Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

With the Gay 90's breeding discontentment among its namesake patrons, what is queer in clubland?

There was a time when Club Metro was considered boring, possibly because the phrase "St. Paul lesbians" conjures up images of softball games long before it does dance floors. But on this Friday night, the club is in full swing. On the ground level, college-age dykes with overalls and buzzed hair shake it to a mix of '80s retro and Top 40. Meanwhile, a table of thirtysomething women in sneakers and sweaters keep their eyes on the TV screen in front of them. They're playing one of those networked quiz games, competing with men in sports bars across the country. The occasional man wanders in with hopes of cajoling his dyke friends into joining him on the dance floor downstairs. They demur and lobby him to stay upstairs. In the end, the dykes have it.

There are two entirely different, if not segregated, parties going on at the Metro on weekends. On the ground floor and in select rooms down in the basement, a low-glamour lesbian crowd holds court. But in the basement's cavernous house-music room, a young, mostly gay crowd moves it as sharp beams of light swoop down from rock-club rigging 20 feet up. (The show is not quite up to Laser Floyd standards--but then what is?) A few spectators gaze down from the raised stage at one end, and in the adjoining bathroom, men and women sit together on a couch waiting to use the single stall. (They rarely strike up conversations, adding a Midwestern twist to this cosmopolitan touch.)

What unites the Metro's two scenes is a comfort and openness that flows through the almost all-queer crowd, one that stems from a sense of safety and familiarity. There are no serpentine tour trains pulling through this space at the top of each hour, no roaming wedding parties nor straight safaris. Conversation flows freely, and the dancing isn't weighed down by the stiff sideways gazes that too often characterize floors at the 90's, and many other clubs in town. Regulars move in friendly, inviting sways, with arms out and eyes up. This lesbian club has built a party within a community, and its matronly embrace provides the perfect solace to the heartache of gay clubbers betrayed by their last great love.

On Sunday, the club is quieter. While a few older women dot the main floor bar, the back corners are vacant. The small crowd is clustered around the dance floor, which is converted into a drag show on Thursdays and Sundays. The show's technical aspects--wardrobe, lighting, sound system--compare poorly to La Femme at the 90's, but only a fickle clubgoer (or paid critic) would notice. The crowd cheers wildly as Tiffany Cartier prances across the space, syncing to a thumping dance tune with a fierce sexiness in her eye. She bumps and grinds for the tippers who stand politely at the edge of the floor, until Tiffany beckons them forward. One tipper lies on her back, and Tiffany crouches over her head. The crowd explodes in a frenzy of screams and cheers as she heaves and bucks, giving the patron the face-fucking of her life.

Back at the 90's it's another weekend night, and though a few empty seats remain in the back of La Femme's vast room, the place is packed. The crowd, however, is flat and distracted. As one performer peppers her routine with death-defying acrobatics, a man and woman sit silently at their table, not even feigning interest. It's difficult to blame them, given the uneven talent at La Femme: One performer comes off as stiff and gawky, lip-syncing less like a diva than a ventriloquist's dummy. Another covers Celine Dion(!).

But just when the show is looking hopeless, blonde bombshell Roxy Marquis takes the stage. Roxy left the 90's during Pride Weekend last year in a much-ballyhooed protest over the show's changing atmosphere (and demographics). But her brief fall out with the club has recently been repaired, and tonight she owns the stage, sauntering down the runway in a taut leather jumpsuit as she moves her statuesque form to the Eurythmics' "Missionary Man."

Backstage before the show, Roxy explained that she returned to the 90's in part because performing at the Metro had started to feel a bit like preaching to the choir: "The audience was always good, but moderate, compared to the masses you can get to see here. So if you have a message to say, you can say it, but you're not going to get very many people to hear you." Tonight, she doesn't seem to appeal to any suburban curiosity seekers: She's that good. Other performers ply their trade through novelty and radio-friendly selections, but Roxy vamps onstage with a cocky swagger unique to the highest breed of femme fatale. She doesn't so much imitate femininity as embody it, and the resulting genderfuck is strong enough to make even the most impoverished queer-studies grad student reach for her wallet. By contrast, straight men keep their business safely in their pants.

Meanwhile, gay men line up at the edge of Roxy's stage with dollar bills in their hands. They beam as she stops to take their tips, and they're still beaming when they turn away to sit down again. Why do these shy smiles linger in a place that no longer welcomes them as generously as it used to? Is their response a form of submission? Or is their modest joy a quiet victory amid the thrumming beats of Annie Lennox and Diana Ross? It's hard to know.

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