Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ms. C's

Ms. C's
Ms. C's

Location: 7900 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado, USA

Opened: 1980s?

Closed: February 28, 2009

Here's on Ms. C's:

Although it's woefully far from downtown (about 5 miles east via ticky-tacky, slow-as-molasses Colfax Avenue), Ms C's lesbian bar (7900 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-4436) deserves kudos as a low-frills, no-nonsense lesbian bar (and a bit of a dive) that has managed to remain popular for decades. It draws a mostly lesbian crowd (in fact, men - gay or otherwise - tend to be very much the exception). There's a nice big patio, super-cheap drinks, a rocking juke box, and the usual bar games (pool, darts, and such). It ain't fancy, but the crowd here sure knows how to party.

The assessment at gaycities was a bit blunter (shooting from the hip if you will):

Lesbian dive bar where the clientele wears boots, not heels
The only lesbian bar and nightclub in Denver for 14 years straight. Dancing, happy hours, and drink specials.

Here's what one patron said about it, apparently a satisfied local gal:

From April 2008:
“C's is a country-music bar for lesbians. Lesbian bars are few and far between as it is, so I'm happy to have this one. Plus, two-stepping is easy enough to pick up, especially from some pretty lady. Saturday nights are the nights to be there. It's hit or miss some nights with the girls. Some Saturdays you can barely walk in there, and some nights it's desolate. One week I go in sweatpants and the next with glitter and curls. No one cares. Very laid back. One of my very favorite bars to go to on Saturday nights.”

And here's what one out-of town, gay male visitor thought:

From July 2008:
This place is the most shit-kickin', ghetto-fabulous, country western(ish), lesbian dive bar in the world.  Ok, that's a pretty grand claim, so I'll limit the scope to Denver.  This place is the most (see above) in Denver.

Make no mistake, the place is a hole but that adds to its charm.  There are pool tables, darts, pitchers, and line dancing, (natch) and the place can get crazy busy.  Prepare for a truly random listening experience as you'll hear everything from Barry White to The Dixie Chicks.  They also take requests.  (I found it handy to add an extra L and E to the end of my name.  Do with that what you will.)

For the most part the clientele is laid-back and chill to be around.  To be fair, I have been attacked by angry lesbians who don't understand this 'mos deep love for the 'bos.  But that's ok, the cool chicks came to my rescue and then they played 'Let's Stay Together' so everything was better.

In the world of gay Denver you have to experience C's at least once.  It's little, it's funky, it's way the eff out on east Colfax, and it's a part of our history.  Viva C's.

And then this sassy ol' gal shuffled off to Boot Hill. Till the end she wasn't no citified, lipstick lesbian bar, no siree. She was always true to her own sweet if rough-and-tumble self! Facebook announced her upcoming demise:

If you don't know....everyone's favorite two steppin', bootie shakin' lesbian dive bar in Denver is CLOSING.

Ms C's is gonna hang up their boots next weekend February 28th! So grab your friends and put your dancin' shoes on for the last dance at Ms C's.

"Suffragette Cars" (Women-only cars on the New York City Subway)

1909 "Suffragette Car"
"Suffragette Cars" (Women-only cars on the New York City Subway)

Location: New York, New York, USA

Founded: March 1909

Closed: Around August 1909

Another amazing find at Ephermal New York:

They were called “suffragette cars” when they were introduced in March 1909 on trains of the Hudson Tubes, which took passengers from Manhattan to Hoboken (today’s PATH).

And test runs of these single-sex subway cars—the last car in each train reserved for women only during rush hours—were also deemed a success. So much of a success, IRT officials considered the idea for the then–five year old New York City subway.

One women’s group, the Women’s Municipal League, supported the idea, while a host of others opposed it, stating that it was impractical and unnecessary.

After months of debate, the idea was abandoned. Officials decided that the Hudson Tube women-only cars weren’t that successful after all, and that women didn’t want them anyway.

Said one official in an August 1909 New York Times article:

“Almost an equal number of people (to the advocates of women’s cars) stated that men are the best protection that women have in a crowded car, and that they prefer to ride in cars where men and women are together, that while there are rare occasions when some brute will take advantage of the situation to insult a lady, on the other hand the gentlemen are the best protection the ladies want against such conduct.”

And subway pervs all over the city continued rubbing up against chicks in crowded cars. . . .

Tokyo Flower Train
According to Alisa Freeman, the New York City experiment with women-only coaches may have inspired a similar model in Tokyo in 1912:

A train with women-only accommodation was put on in the United States in 1909 and may have been the model for the one in Japan. On its first day, a total of 131 women used the Tokyo Flower Train. The Flower Train was in service until the Second World War. A movement to reinstate it was successful in 1947, and Chuo line trains included a passenger car for women only until 1973.

Meanwhile, the notion of women-only public transportation (buses, subway cars) has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in the last decade or so--all in cities outside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe. There are currently 15 countries that have women-only buses and/or subway cars, including Japan (beginning again in 2000 on a "trial basis"), Egypt, India, Malyasia, Taiwan, Mexico, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Guatemala, and Dubai.

But like all womyn-only spaces, a lot of men find women-only train cars a personal threat and women continue to be harrassed. As a result, keeping these cars women-only is a constant struggle.

Here are some examples from women in Egypt, who were members of the "Campaign for Women-only Means of Transport" group:  

"There are men who even dare to ride the women-only carriage," writes one of the members.

"If you tell them that this car is for females, some leave quietly at the next station, while others don’t do anything. It’s like talking to a brick wall."

Another complains of beggars on the Underground, who hang around the women-only carriages, hoping for some compassion.

"One day, a blind man entered the [women-only] carriage [I was in]. He moved along the carriage touching us. We realised that he wasn’t blind at all. When the police came, he ran away," says another female member.

However, it is also interesting that women have taken an active role in policing the women-only cars themselves. Here's an example from India:

Women-only train in India
The Times of India said on Saturday police led a crackdown at a station in Gurgaon, a booming satellite development on the outskirts of Delhi, after a series of complaints – and women passengers joined in the action.

“Not only were the unruly commuters made to shell out a fine of 250 rupees ($A5.50), angry women slapped some of them and forced them to do sit-ups,” the Times reported.

Gurgaon police commissioner S Deswal, who led the raid, told the newspaper: “We found many male passengers in the women’s coach. The moment the women saw us, they got the courage to teach the men a lesson.”

“We want our young girls and women to feel confident and safe while travelling in the metro,” he said.

The Mail Today reported how some of the men in the women’s carriage “had to bear the ignominy of doing sit-ups in public” when they were caught on at the Guru Dronacharya station on Thursday evening.

Photos: 1909 "suffragette car," sign for Flower Line, woman-only train in India.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buddies II

Buddies II
Buddies II

Location: 4025 Maple Avenue, Dallas, Texas, USA

Opened: Late 1970s

Closed: September 27, 2009

I've heard of bars that were meat markets, but this definitely takes the cake. Or is it cutlet?

Tuesday night "steak outs" at Buddies II, where you hauled in your own meat for grilling. Sides are on the house. Seriously. Only in Texas....

Though it may have looked like a dive from the outside, Buddies II had an amazing amount to offer. Not just the big dance floor and the big "rambunctious" patio which you'd expect, of course. But a SWIMMING POOL, SAND VOLLEY BALL COURTS, and a VIDEO ARCADE to boot. Oh, and something about FOUR BARS for your imbibing pleasure. Yee haw!

And it was mostly for girls! From

Along the strip of laid-back neighborhood bars along Maple Avenue, Buddies II (4025 Maple Ave., 214-526-0887) is the quintessence of an eclectic gay bar, and it's been a mainstay in Oak Lawn since it opened in the late '70s. The friendly, fun-loving bar is one of the most popular hangouts among lesbians in Dallas, but it also draws plenty of guys, too. Day or night, it's a great spot for inexpensive cocktails and socializing - the large swimming pool, volleyball court, and arcade with games are among the many draws. There's also a good-size dance floor, and Buddies II hosts live bands from time to time.

But if that sounds like the place was overrun with boys, you needn't have feared. As CruisingGays assures us,

This is a women's bar but is open and friendly and welcomes men as well. Popular karaoke club and great dance floor and regular pool tournaments. Summertime this club offer a great patio and swimming pool. Cover charge on weekends.

Or as Clubfly deemed it, "a Cheers kind of lesbian poolside bar where everyone knows your name."

So why did it close? Maybe such a big "entertainment complex" was simply too expensive to operate, especially during an economic downturn. Or maybe it just became unfashionable with the fickle younger crowd. Here's a sampling of the complaints:

From September 2007:

Buddies has a lot of potential... But it sure does have the wrong crowd. Most of them are older and not so attractive women. If you are looking for butch, head to buddies. I mean serious butch... Ragged Jeans, No make up what so ever, motorcycle bike riding and stringy hair. Seriously its no joke. Go to check it out on a busy night but please do leave before the alcohol starts to settle in...YOu might just end up being somones prison b*tch the next morning. Not a mistake ya wanna make.  

From January 2008:

Not really a fan favorite. The bar is dated and not really full of what you want to see on a weekend night.
I'm sure it is good for some, but not my group of friends.

Photo of Buddies II by Andrew Collins

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls (White Rose Mission)

262 West 136th Street today
White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls (White Rose Mission)

Location: 262 West 136th Street, New York, New York, USA, after previously being located at 217 East 86th Street

Founded: Organized in 1900, by Mrs. Victoria Earle Mathews

Closed: ?

Mrs. Victoria Earle Mathews (1861-1907), along with other prominent black women in New York City such as Alice Dunbar Nelson, formed the White Rose Industrial Association in 1897. The White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls (also known as the White Rose Mission) came into being three years later, in 1900. The White Rose Mission was part of a larger movement of black club women who were devoted to education and social uplift in the black community. The focus of the White Rose home was to provide counsel, job training skills, education, and decent affordable shelter to young black working women, who were often trapped in prostitution or in poorly paid domestic servitude. (As of 1902, the White Rose charged just 50 cents a week--considerably less than the rents in Harlem at the time.)

Victoria Mathews was an energetic and courageous woman who was born into slavery. Her mother was forced to leave Victoria during those years, but miraculously, she was able to claim legal custody of Victoria and her sister after the Civil War. The family moved to New York City about 1873. After an unhappy marriage, Victoria turned to writing and then to organizing and club work. In 1892, she became the first president of the Woman's Loyal Union of New York. The WLU was more than just a Negro women's club. It was a civil rights organization in its own right, which attacked all forms of racial discrimination and supported journalist Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching crusade. Three years later in 1895, Victoria Mathews, along with Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, founded the National Federation of Afro-American Women. One year later, under Mrs. Mathews' leadership, that organization merged with the National Colored Women's League to become the National Association of Colored Women. She served as a national organizer with the Association for two years (1897-1899). It was at this point that her interests started to shift:
Victoria Earle Mathews

Mrs. Mathews had long felt a concern for Negro girls who were being drawn into prostitution through ignorance and inexperience. The death of her son at the age of sixteen intensified an already strong impulse toward social welfare work among young people. Early in 1896, after participating in the Congress of Colored Women of the United States at the Atlanta exposition the preceding December, Victoria Mathews toured the South, travelling as far as New Orleans, to investigate red-light districts and the spurious "employment agencies" that were victimizing young colored girls seeking work in the North. In February 1897, she founded the White Rose Industrial Association, which opened a working girls' home where newly arrived Negro girls were befriended, counseled, and prepared for employment through courses in cooking, sewing, and housekeeping.

But it wasn't long before White Rose took on a more aggressive, advocacy role:

Soon White Rose agents were stationed at the piers in New York and Norfolk, Va., to make sure that youthful female travellers did not fall into the hands of unscrupulous men. Originally located in a flat provided rent-free by the building's owner, the White Rose Mission, as it was commonly known, moved in 1900, with the aid of white benefactors, to larger quarters on 86th Street. Under Mrs. Mathews' leadership, it took on aspects of a settlement house, with mothers' clubs, recreational activities, and a kindergarten. She herself taught a class in Negro history and established a large library of books by and about Negroes.

Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1917), who would later become a prominent leader in Harlem's New Negro movement, also contributed to the intellectual environment at White Rose. Harrison developed a race history class and a literary club at the White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls, which was, we're told, the only exclusively colored settlement in New York at the time. 

In 1918, the White Rose Mission moved to its final location on 136th Street. It was still there as of 1921, according to a listing in the Brooklyn Eagle (at that time, they claimed 2,220 had been "cared for" at the Home).  It was still there as of 1922. And then I'm unable to find out what happened to it. Now days, the structure at 262 West 136th Street is a residential duplex.

Photos: 262 West 136th Street today and Mrs. Victoria Earle Mathews

Friday, June 24, 2011



Location: 4343 North 7th Street, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Founded: May 2004

Closed: Early 2008?

Like a lot of new bars, E-Lounge burst on to the club scene with a lot of buzz. As one breathless early reviewer announced in September 2004,  this place was "lesbian heaven." All the "lipstickers, doo-raggers and power lesbians" are getting "buck wild" at the E-Lounge!

Three guesses where the Jettster wants to lick her lips and twist her hips? The new lesbian love zone, the E-Lounge, over on Seventh Avenue just north of Indian School. Seems the four-and-a-half-month-old club has brought game to that other L-word drama palace in the PHX, Ain't Nobody's Bizness (known by the shorthand "the Biz"), and everyone in the gay community is feelin' its flava.

Brash, overachieving newcomer that she was, the E-lounge won the "Best Place to See a Drag Show" from the Phoenix Times the same year she opened:

So you've just watched The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar back to back on video and you're wondering where you go to get your drag on in this burg. Well, pull on those pantyhose, girlfriend, tuck in that crank shaft, and head on down to the Sunday night "She-Lounge" at E-Lounge. E-Lounge is the hot new lesbian club in town, and Sunday nights there are turned over to P-town's glorious gals of female impersonation, led by none other than drag diva and longtime Echo columnist Barbra Seville. Seville, who likes to lip-synch Bette Midler in her prime, once flaunted her ab-fab stuff at Wink's, but now that Wink's is no more, she uses the E-Lounge as her stomping grounds. Her co-host for the gig is the lusciously vivacious Miss Angela Dodd, who never fails to have the het boys in the audience drooling for more.

With them for the performance are the campiest cuties, the most daring divas, and the classiest queens of the PHX doing their Milli Vanilli best with torch songs, standards, and the latest tops of the pops. If you want to beat the Sunday night blues without consuming a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a handful of Zoloft at home alone, then the She-Lounge is the place to be.

And the Best Lesbian Bar award too, also in 2004:

Thankfully, you'll be hard-pressed to find a mullet here. E-Lounge draws patrons of all ages, but its largest draw is the twentysomething crowd. With ample, cushy couches, reasonably priced drinks, and hordes of hot women, E-Lounge is fast becoming the nightclub that local lesbians have wanted for years. The inside decor resembles a grotto inferno, with dark red brick walls, paintings of exotic, scantily clad women, and a spacious, sunken dance floor -- a perfect pit for exhibitionists, and a great eyeful opportunity for voyeurs. Add some of the Valley's hottest DJs (Domenica, Pete, and Laura B.) to the mix, and there's bound to be beautiful booty shakin' until last call -- and maybe more booty after that. Readers' Choice: Ain't Nobody's Bizness

She also won the Best Lesbian Bar award in 2006 (after losing out to "Ain't Nobody's Bizness" in 2005):

Thank God they ditched the pool table to make room for more people. This hot homo hub serves up some of the best eye candy in Phoenix, from big-busted women in wife-beaters to femmes in frilly skirts. There are more good-looking women here than at any other lesbian bar in town. To put it bluntly, "the e" is a meat market. But we're not saying that like it's a bad thing. The place has a spacious sunken dance floor; cheap, strong drinks; hot wax spun by DJs Adrian and Domenica; performances by gay icons like Le Tigre's JD Samson, the Albuquerque Kings Club drag king troupe, and Lila Sherman; and fun parties with themes like pajamas, the military, and the '80s. Who wouldn't want to hook up with a hottie here?

E-Lounge wasn't just a hit with the locals. The out of town reviewers liked it too, like Matt Link at

Women in Phoenix face a tough choice when it comes to picking where to go out to play. The city has an impressive number of social options. A top selection is the E Lounge in the central "Queer Corridor," as the stretch between 7th Avenue and 7th Street is sometimes called. Hip hop and jukebox favorites blare out at the friendly bar, where ladies on the stools by the bar will be sure to talk to locals or the laid back bartenders. It's an exuberant, youthful dance bar Thursday though Saturday, packed to the rafters with hot women. The staff doesn't take much persuasion to get up on the bar and demonstrate shot-pouring techniques, and the crowd gets deliciously rowdy on busy nights.

Was there nothing the E-Lounge couldn't do? Maybe walking on water while graduating at the top of her class from Harvard Law? But like a lot of overachievers, she got a little cocky, started to coast.

Then the complaints started.

The place was too smoky. It was too dirty. It had no energy.

Here's one complaint from January 2006:

When e-lounge first opened it was THE place to be.  It was hip and fun and had great crowds.  Now... well....

And another one from a few months later:

I stopped by here in October [2006], after I first moved, around 6:30, figuring I would hit the happy hour after work crowd. Uh. No. It was me, three other sporty ladies with ponytails through their baseball caps and a tattooed bartender. The place just seemed kind of tacky and not that clean for some reason.

This is from January 2007:

We got there around 10:30 and the energy was just fucking DEAD. There was a long line for the womens bathroom, and some butches were obviously chroniced out and fuckin up the flow of the line and shit. Some ladies just opted for the guys room, but I wasn't drunk yet and could still smell, so I opted out of it. There was a DJ spinning some good top 40 hip hop, and no one was on the floor. Oh, there was one chick...READING THE FUCKING PAPER! WTF?

By 11:14 pm, I was like, the bartenders are taking too long, this place is too damn smokey, no one is dancing (even though we had a crew and started some but still-had about 14 people out there-out of a full house), people are drinking WAY too much (like 4 shots at a TIME) and getting rowdy and full of drama in the parking lot.

We decided to check out e-Lounge at 1am, and there was improvement-people were on the floor, but of course people were even more fucked up, it was even smokier and not ventilated at all, and people were getting mad sloppy.

The vibe here is just off, I don't know if it was the people here both times or what, which is why I am gonna give it another try.

And from May 2007:

Most nights I came home smelling like smoke with who knows what stuck to the bottom of my shoes.

Apparently a lot of ladies didn't feel like giving the E-Lounge another try, as it finally closed for good--probably around early 2008.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mother's Brew

Mother's Brew

Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Founded: 1975?

Closed: 1978

Mother's Brew was one of the rare lesbian bars founded by a collective, the Lesbian Feminist Union (1974-1979).  Mother's Brew has also been credited with being the first lesbian bar in Louisville. Two women are generally cited as being central to the organization and management of Mother's Brew: Jade River and Falcon River.

In an interview, Jade explains something of Mother's Brew's beginnings:

I was a member of the Lesbian Feminist Union. We opened the only women’s only bar in, like, I don’t know, there were some on the East Coast and some on the West Coast, and the one we had in Kentucky. We opened a bar called Mother’s Brew. Because my family had run their own businesses, I was like, “Well, if you want a business, you just incorporate and sell stock and open your business.” So I talked all these women into each buying a share of stock and we opened a lesbian bar. And that bar served as kind of. . . The Lesbian Feminist Union held their meetings there. And it was closed; we did not allow men in; this was part of the response by the lesbian feminist community at that time was to be separatists; to isolate so that we could really focus on how would it be if we weren’t responding to traditional male expectations for women. So this was a very separatist period. I didn’t know lesbians who hung out with men. There wasn’t a whole lot of trans--of crossover between the lesbian population then. And we were also, it was not okay to be out at this point. It was very closeted because we were in Kentucky, you could lose your job, you could lose your house, you could lose your kids, because you were a lesbian. So there was a lot of fear and a lot of safety by just being around other lesbians.

Both Jade and River continue to be active leaders in Goddess religion.

Mother's Brew was also homebase to the band River City Womin (1974-1978). In a chapter on Louisville's Lesbian Feminist Union, Kathie D. Williams quotes one anonymous woman on hearing the band for the first time:

I had heard of River City Womin and the bar [Mother's Brew] but I had never seen either. The first time I walked through the doors of the Brew and saw four strong, confident women performing love songs to other women, I cried. I had felt so alone, like I was the only one. I stood and listened to those songs as if I had never heard music before. I guess maybe I hadn't, at least not music for me. I returned everytime they played. The energy was incredible.

According to John E. Kleber, Mother's Brew functioned more like a lesbian cultural center than as a standard-issue bar:

In addition to featuring live music by a local female band, River City Womyn [sic], Mother's Brew hosted nationally known musicians, sponsored lectures by early lesbian leaders such as Rita Mae Brown and Kathie Sarachild, and housed a resource center that provided women with information about the development of lesbian activism. The Brew also influenced another signficant development of lesbian culture in Louisville--softball. Softball teams were often sponsored by local bars or women-owned businesses. Mother's Brew sponsored the city's only all-lesbian team, the Matriarchies.

Other functions housed at Mother's Brew were a feminist library, a "safe room" where battered women could shelter for a few days, and an art gallery.

Some of the nationally known musicians who appeared at Mother's Brew included Maxine Feldman, Alix Dobkin, Holly Near, Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, and the Reel World String Band--a veritable who's who of 1970s womyn's music. Here's a review of a 1977 Alix Dobkin concert by a Lesbian Feminist Union member:

The Alix Dobkin concert at Mother's Brew was a not-to-be-believed combination of high flying, full Moon light bathing, Dykenergy. Over 200 women attended the concert and were exposed to a woman who lives out the statement, "The Personal is the Political." Alix speaks and sings directly of her life and politics and makes no apologies for either. As an energetic woman-loving woman, she is a great spokesperson for our movement. The energy of her message will not soon be lost. The power of the evening continued with our River City Womin.

As Falcon River reflects, "We did our part to subvert the dominant paradigm in a very hostile environment, in very hostile times."

Try as I may, I have not been able to determine the exact address for Mother's Brew, nor find any photos or illustrations related to the place. So I have settled for the cover from Alix Dobkin's 1975 album, Living with Lesbians.

Update 1/25/2012: I was reading an article on the recent closing of Tink's Pub, a newer lesbian bar in Louisville, and it was mentioned in passing that Mother's Brew was located at the current location of the Kentucky Convention Center. The Convention Center address is 221 South 4th Street, near Market Street. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Menstrual huts (Ponulu)

Menstrual huts (Ponulu)

Location: Among the Dogon people of the central plateau, Mali, West Africa

Opened/Closed: Not completely lost yet, but certainly endangered due to urbanization and western cultural/religious influences

The menstrual hut may be found in many "pre-modern" cultures--some 12 percent in total based on one estimate. But here we are focusing on the menstrual huts (ponulu) of the Dogon people of West Africa. Among the Dogon, the menstrual hut is situated out in the open, just outside the compound walls of the village. Women having their periods are considered "impure," so during these times, the women are restricted to the ponulu. This is where they sleep and have their meals during their so-called "state of impurity." These dwellings are circular in design--unlike other Dogon structures which are rather rectangular--and the outside walls are often decorated with symbols of fecundity, such as individuals with oversized sexual organs.

According to anthropologist Beverly I. Strassman, Dogon women are required to sleep in the menstrual huts for five nights. During this time, the women get no reprieve from agricultural labor and spend most days working in the fields. However, the village streets and family compounds are off limits and sexual intercourse and cooking for a husband are strictly forbidden. So in a sense, the women are still required to work; they just can't go home or participate in village life. 

Strassman does not see the ponulu as "positive" women's spaces, or spaces promoted or created by the women themselves. Rather, she argues that Dogon menstrual taboos serve the following purposes, all of which enforce male domination:

1) The function of Dogon menstrual taboos is to force females to signal their menses.

2) Menstrual signaling is imposed on senders (females) by receivers (husbands and their male relatives) through the use of social reprisals and supernatural threats. Within the Dogon animist belief system, women who stay home during menstruation desecrate the animist fetishes (magical objects) that protect against famine and illness. But there are also serious social penalties. If a woman is caught not going to the menstrual hut during menstruation, she is fined one sheep which is sacrificed by the male elders to "restore the fetishes" (and males alone consume the meat). But women are also punished for going to the huts when they are NOT menstruating. In fact, this is considered an even more serious violation and the woman who does so risks social ostracism. As Strassman concludes, "Thus, the taboos establish a rule that women must always signal menstruation, and they provide a way to punish women for false signaling."

3) The Dogon (men) use knowledge of the timing of menstruation in relation to the timing of copulation to make paternity assessments, so that men can avoid making any investment in genetically unrelated offspring. This is essential in a culture in which inheritance is restricted to the patrilineal lines.

Based on her research and her contacts with Dogon women, Strassman rejects the possibility that the Dogon women themselves are promoting these menstrual taboos. In fact, Strassman found that menstrual hut use is predicted by the religion of the husband, not by the religion of the wife. Women who had animist husbands used the huts; women whose husbands were not animists did not. Her women informants clearly indicated to Strassman that they themselves did not like using the huts, but were obliged to do so by their husbands and fathers-in-law.

Ironically, the women did not actually use the huts much because they are constantly pregnant. For women between the peak reproductive ages of 20-34, there was a median of only two ponulu visits per woman over the two years of Strassman's research. In addition, the ponulu do not provide any unique opportunity for meditation or reflection or time away from the men, because Dogon culture is already split along gendered lines. Dogon husbands and wives usually live in separate dwellings, and work, eat, and socialize in same-sex groups.

In the final analysis, the ponulu are not so much  "womyn's spaces" as points of patriarchal surveillance (shades of Foucault). Because they are outside the compound walls of the village, there is no privacy. On the contrary, the ponulu are usually constructed next to the shade shelter (loguna) belonging to the males. This puts the women in the menstrual huts in direct view of their husband's male kinsmen, so they can monitor what women are in attendance. Though the women are gone from the menstrual huts during the day when they are out in the fields, the women are still highly visible and exposed the rest of the time. In fact, the very architecture of the ponulu promotes the women's visibility. Because the huts are cramped and windowless, women are discouraged from remaining inside. So they usually make their cooking fires outside on the rocks and sleep in the open air.  

Photos:  Dogon ponulu in Tabitongo

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rail Room

Signboard Hill (1955)
Rail Room

Location: 11 West Pershing Road (across from Union Station), Kansas City, Missouri, USA. In the area formerly known as "Signboard Hill" before it was redeveloped as Crown Center beginning in the mid 1960s.

Opened: 1950s

Closed: Probably around 1966

Linda May reports the following in her 1992 article, "Women in Kansas City's Heritage":

There was one bar that Lesbians went to in those days [i.e. the late 1950s, early 60s], the Rail Room, a neighborhood bar where Crown Center now sits, frequented by male railway workers during the day. After a certain time of day, a "magic transformation" happened. It was taken over by women and there was a halfway point in the room, unspoken and unmarked, past which no men ventured. 

Lisa J. Church elaborates:

For nearly ten years, the Rail Room also played host to an all women's band, the Rail Runners.

"We formed there," says Aggie Wheeler, one of the band's founders. "So we decided to call ourselves the Rail Runners after the name of the bar. Wheeler, the current owner of Jamie's, says the owner of the Rail Room, Ray Mitchell, created a safe environment for the women. "Men could come in there too," says Wheeler. "But he didn't want them causing trouble...trying to pick up women and such, so Ray took care of us."

Hallmark Cards founder Joyce Hall had long hated the Signboard Hill neighborhood, which he regarded as little more than a working-class eyesore. At some point, he decided to embark upon a grand urban redevelopment scheme, a "city within a city" that was eventually called Crown Center. Beginning around 1966, Hallmark began quietly buying up properties in the area (Crown Center eventually included some 85 acres in all). What the Halls regarded as a neighborhood of nothing but "rutted parking lots, abandoned warehouses, the sorry remains of failed or failing businesses, and a limestone hill cluttered with signs and tarpaper shacks" was eventually obliterated in favor of what has been described as "one of the nation's first mixed used redevelopments." The Rail Room was apparently one of the casualties of that redevelopment. 

Update March 4, 2012: David W. Jackson has published as a fascinating book on Kansas City GLBT history called Changing Times (2011). Thanks to David's sleuthing, we now have an actual address for the Rail Room.

Photo: Signboard Hill, looking south along the west side of Main near Pershing Road (1955). Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library

Pete's Pub


Pete's Pub
Pete's Pub

Location: 47th Street just west of Rainbow Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas, USA

Founded: 1950s

Closed: 1980s

Evelyn "Evie" Akers was instrumental in setting up Kansas City gay and lesbian bowling and sports leagues back in the 1970s and 80s. She was also an informal historian, collecting all kinds of ephemera related to Kansas City gay and lesbian history for her scrapbook--now in the collections of the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA). This June 2010 article from Pitch tells Akers' story--and also introduces us to Pete's Pub, an early lesbian bar in Kansas City, Kansas.

Evelyn Akers wasn't an activist. She never considered herself an actor in local history. The first sentence of her scrapbook admits: "History, to me, was never very interesting."

Now 75, she came out in the late 1950s. "When I first started out in this life, it was more or less underground," she says. "You didn't want people at work to know you were, and I didn't talk to my family about it. It was more underground because, you know, there were gay bashings." She struggles to suppress a giggle. "But it was still fun."

Her memories, packed into a thick binder, were another early donation to GLAMA. The cover is decorated with stickers of baseball bats and volleyballs. More than 100 pages brim with photographs of drag queens parading through bowling alleys and athletes drinking beer on the field.

On the cover page of Akers' scrapbook is a card from Pete's Pub, an early lesbian bar that was later renamed Birds of a Feather. "Probably most of you that look at this book have never heard of Willine 'Pete' Munhollon," Akers writes. "It wasn't easy to have a bar in a residential neighborhood, especially in Kansas. It had to be operated as a private club with membership cards and someone on the door. My friends and I always felt safe at Pete's — not that she wouldn't call you down if you did something she didn't like."

In 1974, Munhollon rolled out the idea of a gay bowling league. To protect the players, the name was vague: Pete's Mr. and Ms. League. Full names never appeared on the weekly league sheet. Akers was still wary. "When I heard Pete was starting a 'gay' bowling league at first I was excited," she writes. "Then my second thought was, 'What if someone sees me?' I went to the bars but shied away from being openly gay in public. But I considered joining and it was one of the best things I have ever done."

Within three years, the league went from 16 to 30 teams. Akers became its president. With 120 people packing the bowling alley, the league could close the doors to outsiders. "And things got wild," Akers says.

"Mission Bowl didn't have a liquor license, so David Dickerson, owner of the Tent [bar], brought in a suitcase filled with bottles of vodka, bourbon, scotch, etc., so all you needed was a set-up from the snack bar," she writes. "Ron Thomas would wander through the bowlers, offering a sip of his drink he called 'shoe polish.' Only the brave or the drunk took him up on it."

Kansas City wasn't the only town with a gay league. In 1981, players in Pete's league traveled to Houston, Texas, for a national tournament. The gathering led to the establishment of the International Gay Bowling Organization. At the founding meeting, Akers served as Kansas City's representative. She was also the only woman. "They were telling me how great we were in Kansas City," she says. "Women and men did their own thing back then. They didn't really mix. Everyone was really amazed that we got along so well."

That led Akers to spearhead a second mixed-gender endeavor: The Kansas City Co-Ed Sports Association. The gay sports league was established over drinks on the upper floor of the Tent bar in 1982. But Akers, as president, kept things organized. To gauge interest in different sports, she created a questionnaire, which was distributed in bars and churches that were popular in the gay community. "In the wintertime, it was bowling and shuffleboard on Friday," she says. "Then we went into the summer months, and we'd go to the park and do horseshoes. We always had something going on, something that was fun. We didn't have to be in the bars, though we usually ended up there."

She laughs. "Oh, if I had all the money I spent on booze, I'd be rich."

The coed sports association lasted less than a decade, Akers says, but gay sports leagues proliferated. In 2006, the International Gay Bowling Organization held its national tournament in Kansas City. The leaders of the group honored Akers for her leadership in the early years.

"I felt like a pioneer," she says. "I just felt happy in those days. I was just ... busy."

More information about Akers' scrapbook can be found here. Pete's Pub is also mentioned in a March 1992 article, Women in Kansas City's Heritage.

Card for Pete's Pub. Donated by Evelyn Akers to  GLAMA, the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America

Monday, June 20, 2011

Kabul Women's Garden (Sharara Garden)

Kabul Women's Garden
Kabul Women's Garden (Sharara Garden)

Location:  Kabul, Afghanistan

Founded: Under debate. Some say it was founded as early as the days of Babur the Conqueror, in the 1500s. Most believe it is dated to the 1940s or 50s, when King Zahir Shah was said to have bequeathed it to the state. Re-opened on November 3, 2010.

Closed: Sometime around 1996, just after the Taliban came to official power (1996-2001). Consistent with its other anti-women Taliban edicts, places were banned from having the name "woman" in them, so the name of the park was changed to "Spring Park" (sometimes translated as "Springtime Garden"). Women were also banned from entering the park--along with a host of other paralyzing restrictions that affected their physical movement, access to education and jobs, and so forth. "Spring Park" was subsequently stripped of its trees and turned into a garbage dump (truly an insight into how radical Islam views women and womyn's space). However, a small area in the center was retained so militamen could engage in "the manly 'sport' of cock-fighting." (Of course, and how utterly revealing....)

As if we were gathered around the reporter's knee, an article in today's New York Times pulls us into the story with all the magic of a fairy tale:

There was in the city an old garden, and in that garden there were trees, and under the trees there were women.

And there were no scarves on the heads of the women who sat under the trees in the old Kabul Women's Garden.

That was all something remarkable once upon a time, as it is even now. Screened from male scrutiny by the leafy canopies of almond and apricot trees, women could go outside as they pleased, dare to wriggle naked toes in fountain water or just gossip without the veil.

I suppose the Kabul Women's Garden isn't so much a "lost" womyn's space as a "lost-and-found" womyn's space--at least for now. 

Forty-five truckloads of garbage were hauled out in order to reclaim this space as the Kabul Women's Garden. And local women laborers contributed to the project--almost unheard of in Afghanistan, but since USAID requirements state that at least 25 percent of contruction laborers on international projects must be women, women workers there were.  In fact, they ended up representing half of the workforce reclaiming the park.

But the Kabul Women's Park is much more than a safe green space in the middle of a war-ravaged city--a green space now adorned with 5,000 pink rose bushes and 3,500 trees. It is certainly a testament to the hardwork and determination of Afgan women--with the support of $500,000 in international assistance. But interestingly enough, this 8-acre enclave actually functions more like a women's village within a (male) city.  As USA Today explained back in January, the Kabul Women's Park is "more than a park of fountains, gazebos and playgrounds. It contains shops, a fitness center, basketball court, kindergarten, restaurant, mosque, computer lab and job training centers, all managed by women for women." The Times elaborates:

Now male police officers outside the tall steel gates open them only for women, or for male children if they are under 9. Inside the gates are those rarest of public employees: female police officers, two of them. They are reinforced by five female intelligence officers, whose main job is to look for suicide bombers who might hide explosives under the capaciousness of the burqa.

Mostly the burqas come off once inside the gate, and there are dressing rooms where many of the women change into normal clothes, putting on makeup and high heels.

Then, unheard-of things happen here. The women themselves have raised funds for a tiny mosque, with religious instruction given by a woman — one of only a handful of such places in a city where at least 1.5 million female Muslims live.

A consortium of European Union aid groups built a spacious gym, and women in tights take fitness classes there or play badminton. The Italians started the Always Spring Restaurant, featuring something else unknown in Kabul, female pizza chefs.

Between the compound’s outer and inner walls, a shopping arcade of little, female-run businesses grew up, many of them financed with microgrants: hairdressing, embroidery, children’s clothing, ladies lingerie.

There are other such businesses in Kabul, but none are run by women, to whom the busy bazaars are off limits not by law but by hard custom.

Some come here for opportunity, many for refuge of one sort or another. Fairly often, women who have run away from abusive husbands, or from fathers who threaten to commit a so-called honor killing, wind up here, and the staff members find them a place in one of the city’s secret women’s shelters.

Kabul Women's Garden
So of course the misogynist mullahs are all in a lather, having convinced themselves that these women are getting all dressed up and putting on makeup because they have "other intentions." (It's always about the menz, right?)

But as positive as the Women's Garden is for the women of Kabul, it is also, broadly speaking, "an admission of failure." As the Times concedes, "Women simply cannot go to other parks in Kabul unless chaperoned by male relatives, and often not even then; most parks, like most public spaces, are overwhelmingly male."

Susan Jaboby at the Washington Post truly fears for the future of the Women's Garden and the Afghan women who have enjoyed some modicum of freedom within its walls:  

...this is a society dominated by a toxic mixture of tribal thuggery and radical Islam, both of them based on repression of women. It is a society where women cannot sit in public parks in the capital city without being assaulted by men and must therefore plead for the right to lift their faces to the sun, in an all-female garden that could not exist without heavy steel gates and police protection. It is a society in which, whatever generals and how many troops we send, the Kabul Women's Garden will undoubtedly be trashed within days of an inevitable U.S. withdrawal. You can be sure that no helicopters will arrive to rescue the women who have risked their lives for a patch of personal liberty. Like the Vietnamese left behind on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, they will be left to suffer for America's delusions about its ability to transform a country far from our realistic sphere of influence.

In fact, the women in the garden are already subjected to visual surveillance and catcalls, in addition to other numerous governmental concessions to the Taliban that constrain the rest of their lives:

A former warlord has taken over an adjacent site and is putting up a 13-story building so that men can leer and jeer at the women in the garden. Of course there are much, much worse things happening to women than being deprived of the right to exercise without attracting prurient attention. Thirteen-year-olds are being flogged for fleeing arranged marriages--something the world knows because the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission (a non-governmental organization) released a smuggled video of the event. How brave all of these women are to fight for a small amount of freedom against such overwhelming odds, and their hopes will certainly be destroyed if and when the country returns to the total control of fanatical, violent men.

And it is really a matter of "when," not "if." I think about these women when I think about the inevitable departure of American troops from this country--on whatever timetable and whoever is president at the time. Our so-called ally, President Hamid Karzai, knows which way the wind is blowing. That is why he has already negotiated away women's rights--even the right to leave the house without a husband's permission-- in areas controlled by the Taliban and other local warlords.

I don't think Americans can change any of this. If the Soviets, with much shorter supply lines could not succeed in their objectives, there is no way that the United States will be able to do so.

Echoing the wishes I've had for a long time, Jacoby concludes: "I wish there were an organization collecting money to airlift every woman who wants to leave Afghanistan and pay for her schooling so that she could begin a new life."

Photo: Women at the reopening of the Kabul Women's Garden (Shahram Garden for women) on November 3, 2010. And photo from the Jakarta Post.

Lost and Found: A Museum of Lesbian Memory

Lost and Found: A Museum of Lesbian Memory

Location(s): The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society of Northern California, 973 Market Street, San Francisco, California, USA
San Francisco Public Library (Main Branch), 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, California, USA

Opened: November 2000

Closed: December 1, 2000

Admittedly, this "womyn's space" was little more than an exhibit that lasted for a mere month--and that over a decade ago. But it's such a cool thing--with such a wonderful name!--that I'm mentioning it anyway. In some ways, this is a double exercise of lesbian memory: we reflect upon the more distant lesbian past, and the memory of that particular recollection in time. This write-up is by Dave Ford at the San Francisco Chronicle:

Attempting to meld art and history to chronicle a community's progress cohesively would seem, on the face of it, a fruitless quest; they seem to be countervailing disciplines. History seems linear, art spatial. History collects; art shatters. History records the past; art presents the present and suggests possibilities for the future.

But it was the challenge of resolving those contradictions that pushed San Francisco artist E.G. Crichton and Berkeley artist Kim Anno to collaborate on "Lost and Found: A Museum of Lesbian Memory, Part 1," which runs through Dec. 1 at two San Francisco locations.

The installation at the offices of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society of Northern California, at 973 Market St., includes a map detailing the sites of long-gone lesbian bars, a collection of locks of women's hair and a low-tech, interactive commentary site.

A few blocks away, on the third floor of the San Francisco Public Library's main branch at 100 Larkin St., the artists present photographs, writings and clothing artifacts.

"We're trying to make a bridge between art and history," said Anno, 40, an associate professor of painting at both the San Francisco and Oakland campuses of the California College of Arts and Crafts. "Art can reveal the complexities of the individual, both visually and conceptually. One of the things we wanted to show is how complex our history is. People think of the stereotypes of what lesbianism is, but art allows those complexities to emerge."

Anno said the exhibition focuses on working-class and minority lesbians -- traditionally a marginalized part of a largely invisible population.

"When people think of lesbians, they often think of white lesbians who go to Dinah Shore golfing events," Anno said. "That's not at all what the spectrum is -- especially for women of color in certain communities (who) are in the closet and very hidden. They don't want to bring shame on their families."

Susan Stryker, an Oakland-based writer and filmmaker and the historical society's executive director, says the 15-year-old nonprofit organization warmed to the project because "it helps to show the work we do as archivists and historians.

"Art is what makes history alive for a wider audience," she said. "Most people think of history as something dead. It's in a dusty old museum or an archival box in a vault."

That's an issue of especial tenderness to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, for which the press for equality often eclipses the necessity of preserving and passing on community culture to emerging generations.

Crichton, an assistant professor of art at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said that any community that ignores or downplays its history risks losing its essence.

"I feel passionate about communicating history," Crichton said. "I feel like, if we don't do it, who will?"

Anno said the pair hatched the idea nearly two years ago. After a year of research, she said, they spent six months constructing the components of the exhibition, which they plan eventually to take to libraries and community centers both locally and nationally.

But having an idea and getting it funded are two different things, the artists said. Three groups granted a total of $40,000 for the two-year project: the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Astraea Foundation in New York, and the Creative Work Fund, which was founded in 1994 to address the decline in funding for individual artists.

The artists fanned out and contacted lesbians of all ages to elicit stories and collect everyday items of historical relevance (which will later be donated to the historical society).

"We interviewed people in their 80s and 90s who were living alone in nursing homes," Anno said. "Some of the others lived by themselves, and we were the only ones who visited them. It was really sad."

For Crichton, 53, who arrived in San Francisco from Boston in 1973 ("There were six lesbians in three cars, none of whom were speaking to each other by the time we got here"), and was at ground-zero of the lesbian feminist revolution, collecting the material offered the opportunity to review her own history.

"We were like detectives at times," she said, "trying to unearth a history that hasn't been done this way. And we also participated in (that history), so there's a sense of looking back on a period with both embarrassment and pride."

The library exhibition site includes the oddly compelling "Lost and Found Companion," a large encyclopedia of "manifestos," as the book's subtitle has it.

"They are people's passionate writings about a variety of subjects," Anno said.

There is, for instance, the October, 1947, premiere of "Vice Versa, America's Gayest Magazine . . . dedicated, in all seriousness, to those of us who will never quite be able to adapt ourselves to the iron-bound rules of Convention."

Then there is the excerpt from the mid-1960s SCUM Manifesto, penned by Valerie Solanis, the woman who in 1968 shot and wounded Andy Warhol: "Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex." (Tell that to the "Will and Grace" generation.)

The book, which is set on a chest-high, V-shaped bookstand, also includes touching photographs of African-American lesbians, the writings of women in the 1970s and reproductions of programs for such events as the "Conference on Violence Against Women (Dec. 4-5, 1976, San Francisco)" and "Becoming Visible -- The First Black Lesbian Conference (October 17-19, 1980, The Woman's (sic) Building)."

A similar bookstand nearby features video footage of what Crichton described as "sites important to lesbians." The footage is projected onto the "V" where a book would rest, and a visitor assuming it was an empty bookstand might miss the video footage altogether.

A glass case on a nearby wall features a collection of clothing: tank tops, T-shirts, a blue flannel button-up shirt, a leather jacket, a negligee and a pair of sneakers, as well as a large photograph, taken in the 1930s, of two Latina women dressed in suits.

"Clothing items were often signifiers for gender presentation and gender identity" that otherwise societally invisible lesbians used to identify themselves to one another, Anno said. "We wanted to make the connection between the '70s and the '80s, which is when most of the items come from, and the '30s."

In the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center, a small, cozy and highly designed space, three larger-than-life photographs of local lesbians loom over visitors. One is Rhonda (no last name given), a stylish African-American woman in a suit; another is filmmaker Fawn Yacker, and the third is Honey Lee Cottrell, a photographer and banquet waiter. Crichton said she and Anno felt the Hormel space lacked lesbian iconography, and appeared to be used mostly by males.

"We wanted to insert something into this area that would fit in but provide contrast," she said. "It's a mild confrontation."

In fact, the notion of transgressing locations appealed to the artists, Anno said.

"When we put our stuff in libraries, we're taking the idea of a library or a historical museum and subverting it," she said. "The people in libraries who want to do research are confronted by this stuff right in their face. And then we get the people who like art who go into the library and understand that history is a viable subject."
Also on the walls are a grid map of downtown San Francisco marked with the locations of such '30s-'60s lesbian hot spots as the Paper Doll (524 Union St.), Miss Smith's Tea Room (1353 Grant Ave.) and the Tin Angel (987 Embarcadero), among many others. Bars provided a much-needed place for otherwise isolated lesbians to gather and socialize, Anno said, and now have more or less disappeared due to the social nature of political and networking groups.

"I also think people got sick of sitting in bars and becoming alcoholics," she said with a laugh.

A large area painted to look like the inside of a closet -- replete with "archival materials" boxes on the top shelf -- features slogans and notions contributed by members of the public, including "Dykes Rule," "Women Born Womyn" and a seven-letter word for a well-known sex act, beginning with "F" and the kind of thing every child knows but you can't say on TV.

Crichton said the team is "not bound by the rules of history, so we can investigate it creatively in a nonlinear way." She said that in interviewing subjects, the artists-cum-historians would hear five different representations of the same event, something that led them to understand the mediums' built-in fluidities -- and flaws.

"It really brings home the fact that history involves memory," she said, "and memory is shifting and imperfect."