The 'Straightification' of Amsterdam's Gay Street
Has the Reguliersdwarsstraat been Straightified?
As you might have heard, Amsterdam is globally known as one of the gay capitals in this world. Marriage equality was legalized back in 2001, as one of the first of all the countries in the world–Dutch LGBT history dates even further back. Socially and culturally, it is arguably more acceptable to be overtly gay in Amsterdam. In turn, the gay culture in Amsterdam is vibrant–reflected in the community and awareness.
The Reguliersdwarsstraat, commonly known as Gay Street, is home to around eleven hotels, restaurants, bars, and cafes, commonly referred to as Horeca businesses in Dutch, which explicitly cater to gay customers. The Gay Street gained its popularity in the 80s. As years passed by, Reguliersdwarsstraat has become a hotspot for LGBTQ+ individuals, but also popular among many straight individuals. As someone who goes to this street to go clubbing, I have noticed that more and more straight people pick theGay Street as their night-out destination. But it’s not just a sudden influx of heterosexuality: there is also an effort by the Horeca businesses to attract more straight customers. One example is Club Nyx which opened in 2012. The owner did not want it to be labelled as a gay club, but rather as a club that attracts “trendy youngsters, regardless of their sexual orientation”. At the end, some days are dedicated as a gay night, which is on Saturdays, and Thursdays are for straight students.
In this article, I aim to explore the perspectives and opinions of people on the ‘(non-)straightification’ of the Reguliersdwarsstraat and what does this means for the future of the street otherwise known as the Gay Street. More and more straight people choose the Reguliersdwarsstraat as our night out destination–and as a straight woman, I am part of that group, part of this new social dynamic.
For me personally, I prefer going out in the Gay Street because the music suits my taste better than Amsterdam’s variety of techno clubs, and more importantly, I feel safer. Speaking from my own experience, I never get sexually harassed in clubs at the Reguliersdwarsstraat, the community ensures a safe space for each other–instead of fearing getting randomly groped, I can simply enjoy myself and the music. The only question is what community? Is it mine, the community of club-goers? And could this safe space potentially be unsafe for others? Could my feeling safe possibly cause somebody else to feel unsafe? I asked a couple of my straight female friends who frequent the Gay Street as their night-out destination for their reasons. The answer is a bit divided: some go for the mere reason of the music and ambience, while others list the safety aspect as well.
To gain a wider perspective, I interviewed two friends who identify as queer and work at a bar at the Reguliersdwarsstraat. Both of them think that the street is being straightified. One even said that it has been going on for quite some time. On one hand, it can be a good thing that straight people and the LGBTQ+ community come together to dance and celebrate. It is a way for straight people to show support and be an ally. This promotes inclusivity and a broader understanding of the LGBTQ+ community by directly being exposed to its culture. On the other hand, straight people tend to come to the Reguliersdwarsstraat because it is a ‘safe space’ but by doing so, both of them think that straight people inherently dismantle its ‘safety’. “A safe space for LGBTQ+ people should mean a space free to be themselves, unafraid of violence and repercussions as well as of stares, random comments about braveness, and silent heteronormativity.” Simply, a space for the community, with no straight people.
From talking to both of them, I was able to deduce the two main issues that come with the straightification of the Reguliersdwarsstraat. The first one is the ignorance of straight people and tourists about the LGBTQ+ community and the idea of a “safe space”. The purpose of these spaces is to give gay people a place where they feel the freedom to be themselves, away from a society where they will always be the ‘sexual diversity’, but not the normal. It's as simple as not knowing whether you can flirt freely on your night out or if you risk violence, as being able to make out with your partner without people staring, commenting, or fetishizing you. But the increasing presence of straight people hinders this effort.
One friend quoted the book Life isn't Binary: “LGBTQ+ people often become used to having to come out repeatedly, to being asked intrusive questions about their bodies and sex lives, and being treated as an object for people (the weird one in the office, or the gay best friend, for example). It’s understandable that they might want some spaces where they don’t have to worry about that stuff. Where they can assume that everyone will ‘get it, relax and breathe easy’”.
According to one of them, the main issue of Reguliersdwarsstraat is not the ‘straightification’ in particular, but it becoming a tourist attraction. People from abroad visit this street to specifically see what the ‘gay life’ is like in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, they are not always respectful of it. She shares a bit of her own experience, as a queer individual who worked in a bar at the Regulierdwardstraat, of witnessing a lot of homophobia from tourists, some of them for example making fun of drag queens. A moment that stuck with her is the 2019 Gay Pride, where there was an exclusively queer ambience. Most of the time, this “queerness” of the Regulierdwardstraat is watered down by the presence of straight people. Given that I have never really noticed things, such as the high numbers of tourists coming in and them not being respectful of preserving the safe space, says a lot about my blindness existing as a straight person.
Another one of them equates this phenomenon to a form of gentrification, “where a somewhat authentic experience that is exotic to a majority with new revenue becomes commodified so that owners can profit even more. Instead of providing a safe space for those who these spaces are initially aimed for, they've opened up to everyone; to maximize profit at the cost of the enjoyment of, in this case, the gay community and the integrity of what these establishments were supposed to be, to begin with”. There is definitely an incentive for these businesses to attract a larger audience of customers, and that obviously includes straight people. In other words, the business owners in the Reguliersdwarsstraat should also be partially responsible for preserving this street as a safe space for the gay community.
The two of them are not particularly bothered by the presence of straight people. But it is not the most exciting change to witness as queer individuals; as the patrons of their ‘safe spaces’, of their community bars and clubs, change and are replaced by a more heterosexual audience. Immediately, the space for the gay community will become narrower. One of them clarifies straight people are welcomed as long as “they do not interfere with the queerness of the Reguliersdwarsstraat. Once you cross that boundary, you are imposing heteronormativity into the space”.
After all these conversations, I further reflected on my own presence and behavior or reaction–for instance, if a woman flirts with me– in the Gay Street. What does my being in this space mean and affect? As a straight woman–regardless of being an ally–, am I taking up the space of the gay community? Is my presence contributing to the ‘straightification’ of the Reguliersdwarsstraat? Am I merely using the ‘safe space’ of the gay community to my own benefit as a straight woman? Or is it for other reasons as well, because I want to be seen as progressive, as an ally? Do I just party at the street, in a supposed community space, or do I also go to protests and panels, to the less exciting parts? Ultimately, am I part of the problem?
These are the questions I need to keep on myself as reflection and of course, questions to be asked to the gay community of their perspectives while keeping in my that the gay community is not a homogenous community and cannot homogenously decide on what is a ‘safe space’ and inclusivity. Even if there were, in the end, the clubs and bars in the Gay Street are businesses, not collective places. They are designed for money, not safety nor refuge, no matter what inclusivity posters they hang up.