8 for men, 0 for women

Again with the push to erase women and delete them from all places and movements and discussions.

Why in Portland—one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in America, and home to the nation’s first bisexual governor and its first lesbian House speaker—is there no lesbian nightlife?

It’s been six years since the Egyptian Club, better known as the E-Room, lowered its rainbow flag in Southeast Portland, and in that time no brick-and-mortar lesbian bar has emerged to fill its space. (By contrast, Portland has eight gay bars for men.)

Moreover, the city doesn’t have a single dance night or recurring party that caters exclusively to women seeking women.

So what happened?

Genders multiplied and proliferated until there were 97 varieties, but it just so happened that “women” somehow got dropped along the way.

“I’ve never felt comfortable with the term lesbian,” says Llondyn Elliott, 19, who identifies as non-binary. “It’s really restricting to me to say I’m a lesbian. That means I’m a girl who likes girls. But am I a girl? And do I only like girls? No.”

The result? Announcing that a Portland party is intended exclusively for lesbians is stepping into a minefield of identity politics.

In the past two years, events catering to lesbians, like the monthly meet-up Fantasy Softball League, have been targeted online as unsafe spaces for trans women and others who don’t identify with feminine pronouns. This past summer, semi-regular parties for lesbians, like Lesbian Night at Old Town’s CC Slaughters, changed their names and focus to avoid controversy and be more inclusive. And lesbian-owned bars that draw lesbian customers, like Escape, shun the label so as not to offend.

And yet bars that self-describe as being for gay men don’t. Isn’t that interesting.

Trish Bendix, former editor of AfterEllen, an online publication about lesbian, queer and bisexual women in the media, lived in Portland from 2011 to 2014. She says she has never been around so many queer people in her life, but she was often among a minority who identified as lesbian.

“I often feel like lesbians are forgotten or left behind,” she says, “and sometimes it feels lonely.”

Not to mention unfair.

Emily Stutzman, 31, tried to create a space for lesbians. It ended poorly.

A producer for a Portland ad agency, Stutzman says she couldn’t find places in the city to hang out with other lesbians after moving here from Indiana in 2008.

In 2014, after ending a romantic relationship, an unsettling thought struck her: “How do I find somebody else?”

So that year she decided to create her own social gathering for lesbians, calling it Fantasy Softball League, a winking nod to stereotypes about lesbians. The “league” had nothing to do with softball, and instead was a monthly meet-up at Vendetta, a bar on North Williams Avenue.

“Hey ladies,” an ad beckoned. “Cool girls, drinking cool drinks in a cool bar, talking about cool stuff.”

But all was not cool.

In summer 2015, Stutzman, who has wavy red hair and wears an enameled “I Love Cats” pin on her jean jacket, recalls walking through Vendetta greeting people when someone she’d never met—someone who didn’t identify with traditional female conventions like the pronoun “she”—confronted her.

“The person was hostile, and wanting to pick a fight,” Stutzman recalls. “This person was offended and said they would tell their friends that we were a group of people that were non-inclusive and not respectful of their gender.”

The person—Stutzman never got a name—left the event, and Stutzman was left feeling confused. As she looked around, she saw many people who fell between male and female. She thought her event was inclusive, even if the vernacular wasn’t.

“What we wanted to say is, if you’re a straight dude, don’t come to this event,” she says. “Everyone else was fine.”

Stutzman adjusted her language, no longer calling Fantasy Softball League a lesbian event. Instead, she called it an event for queer women. But even with the change, Stutzman still worried.

“Everything I tried, someone was offended,” she says. “It got weird and political, and I wanted it to be a fun thing.”

It’s funny how women turn out to be the universal enemy, isn’t it.

That fall, Stutzman handed responsibility for the event to Alissa Young, who renamed the event Gal Pals, relocated it to the Florida Room on North Killingsworth Street, and ran into more trouble. Some people took offense at the event’s new feminine name.

So Young folded the event. Now she mourns the loss: “Can’t we have spaces that are just for lesbians?”

No, because lesbians, like feminists, are required to “center” trans women. Rules are rules.

In September, a monthly party for queer women in Portland drew rebukes because it called itself a “dyke party” that catered to women and “female-identified folk.”

“Everyone who is female-identified is a woman,” wrote one critic on Facebook. “Are you saying that you believe there are people who identify as women who aren’t women?”

Are you saying there are sheep who identify as goats who aren’t goats?

The debate over naming identities and creating spaces for them isn’t limited to women. However, Byron Beck, WW‘s former Queer Window columnist, says the conversation is not as prevalent in gay male culture. “It’s easy to find gay events for men in town,” he says.

Quite so. Men aren’t told to erase themselves the way women are. Funny how that works, isn’t it.

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