Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Jacques - with 3 dudes out front

Location: 79 Broadway, Boston, Massachusetts, USA 

Opened: 1938/1939

Closed: Still open

Jacque's is a prime example of a space that was once, briefly, for lesbians--but was "appropriated" by gay men, drag queens, and trans women. This was despite the fact that it was the only lesbian bar in Boston at the time. Which just goes to show how merciless men are staking out territory for themselves while systematically squeezing out women.

And as for the time it was for men before it was for women? Generally my research has shown that this was because the location/neighborhood was considered "undesirable" by the men, so they lost interest. But as soon as the location was "hot" again, out go the women.

Notice in this first account the use of the term "evolved," which suggests their was no actual agency here. Men didn't actually make decisions that stripped lesbians of this club. It just sort of "happened"--I guess in the same way that humans became bipedal?

Nevertheless, the fact that women back in 1971 fought against the appropriation of their space is still recorded here. Which just goes to show that the women didn't see these events as some product of natural or inevitable evolution.

From (the ironically named?) Boston Equality Trail:

Opened in 1938, Jacques became a gay bar in the mid-1940s. In 1965, its owner also opened, directly across the street, The Other Side, the first discotheque in the city to allow same-sex dancing. After serving as the city's only lesbian bar from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Jacques evolved into a venue for drag performers, which remains its focus to today.

The reason Boston's first Gay Pride March started here was to confront a number of community concerns directed at what is now the city's oldest surviving GLBT establishment, Jacques. Of primary importance to the march's organizers was the club's increasing problem with misogyny and the ill treatment of lesbian patrons.

 List of Demands read outside Jacques:

  1. That the upstairs be for women only and that all men there must be accompanied by a woman
  2. There should be easily accessible fire escapes-without locks on them.
  3. That conditions, especially in bathrooms, be made more sanitary.
  4. That we be allowed to disseminate literature of interest to the gay community inside the bar.
  5. That there be a woman bartender.
  6. That we have control of the music played in Jacques; that we be allowed to choose records to go the jukebox.
  7. That Jacques recognize a negotiation committee to implement these demands and others that come up in the future.
Perhaps without even realizing it, the lesbians were calling for a space that was very much like the 19th century "ladies restaurants." Which, tellingly, were also typically delegated to the second floor and also admitted men so long as they were "escorted" by a woman. And it's extremely distressing that women even had to demand basic health and safety code compliance--like unlocked fire doors and clean bathrooms. But even this outrage doesn't elicit any comment from our "equality trail" writer.

This second account from an article called Historians retrace Boston's LGBT history manages to depoliticize this "evolution" even further. It simply "became" a place that excluded women, without that fact being specifically acknowledged:

Jacque’s in the Bay Village opened in 1939 and was originally a bar for lesbians. It later became known for its drag shows, which it still hosts regularly. Right across the street, the owner of Jacque’s opened Boston’s first gay disco, the Other Side, which has since been torn down.

Of course, most of the venue guides bury that this was ever a lesbian bar at all. This is a typical example:

You like dressing up? How about dressing up in drag? Check out the only place in Boston to see a true drag show. There’s always something to see at Jacque’s every night of the week.

I'm not particularly surprised that (male-oriented) venue guides erase the women's history part. But the same thing even happens in guides that are supposedly designed for "queer girls." For example, this piece from Autostraddle:

If you’re looking for drag, Jacques Cabaret features drag every night of the week.

Very sad that the "queer girl" guides turn into very anemic defenses for the lack of any really lesbian-specific venues, except, perhaps, for a few nomadic parties. So we end up with lists of gay men's bars and straight places where you supposedly won't get beat up. And not a word as to how this happened or who was responsible. Just a static, empirical description of "what is" with no analysis of how "it" came to be.

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