No Woman’s Land

It had become all too obvious to me as a late teen that I didn’t quite fit in with the straight crowd: clearly I didn’t want to be spending my future with a man. The conversations were tiresome, the pretence was exhausting and I felt like a failure.

I began to believe there really was something fundamentally wrong with me.

What was wrong, in fact, was that I was living my life as a straight person, when I really wasn’t straight at all.

Nights out at the usual pubs and clubs in Brisbane held little appeal to me, so I decided to head for the more ‘alternative’ part of town, Fortitude Valley. Twenty years ago ‘The Valley’ was a lot less mainstream than it seems to be now. Home to the gay bars and the ‘working girls’, the ‘Valley’ had a somewhat seedy reputation as a night haunt. I was apprehensive, but I enthusiastically grabbed at the opportunity to try something new.

I’ll never forget the shock that was my first foray into the gay nightclub scene. I think I stared a little too much.

In fact, I know I did.

I had never seen boys kissing before, let alone middle-aged men making out at the bar as though they were the last humans left on the planet.

Walking up the stairs of the aptly named ‘Cockatoo Bar’ at The Beat as a twenty year old, I had not expected this to be my ‘view’ at the top. I felt my cheeks burning and tried to look away but I was mesmerised. Weren’t they frightened? How could they do that so…publicly?

It was a phenomenon that startled me, but instantly made me have a classic Dorothy Gale realisation: ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto’.

I recovered as best I could and looked around. The 80s music was blaring and I felt instantly excited. There were all sorts here – young, alternative looking men, some scantily clad in bottomless chaps and shirtless, all over one another. There were women of all ages and types, from the toughest, most butch looking women, to the more sporty, androgynous types. There were women wearing black leather items of clothing I hadn’t even known existed. The hairstyles were outrageous, the outfits brilliantly flamboyant.

Then there was me, dressed in my button fly jeans, my Katies top, my new lipstick and my over-the-shoulder handbag…

I cringe now when I think about it.

I had no idea of how to ‘be’ or how to meet other gay people here at home in Australia. I didn’t dress like a stereotypical lesbian.

I didn’t even really know many lesbians.

My year overseas had been so easy – it all seemed to fall into my lap. I just happened to join Stratford Hockey Club in the middle of Warwickshire, England – which at that stage had a huge representation of gay women. It was bliss and the first time in my life that I can remember feeling like I belonged.

The gay bars were fun, but for me, no place to meet someone. My next plan was to brave the women’s bars, which were targeted specifically towards gay women.

Sourcing an open-minded friend from work as moral support, I ‘girded my loins’ and we made our way out. We headed to a bar called ‘Options’.

I had not met a soul from my ventures out so far, and I realised that unless I was prepared to walk in completely alone and stand at the bar by myself all night, I probably wouldn’t. There were the ‘Rugby girls’ and the ‘Soccer girls’ – most of whom were semi-elite sports people – out after a game. There were the hard-core dance types, who literally appeared to be in a drug-induced haze and barely moved all night from the dance floor.

There was also a group of women known as ‘Dykes on Bikes’: these were tough looking butch women who rode motorbikes and seemed terribly intimidating to me in their jeans and leathers.

They all seemed to know each other. What I found so strange was that there hardly seemed to be any interaction at all between the various groups. It seemed to me that these were the places you spent time in AFTER you met people to hang out with.

As my friend and I arrived, I was gutted to overhear a snide comment from one of the women as we walked in, ‘It’s teen straight week obviously’. What did I have to do to prove that I belonged here? I needed a way to meet people. People I could talk to and get to know. Surely there were others like me out there.

There had to be.

Quietly, and determinedly, I set about finding them.

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