My First Gay Bar Experience

Most of you know I identify as lesbian. Really, the words are “femme Dyke“… a more political, descriptive explanation of how I walk in the LGBTQ+ community.

Buzzfeed recently asked folks to share their first gay bar experiences as a way to express the good and bad of the atmosphere in what used to be seen as a safe space. I wrote mine out and wanted to share it here as well, especially since my babies have asked me to write my life here on the blog.

There is so, so much more to the story, but here is the outline of my life at the Parliament House in Orlando.

Parliament House Motor Inn, 410 North Orange Blossom Trial Orlando
Parliament House, circa 1979

What Gay Bars Mean to Me

I was 17-years old in 1979 when my gay boyfriend and I ventured to the Parliament House in Orlando, Florida. It was like walking into Wonderland; an alternate Universe I never knew existed. For once, being a fat girl didn’t make any difference… I was embraced and accepted for all that I was. In fact, I found myself in the midst of brilliant, eccentric, artistic and whirling-twirling misfits that pulled me into the middle of their all-male fold.

Besides dancing to Donna Summer and drinking watered-down gin & tonics, the PH had a Show Bar where Drag Queens performed twice nightly. The Divine Miss P emceed, her biting snark gave me a view into humor I’d never experienced before. There is nothing quite like being the object of a Drag Queen’s dart.

Divine Miss P

For some reason still unknown to me, the Drag Queens took me under their wing. I was not even in the bar legally, must have made a fool of myself with my ignorance of gay culture a hundred times, yet they sat me down in front of the make-up mirror and taught me how to “paint my face.” For years afterwards, I was asked if I was a Drag Queen (although the huge rhinestone brooches and bracelets, the feather boas and glitter in my pink hair might have had something to do with it, too). It took until I had kids that I learned to tone down my make-up enough that strangers didn’t think I was about to lip-sych a song for them.

Being in the bar allowed me to explore my then-fluid sexuality, no one telling me I was disgusting or sinful. I wandered in and out of the closet for another few years before identifying as lesbian after the kids were born. Those early days were a whirlwind of round-robin kissing, casual sex, copious drugs all while struggling to finish high school. A time that was ignorant of the things that would kill us in the not-so-distant future. A time when we would never, ever have remotely thought someone would bring a machine gun into the bar and kill us by the dozens.

37 years ago, here in Orlando, that would have been me in that bar. Instead, it was children of my peers. My heart sobs for the loss of innocence.

En femme: Being a femme Dyke

In Mama Learns the Word “Genderqueer,” I say the sentence:

While mama isn’t on the LGBTQ spectrum herself, I am a Dyke, my niece a lesbian and one of my daughters is bi.

On one of my Facebook groups, someone asked what the difference was between a lesbian and a Dyke. I thought it was an awesome question.

This is how I answered:

A lesbian is a woman who has sexual and emotional relationships with other women. A Dyke is the same… but only more so. Dykes tend to be more political, louder, more out there/in your face. Defiantly lesbian. My actual label is femme Dyke, an added descriptor separating me slightly, saying: I pass as heterosexual and it bugs the crap out of me even though I embrace my ultra-femininity fervently.

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Catherine Hernandez is a proud queer woman of colour and single mom.

Definitions in Flux

Through the nearly 40 years of my Dykedom, I have watched the words gay (referring to a woman), lesbian, Dyke, femme, Butch, baby dyke, androgynous, woman, womyn, wimmin and more go through various incarnations. Sometimes it was Politically Correct (PC)… or Socially Correct (SC)… to use a “softer” word like gay or lesbian… terms like Butch and Dyke reserved for inner conversations and brought out in public during Pride Weekend.

As lesbians became more visible in the media, I watched the shift towards using Dyke in the lesbian community more common.

(And I capitalize Dyke and Butch because, to me, if we were to put them in a BDSM – Dominant/submissive – context, those words are distinctly more Dominant to me. And yes, I can hear the screaming now, but it’s how my mind works.)

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(not my writing, but extremely accurate according to my mental imagery if lesbianism was a linear concept, which, of course, it is not)

Flux of Appreciation for a femme

As a femme, I’ve experienced a great deal of prejudice over the years.

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When I came out in 1979, I hung out in gay bars because anytime I went to the lesbian clubs, the women turned their noses up at me because I was in a dress, wearing sequins and glitter. The uniform of the day for lesbians was Levi’s, flannel shirts and desert boots. I so didn’t fit in. Trying my luck several times, I always ended up retreating back to the gay bars where they treated me like royalty.

Being a femme with kids complicated things even more at times. 25 years ago, it was rare for there to be babies/kids in LGBTQ households. Not so much today. I would walk in Homoville, San Diego, unseen as a member of The Family. Even when I wore rainbow necklaces or other gay-identifiers, I was overlooked. Quite frustrating.

Flame

At a Dyke club one night long ago, I was dancing with a woman who was inviting me to go home with her. I was delighted, but told her I had to call the babysitter and ask her to stay longer. The woman gave me this horrified look and say, “You have kids? You’ve had sex with men?!” It was clear I would not be having sex with her that night or any other. I was pissed and asked, “Gee, before we have sex, should I douche?”

How a person identifies (or not!) says so much about how they walk around in the world. As a femme Dyke, I choose to only wear dresses, paint my face when going out and wearing a colorful variety of Birkenstocks (anything but black and brown. And how funny that I wear the stereotypical Dyke shoe?!)

Even though I am still a neophyte in the Gender shifts going on, I find much of the movement an enormous relief because I am now able to stand tall as a femme Dyke, someone I have been for 37 years.

femmevisibility