Worlds collide?: When hen parties hit the gay bars

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“The rigid gender segregation of hen parties grates on me”

So there I was, wrapped in toilet paper with a plastic penis strapped to my head, while a gaggle of pink-clad women took photos and giggled raucously. It could only be a hen party…

Hen parties are controversial and I have mixed feelings about them. I love the concept of an event celebrating your upcoming nuptials, and I love the focus being on friendship. Having fun without your partner around is crucial – it can help the bride to be maintain some independence, and to keep a sense of self external to her relationship. Wedding planning can be overwhelming, and a big boozy night out with friends can be just what the doctor ordered at this stressful time. On the other hand, the rigid gender segregation that seems to be de rigeur grates on me, and there is no denying that when you aren’t part of the group, they can be bloody annoying to be around.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in gay bars. Pick any venue with a rainbow flag outside it on a Saturday night in Soho, and I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one large group of drunk ladies taking up half of the dance floor and shrieking. In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit to having been in these groups on numerous occasions, and having a fantastic time. Despite this, something doesn’t sit quite right with these organised nights of hetero female fun taking place in traditionally LGBT spaces.

My objection comes from some of the reasons why hen parties choose these particular bars for their big nights out. The rom-com stereotype of the “gay best friend” has a lot to answer for, including the idea that a group of women can swoop into any gay bar and instantly gain a fierce, sassy, but ultimately non-threatening dance partner for the evening.

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“Last time I was in Soho on a hen do, I felt a massive urge to stand on the table and yell ‘We’re not all straight, honest! I’m allowed to be here!'”

Why is this a problem? Because LGBT folks are not a homogenous mass of glitter and bitchy quips, and because predominately gay spaces allow for an escape from being a minority for an evening. I by no means want to suggest that straight people should be barred from entry, just that those who get irritated by the presence of hen groups might have a point. A group of (assumed to be straight) women shifts the balance and atmosphere merely by their presence, before you even take into account the stereotyping that can all too often accompany such an event. Gay bars, and the (usually) men who go to them, do not exist solely for you to find a BFF who’ll call you “Guuuurullllll!” and critique your fashion choices.

But here is where this issue become even more complicated – not all hens are straight. Not all brides to be are marrying men. And yet, any time I spot the telltale sashes and feather boas the thought that this is anything other than a group of overexcited straight women doesn’t cross my mind. There’s another side to this issue- it might be wrong for hen groups to take over valuable LGBT spaces because they think that the gays are fun, but it is also wrong to make assumptions about these groups. Some of the members may have just as much claim to these spaces as anyone else.

Maybe I’m being excessively critical. Maybe I’m massively overthinking something that is merely simple fun. But this does not negate the fact that the last time I was in Soho on a hen do, I felt a massive urge to stand on the table and yell “We’re not all straight, honest! I’m allowed to be here!”

Spaces where you’re not in the minority for once matter. I entreat anyone who is organising a hen party in the near future to bear this in mind, and to think carefully before putting on a big gay adventure.

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Samantha Neville-Jones

Samantha is a twenty-something teacher and aspiring writer. She lives in south London with a boy and two pet gerbils, and loves obscure sitcoms, serious debates on silly topics, and jammy dodgers.

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