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Old 12-03-2015, 01:01 PM   #1
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Default Lesbian Life Comparison through the decades

2 nights ago I spoke on a panel at a local University regarding the importance of the bar scene to the gay community pre and post stonewall. There was one woman who bartended in the 40's, one who bartended in the 50's, one who bartended in the 60's and 70's and I represented the 80's and 90's. We're going to be doing more panel discussions and also a documentary is in the process of being filmed on the topic. It is all surrounding the new book, "Baby, You Are My Religion; Women, Gay Bars and Theology". I was curious as to all of your thoughts on Lesbian life in the 70's, 80's, 90's in comparison to the new millennium. Any thoughts?

http://babyyouaremyreligion.com/
"Baby, You Are My Religion

Baby You Are My Religion argues that American butch-femme bar culture of the mid-20th Century should be interpreted as a sacred space for its community. Before Stonewall - when homosexuals were still deemed mentally ill - these bars were the only place where many could have any community at all. "
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Old 12-03-2015, 01:47 PM   #2
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Default Things are sure diffent now days.

I am old school and things have changed dramatically since I was doing the bars; which by the way was one of the only places you could meet any gay people. Bars and clubs were our network back then. Police walked in a few times but did little, checking ids and such. Mostly women where I went except the drag shows. The womens bath was raided in Toronto but I don't know the outcome. I have a lot of newspaper clippings from back then concerning lesbians in Toronto as well. Thought I would pop this post in. Would take a book or two to say everything LOL. Thanks. Stone
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Old 12-03-2015, 03:38 PM   #3
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Yes, I remember the days when bars were just about the only place to find other gays!
I’m in my 60’s and I recall sometimes gay bar were also hard to find! You’d have to search for a rear entrance and some even required a password to get in! Often times these bars were less than pristine shall we say! Most had boarded up windows and that gave off a dark gloomy feeling.
I think it’s great that high schools especially and colleges have Gay Straight Alliance clubs where younger folks can mingle as well as support each other!
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Old 12-03-2015, 05:11 PM   #4
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I came out in the late 70's. The bar culture was well established but mostly male. A couple of female only bars opened here in the early 80's I believe.

The community here that I knew was not bar oriented. It was a time for both lesbian liberation and womens liberation and much of the lesbian activity was centered at or thru the womens center.

Various types of lesbian social, activity, and discussion type groups were formed and thrived for many years. They spawned other groups like a lesbian athletic league for whatever sport was in season. There were also less well known professional social groups. It was easy, back then, to be able to get space in the off season for dances, galas, fund raising events or whatever.

Being a hop, skip, and jump from Ptown, there were many activities going on there that didnt involve the bars, per se. Many now well known but novices back then played the venues year around. Whether is was musicians, or comedians (still want to smack the shit out of Lea Delaria for something she did to me back in the 80's), or writers/poets readings at the womens bookstores, plays and playwrites (still have a framed copy of the poster for Leap Of Faith)....there was always some type of activity where you could meet, mix, and mingle.

Hardest part was sorting out the actual lesbians from the experimenting and exploring their freedom straight folk.

We didnt have an MCC here. It was the Universalist churches that welcomed us and let us use their space.

It was a different time. I miss it.

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Old 12-03-2015, 06:09 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Virago View Post
2 nights ago I spoke on a panel at a local University regarding the importance of the bar scene to the gay community pre and post stonewall. There was one woman who bartended in the 40's, one who bartended in the 50's, one who bartended in the 60's and 70's and I represented the 80's and 90's. We're going to be doing more panel discussions and also a documentary is in the process of being filmed on the topic. It is all surrounding the new book, "Baby, You Are My Religion; Women, Gay Bars and Theology". I was curious as to all of your thoughts on Lesbian life in the 70's, 80's, 90's in comparison to the new millennium. Any thoughts?

http://babyyouaremyreligion.com/
"Baby, You Are My Religion

Baby You Are My Religion argues that American butch-femme bar culture of the mid-20th Century should be interpreted as a sacred space for its community. Before Stonewall - when homosexuals were still deemed mentally ill - these bars were the only place where many could have any community at all. "
I feel fortunate to have been able to experience that time (even though for me it wasn't until 1990). I know I still missed out on a lot. I tell young/younger lesbian/queer females this all the time. It was a magical time. Now everything is assimilated and boring.

Thanks for posting this, Virago. I ordered an autographed copy. It would have been amazing to hear your panel. I hope the audience appreciated the walking history they had in the room.
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Are you educated or indoctrinated?
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Old 12-03-2015, 08:32 PM   #6
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I came out in the late 60s and went right into the gay bar scene in Montreal. It was rough, dingy and mostly firetraps. It was all we had and we went often, risking police harassment, arrests, beatings because, really, there wasn't anywhere else. So we paid the entrance fees, the expensive prices for drinks and were at the mercy of bartenders and bouncers, none of whom were gay, who controlled the entirety of our social lives. The bar owners were always straight men who could barely disguise their disgust for us but liked the money this captive group would pay for the privilege of sitting together, dancing together...as long as there were no "overt" displays of intimacy.

I suppose the best known of the bar managers of the day was a woman named "Baby Face". She controlled a number of bars over the years and we all feared her. I think she eventually went to prison for assault but by then it didn't matter because "Feminism" started to take effect and the bar scene took a turn towards being "dance bars" full of "feminine-looking lesbians" that the owners and the police didn't find as offensive...though they still continued to profit mightily from their monopoly over our lives...except now there'd be a sign somewhere in the back of the bar that the place had been inspected, at some point, by the fire and health departments. Good thing too, cause the fire escape doors were always locked to prevent someone sneaking in or someone going out into the alley for "something or other".

Weird huh? I miss those days...but I was young then.
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Old 12-03-2015, 08:40 PM   #7
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Well I get what you mean when you say you miss those days! I do too in a way! I mean it was all so cloak and dagger back then! Hunting down the gay bars, some closed as fast as they opened if they didn't pony up the kickbacks to "certain folks"! There was a bar called the River Queen in Milwaukee and I hate to think of what would of happened if a fire had ever broken out in there! While it is nice we can saunter into bars without having to search them out, some of the mystique has been lost!
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Old 12-03-2015, 09:45 PM   #8
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There were a few women's bars in the LA/Orange County area when I came out in the late 70's.

The old dive bar "The Happy Hour" where the butches laughed at me walking in because I wore heels and was quite femme. I drove by where it used to be in Garden Grove, a few years ago, and it was no longer a gay bar. It was a Ranchero music place.

In Long Beach, The Executive Suite, which is still in operation today. Also Que Serra, on 7th street. I think it is also still open, too.

My all-time favorite: Peanuts. An awesome disco (my auto-spell just changed disco to FICCO *sniff*).

Peanuts had a great dance floor and when gay men went there, they were really in the minority, not the majority.

I also went to the Palms (don't even remember if that is the right name) but I only went once or twice. I didn't really care for it but how great that we had choices! Peanuts closed sometime in the 1980's.

Oh you youngsters! It was an awesome time to come out!

I will always remember my dancing days so fondly.
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Old 12-03-2015, 10:02 PM   #9
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I love to read these stories! As one of the "new millennium" kids... I came in just early enough to have been privileged to hear some of the stories from the older generations.

I love that this is coming up right now, as it aligns with a project I am working on. The GSA at the high school I work for is developing a lot this year, and I am trying to bring in speakers to help them connect with the community at large. Last weekend, a friend I know from the drag community volunteered to come and speak to them. He is 58 years old and was part of the drag community and an activist all the way back to Stonewall. I think it is SO important for our youth to hear the stories, to understand the fight that came before so they can have the freedoms they have now.

Thank you all for sharing your stories!
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Old 12-03-2015, 11:10 PM   #10
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There were a few women's bars in the LA/Orange County area when I came out in the late 70's.

The old dive bar "The Happy Hour" where the butches laughed at me walking in because I wore heels and was quite femme. I drove by where it used to be in Garden Grove, a few years ago, and it was no longer a gay bar. It was a Ranchero music place.

In Long Beach, The Executive Suite, which is still in operation today. Also Que Serra, on 7th street. I think it is also still open, too.

My all-time favorite: Peanuts. An awesome disco (my auto-spell just changed disco to FICCO *sniff*).

Peanuts had a great dance floor and when gay men went there, they were really in the minority, not the majority.

I also went to the Palms (don't even remember if that is the right name) but I only went once or twice. I didn't really care for it but how great that we had choices! Peanuts closed sometime in the 1980's.

Oh you youngsters! It was an awesome time to come out!

I will always remember my dancing days so fondly.
Peanuts didn't really close. Just changed its name to its address. The full name became "7969, the bar formerly known as Peanuts" but everyone kept calling it Peanuts anyway. I was a bartender there through the 90's. And I'm so sorry you didn't like the Palms. I was also a bartender and a bouncer there at the same time...the 90's. I hope your dislike of it wasn't due to any drinks that I might have made for you. lol Look for the documentary about the Palms, working title is "Where The Misfits Go"
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Old 12-03-2015, 11:16 PM   #11
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In NYC in the early 80's there was a bar called The Duchess. All us dykes were androgynous then. All in our mantailored shirts and jeans. We were a by-product of the Women's Movement in that era, so there was NOTHING allowed that even MIMICKED male/female relationships. Butch/Femme was highly looked down upon. If you DARED walked into the bar in a dress, you were shunned. And Sex....sex was also very equal back then. There was NO penetration at all (remember, nothing that mimicked male/female). Basically side by side mutual touching and rubbing.

I am so glad that part of those days are over.
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Old 12-03-2015, 11:49 PM   #12
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Peanuts didn't really close. Just changed its name to its address. The full name became "7969, the bar formerly known as Peanuts" but everyone kept calling it Peanuts anyway. I was a bartender there through the 90's. And I'm so sorry you didn't like the Palms. I was also a bartender and a bouncer there at the same time...the 90's. I hope your dislike of it wasn't due to any drinks that I might have made for you. lol Look for the documentary about the Palms, working title is "Where The Misfits Go"
Ha! No, no worries! Not due to the drinks! I am sure you mixed a fine drink! I just felt at home at Peanuts (formerly known as just Peanuts!).

All I recall of the Palms was that is was so dark in there but it could have been my perception!

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Old 12-03-2015, 11:50 PM   #13
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I didn't come out until 1984 in Atlanta, and by that time, there were quite a few venues that weren't bars. Of course, we had bars too - The Sports Page was probably the most well-known. There were at least two others that I can't remember the names of (one on Glen Iris, which I think is still there - and one on Piedmont at Pharr Rd., which I think was torn down.)

We also had Charis Books, a feminist bookstore that is still active. There was the Dyke and Dine - ahem, I mean, the Dunk and Dine - which was technically a mainstream establishment, but everyone _knew_ that was the place to go. It's still there, but I don't know what the crowd is like any more. There were also women's music festivals where you could go camp for a weekend and meet women and see the likes of Lea Delaria and the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge. (That was in my day - earlier than my time had been the era of Meg Christian, who I am sorry to have missed. But we had Lucie Blue Tremblay, Cris Williamson, Holly Near and many more.) There were also lots of support groups and organizations (a shout out for the Atlanta Feminist Women's Chorus!). The Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance (ALFA) (of _Our Bodies Our Selves_ fame), which had a clubhouse of sorts that housed meeting space and a library, and hosted a softball team, had started to decline around the mid 1980s.

Then around 1986 we got a dance club. (I think it was called The Other Side?) It had a VIP room, a great dance floor, and _everybody_ in the world seemed to know about it. Women came from all over the country to go. It was like, finally! We had a dance club to equal anything the gay men had - and they had at least four big dance clubs in Atlanta at the time. (There was Backstreets, a 24-hour club where women and also everybody else went at 4 a.m. when the other bars closed, only to stumble out into the sunlight at 7 or 8 a.m. The other men's bars were usually friendly towards lesbians, but none of them were good places to go to meet women.)

Oh, and I almost forgot the DeKalb Farmer's Market in Decatur, GA (a small city next door to Atlanta)! It's like a giant produce stand/fish monger/butcher/bakery/restaurant inside a warehouse. Produce was/is cheap and fresh, organic products are/were readily available, and there are any number of things to recommend this amazing place. But foremost in my mind, it was one of the best places to meet lesbians in Atlanta. It may still be.
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Old 12-04-2015, 12:29 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Virago View Post
2 nights ago I spoke on a panel at a local University regarding the importance of the bar scene to the gay community pre and post stonewall. There was one woman who bartended in the 40's, one who bartended in the 50's, one who bartended in the 60's and 70's and I represented the 80's and 90's. We're going to be doing more panel discussions and also a documentary is in the process of being filmed on the topic. It is all surrounding the new book, "Baby, You Are My Religion; Women, Gay Bars and Theology". I was curious as to all of your thoughts on Lesbian life in the 70's, 80's, 90's in comparison to the new millennium. Any thoughts?

http://babyyouaremyreligion.com/
"Baby, You Are My Religion

Baby You Are My Religion argues that American butch-femme bar culture of the mid-20th Century should be interpreted as a sacred space for its community. Before Stonewall - when homosexuals were still deemed mentally ill - these bars were the only place where many could have any community at all. "
That is wonderful to hear, Virago.

I'm approaching my late 50s, but growing up during the 1960s to late 1970s, there was (to my knowledge) no bar for Lesbians Only, in my home state. Mostly, as I remember, we went to private parties by invitation only, location was kept pretty quiet, back then. To this day, I think, it's still almost that kind of thing with (and among) those who I've been friends with for years.

There used to be a bar for Lesbians only in the Hawthorne district (Portland, Or), but I'm not sure it's still there. But at one time, it was a place you could go to meet other Lesbian's in our metro community.

Maybe it's my age or something, but it has been MCC churches or certain Lutheran or Presbyterian churches which has been home to many in the LGBTQ community, where people could hold monthly get-together's, dances, or even organize for an political rally or what-not. Public universities, 1990s on, seem to have bloomed with Women's Resort Centers, which when I attended college in my late 30s/early 40s, I was active in our local chapter on campus (WRC) --- when Riot Grrl and Eve Ensler's Vaginal Monologues, made room for safe ways to be out loud and proud. However, finding Butch/Femme community is rather difficult and I have always been grateful for the Butch/Femme community, here online at The Planet.

I look forward to hearing more about your latest project and round table discussions. Thanks for sharing.

Eta: This weekend, there's a concert at a Lutheran church off of 21st & Broadway..... I plan to go because quite a few of my peers at work on campus are in the choir.
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Old 12-04-2015, 05:00 AM   #15
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There was NO penetration at all (remember, nothing that mimicked male/female). Basically side by side mutual touching and rubbing.

I am so glad that part of those days are over.
I'm so curious about this! (of course, the sex part haha). So, was this an unspoken rule? Or was it discussed among women generally (outside the bedroom) that penetration was not cool and 'off the table' for lesbians? Or was it just understood once you were coupled with someone and 'in the moment'?

It's hard for me to imagine. I was just thinking how gay men would never have a 'rule' like this around their sexual activity. It's interesting how the politicized the bedrooms of lesbians were (are?).

Last question (for now):
So, all the butches and the femmes went into a more andro mode. Were there ways to suss each other a bit and still couple up despite the more neutral outerwear?

Fantastic thread -- love reading everyone's experiences and will share my (kind of limited) ones!
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Old 12-04-2015, 07:31 AM   #16
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In NYC in the early 80's there was a bar called The Duchess. All us dykes were androgynous then. All in our mantailored shirts and jeans. We were a by-product of the Women's Movement in that era, so there was NOTHING allowed that even MIMICKED male/female relationships. Butch/Femme was highly looked down upon. If you DARED walked into the bar in a dress, you were shunned. And Sex....sex was also very equal back then. There was NO penetration at all (remember, nothing that mimicked male/female). Basically side by side mutual touching and rubbing.

I am so glad that part of those days are over.
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Originally Posted by Soon View Post
I'm so curious about this! (of course, the sex part haha). So, was this an unspoken rule? Or was it discussed among women generally (outside the bedroom) that penetration was not cool and 'off the table' for lesbians? Or was it just understood once you were coupled with someone and 'in the moment'?

It's hard for me to imagine. I was just thinking how gay men would never have a 'rule' like this around their sexual activity. It's interesting how the politicized the bedrooms of lesbians were (are?).

Last question (for now):
So, all the butches and the femmes went into a more andro mode. Were there ways to suss each other a bit and still couple up despite the more neutral outerwear?

Fantastic thread -- love reading everyone's experiences and will share my (kind of limited) ones!
My long-term ex came out in the late 50's, 60's and used to tell me that in her circle, you were either butch or femme. If you were butch, there was basically only stone as a choice.

No touching, absolutely no penetration for the butch and the rules were that the butch must only please the femme partner. they even had a word for it: KiKi. No self-respecting butch would want to be called KiKi (K"I" K"I" was how it was pronounced). *I just remembered, that the phrase laughed about with her friends was butch in the streets, femme in the sheets and it was said with derision.

It took 10 years of being like this in our relationship before she allowed me to push some boundaries with her (it goes without saying but I will say it anyway: her choice, her decision, her curiosity). She did feel like she was KiKi then but did it anyway because no one knew what we did in the privacy of our bedroom (and she found that she really liked it).

She used to talk about the cop raids on bars back then and that every one had to wear at least one piece of women's clothing or they would be hauled to jail.

It was very difficult for her when everyone became andro in the late 60's, early 70's. It did not fit the rules of how it was in the early days and in her crowd. She loved that I was femme and even though we were looked down upon at some lesbian events in the 70's (because flannel shirts were never my fashion choice), we both loved being butch and femme.
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Old 12-04-2015, 10:37 AM   #17
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I'm so curious about this! (of course, the sex part haha). So, was this an unspoken rule? Or was it discussed among women generally (outside the bedroom) that penetration was not cool and 'off the table' for lesbians? Or was it just understood once you were coupled with someone and 'in the moment'?
It's hard for me to imagine. I was just thinking how gay men would never have a 'rule' like this around their sexual activity. It's interesting how the politicized the bedrooms of lesbians were (are?).
Wonderful questions, Soon! In response to this one, was it an unspoken rule or discussed? I would say, in the way that any culture develops its norms and customs, it was both. It was basically an unspoken way of behavior. You just learned it by dating. (and realize I'm trying to imagine myself back in those situations in order to find the answer, so I am responding with 35 years between the action and the consideration). Now with facebook and the forums we can read what people say and how others respond to those statements and decide which path we take by that education. Back then we just had The Community. You would maybe make a slight move and see how it was responded to. You would go on a date and then talk with your friends about it. Maybe you said something like, "She grabbed my hands over my head" and then saw how your friends reacted to it (usual response would be "That's Rape!" BDSM was NOT considered a normal alternative, although the Lesbian Sex Mafia was working on changing that). These days I found my soul as a Top and a Butch, but back then those phrases were only mentioned with a sneer. I remember one girl I was with throwing me off my side onto my back. She then got on top of me and started to 'dry hump' me. I thought, What the f*ck is she trying to prove? What is she doing? Trying to act as a guy??!!?? I so wish I could find her now and discuss her experiences, any pain or isolation she might have felt. She moved to San Fran so I believe I can assume where Her/His life took him. And yes, I dissed him (now using the pronoun that I believe he is living his life with). That's a quick thought about how society norms got spread. I'm sure tomorrow I'll want to add more thoughts to this.

The bedrooms of Lesbians were VERY politicized. But most groups do react more radically when they are emerging, trying to find their rights and the Lesbians of the 80's...or women as a whole were no exception. If we copied men we were just trying to BE men and not trying to show that we are capable as people. So we shunned anything that mimicked polarized relationships.

I remember when I first moved to L.A. one of the first women I met in a lesbian bar was a regular character in a TV show of the time. She came up to me and outright asked me, "Are you butch or femme? You ride a motorcycle so you must be butch but you seem to have a women's heart so you must be femme!" I was so stunned by the question! That would NEVER have been asked in NYC! I thought quickly and responded with, "I'm a hippie". Not the best answer, but it was out of my realm of experience.

I also remember the start of a new magazine just before I left NYC in '85. It was called On Our Backs (the name was a response to a radical political magazine called "Off Our Backs"---which might have also helped mold our sexual position). San Francisco had already started to realize that we didn't need to unsexualize ourselves to repel men, but instead we needed to sexualize ourselves to attract other women! I remember my feelings when I read my first issue. I found myself.


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Last question (for now):
So, all the butches and the femmes went into a more andro mode. Were there ways to suss each other a bit and still couple up despite the more neutral outerwear?

Fantastic thread -- love reading everyone's experiences and will share my (kind of limited) ones!
Was there a way to suss each other out? Hmmm. I guess there were. No relationship is perfectly equal no matter how much you try. But we didn't try to suss each other out as butch or femme. That would have meant we needed to label ourselves as one or the other and that was a no-no. But of course, if you are naturally more in one direction you hopefully found your magnetic opposite

Anya, I have no doubt it was difficult for your ex, coming out of the Butch/Femme era, to learn how to walk through the new social environment. I feel for her and her contemporaries. Many of those contemporaries are on these panels with me these days. I bless them for all they did because it was easier for me to find my way as I stepped OFF the straight and narrow, then it must have been for them to learn how to tight-rope walk that path.
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Old 12-04-2015, 10:56 AM   #18
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You mentioned the magazine On our Backs, Virago, which caused me to think of the long enduring small business in Portland called, In Other Words... which used to be located in the Hawthorne district for years, but they're out in the Alberta district on 14th & NE Killingsworth, these days. I remember that this business too was an great place to find community and thoughtful, grass-roots agencies, that partnered with them, to build a stable social network and outreach to members of the lesbian community.

Eta: OOB was a great magazine to read, I enjoyed it much.
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Old 12-04-2015, 11:00 AM   #19
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I would love to hear thoughts on how race/class played out in lesbian bars you went to. My experience as a white working class softball dyke was very different than white middle class upwardly mobile lesbians in the 1980s, and it was even more different than the experience of my friends of color.
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Old 12-04-2015, 11:22 AM   #20
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I'm really enjoying reading all of the posts here. It takes me back to some really fond memories of good times and good friends. I was serving in the USMC back in the late 70's/early 80's, in Southern California. My/our (a large group of gay Women Marines) "stomping grounds" were mainly in San Diego and L.A.. We had sooooo much fun then, and it made coming out so much easier being around such good friends.

Peanuts, in LA, as was Que Sera (to a lesser extent, however), was a major party place for all of us, though we didn't go up there to LA nearly as much as we partied in San Diego, at places like The Club, The Brass Rail, The Apartment and Diablo's, among many others. After The Club closed, places like The Box Office opened up, but most were just flashes in the pan, so to speak.

I do remember, though, being told by a few of the older members of our group that there was another group of lesbians that never socialized in the bar scenes. These women, as I was told, were those who couldn't afford to be seen in the lesbian bars because of their professions (many were military officers and career military members) positions in society or fears of being outed to their families. Because of this, they met each other through other means and socialized together outside of the bars. It was all a dark and mysterious culture to me, at that time. I was young and into the bar scene.

It's been a long road for me, since those times and those places, and it just serves to remind me of how far I have come, and how deep my roots are in the Lesbian community. It's such a big part of my life and who I am now. Abandoning it would be like tearing a piece of my heart out.

~Theo~
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