Perhaps queer women these days have an easier time finding each other. Thank the invention of the internet for that, your mobile technology, where you could do a quick Google search or download an app, and voila! You can find people of your own kind. And by your own kind, I mean people like us — women who love women: masculine-presenting women who love feminine-presenting women, genderqueer women loving each other, femme-to-femme women pairing with each other, or just plain women loving other women. There are all sorts; there are all kinds. But prior to the internet, where did we find each other?
In the Philippines where I discovered that I was a woman-loving-woman, making such a discovery during the 1990s is a bit difficult to manage. For one, you end up asking yourself ridiculous but not totally baseless questions like “But where are the other lesbians?” It is not an uncommon fact among us, and we’ve wondered about this fact during different points in our lives. The more matured of us sniffed out the others, and were successful in polishing the readings of their gaydar. Meanwhile, some of us who have no iota of social clues rely on the kindness of friends, linking you with a friend of a friend of a friend who likes girls, too (or maybe; sniff her out!). And then within these circles, it will be inevitable that you will meet one who has been to some place where the holy grail of findings could be discovered: in an exclusive disco party.
Exclusive here means exclusive dance party for women only. But we queers automatically know that “exclusive for women” really means “women-loving-women” only. In an age where everything seems to be blatant about many things, some codes still exist. However, these codes are being relaxed and substituted by bolder declarations today. While some announcements of queer women-only parties still don’t openly use the word “queer” or “lesbian,” there have been posters that proudly declare “exclusive party for women-loving-women,” and we’re happier with that declaration. Finally, some form of recognition, and it’s out there!
There was a time when these exclusive parties were held incognito, where the organizers would ask for your contact details and send you announcements privately for the details of their next shindig. These days, a quick search on Facebook could reveal many organizers announcing plans of their parties, and they work together sometimes, not in competition but helping each other promote each other’s parties. Now that’s solidarity.
There was a time, too, when one could see new faces, meet new friends, and find new souls to hang out with in these exclusive parties. Some of us who think finding love or lust in these spaces are successful in searching for what they came for. Some of us attend such gatherings as mere observers, lurking in the shadows while nursing a drink or two in our hands. Some of us come there as a couple, as a group of friends, to party and celebrate, to dance the night away, to lovingly hold our beloved’s body as we slow dance and savor the moment of intimacy, to happily bounce and dance to the rhythm of the DJ’s mixes and the beats in our hearts. And we do all of these in a space we deem as safe: safe to hold another woman’s hand, safe to embrace another woman’s body, safe to kiss another woman’s lips. If you are a woman and you did all of these with another woman in another space, sometimes you get inhumane remarks and reactions. And this is why some of us stopped patronizing mixed spaces already: the hetero boys find it baffling that women like us are not dancing with people like them, the hetero girls find it threatening that women like us might like-slash-take advantage of women like them, while some of the onlookers find us worthy of stalking, jeering, photographing without our consent, or bullying. Now you tell me: Is this a safe space for us? But the truth of the matter is, hetero men and hetero women also behave the same way, yes? But it seems that whenever there are non-hetero couples around, it suddenly becomes an “us versus them” club. So for us, we’re tired of this scene. So we search for our own — spaces where we deem we are safe, secure, and understood.
Yes, we just want to dance, but why do you have to butt in? Yes, we just want to have fun, but why do you have to disrupt us? Yes, we just want to celebrate, but why do you have to ban us? This is the reason why we build our own spaces, and we patronize spaces that welcome us for who we are. Because for people like us, the world is not that embracing, not that warm, not that cozy. On a Friday night where we just want to chill and have a few drinks without having to look over our shoulders for stalkers or bullies, we go search for spaces of our own to unwind and be ourselves. On a Saturday night when we feel like dancing the night away, we go head towards that place where we know people like us are welcome and respected. Yes, sometimes, we prefer places where they don’t look at the color of your money, for as long as you keep their businesses afloat. So to these places, we gladly share our hard-earned pink peso in exchange for a few moments of service or goods, with a side order of respect and peace.
More than having a room of our own, having places that temporarily own us will be treated as a welcome haven for human beings who simply want to exist. Now, if someone rains on our parade, and showers us with hatred and bullets, imagine the magnified pain that event would cause. We just want to dance, to exist, to be happy, to celebrate, to be. Ruin that for us, and what does that make you?
Thus, reading in the news that a room similar to our own was the site of such hatred, we felt nothing but sadness, the extreme kind. For yes, we know how it feels to be in such a space, and we know how it is to be targeted for who we are. To end lives the way the 49 lives ended that fateful night in Pulse, it is not only Orlando that mourns. We, too, mourn from here. And in every single place where bigotry against people like us exists, I know they mourn, too. For we collectively know what loss is all about, but we know more what safe spaces should do for us. And to be violated that way in a space we deemed safe for our own kind, there is nothing but sadness to feel for such a tragedy that has affected us all.
Sympathy is not exclusive, though. We know that many who deem this as a crime against humanity feel the same way. And so, we hope that more of humanity would work together to stop the hate. And no, not just for people like us — for all people. Because hate should not be a human trait. Not now, and hopefully not ever.
Libay Linsangan Cantor is an award-winning Manila-based queer writer, media practitioner and gender advocate. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at Culture Popper Leaflens and tweets as @Leaflens. She answers queer-related queries at her Askfm leaflens site.
Photos by the author. Some rights reserved.