in packs and the time of arrival matters — 9 p.m. is early, 11 p.m. is better, midnight is best. If it’s cold, they wear beanies and if it’s not, they still wear beanies. They also wear baseball hats, snapbacks and fedoras. This is because lesbians love hats. Why? I don’t know.

The only man at The Woods that matters is the bouncer. He’s a ten-foot tall bald man and regardless of weather, he stands outside and slides IDs. I’m well over 21 and I still get nervous every time he does it, convinced he’s about to expose parking tickets or SAT scores.

Since The Woods has a reputation as a bar where any guy can pick up a girl, straight men always show up expecting the usual mating ground. The bouncer is wise enough to warn them, “You know this is a gay night, right?” Reluctant to appear dumb, the men nod and walk inside, where they are given the attention of prunes. Too embarrassed to admit defeat, they usually stay and become bored, irritable or excessively drunk. The patriarchy never looked so pathetic.

Upon entering, experienced lesbians walk straight to the back. That’s the social nucleus of The Woods. It’s where tribes of women gather at picnic tables and scope out the room through calculated, sideways glances. There is something deadly about the way women look at each other. It’s appraisal, comparison and competition rolled into one. But if you look hard enough, there’s vulnerability too. Beneath those beanies, we’re sensitive creatures seeking warmth, acceptance and maybe a date for Friday night.

While the predator-prey dynamic reigns in the back, the inside is the dorky birthday party where everybody’s dancing to Destiny’s Child. Women pile their coats in leaning towers and dance as close as they can to DJ Amber Valentine, the holy priestess of the queer parties in Brooklyn. Wearing neon tops and blue lipstick, she plays a triumphant combination of diva remixes and ‘90s pop. She DJs all around New York but Misster is the only party where she takes requests (if people are nice). She’s the one who throws the party and she really does make it fun and accessible to anyone who comes. When she steps away from the turntables, she’s upbeat but intimidating; she’s cooler than you and she always will be.

They say heaven is walking into a place where everyone you ever loved is waiting for you with their arms open. On the best nights, that’s what The Woods feels like. You show up expecting a few friends and suddenly, all your favorite people are there and they’re all happy to see you. It doesn’t matter what you talk about. What matters is the feeling you get when it’s late, you’re surrounded by friends and Rihanna is playing from every corner of the room.

Sure, the music never changes, the conversations are shallow and some women can be mean, but we go because the lesbian party is the only place where our sexuality is the least interesting thing about us. In real life, we’re always the lesbian: the woman whose nails aren’t manicured; who doesn’t go to Soul Cycle; who’s never thought about her wedding. But at The Woods we’re a sculptor, a yogi, a gymnast, I don’t know—whatever people are these days. That’s why we keep going back, and maybe we always will.

Erica has written 1 articles for us.

62 Comments

    • Yes, this would not do it for me either, though I’m glad it’s there for people who would be nourished by it.

      I am an anti-cat person, which kind of reinforces the anti-social thing because I can’t go to anybody’s house. It’s all good.

    • Me too. I actually QUITE want what the gang on Cheers had, which is a quiet spot to go after work where there’s always plenty of space and not a ton of posturing. Late nights, loud music, and anything called a “party” is the quickest way to drive me away.

      I think what I’m saying is that I really miss Rubyfruit.

  1. I’m not in Brooklyn so I guess I’ll continue getting manicures, going to SoulCycle, and thinking about my wedding. (jk I just walk past the SoulCycle in envy of people who have enough money for workout classes and their affiliated apparel)

  2. This is GOLD: “If it’s cold, they wear beanies and if it’s not, they still wear beanies. They also wear baseball hats, snapbacks and fedoras. This is because lesbians love hats. Why? I don’t know.”

  3. Sounds a bit boring but hey if this is your scene, all the more power to you. I prefer pool halls because it gives me something to do if I am too nervous or just wanted to be around others but not talk.

    Can we please have a lesbian pool hall? Preferably a place with nerdy feel, maybe some nerdy posters because lord knows I need a good subject or reason to talk to a girl in the first place. The last thing I want to do is ask about something I don’t anything about, like her clothes or shoes. I mean that is what usually happens and it usually plays out like this:

    Me: “Hey,I like your shoes. Where did you get them?” 😀
    Her: “My closet” :\
    Me”: “….. *gives nervous thumbs up* nice…..” :/
    Both of us: “………”

  4. Ahhh this is exactly what I’ve been trying to find my whole life!!! It sounds amazing and horrifying at the same time. I need this in Chicago. How’s the party at Big Chicks?

    • Stef! This is so accurate. I did not relate to this post at all. Ive gone several times- never made any friends, did not feel welcomed, and was heavily judged for not being a small size pixie queer model type. The Woods is not really like this for everyone! I went for the hype & stopped going because if you work a 9-5, a 12 am-4am party is not really useful or healthy. :sigh:

  5. God – I’d kill for a place like that in L.A. It seems like it’s all gay sports bars now… 🙁

    I keep hoping I’m just out of touch and I wo find that magic place at some point.

    • There might be a few, as I’ve found some once a month parties via the facebook event section. Stuff that are like queertertainment presents girlfest, or Rumors queer dance(which is for anyone who is queer, but from the pics I saw it looks better than your typical L.A. event). There is also a place or two in long beach that have queer gal karaoke night, on a Saturday. And near Disneyland there is a lgbtq Latin club, with two floors(one of the men, and one for women).

  6. @OP:
    [The music and bustle fades from your focus, and you notice a bitter old grumpy 30-year-old, many-grey-haired, non-passing, Piscean-butch lesbian trans woman is Clint-Eastwood-grimacing at her drink at the counter. It’s never alcohol. Her lesbian tat is permanent, but you don’t get the feeling it changes anything for her. She tips $5 for a soda she doesn’t drink, and the tenders condescendingly ask her if she’s sure, every time. No one talks to her that knows any better.]

    When separatism was cool.

    Ever tried chasing a trans man out of a women’s-only space? It’s not a mean girl competition. Haha the dude starts whimpering, everyone circles to protect, looks at you like you wounded their hero. Because you did. Keep shouting and they call the same cops that used to terrorize the bars, on you.

    The bars that closed as trans men started coming out and rearranging shit so trans gals were forced to be the femmes that cis dykes never were, for them. Oh you’re a Kinsey-6 trans woman? Not into guys at all (well how are you trans or queer, then)? And you wear men’s clothes? And you don’t pass as a cis woman? And you look like you could stomp the average trans man into the ground? But you’re too radfem to be one of the guys? Well, thanks for drawing a pile of puke on your forehead, scumbag.

    I don’t see this lesbian separatism, anywhere. No lesbian-ism, to begin with. Just a bunch of lost girls with no sense of group integrity.

    Far as I can tell, if you want peace and quiet, you go out that door and rip it out of a man’s mouth. Over and over until you can see right again. Just don’t expect anyone to know what you are, after that. Pretend as they might, most gals don’t appreciate a real Amazon. Except the ones that are scarier than you.

    I met a few of those. [Looks at her with wild, terrible eyes. Looks back, stares at her empty drink, grinding her teeth.]

      • A no-effort diss, to other commenters’ applause, on the only trans lesbian that you’ve probably ever seen make a no-holds-barred critique on lesbian culture, in any way other than begging for pity sex,

        is not exactly the way to impress me, BTW.

        • I’m not dissing you, I’m genuinely confused. Your writing is pretty oblique. I’m not trying to impress you, either, and I’m not sure where you’re getting that other people are applauding me.

          • Backhanded apology accepted. but it’s not enough. Does my writing have to be the -problem-, in this conversation, rather than a conversation -opportunity-? To ask more, rather than make me scramble around behind you, trying to rearrange everything to your unspoken liking, to follow you without instructions?

            I’m getting bored with you, quickly. “Give me one reason to stay here …”

          • Yes please, let’s have a conversation. I didn’t understand some things in your writing, but I did get that you seem to be talking about trans men and how they take space away from you. Is that a correct interpretation? If you want to talk about it, we could start with that.

          • Oh. Huh. A genuine question. Yeah, you show up to a lesbian separatist gathering looking like me and tell a trans man to leave, and exactly that happens.

            There is this jealous guarding of the definition of lesbian that doesn’t alienate trans men and alienates trans women. I ask cisbians online all the time to tell me what men don’t understand, and it’s always, periods, two vaginas. I say trans men understand this and they say they’re women becoming men, so it doesn’t count. I tell them they don’t want to be any different from men, and aren’t true lesbians. Thing is, a definition of lesbianism that does not ride on an assigned-female/assigned-male divide, exchanged anonymously online, could only be parroted by men, eventually they’d slip. But define it so trans men’s attitudes are lesbian, and cis men can participate. In fact, two transbians anonymous online is an obvious lesbian exchange to me. There is nothing shady about it. Still, if I showed them a less-than-infinitely femme picture of me (and I’m never close to that, don’t care to be), they usually get shady and evasive. This is why I say I see no lesbianism.

          • I’m sorry that’s your experience. (I also wonder where you live, that you have lesbian separatist gatherings? I had no idea there were some happening still.) The lesbian community that I am a peripheral part of/witness to (tumblr especially) is very explicitly trans girl-inclusive and not tolerant of men in their spaces. I personally highly dislike cissexist and body-based definitions of lesbianism too, because 1) i have common sense and i agree with the points you made and 2) i’m nonbinary so i would be invalidating my self. I can’t speak for irl spaces, because I avoid them. Do you want to talk more about this? I’m also curious about the gritty Amazon figure you’re talking about.

          • I uh, kinda had a falling out with Tumblr translesbiana. That’s why I’m so hard and bitter and grumpy, you see. Also why I’m out tryna snatch that lost glory from the jaws of men. The things we coulda been, I tell ya! I imagine it’s kinda like how ex-Lesbian-Avengers feel.

            (Cocks head side to side.) Same to you, by the way, ma’am. You’re one rare kinda nice. Good people. Tumblrite yourself, I assume?

    • Okay person.
      I do not wish to stifle the art you got going, but if you want to make critique on something and have your subject understand the critique it helps to put it in a more analytic(?) discourse.
      Not saying you need it to be an academic paper with citation or some shit but like simple first person anecdote sentence will do.
      This character voice first person narration thing you got going confuses the fuck outta people. I don’t know if this is some high academia MFA writing thing you got going that you can’t/won’t turn off or just how you generally are.

      I’m a hardly repentant fan of no-holds-barred critiques, but person a critique has to be accessible or the message can not be reached and improvement can not be found by the subject.

      So if this is just some art expressing how you feel yass gud, but if this is intended as critique it does not do as intended. However if it is intended as both this is not the right circle(place?) for that, majority of us aren’t going to understand this character voice or stream of consciousness style. Know your audience or have fun baffling people.
      Baffling people can be fun at times.

      Does any of this make sense or come out coherent?
      I’m just a dysgraphic community college schmo so…

  7. Having never been to a lesbian party, I always wonder if someone who doesn’t dance would be able to enjoy it. Is it de regueur to go with friends or do ladies showing up solo also have a place?

    • Yes! I’m from a rural village where there is no nightlife whatsoever except for cruising half-empty bars, and not long ago I was really determined to go to a gay party. My best friends couldn’t come, and the only guy who came with me was literally falling asleep cause it started really late, so I sent him home and decided to dance alone all night, cause I REALLY NEEDED IT. Not a good dancer, not really an extrovert, but within ten minutes a group of friendly people started dancing with me and we had a blast. Being there alone really gave me a good feeling.

  8. As much as I appreciated The Woods on a Wednesday night, I wouldn’t qualify it as a “big, sprawling New York kind of party where people do drugs in the bathroom, drag queens get tipped in double digits […]” party. Maybe it was tame the one time I was there? I don’t know.

    What I do know is that I love The L Nights in Montreal (Google it!). The girls are hot, the music is great, and the bartenders know how to keep you coming back. The organizer give themes to the nights so there’s always a new surprise element. Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) brought us a taco truck just outside the bar to absorb all the tequila one may have consumed. I am not from Montreal but moved there about two years ago, and I can tell you that Montreal girls know how to party.

  9. This is what I call categorical lumping, it’s a broad statement about a diverse group that barely describes the majority’s behavior – it’s what people do when they’re narrow minded: “we tend to choose intimate dinners over loud, stressful parties that go into 4 a.m.”

    In addition – don’t call the woods a “straight bar.” Is every bar that is not gay a “straight bar?” That is problematic for me being a lesbian woman who prefers “straight bars” to The Woods on Wednesday night.

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