Panic! At the Drag Lounge

Content warning: this post includes transphobic quotes, as reported by trans performer Valentine Steaphon

This week staff at a NYC gay bar called Boots and Saddles threw out a trans gender queer performer, after a heterosexual cis patron complained about her using the women’s bathroom. The West Village venue calls itself both a “gay bar” and “drag lounge” making the decision extra exasperating. 

In New York City, laws protect the rights of trans public school students to use the single sex toilet and locker room corresponding with their true (not assigned) gender and of all trans people to use appropriate restrooms in city owned properties like parks and pools. Beginning on January 1st, all NYC single occupant bathrooms must remove signage restricting them to a single gender’s use. 

There are no laws yet regarding transgender rights to access multiple occupant, single sex, public bathrooms on private property, such as the women’s bathroom at Boots and Saddles. That’s where trans genderqueer drag performer Valentine Steaphon was when a cis patron started to harass her. (Steaphon uses he and she pronouns.) 
The cis woman screamed that she “shouldn’t be in here” and shouted “You don’t have a pussy!” Valentine called her a bitch, finished washing her hands, and left the bathroom. The cis patron complained to security that a trans person was peeing at a gay bar that also calls itself a drag lounge and hosts trans performers. That should have been ridiculed. Instead it was coddled. 

“We cater to straight women so if they feel uncomfortable with you in the bathroom, you’re the problem.” That’s how Steaphon quotes the security guard, who then threw her out. Instinct Magazine reports that security also removed the cis patron and her friend, who screamed “If you don’t have titties or a pussy you’re not trans! Get over it!”

Let me be very clear here. Cis people trying to decide who is “really” trans is violence. Gate keeping is violence. Talking about a stranger’s body in lewd and crude ways is not just verbal abuse: it’s sexual harassment. Someone committed a crime in that bathroom and it wasn’t the trans one. Someone had a legitimate reason to feel uncomfortable with the other, and it wasn’t the cis one. 

LGBT spaces are some of the only spaces where trans people can have freedom and safety, though that is limited by the bigotry of the cis LGB camp and the interests of capitalism. Queer people as a whole are broke and straights have a lot more material wealth; not being disowned is a huge financial asset.  Venue owners will always have a financial motive to “cater to straight women”. 

We as a whole community, especially cis queers, must never let straight, cishet money and approval matter more to us than the physical and emotional safety of our trans siblings. Remember, straight people never ” gave” us rights. We earned those, as part of a movement birthed by trans women of color, in New York City. Our real allies are that T in LGBT, which we shamefully discredit. 

Boots and Saddles has published a statement since the incident. 

We are saddened that a member of our LGBTQ community felt marginalized for using the restroom at our bar. For over 43 years Boots has been a champion for the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We expect that every person who walks into our establishment feels safe and respected. To that end, we are taking measures to ensure that such an incident never happens again. Our signage is being updated to reflect what we have always believed that our restrooms are gender neutral. All staff is being reminded that all patrons are to be treated with the utmost respect and sensitivity. We deeply regret this event ever occurred, and we will make sure this never happens again.

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