Actor Lea De Laria, who portrays Big Boo on the hit show and has been a butch comedian and activist for more than three decades, succinctly sums up the comparison: “Gay men will spend their rent check to buy a pretty shirt, and when they’re broke as shit, they’ll go out and party, but lesbians will squeeze the first nickel they get.” It’s easy to dismiss this as “lesbians hate fun” or “lesbians are stingy,” which, hey, is sometimes true of lesbians just it’s sometimes true of anyone who isn’t a Kardashian.But it illustrates the deeper truth of why lesbians have developed a culture that emphasizes thriftiness, which is that lesbians have been taught to save their money and their energy by more than a century of self-reliance.In the last five years alone, lesbian establishments have been closing their doors and powering down their servers at a relentless pace: The bars and websites listed above have all closed in the last 10 years, and they aren’t the only casualties.Independent lesbian blogs such as Pam’s House Blend and The Sartorial Butch are dropping out of sight as authors struggle to produce returns on their efforts, and in 2008, Alison Bechdel’s iconic cartoon On the surface, the disappearance of lesbian spaces doesn’t make sense.Buffy Dunker drew a distinction between the social diminishment of women in straight roles and the social : “The wife has held an honored although secondary position in a society with many heterosexual privileges,” she writes, while “the lesbian has had to seek her own friends, lovers, and communities.” The lesbian reputation for preferring to stay in on weekends is the legacy of many women who have supported themselves and each other through the most hostile conditions imaginable.Unfortunately, that reputation also explains why lesbian businesses have such a hard time with their bottom lines.
In the words of Alison Bechdel, “We aren't interested in frivolous expenditures.” The situation is often worse for women of color, many of whom come from communities where homosexuality is not easily accepted and support from families is rare.Chiang, who is 23 and lives in New York, is one of many young queer women expressing frustration with the lack of spaces specifically cater to women seeking women.“I don’t go to queer bars, because straight people show up and use [them] as a tourist attraction, an exhibit,” she says, echoing complaints of straight women taking over gay bars.What we sacrifice in capital, profit, and late nights out, we make up for in cultural freedom: Nobody wants to buy us or invest in us, so we are left to rely only on each other, a link unjoined to the circular chain of market dependency.
“Lesbians are inherently uncommodifiable,” Bechdel says. “It's a gift.” Existing outside of a system of reciprocity, even one as rough and tumble as American capitalism, requires hardiness and adaptability, something being queer and being a woman teaches a person early on—hence the “floating spaces” customarily employed by lesbian gatherings, such as the Gay Girl Group, or Older Dykes.com, “a vigorous loose-limbed organisation of lesbians over forty,” which is based in Australia and plans various events of different sizes throughout the course of the year.
Indeed, if one wants to have a “gay experience,” the range of options send a pointed message.