My good friend and fellow Feminism and Religion Contributor Marie Cartier’s forthcoming book, Baby You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall argues that American butch-femme bar culture of the mid-20th Century should be interpreted as a sacred space. Specifically, gay bars served as both communal and spiritual gathering spaces where butch-femme women were able to discover and explore not only their sexuality but also their spirituality. An opus of an academic accomplishment based off of the amount of in-depth interviews she conducted, Professor Cartier explores lived religion in an area that has become all too common within the LGBTQ community: the bar
The Palms, the last local and only lesbian bar to be found in city of West Hollywood, CA is closing its doors and I can’t help but wonder where its patrons or parishioners will now go?
With its closing, specifically at the end of L.A. Pride weekend, where thousands of LGBTQ individuals flock to West Hollywood to celebrate what makes our community truly unique, one has to begin to wonder where, if Professor Cartier’s thesis holds true, God has gone?
Does God exist within the LGBTQ community anymore or has the community itself abandoned God for all-night raves, dance clubs, alcohol, and hypersexualized and over commoditized fetishized forms of femininity and masculinity? Oftentimes, I find myself answering yes to the above questions. After surviving hate crime after hate crime and endless batches of newly elected conservative politicians hell bent on ignoring medical and social epidemic plaguing the very country they were elected to serve and protect, why would a community, oftentimes linked to sin itself, believe in a holy entity?
The overarching question at hand in regards to the closing of the Palms is not whether or not there is a space for God in the LGBTQ community anymore but rather what role does misogyny play within the very community sworn to respect and take pride in the very differences that makes itself truly unique? Scholar Ann D. Braude credits the success of religion to the active and oftentimes overwhelming support of women. With 40% of West Hollywood’s 35,000 residents identifying as gay but only 3% identifying as lesbians one can deduce that the closing of the Palms signifies the growing divide between the LGBTQ community and spirituality as more women leave the proverbial “church spaces” that they have created.
The success of the LGBTQ community cannot be tied exclusively to gay men but also the struggles and successes of the lesbian community. Similar to the various ways in which women helped religious communities boom throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in America, the lesbian community, as a whole, is integral to not only the successes of the LGBTQ community and the very cities and spaces they have helped to found.
With the exodus of women, so comes the migration of spirituality itself and one can only wonder, whether or not, there will ever be any room or spaces left for women where more individual are becoming continually transfixed by Adonises and abdominal muscles.
If Professor Cartier’s thesis does hold true, we have to begin to wonder if women are fleeing and God is following them, where might they be looking for a new lease?
John Erickson is a doctoral student in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements. His work is inspired by the intersectionality of feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric. He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.
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