'Pink capitalism' can't avoid the rules
By Daryl Croke
Once upon a time, setting up a club for gays and lesbians with a sensible business plan was a licence to print money — but not now. Look around today and you'll see the considerable road kill of deceased gay businesses.
Take, for example, Precinct 3182 in Melbourne, a vision of a gay pleasure palace that shone only briefly before the redevelopers moved in. The Precinct could rightfully claim to be world class, but in spite of the luxurious surroundings, few gay and bi men indulged and the Precinct was forced to close. In its last desperate months, the owners relaxed the restriction barring women and turned the dance bar over to a lesbian night called "Girl Bar".
During the late-'90s, other clubs in Melbourne closed or were forced to restructure their activities. Even the Peel, long criticised as a bastion of male pride, set up a lesbian night. Meanwhile, two other gay clubs obtained the legal right to posture as being "male only" and positioned themselves as the best venues in a declining market.
For a brief time, the confusion found an outlet in the gay press. The owners' mouthpiece, the Hand in Hand Association, accused punters of being disloyal for not spending their hard-earned cash in gay nightclubs. Even the hapless scene workers were charged with disloyalty for selling their labour to a higher bidder.
Profits and poverty
It appears that the classic gay scene has been a victim of its own success. When the scene surfaced from the underground, it was viewed as a vehicle for profits. Slowly, the number of clubs grew until the market couldn't sustain them all, boomed turned to bust. Spoilt for choice, the punters not only went to the "wrong" venues, many didn't go out at all.
In the new openness about gayness, the club owners repeated the mantra of youth and beauty. Dimwitted bouncers enforced this by turning away many with the excuse, "Sorry, members only".
The problem with the policy was that the original fighters for gay rights were aging and felt alienated from the scene they helped to build. They were "over it, sweetie". Many of the younger generation were tempted away by other clubs providing a different sort of openness. There too many clubs and the market was shrinking.
Another factor affected the scene. In spite of the economy "booming" in the mid-'90s most people identifying as lesbian and gay are doing it harder. The wages of most workers, and therefore most gays and lesbians, have decreased in real terms.
As a result of economic rationalism, many feel extremely insecure in their employment. Hard-earned cash is even harder earned today and not to be thrown away lightly. There has never been a better time to be out, yet life is harder for most gays and lesbians.
When gay and lesbian clubs became increasing successful in the 1980s, another process began. The increase in traffic to the ghetto areas attracted "straight" businesses eager to cash in. The increased economic activity in gay areas made the areas appear less gay. More individuals identifying as "straight" began to frequent gay areas and tensions erupted between those businesses which wanted to exploit "straights" and those which catered to patrons who demanded a "pure" gay or lesbian experience.
As homosexuality became more accepted, a new trend began — "mixed clubbing" with gays, straights, lesbians, bis and trannies all partying in the same venue. To a new generation of gays and lesbians, mixed clubbing gave them the opportunity to party outside of the ghetto and many voted with their feet.
Maybe mixed clubbing is a more realistic expression of sexuality under capitalism. As Alfred Kinsey and many others have pointed out, human sexuality is a continuum, not a simple gay/straight division. Many people change their sexual behaviour throughout the course of their lives.
Mixed clubbing also gives individuals the chance to express sexual ambiguity. Today, individuals can retreat from or advance into the scene, from gay-friendly, to bent, to queer, to "full on" gay and back again. Notions about sexual identities can be challenged, changed or discarded on the way.
Perhaps the liberationist view that as people become more accepting, the homo/hetero division will start to dissolve is correct. For a small section of the population in Western cities, this appears to be the case.
But we should not confuse the small space provided by capitalism with the real expression of people's desire. And we should never lose sight of the fact that these spaces are only available for a tiny minority of the population. We still have a whole world to win. Power to the people!
[Abridged from an article that first appeared on the radicalqueer web site <http://www.geocities.com/radicalqueer/Money Matters>.]