Thursday, August 23, 2012

Club Northwest

Dr. Ann Bussey in front of the former Club Northwest (2012)
Club Northwest

Location: 217 Northwest 4th Avenue, Portland, Oregon, USA

Opened/Closed: ?

Most of what I know about Club Northwest comes from a June 2012 "Queer" walking tour of Portland, Oregon.

This is what we're told of Club Northwest:

Ann Mussey, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Portland State University, spoke about the history of lesbians in Portland. When Club Northwest became Magic Gardens, Mussey said, lesbians congregated at the Rising Moon on Burnside. “The lesbian community could never support more than one bar at a time,” she said. Because of persistent income inequality, she said, “men have more money to spend on entertainment. There’s also a history of public culture for men that only recently developed for women.” The lesbian scene, she said, had multiple centers, with house parties, book stores, and sports fields playing a role. “If you want to talk about lesbian history,” Mussey said, “it’s not in a location.”

Well, this is true as far as it goes. But apart from the obvious fact of persistent income inequality, Mussey says little here about how or why lesbians have trouble holding on to their own territory. True, "lesbian space" is generally not in a single, identifiable, permanent location. It floats, it moves, it shifts. Yup, true enough. Unfortunately, this observation is typically left in the form of an observation. Or it's claimed--with no real evidence--that "floating" space is some sort of innate lesbian preference. Very seldom do we see a political analysis of why this is so, as to why lesbians--and women in general--face real and genuine barriers when it comes to owning, managing, and maintaining public space by women and for women. And that these barriers persist with a remarkable consistency across time and geography under conditions of male domination.

Magic Garden - Portland, Oregon

And notice that nothing is said here about the Magic Gardens which replaced Club Northwest.  Magic Garden is a strip club. I know, because I looked it up. By definition, the purpose of a strip club is to exploit women for the entertainment and financial profit of men. But in a "queer" sex positive sort of tour we wouldn't want to make our "allies" uncomfortable by bringing that up, would we.

Here at Lost Womyn's Space, we've posted on over 150 lost lesbian bars. And it's remarkable how many of these former womyn's spaces are quickly recolonized as intentional male space--whether it be as a gay male bar or strip club for heterosexual men. It's as if patriarchy itself must reassert (reinsert?) itself in a particularly dramatic and definitive way in a former womyn's space, as if a former lesbian bar must be visibly purged it of its symbolic power and authority.

But none of this ever gets brought up within a GLBT context. In fact, you typically have to patiently listen for a very long to find out anything about lesbian history in a GLBT history tour. (This was true of the one I went on last fall as well. When I brought up some specific former lesbian bars in Kansas City, the tour guide, who was "generally" quite knowledgeable, didn't even know where they were located.)

If you go to the link above regarding this walking tour, you'll find one paragraph on lesbian space. One paragraph. Buried about two-thirds of the way down. The rest of the writing is concerned with males--gay men, drag queens, and cross-dressers. But you probably knew that....

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