I couldn’t tell what caused my tears first, now turning cold in the salt air. Was it the glare off the Pacific Ocean, one of the few places close to my home that felt both beautiful and accessible during shelter in place? Or the sunscreen sweating into my eyes, after the short hike my housemate and I had just completed? Or was it the news about the permanent closure of The Stud’s location at 399 9th Street in San Francisco. Since March, when shelter in place orders first rolled into effect, through the panic shopping, the masked walks, and the various ways my community was showing up through distance and digital connection, my friends and I had a refrain: When this is over, I can’t wait to go to the Stud. But a game of gay gossip telephone revealed the Stud’s closure, before their official announcement. All this, in the midst of quarantine, trickling into Instagram feeds a little over a month before San Francisco Pride on June 28th. A few days after their official announcement, George Floyd would be killed by a Minneapolis police officer sparking a wave of protest and rebellion in the name of Black life.

While the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic had felt draining for many essential workers (including myself), the scale of the governmental ineptitude in responding to the crisis hadn’t quite registered. The bare minimum in terms of financial protection having been achieved, initiatives to support struggling businesses stopped far short of what was needed. According to Honey Mahogany, a member of The Stud Collective which cooperatively owns the bar, the collective knew the bar would have to move, and began looking for a new space to move into once their year to year lease was up at the end of 2020. Despite finding this new location, coronavirus protection measures meant many gay bars would be closed for their busiest months, which, as Mahogany says, “left a very long time before the end of the year,” putting The Stud in an unsustainable situation. Lex Young, who runs The Stud’s financials, seconded the pain of losing the income of the Summer and Fall months to sheltering in place, noting how, for so many queer people who work in the service industry, “everyone’s busy month where they make all their rent was just coming up.”

The domestic economic crisis sparked by the spread of coronavirus in early 2020 has permanently shaped the lives of queer people, whether or not they own a business. While the Stud’s collectivization didn’t fully protect it from feeling the financial burden of months of lost income, it did at least “disperse the risk” Young says, making the process of moving out of their physical space, fielding media requests, and pivoting towards putting on online shows a much more streamlined process. The Stud’s width of programming comes from its collective members’ passion for developing so much creative work, members like Chloe Miller, who serves as a manager, bartender, organizer of the Stud Pin Archive, and de facto bar historian. Some of this broad programming has shifted to digital platforms, like The Stud Stories podcast, and The Stud’s Drag Alive twitch channel, which livestreams weekly drag shows, raising funds for performers, as well as the collective fund for opening a new physical Stud space. The culture of building power, sharing resources, and shaping the community around a business also drives Bluestockings, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which has been collectively owned and operated for over twenty years. For this bookstore and event space, “the community that runs and uses the space is our priority.”

One of their priorities as collective members has been operating the store on “Crip time” the concept coined by disability justice activists that prioritizes people’s need for rest and physical safety. The collective members say that while these foundational ideas of accessibility have “always been built into our work as a collective,” it’s of particularly importance because of the global pandemic. For those volunteers and collective members at Bluestockings, individuals who are sick and disabled could work from home when they needed to, and didn’t jeopardize someone’s health for the sake of having someone in the store. Many businesses have been forced to operate under this accessibility, or risk losing the physical community they’ve built. While this model of shifting toward digital platforms and online livestream events has been occurring since before the coronavirus pandemic began, for Dia Dynasty and Lucy Sweetkill, the co-owners of the private BDSM space La Maison Du Rouge, their weekly Periscope broadcasts have become a staple of their broad community building. Their live streamed events encompass anyone “kink adjacent or sex worker related” including “writers, bloggers, activists, people who are actually of the community in the way of femme dommes, and kink educators.” From recent interviews with Ashleigh Nicole Tribble, also known as Ashleigh Chubby Bunny, who discussed how kink informed her view of the power she held, to a group stream with Troy Orleans, Mistress Marley, and SxNoir about the intersections of sex work and Black liberation activism, La Maison Du Rouge’s weekly livestreams have carried the power and educational potential of the dungeon onto digital platforms. Sweetkill and Dynasty also host interpersonal gatherings, which have been on hold since COVID, and were forced to cancel one of their upcoming kinky clothing swaps, where a portion of all clothing donated goes to street based sex workers. Within sex working community there are individuals who hold more or less privileged positions, yet Sweetkill notes how generally, sex workers often show up in solidarity for other causes, because as criminalized laborers, they understand what it means when “a system does not want you there.”

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Can Queer Businesses Survive COVID-19? Here’s How Some Are Trying by Sloane Holzer

July 21, 2020