/ 24 January 2007

Bring on the dancing girls

Hila Bouzaglou weighs up the options for women-only events.

There was a time when, if you were a lesbian, your hair was chopped like kd lang’s or you sported a Roxette buzz cut, pants (leather or black denim) were worn high in the waist and conversation centred on the objectification of women.

Unless you were a member of Powa or an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender) movement, there was nowhere to have these conversations.

But the times, they are a changing. I am what is called a baby dyke (a lesbian under 24) and part of a new generation, who still care about women’s rights, but rally just as ferociously for MAC lipstick, Angelina Jolie and a shallow night out with the girls.

It’s people like us you’ll find on the last Saturday of every month at the exclusive lesbian party known as [playground], held at Capital Records in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

[playground] is an ‘only-womyn” party that has been the most popular drinking hole for lesbians since 2003, making it the longest-lasting regular lesbian party in Johannesburg.

You’ll find us there, amid the red lighting, turntables and record displays, wearing outfits that range from high heels and mini skirts to baggy jeans and ‘I [heart] androgyny” T-shirts.

We’ll be drinking and dancing; but not with the girl we’ve had our eye on all night, because as American comedian Mo Brownsey puts it: ‘The entire lesbian nation is waiting for someone else to ask them to dance.”

You won’t find us discussing the domination of the penis, we’ll be discussing ‘the crisis” when someone’s ex-girlfriend walks in holding hands with an ex-ex-girlfriend — inevitable in a collective as small as the South African lesbian community.

Dalean de Kock (24), a sales executive who frequents [playground], explains what one comedian calls the ‘lesbian square-dance phenomenon”: ‘My friend once refused to come to [playground] — and she loves it here — because her ex was here with her other ex and she couldn’t handle it. I myself have come here with my girlfriend and bumped into my mistress at the time. It was not a good combo. It’s bound to happen. We’re a small community.”

Straight men are banned from [playground], no matter how hard they try to justify their inner lesbian.

Gay men, however, are welcome, ‘on a leash”, if accompanied by a lesbian, according to the [playground] flyers.

If Sharon Cooper, [playground]’s co-founder, suspects that you’re a straight man, she’ll test her theory by making you kiss the closest male she can find.

The strict rules are not about segregation, but are meant to protect clients from becoming objects of the male gaze.

‘At [playground] women can hold hands and kiss without people looking at them funny. They can come to a place where they feel normal … It’s upmarket and it makes people feel cool,” says Cooper.

But for those straight men (or women) who are curious about what goes on in a lesbian nightclub, I’m going to abandon my better judgement and kiss and tell.

The tequila and Heineken flow (‘What self-respecting dyke doesn’t drink Heineken?”a Capetonian friend of mine once asked.) Local lesbian DJ Beks on Decks spins funky and deep-house tracks to more than 300 women in an upstairs lounge, where clusters of Shane clones (Shane is an androgynous, commitment-phobic character from Showtime’s hit series The L Word) and other L Word lookalikes catch up and flirt.

The downstairs area, which looks like a white dungeon, is where women go to ‘get a bit sweaty under the arms” and dance to harder trance tracks, says [playground] co-founder Vivienne Quann.

Quann and Cooper decided that lipstick lesbians (lesbians who wear skirts and make-up) needed somewhere to go where they could have a drink without guys hitting on them.

The lesbian clubbing scene in Johannesburg is growing erratically. Besides [playground], there are random lesbian parties at venues around Lonehill and bars in the north-east suburbs, such as 88 in Norwood, which have had women-only nights on occasion.

Another option is the The Slip ‘n Tackle, a new pub for gays and lesbians in Greenside, currently attracting the lesbian crowd on Friday nights. ‘We attract ladies of all sexes,” says owner Heather Grant, who makes sure that only Eighties music is played.

Travel to the coast and you’ll find Cape Town’s Lush and Hectic on Hope (a hip-hop party for coloured lesbians) as well as Durban’s Bent parties.

‘The lesbian community in Durban is larger than people tend to think it is,” says Suzie Thomas, who co-founded the Bent parties with her partner (in life and work) Colette Bodenstaff. Business lesbians, ages ranging between 25 and 35, frequent Bent parties to ‘hang with the girls” and listen to ‘pretty much everything besides It’s Raining Men”, says Thomas.

In the queer heart of Cape Town’s Greenpoint, Myrna Andrews — a lesbian in her fifties who has been involved in making dyke entertainment for almost a decade — runs the fortnightly Lush parties, held at roaming venues.

Once the young crowd (‘the older girls are not the party types”) of more than 200 women have finished touching base with friends, girls — made up of ‘a good mix of students, waitresses and office workers” — dance to strictly Top 40 music, says Andrews.

No matter which city you’re in, every lesbian club has one thing in common: the toilets. Going to the bathroom at a lesbian club is daunting for many reasons, the most disastrous of which is the possibility of bumping into your long-time crush in the queue (which is usually ridiculously long). There’s nothing like a bursting bladder to kill all wit and charm. It’s a dilemma that could never happen in a straight club.

Girls night out

[playground]: Last Saturday of every month. Capital Records, cnr Keys and Tyrwhitt avenues, Rosebank, Johannesburg. Tel: 084 486 2136

Lush: Fortnightly.Roaming venue in Cape Town. Tel: 082 565 6174

Bent: Once a month. The Lounge, 226 Stamfordhill Road, Durban.

Tel: 083 394 7373 or 083 382 6655

The Slip ‘n Tackle: Gleneagles Road, Greenside, (above Café Ave). Johannesburg. Open every night except Sundays.Tel: 083 676 0307