Sucking on my girlfriend's nipples in the bathroom of the Lexington Club is exactly how I wanted to ring in the new year. DJ Durt was spinning '90s R&B and we had only run into one of our exes so far. It was shaping up to be a wonderful, if bittersweet, night. We took explicit selfies up against the bright blue, graffiti-covered walls and necked until someone banged on the door — the dance that many dykes had done before us, but very few will do ever again.
I've been a topless mermaid atop the pool table stage at the Lexington. I've gotten laid at the Lexington. It's a place for falling in love with strangers, breakups, makeups, makeouts, and magic. The Lexington Club has been the Cheers of dyke bars in San Francisco for the past 18 years. It's where everybody knows your name and what you look like naked, but this little slice of lesbian paradise will close in the coming year, another victim of San Francisco's rapidly changing landscape.
Owner Lila Thirkield released a statement on the Lexington's Facebook page last October, announcing, with a heavy heart, that she was selling the beloved bar in the heart of the Mission District: “When a business caters to about 5% of the population, it has tremendous impact when 1% of them leave. When 3% or 4% of them can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood, or the City, it makes the business model unsustainable.”
She was referring to the many queers who once called the Mission home and made up the Lexington's regular clientele, but have since migrated across the bay to sunnier skies and more reasonable rent, making room for wealthy tech industry workers.
“Eighteen years ago I opened The Lex to create a space for the dykes, queers, artists, musicians and neighborhood folks who made up the community that surrounded it,” Thirkeild wrote. “Eighteen years later, I find myself struggling to run a neighborhood dyke bar in a neighborhood that has dramatically changed.”
The Lex is not alone. Queer spaces are disappearing from the city right and left.
Later that evening, we found ourselves at a party nearby hosted by the Radical Faeries. For context, the Radical Faeries are a queer movement that blends Marxism, feminism, sex positivity, spiritualism, and drag. The 1979 Faerie Gathering here in San Francisco resulted in the founding of the civic organization known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
From the outside, it looked like any other Victorian — flawless, classic, yet unassuming. But inside, it was a four-story wonderland of hot tubs, tree forts, and pillow pits, along with a labyrinth-like sex dungeon in the basement covered in drawings of fisting and love poems about the smell of cum. Mattresses on the floor, cages in the corner, dim lighting, graffiti-covered cement walls: It was exactly like what an underground gay sex dungeon should look like.
It was well after midnight by the time we arrived to find only a few stragglers sucking each other off on bean bags in the perfectly 1980s living room. One of the few party guests told us this place had been a venue for queer sex parties for close to three decades, but it was all going away. The owner was selling the property for just over a million dollars, so come next New Year's Eve, this Faerie sanctuary would probably be a condo. We took a selfie in the bathroom painted with the leather pride flag (black, blue, and white stripes, with a red heart in the corner), took some vintage porn from the free box, and headed home to Oakland.
These places echo with ghosts of yesteryear: generations of queers loving, creating, fucking, and fighting in one place. By next year, these places will both be gone.
Thirkield assured me via email shortly after the first of the year that the Lexington will remain open for several more months before it finally says its goodbyes. But as another Faerie sanctuary gets sold, another dyke bar closes, and more queers move away because they can't afford to pay rent here, San Francisco is starting to bear less and less resemblance to the city I fell in love with.
I, and so many other queers, have come of age in this city, and now I worry about where exactly the next generation will go to find a community when they land here.