Bachelorette Parties Straining Limits of Compassion

Back when I used to frequent the bars a bachelorette party was a fairly rare event. Most of the straight women who came to the clubs were friends of gay men and were sensitive to the issues in the community and knew how to behave themselves. Rarely there would be a straight woman who was a co-worker who tagged along to a bar who thought the drunker she got the more she would be able to seduce a gay man into bed. Usually, it was her one and only trip and often things ended badly.

Today, however, the heterosexual bachelorette party at a gay bar has become a fairly common event. In the article below the question is asked whether these parties are rude and insensitive to gay men who are not allowed to marry. Are these women flaunting their right to marry their husband and rubbing our second-class status in our faces?

Part of the problem seems to be that these are rarely women who have connections to the community. They come out for a night to party with "the gays" and check out some non-threatening man flesh but they have no notion of how hurtful their raucous celebration of their right to marry is to the people whose space they have invaded.

Somehow, the whole thing strikes me as a bunch of overprivileged and politically ignorant women who are out slumming and treating us as curiosities to be forgotten in the morning as they say their government sanctioned and church approved vows.

From the Chicago Tribune:
Dawn Turner Trice 
They've become a familiar sight in gay bars: women holding bachelorette parties.

The bride-to-be is often easily identifiable. She's the one wearing either a veil or tiara or feather boa or phallic-shaped blow-up hat, and is surrounded by women who begin the night somewhat reserved but metamorphose into pelvis-thrusting vamps as their blood-alcohol levels rise.

The women come to celebrate without having to worry about straight men pawing them. The gay men are there because, well, they don't want to be around a lot of women.

For years, some bar owners have tried to accommodate both groups, but that's becoming increasingly difficult. With California's vote last November in favor of the gay-marriage ban known as Proposition 8, some gays are saying that bachelorette parties at their bars are becoming more than a minor nuisance. They're a constant reminder that gays don't have equal marriage rights.

"The women are a hoot, and some can be just delightful," said Geno Zaharakis, the owner of Cocktail, a gay bar on North Halsted Street. "But because not everybody can get married, watching them celebrate, it's such a slap in the face. Prop 8 just reopened the wound."

Zaharakis told me that Cocktail stopped hosting bachelorette parties a couple of years ago when he noticed his gay patrons weren't just complaining about the women being minor irritants but about them "flaunting" their right to marry. So Zaharakis hung a sign on the front door of his establishment that says, "Bachelorette Parties Are Not Allowed."

If that message isn't resonant enough, he offers a written statement: "Until same-sex marriage is legal everywhere and same-sex couples are allowed the rights as every heterosexual couple worldwide, we simply do not think it's fair or just for a female bride-to-be to celebrate her upcoming nuptials here at Cocktail. We are entitled to an opinion, this is ours."

Indeed some gay men and straight women have a friendship that's reminiscent of the old television show "Will & Grace." And many men make the distinction between their "girlfriends" who frequent gay bars and are sensitive to the marriage issue and other women who are merely seeking good music and "go-go boys" (translation: nearly naked male dancers) for a bachelorette party.

"We appreciate that these women are not homophobic and … want to party with us," said Jens Hussey, a gay man who's in a four-year relationship and worries about being able to make medical and other decisions regarding his partner. "But with all that's going on [in] the media about us not being able to marry, are [these women] willing to march with us or raise money with us or work to change somebody's attitude to help us get equal rights?"

Hussey recently was on hand at Circuit Night Club, a gay bar about three blocks north of Cocktail that caters to bachelorette parties. But he said he'd rather see women take such parties elsewhere until everybody legally can wed.

Circuit presents a Las Vegas-style male revue called SinZation that includes Honey West, billed as "the only transgender emcee of a male revue show anywhere in the country." Buff dancers don't strip bare-naked but get so close—using creatively draped G-strings—that hardly anything is left to the imagination.

On a recent Saturday night there, the gay marriage issue wasn't remotely on the minds of two groups of women whose inhibitions flew out the door as the dancers left the stage to retrieve dollar bills that the women strategically placed around their bodies.

"Gay men are far more reserved," said Hussey, watching and laughing from the sidelines.

One woman from Kansas City told me that she enjoyed being able to drink as much as she wanted and not having to worry about being propositioned by a straight guy or waking up the next morning in his bed.

I found it ironic that, as the women got liquored up, they were the ones doing the pawing and clawing until soon they resembled the straight guys they were trying to avoid.

And this, more than the equal rights issue, is why Art Johnston, the owner of the popular Halsted Street bar called Sidetrack, prefers not to hold bachelorette parties in his establishment.

"As gay men who understand discrimination, none of us want to look like we don't welcome folks," Johnston said. "But it comes down to ignorant, bad behavior. … That's the issue."

For others, though, the issue is gay marriage, and women who are considering hosting these parties should think about that issue. Such a party may feel less like a celebration in the presence of men who feel they're being discriminated against.

As the show got under way at Circuit with a theatrical mist floating over the audience, I asked reveler Blythe Thomas whether, in general, she believed holding bachelorette parties in gay bars was "heterosexist," or insensitive.

"I never would have thought about it like that," Thomas said, watching a curtainlike screen rise on four soon-to-be-nearly-naked dancers. "I could see how this could be frustrating to gay men. Maybe it's something I'll think about next time." Maybe. But, for now, it was showtime.