Moby Dyke: An Obsessive Quest To Track Down The Last Remaining Lesbian Bars In America by Krista Burton

the cover of Moby Dyke

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This book really just had to live up to the title for me to love it, and it did.

Krista Burton used to run a blog called Effing Dykes that I followed and enjoyed, so I knew I was already a fan of her writing. In Moby Dyke, she weaves together a travelogue of lesbian bars, personal writing about her own life, and discussions about why lesbian bars keep closing.

In the introduction, Krista paints a picture of her journey to writing this book. She’s married to a trans man named Davin, and they’re about both middle-aged, living in rural Minnesota. When COVID hit and they were sheltering in place, Krista found that what she missed most was the “feeling of being in a packed, sweaty dyke bar, surrounded on all sides by queers so close they’re touching me, and then to feel someone with a drink in one hand try to inch past me.” But those kinds of bars kept closing. Where there was about 200 in the 1980s, it was down to 20 across the whole country. Pandemic or not, when was she going to experience that again?

And that’s how Moby Dyke was born. Krista made a plan to visit all 20 of the remaining lesbian bars in the United States. Each would be visited twice. She’d talk to at least two people at each bar. (Approaching strangers! In a lesbian bar!) And half of the time, she’d come with her husband, while half of the time, she’d go alone.

This is, of course, an exploration and celebration of these lesbian bars, each lovingly described, but that ended up not being the main draw for me. It was interesting to get a glimpse into these bars, but I’m unlikely to go to any of them, being neither a bar/club person nor from the U.S. Instead, I was pulled in by Krista’s personal writing as well as the discussion around lesbian bars.

This book has a charming, personal voice—it feels like a friend telling you a story. There are brief detours into the rest of Krista’s exploration of a city, and some glimpses into her personal life. It makes for a very readable book that somehow didn’t feel repetitive, even though each chapter is essentially the same thing: describing a new bar and recounting how patrons/owners answered her questions.

It’s interesting to get a broad look at how lesbian bars operate and how they describe themselves. Krista quickly found out that while these bars were usually owned by lesbians and were in some way lesbian bars, each of them said they “welcome everyone.” She discusses this push and pull between wanting be inclusive and wanting to have a space for queer people:

“Queers want dedicated spaces where they can go and have everyone around them be queer. That’s because that shit is fun. And it’s such a relief, not to mention so much safer, for us all to be able to be together. But most of us also want each and every version of queerness to be welcomed in those spaces, and who gets to decide who’s queer and who’s not?”

As one bar owner put it, “Sometimes [lesbian patrons] will look around and want to know why there’s ‘”so many men here,” and—she threw up her hands—’I don’t know what to tell you! How am I supposed to have a woman-centric space that’s a lesbian bar but also be fully inclusive? How?’”

I also found it interesting the many reasons people had, especially bar owners, for why lesbian bars keep closing: because queer women are more accepted into greater society now. Because lesbians have less money to spend than gay men. Because of infighting. Gentrification and rent price. Trump. The instability of time investment of running a bar. Lesbians don’t go out.

These discussions about queer spaces were fascinating to me, and I also liked seeing the many different ways that these spaces are designed. Each has its own feel, its own events, its own kind of community. I’m not about to go out and start a lesbian bar now, but I did find it inspirational. Queer groups and communities, especially between queer women, have a reputation of breaking down and dissolving in conflict. These many different bars, whether it’s a Black-owned queer cocktail bar or a rural lesbian bar covered in novelty signs, show that it’s worth trying to build something, and that they can survive—and even thrive.

I wasn’t sure if this would end up being a eulogy for lesbian bars, a document to preserve them before they all disappear forever, or whether it would be a celebration. Thankfully, it’s much more of the latter—spoiler alert: the number of lesbian bars has grown since she started writing the book!

If the title piqued your interest, definitely pick up Moby Dyke. It’s part travelogue, part memoir, and 100% queer.

Fake Dating at a Sapphic Island Getaway: The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre

the cover of The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre

The Honeymoon Mix-Up by Frankie Fyre was released in June 2023, and it’s a sweet and spicy contemporary romance about two people facing unusual circumstances which leads them both to a situation of a lifetime. Basil Jones has the seemingly perfect life until she is left at the altar by her fiancé. Determined not to lose out on an important work deal, she goes on the honeymoon trip as planned. She flies to gorgeous Sapphire Isle, where sapphic women go to escape their real life and live in paradise, even for a short time. The only issue? It’s a strict “couples only” policy, and Basil is without a partner. Enter Caroline King. The two had one brief encounter prior to meeting each other for a second time on the island. That second meeting is a little less by chance than Basil thinks, but Caroline is both taken with Basil and needs a place to stay, so she agrees to be her “wife.”  What follows is a fake relationship trope for the ages, with each of them holding on to secrets from the outside world and one another.

If you are a fan of fake relationships, sapphic islands, and intense sexual chemistry, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a must read. I admit that I do find something delicious about two people having to fake their way through intimacy, only for that intimacy to grow into something real. The tension in this fake marriage is no different and is perhaps even turned up several levels due to how Basil’s and Caroline’s first encounter went down. (Ahem…so to speak.) There is no denying these two women are attracted to each other, but each has their own reasons for trying to resist the pull they feel. Caroline has learned mixing business with pleasure can lead to heartbreak, and Basil was just left at the altar–an event that would leave anyone to proceed with caution.

In addition to these two women having to play wives, the forced proximity of sharing a honeymoon suite (*there is, indeed, only one bed*), and being on a literal island adds to them not being able to escape the other. Fyre, who’s name is fitting for how she writes certain scenes, has created an environment that any sapphic will be clamoring to find. There is something incredibly lovely about the thought of escaping to a safe island filled with other sapphic women. Also, it is no secret in my personal life that I am quite competitive, so Fyre’s invention of the “Sapphic Olympics” left me longing to find a real life version. The events she’s created are clever and fitting for its participants. I don’t mean to brag, but I would absolutely nail the dresser building competition. Within the context of the story, the games are just another area to add fuel to that tension between Caroline and Basil. Having to work together as a team and pitting them against one of Basil’s childhood nemeses creates another scenario where they are forced to confront their ever growing attraction. Basil’s Type A behavior, paired with Caroline’s more practical approach, fueled by her time in the military, creates a perfect storm of additional conflict.

As the weather gets colder, it would be wise to hold on to this book if you’re looking to read something to keep you warm. Literally. I, for one, will never be looking at a photo booth the same way again. I have a feeling after reading this book, neither will you. Their story is filled with delicious tension and heated looks. Fyre is incredibly good at building tension so tight you think you might burst, so you can only imagine what the characters are feeling. Thankfully, you don’t have to imagine too much. There are those scenes that will have you looking around to make sure you’re  alone or, at the very least, that no one is peeping over your shoulder. Maybe don’t read on public transportation. Or do, who am I to judge? (If there is one thing the sapphic community can do, its school features so no one knows you are reading about two women doing the horizontal polka.)

As filled with sexual tension as this book is, there are other themes that flow throughout. Through Basil, it examines the pressure of family obligations and how long we can allow our parents’ dreams to propel us forward before a resentment starts to build. Fyre also forces the main character/reader to examine at what point hurtful actions and breaches of trust, despite the intentions behind them, are too much for us to forgive. What is that line and do those good intentions absolve the person who hurt us and broke our trust? I found myself asking what that line would be for me.

At its base level, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a story about overcoming your fear of failure—in life and relationships—and being brave enough to try again. I appreciate the twists that Fyre also throws in, keeping you guessing about a few mysteries until a reveal leaves you saying: “OH!?!”. Did I want to grab one character at one point and say: “please, out with it!” Yes! But without it, there would be no conflict to overcome.

With a cast of side characters that include a hedgehog and supportive best friends who will leave you smiling, The Honeymoon Mix-Up is a great read.

Rebecca reviews of Love on the Road 2013 edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila

Love on The Road 2013 edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila is an anthology of twelve stories depicting love and travel in diverse locations like India, Alaska, and New York. I really wanted to enjoy this collection because it seemed like a promising and fun concept. However, I just couldn’t get into several of the stories at all. I loved Doreen E. Massey’s “The Upside Down Trees” and Kimberly Cawthon’s “Cindy in Manhattan” which are really well-written with fascinating and layered characters. However, a few of the other pieces suffer from dull or stereotypical characters and pointlessly meandering plots. There are a few LGBTQ characters featured in the stories but they are side characters. However, there are two stories where women’s romantic relationships with women are featured.

Mohita Nagpal’s “The Girl with the Egg-Shaped Face” is well-written and interesting. The author labels her piece as “seventy percent non-fiction.” The female protagonist is instantly attracted to the titular girl with the egg-shaped face, Shilpi, when they meet on a bus while travelling to the Jaipur Literature Festival. The main character is well-crafted and her pining for the object of her affection is relatable. The brief interactions between Shilpi and the narrator are poignant and painfully realistic. However, the narrator’s crush soon takes an invasive turn. She goes from entertaining harmless fantasies in her head to Facebook stalking and she even obtains personal information about Shilpi and follows her to another city. Her intrusive actions are disturbing but you cannot help but feel empathy for the narrator who has been unlucky in love and is entranced by her fantasies. Although the melancholy ending may disappoint some readers, I believe that it is a satisfying and organic conclusion.

Naima Lynch’s fictional work “All That You Forgot to See” takes readers from New York City to Egypt with Althea, a lonely middle-aged woman who is sleepwalking her way through life. Although she displays racist and xenophobic behaviour, the story’s gently optimistic ending indicates that there may be some hope for Althea. However, her repression and her inability to connect with people as well as her sad and stagnant life are achingly realistic. Lynch makes a seemingly unrelatable character all too human. Althea’s best friend, Lorraine, is the heart of this story and the nuances of their relationship are poignant and well-developed. Lynch does not assign labels to the women and, without giving too much away, the characters and the nature of their relationship are surprising but still seem true to life.

If you’re looking for a lot of LGBTQ characters and stories, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you like travel anthologies, it is a decent one time read with several well-crafted gems sprinkled throughout. I would definitely reread Mohita Nagpal’s “The Girl with the Egg-Shaped Face” and Naima Lynch’s “All That You Forgot to See.”

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.   

Elinor reviews The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

I have long-standing love for Ariel Levy’s work, so I was eager to read her memoir The Rules Do Not Apply. For those who’ve read her essay “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” about her miscarriage at 19 weeks pregnant, you have some idea what you’ll be getting in this book. Essentially, it’s a brutally sad story told gorgeously. The memoir gives context to Levy’s loss of her pregnancy, marriage, and home, all within a single month, and delves into her life before, during and after this central tragedy.

Much of the book explores Levy’s adventures as a successful writer, interviewing fascinating people all over the world, and how her work informed her ideas about gender, family, work, queerness, marriage, and a meaningful life. Alongside this is the story of Levy’s personal life, from a childhood spent witnessing her mother’s long-term affair and the dissolution of her parent’s marriage, to dating men and women as an adult. When Levy falls in love with and marries a woman before such a marriage was legally recognized, you can feel the heady excitement. Together the pair bought a home and wrestled with question when and how to become parents. Though Levy’s marriage was loving, it was complicated by Levy’s destructive affair with a creepy ex and her spouse’s increasingly serious drinking problem. Still, when they decide to have a child after many years together, she believes that they have things under control, that they’d weathered storms and gotten bad behavior out of their systems. Then the unthinkable happens and the story takes a turn Levy never expected.

Levy resists the cultural rules for women throughout her life, managing to have brilliant ambition, professional success, lust, love, adventure and a rich domestic life. But those are only a superficial rejection of the “rules” that the title references. This memoir rejects tidy lessons, platitudes, and the idea that loss is avoidable. Often in stories like Levy’s, the unstated rule is that it all works out in the end, that there’s a silver lining, or that everything happens for some ultimately rewarding cosmic reason. Levy refuses to pretty up her pain or to resolve the story neatly. Here, there is no happy ending. In fact, the book ends ambiguously, with Levy stepping out into an uncertain future.

The rawness and incredible writing draw you in, and leave you unsettled. You might want to line up something soothing after this. I was very glad I didn’t read it until after my child was born, because if I’d been pregnant or trying to get pregnant I would have been an anxious wreck reading this book. Having said that, I still highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating, honest, unique book.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com

Anna M reviews “Air Planes” by Anna Macdougal

lockandkey

“Air Planes” is a work of short fiction, the first in a series by Anna Macdougal called The Lock and The Key: Butch/Femme Erotic Romance. It’s the story of marketing consultant Stephanie, fresh from the triumph of closing a deal, and her erotic encounter with the chivalrous butch woman she meets at the airport. Their chance meeting leads to high-flying intimacy, and–perhaps–love.

As you might expect from the collection’s title, this story relies heavily on the mystique and appeal of the butch/femme dynamic:

A butch lesbian stood near the exit, browsing the New Titles display. Something happens to me every time there’s a butch woman in my vicinity. Each cell in my body instantaneously comes alive and urgent messages from my femme brain race through my entire nervous system.

If butch/femme dynamics are your cup of tea, you will be quite happy with this promising debut. I found that mentions of “the butch” and “the femme” as objects–stepping back from the interplay between interesting, relatable characters to delve more deeply into that archetypal aspect of lesbian desire–distracted me from the otherwise excellent writing. However, I enjoyed the story immensely and will definitely read anything else that Macdougal produces.

 

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Is there any way I can be more lesbian?”

I mean, sure, we watch lesbian TV shows and movies, read lesbian books, hang out with lesbians, and date/have sex with women… but is that enough? Isn’t there any way to do more things gay? Not to worry, I am here to help.

Lesbian cooking!

The Lesbian Erotic Cookbook by Ffiona Morgan

the butch cookbook by Lee Lynch (Author, Editor), Nel Ward (Author, Editor), Sue Hardesty (Author, Editor, Illustrator), and Marion Moir (Illustrator)

Cookin’ With Honey: What Literary Lesbians Eat edited by Amy Scholder

The Queer Cookbook: A Fully-Guided Tour to the Secrets of Success in the Homosexual Kitchen! by Donna Clark (Author, Compiler), David Shenton (Illustrator)

Okay, so you’ve mastered the art of lesbian cooking/eating. You know how to make gluten-free, fair trade, vegan chocolate-chip cookies. But there has to be more! Of course there is.

Lesbian travel!

Lesbian Travels: A Literary Companion by Lucy Jane Bledsoe

The Queerest Places: A National Guide to Gay and Lesbian Historic Sites by Paula Martinac

Queens in the Kingdom: The Ultimate Gay and Lesbian Guide to the Disney Theme Parks by Jeffrey Epstein and Eddie Shapiro

The Rough Guide to Gay & Lesbian Australia edited by Neal Drinnan

Lesbian photography!

Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image edited by Susie Bright and Jill Posener

Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs edited by Tessa Boffin and Jean Fraser

Lesbian writing!

Lavender Ink – Writing and Selling Lesbian Fiction by Fran Walker

Putting Out: The Essential Publishing Resource for Lesbian and Gay Writers by Edisol W. Dotson

Lesbian gardening!

Garden Variety Dykes: Lesbian Traditions in Gardening edited by Irene Reti and Valerie Jean Chase

Lesbian sports!

Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport by Pat Griffin

And, of course, you need your mandatory lesbian haircut.

The History of Lesbian Hair by Mary Dugger

Now go! Gay up your life! I love that obscure lesbian books like this exist.