What Does It Take for Queer Women’s Spaces to Survive?

In All We’ve Got, Alexis Clements travels the country to find out.

A view of the NYC Dyke March with a banner in the foreground.
The 2018 NYC Dyke March.
Alexis Clements

This post is part of Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Read more here.

In June 2014, I spoke with Alexis Clements just before she set out on a cross-country trip in search of LGBTQ women’s spaces. Back then, bookstores, bars, galleries, cafes, and other sites were closing with alarming regularity, and Clements wanted to visit surviving spaces to understand why they had been able to stay open. Five years later, the fruits of her journey of exploration are starting to become available: Clements’ film, All We’ve Got, will premiere in the coming months—and the newly released trailer gives a sense of the vitality and commitment she found in cities and towns across North America.

When I asked Clements what she had learned by visiting projects in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and elsewhere, she noted that “finding ways to communicate and be present with people across generations is crucial” not only for continuity but for community cohesion.* “A crucial piece of the longevity of the spaces I visited was the fact that there were multiple generations playing key roles in those communities.”

Physical space is also essential, since perhaps the major reason institutions shutter their doors is that they are forced out by rising rents and neighborhood gentrification. “Finding a way to stay in place is key,” Clements explained, “whether it be communities banding together to purchase spaces, pushing for long-term and low-cost leases, or adopting alternative approaches to thinking about space, such as the Trans Ladies Picnic’s insistence on only using public spaces to gather.”

We also need to appreciate why it’s so important that women have places to gather, she says. We shouldn’t focus, for example, on bars only being a place to find a partner. “Queer spaces last when they are about more than just dating, and they are populated by people who refuse to assimilate into the larger culture,” she said. “There has to be a shared sense of purpose, ideally an activity or project that people can engage in and find meaning in.” Working on these community projects also helps participants to self-actualize: “People are able to build skills and take on leadership roles in these spaces that they are excluded from elsewhere. They get to try new things, and that helps them elsewhere to take on roles and tasks they might otherwise have not taken on because of internalized oppression.”

All We’ve Got, a Women Make Movies release, will be available later this summer. If you work for or attend a university, college, or other institution, you can now order the film for screenings or to keep as a part of your permanent collection. And if you’re part of a K–12 school, a public library, a domestic violence shelter, or another community-based organization, you can order the DVD at a special low price for screenings. You can learn more about ordering All We’ve Got from Women Make Movies.

Correction, June 12, 2019: This post originally misstated that Alexis Clements traveled to Toronto for her film.