As a bunch of us gathered at a friend’s house for a pre-NYE party, we were figuring out which bar to plant ourselves for the night. The decision seemed near unanimous — The Denver Wrangler — until one guest, one I barely knew, scoffed at the idea.
“If that’s the choice, count me out,” he declared. Pressed for reasoning, he explained that it was his belief that the Wrangler didn’t allow drag queens or transgendered persons entrance because they wanted to be a bar for butch men.
But something about this didn’t add up. I’d been a patron of this bar for years and always remembered it as welcoming to a diverse crowd. I had seen many a flaming queen get hammered without getting kicked out. Historically, some staff had even dressed in drag on Halloween.
“Well they don’t say it outright,” the disgruntled guest continued. “They have a policy that your face has to match the face on the photo ID. But it’s total bullshit
My brain was transported back to my teen years, a time when such a concept wasn’t ‘total bullshit.’ Many of my youthful friends and I had fake IDs. There were several ways an underage person could get past the doorman, but the most popular was to dress in drag and use an older friend’s ID.
Alas, I couldn’t pull this off. My strong jawline and big teeth made me look like a busted version of Nancy Kerrigan after a failed series of steroids. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have needed to do drag well in order to make it work. My friends often looked awful as women … and it didn’t matter! They never once had their IDs questioned. A comrade at the tender age of fifteen got into bars and got served alcohol every time!
Back at our pre-NYE party, I recounted my younger days. “No,” I said aloud. “This is a real thing, and it’s actually a smart way for a bar to protect themselves.”
But apparently my own personal experience didn’t satisfy the disgruntled guest.
“If this is a real thing, then why don’t the other bars do it?”
Even though I had no reason to be loyal to the Wrangler, I found myself feeling a strong need to defend the policy.
“Well, if a minor is caught drinking, the bar’s the one who gets penalized,” I argued. “Perhaps the Wrangler is the only bar smart enough to protect themselves from this clever attempt at underage drinking.”
By now, much of the community has heard about the mess between the Wrangler and Vito Marzano, who filed a complaint with DORA for not letting him in while in drag. He claimed it was discrimination against trans people, but to me, that seems like a stretch.
Knowing my teen history, I actually felt proud of the Wrangler for recognizing these things and protecting themselves as a business. Yet, as someone who is sensitive to transgender issues, I also hate the fact that a valid policy has negative side effects for an important part of our community.
As a person who empathizes with both sides of the battle, I have to wonder if such a battle was ever really a battle at all. Perhaps it was one giant disjuncture where one side fought about apples and the other fought about oranges. Feuds like this often become circular because the two sides aren’t on the same page of what they’re fighting about. Without hope of resolution, actions turn ugly and all that remains are wounds of divisiveness.
In the end, I’m not so sure fighting a bar’s legitimate ID policy would have made much, if any, progress for the transgender community. If the Wrangler would in fact accept trans patrons with a matching ID, then shouldn’t the battle be about fighting for the right for people to have an ID that matches their rightful gender?