Over the weekend, Shannon Gomes was denied entry into Aria Lounge, popular nightclub on Ariapita Avenue. She refused to pay the imposed unfair and arbitrary entry charge of $120 that is meant for men. The club management accused her of “wearing male clothing” in their “strict dress code” establishment. As a consequence, her refusal to pay the “relevant costs” barred her from entering.
Yes, Aria Lounge is a private establishment.
Yes, Aria Lounge management has the right to refuse admission.
But we should also list on their sign:
1. You Do Not Have The Right To Be Yourself Here
2. Free Before 11 If You Meet Our Gender Stereotypes
In light of the recent uproar on Facebook and blame game debates in comments, I thought it might have been useful to weigh in. In 2011, at the nightclub Boatyard in Bridgetown, Barbados, I was denied entry into the club because I challenged the club owner and bouncer’s indiscriminate “Dress Code In Effect” rule that targeted my friends and women who were dressed in “male clothing”. They forced us to lift our t-shirts, women and men, to ensure that our jeans were not below our waist (…rules of the club).
These forms of discrimination are not new to the Trinidad and Tobago night scene. Often times, intersections between race and class grab headlines when a prominent member of society is denied entry into a club. It is important to note that the status of the persons brings light to the issue. Many clubs practice discriminatory ‘line and list’ tactics and persons are continually pushed out. Why don’t we speak up? Because the “exclusivity” of the event is what persons pay to enjoy…people pay for access to a particular “crowd” which is often codified as not “who we are” but rather “who we are not.”
In the Shannon Gomes case, two (2) themes emerge from the madness:
1. By her dress, she did not qualify as a ‘valid’ female
When the staff member remarked, “If you were dressed like her…” making a comparison to another woman’s attire; the point being expressed was that Shannon did not occupy or maintain the feminine ideal the club demands and imposes. And she faced the ultimate sanction – she geh sen’ outside.
2. Homophobia-Misogyny Cocktail
The comments on Facebook and Twitter show great misunderstanding of gender and sexuality. Her sexuality is assumed as a lesbian. Her sexuality is not the issue however. Whatever it may be! What persons have said essentially is “if yuh wha play man, you go pay like a man”. Why must a woman’s clothes be a marker of her sexuality or ‘respectability’? Is a woman’s sexuality subject to shame? Are we okay with women’s unequal participation in the society? This aggression makes it clear that some communities in Trinidad and Tobago are subject to exposure and violence for their choices. And more so, the choices they make on their wardrobe.
*There is a third issue about marketing “Women Free B4 11…drinks…blah blah” that I shall not discuss in this forum.
The issue we are raising as a nation is that a “Dress Code” is not a gender-neutral sign. Instead it gives bouncers, fresh-out-of-UWI/FIU-committee-members, and club owners a gender-specific framework to police everyone seeking entry and allows them to arbitrarily enforce this.
The lesson? Dress codes should be consistent and modified to avoid gender and class stereotypes to protect the rights of the consumer.
The poison of this fiasco was not that Shannon Gomes was denied entry into the club; it was that the management and staff betrayed every brain cell that they were thought to have when they prejudicially attempted to charge her the rate for males.
I thought the jokes were on Donald Trump but Aria Lounge wins!
According to management:
“Our staff had no intentions of discriminating against Ms. Gomes. They simply were treating her in a manner that was equal to a man, given our strict dress code.”
Sometimes I have to watch the calendar to remind myself this is 2015 and not 1520. Like somebody winin’ in de wrong direction…
Aria Lounge? Yuh Rell Outta Timin.