These Dykes Know Where Their Towels Are: Women’s Organizing and Women’s Sexuality
I’m queer and I’m a pervert, but I’m a woman. I feel a special kinship with and respect for gay men, because they are one demographic who really knows what they are doing when it comes to sex. It’s easier for gay men to cruise than straight people or even lesbians because it’s such a fundamental part of their culture.
A friend of mine made a short film last year that was about a diverse group of dykes going on a road trip. One of the lines had the main character saying, “Of course, we’re dykes, right, so either we want to get into each other’s pants but are too shy to say anything, or we’ve been there already.” With the exception of the other sex radical dykes I hang out with, that stereotype seems unfortunately to be true more often than it should.
In many cities the gay male community runs bath houses. If you don’t know what these are, they are marvelous things, and let me tell you about them. A bath house is a building or a business that has one or more environments in which people can basically have anonymous sex. They might have pools, hot tubs, dungeons, and a variety of private rooms. Gay men seem to have perfected the idea that you can have a business that caters directly to the sexual desires of its clientele, and can give people a safe space in which to explore their sexualities. I think bath houses are faaaaantastic.
Unfortunately, with the exception of private sex parties, I’ve never seen a similar thing for women. This is why I was so happy to hear that there is a group of women where I live who organize an occasional women’s bath house. These women are incredible. Last year their bath house was raided by the cops, purely for harrassment purposes. I wasn’t there, but from what I’ve heard from people who were, it ruined the whole evening. The organizers filed a complaint, which as far as I know has not yet been resolved.
Somewhat surprisingly, they organized another bath house during Pride Week of 2001. I have never seen a group of people as organized and together as these women. They had what seemed to be a veritable army of attorneys. They knew how the police force did things, where the cops were, what the public sentiment was, what they needed to do, and how to publicize the event. Partly because the bath house is so great and partly because there was a “FUCK YOU, COPS!” attitude in the dyke community, tickets to the bath house sold out almost immediately.
My absolutely delightful friend Christina Strang talked me into doing erotic massage (not that it took much to talk me into doing erotic massage at a women’s bath house; I mean, come on). We went for training beforehand, offered by the bath house organizers, that explained to us what it would involve. They took almost as much time to talk about the legal implications of what we were doing as they did talking to us about massage techniques.
Anyway, I showed up. My evening started off brilliantly because I got there for my early shift and the very first dyke I saw said, “Hey, you were in a movie!” (I was. A short film that showed at the queer film festival a couple of months beforehand.) I walked in, not quite knowing what to expect, and I was greeted by the world’s friendliest series of women. The ticket person met me at the door and let me right in. I found the volunteer coordinator who showed me around and explained to me what I would be doing. I was given a free baggie filled with condoms and rubber gloves as I walked into the bath house proper. Whoa. They’re not just talking about safer sex, they’re doing something about it. Rock.
It was magical to be in a place where women could finally be openly sexual on their own terms and in their own space. This alone was worth the price of admission.
And how did they deal with the trans issue?
As you can imagine, if a bath house welcomes trans people there are all sorts of issues that can be created. One local gay male bath house is open to trans men, but apparently only if there are no complaints from the clientele. That seems to me to be a crappy approach; the whole “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing doesn’t work for me. It fails to offer a fundamental dignity and right to one’s identity that in my opinion should almost be taken for granted. This was why I was absolutely thrilled to hear about the Women’s Bath House policy on trans people. Not only do they welcome trans folk in theory, (including, some would say strangely, trans men, but the boys are welcome any time in my little world), but it was one of the most trans-friendly spaces I’ve ever experienced. The organizers were very clear that there was to be no discrimination against trans people. They were handing out materials that stated their position, and everybody working the event was instructed to support transfolk. Their stated policy (which, thankfully, was never tested as far as I know) is that any transphobic speech or hurtful actions directed at trans people would see the perpetrator thrown out of the bath house for the evening.
I’m a trans chick, and I’m also an activist in both trans spaces and queer spaces. I know from long and bitter experience that claims of trans inclusion are often not backed up with real actions. I was a little skeptical about the Bath House event just because I knew that, even if the organizers were pro-trans, there would be nothing that could control the women attending the bath house. As much as I hate to admit it, I was dubious at their ability to pull it off.
I was SOOOO happy to find that I was wrong.
The bath house was one of the most trans-positive spaces I’ve ever been in. I saw several other trans women and trans men there, and with the exception of one trans woman who said she didn’t feel welcome, everybody seemed to really dig it. Not only were the organizers committed to trans inclusion, the attendees were, too. It was a magnificent experience. Words cannot do it justice.
Kudos to the organizers for putting in the blood, sweat and tears necessary to make it happen. They were the guests of honour in that Pride Day’s Dyke March, and I cheered for them as loudly as any other person on that street.
Here’s hoping that one of these comes to your town soon!