L Bar in Lyon calls to its patrons with a pink neon sign, a simple “L” in a circle, casting a glow on the sidewalk and the cramped wooden benches that serve as outdoor seating. Inside, the bar, amusingly enough, forms an actual L shape, a long, narrow corridor that lets out into a right turn and a slightly more open space scattered with stools, booths, and small round tables. Underneath a counter against one wall sit baskets stuffed with fun bargain bin costumes, including a Princess Peach dress and a Stormtrooper bodysuit. A fog machine periodically puffs into the air next to the door leading out to the alleyway you must take to get to the single bathroom; whenever customers open the door, fog swirls under the alley lights, making it look like the beginning of a Prince video.
On Friday night, two nights before the World Cup final, L Bar was packed to the brim. I had met up with friends for dinner and they, in turn, had suggested getting a drink there. They knew two important things: one, L Bar is air conditioned, which can be a hit-or-miss proposition in Lyon. And two, it’s a place where they could relax and be among community. And indeed, from the amount of English and the snatches of soccer conversation going on that night, it seemed as if every queer woman who had traveled for the World Cup had managed to congregate at L Bar.
Perhaps it was just the pleasure of finding an actual queer woman bar in Lyon; these spaces are becoming thin on the ground in the United States, and even in big cities, it can be hard to find a queer-women-dominated social party space outside of random takeover nights or popups. Perhaps it was the AC and the bartender, a Rapinoe-haired bundle of energy who, upon being asked if there was a menu, promptly replied, “I am the menu,” and then proceeded to ask a series of a-or-b questions (Wine or cocktail? Vodka or gin? Lemon or no?) to prepare a drink the customer would enjoy.
In the back room, where my friends had managed to claim a table and just enough seats for the group to sit without smushing together, there was a sigh of relief at the AC, then light gossip and typical who-would-you-rather, sprinkled with soccer talk. Slipping from the table to the bar for more drinks meant running a gamut of overheard snippets of speculation about the upcoming Netherlands-USA final: I hope Rapinoe scores, the Dutch must be tired, what’s your preferred midfield.
There’s no denying that women’s soccer attracts a queer and queer-friendly crowd. Like queer women, women’s sports is seen as transgressive, where women act in a male-dominated space with aggression and physicality without apology. Women’s sport audiences have been and continue to be heavily dominated by female and nonbinary persons who might find a women’s soccer game a friendly space where they can just be with people who have the same or similar lived experiences. A few years ago, out player Joanna Lohman described these fans as having been left out in other areas of their lives, and so women’s soccer became their refuge. “They’ve been ostracized at some point in their life,” she said. “They’ve felt left out of things. They’ve felt like the oddball, and women’s soccer is something that they believe in that’s given them a community where they finally belong to something, and for them it’s such a powerful feeling.”
And, particularly within the last decade, there’s simply been more and more queer players to root for as team spaces and society in general become safer places to openly live your life. It’s hard to fathom that Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris would have done a wedding spread for Vogue a decade ago, but in 2019 Megan Rapinoe is telling journalists “Go gays!”, and Tierna Davidson is talking about her girlfriend getting to see her at the tournament, and Vivianne Miedema is hilariously correcting clueless reporters that she would rather bring home an ideal daughter-in-law, not a son-in-law.
There is an entire generation of young women’s soccer fans now that has lived more of their lives seeing out players competing than not. For older fans, who have spent their lives searching not just for connection in soccer, but in culture at large, getting to see themselves reflected back is like finally taking a deep breath after a nasty cold, like sitting down after being on your feet all day, like the first drink of cold water after a long and hot run. It’s a release of tension you might not even know you were holding, until someone reminds you to stop hunching your shoulders and clenching your jaw and slouching in your seat. It’s an acknowledgment that yes, you exist, and you deserve to take up space and be understood. For those younger fans, who are living in the new norm, it’s exciting to imagine what might come of growing up never thinking anything other than that of course queer women play sports and have girlfriends and get shoe deals and are the focus of positive press coverage.
In the back of L Bar, amongst women and NB people ranging from just-old-enough-for-wine to where-were-you-when-Ellen-came-out, there was an unspoken common language running through the crowd, a shorthand to simpatico born of shared experience, whether in struggle or in joy, in feeling cast out or in finding new family. We are here, we have always been here, and we are going to have a good fucking time. Go gays. See you at the afterparty.