It's hard for bi women to even explore their sexuality; this international sex party is helping to change that.
Emily Dievendorf is a self-described "bisexual social justice advocate" in Lansing, Michigan. She says dating while bi can be so frustrating that she throws in the towel every six months or so.
"I find it exhausting to be approached as a fetish by men, a potential option for a threesome by couples, and as a threat and a fraud by lesbians," she said.
Bi women looking to explore their sexuality face unique challenges, from the slow disappearance of the lesbian bar to misconceptions and stigma around their identity, which still reign large in 2016. Which is "sad and a bit ridiculous," said Anna Pulley, a writer who lives in the Bay Area. "When I date or go on apps, I don't identify as bi for that reason. I've been shut out and turned down on dating sites for it and gotten into stupid arguments with strangers trying to convince them that I'm a great date."
She notes that she has few female friends who will identify as bisexual, despite dating and sleeping with both women and men. "How can we be out and proud," as she puts it, "if we can't be... out and proud?"
A female-focused party called Skirt Club, specifically geared toward women who want to explore same-sex sexuality, often for the first time, may offer a promising step forward.
Skirt Club launched in London in 2014. It has since expanded to Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Sydney; a Berlin party launches next week, and the organization is expanding to Paris later this year. They currently claim to have 5,000 members, an impressive rise in two years.
Skirt Club caters to bisexual or bicurious women. No men are allowed, but women with all levels of experience in same-sex sexuality, from bicurious to fully lesbian, are welcomed. To some extent, the club is geared toward women who may be dating men, but use the events as a way to enjoy one another's company—as the narrator of one trailer video puts it, "When your man is not enough, seek adventure outside."
At their twice-monthly parties, women enjoy free-flowing champagne or mixed drinks, sultry burlesque performances, risqué games, and lectures on topics such as kissing and female orgasms. Around midnight, the afterparty begins, and physical liaisons are not only allowed, but encouraged (though not mandatory).
"I'd been to a couple of nice play parties in London and the same thing kept happening," Skirt Club founder, Genevieve LeJeune, told me. "A man would grab me by the arm or slap my bottom, and there was this expectation that I was there, and therefore I was going to have sex with him. If there is constantly a predator trying to push you into a threesome or sex with him, then you are not going to have fun, because you are constantly feeling threatened."
While the organization does offer smaller "Mini Skirt" events just for cocktails and socializing, a full event typically costs $150 or more to attend. Skirt Club has no investors and nobody on salary, but admission fees cover various administrative costs, as well as fees for throwing each event, which often take place in luxurious venues; in New York, the club rents a two-story penthouse in the Lower East Side with a 20-person jacuzzi.
Skirt Club also offers an online community that's free to join, where members use pseudonyms to remain anonymous. Though some may choose to meet outside official events, many prefer to keep their sexuality a secret. "It's like having a second life," LeJeune says.
Therein lies an interesting dynamic. Skirt Club appears to attract a specific type of woman: those who are casually bisexual. One item on their admission questionnaire asks aspiring members where they fall on the Kinsey scale. The most common answer, LeJeune told me, is a 2, or "predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual." Some even identify as a 0, or "exclusively heterosexual," but are open to exploring otherwise.
That may turn off women more experienced with same-sex sexuality. I asked several women who identify as bisexual or pansexual if such a party would appeal to them, and some said they weren't interested in being anyone's "experiment." Others said they wouldn't mind, with women who admitted to having only a few or no same-sex hookups were particularly intrigued. Some liked the idea of the fancy setting, while others were turned off by the price.
It's also worth noting that Skirt Club is only for cisgender women.
While the club could definitely stand to be more inclusive, most seemed to at least appreciate that such a thing exists, even if it's not for them.
"I think we do need more spaces for women to meet women and to that effect, I say, brava to Skirt. It's a challenge to take up space as queer women, especially with all the recent bar closings, and even queer-focused websites like AfterEllen.com, which shuttered [last month]," Pulley said.
Dievendorf expressed concerns that something like Skirt Club could reinforce the misconception that bisexual people are inherently non-monogamous, or that bisexuality is an emergent pop-culture trend, "which supports yet another stereotype that both lesbian, gay, and straight-identified people use as an excuse to not take us seriously."
But she does see a need for more safe meeting places. "Both spaces with same gender and opposite gender bi/pan/fluid people are in high demand," she said. "A mixed-gender bi space would best acknowledge and celebrate the reality that defines a non-monosexual identity."
But at Skirt Club, a woman may have her first, and maybe not last, sexual experience with other women; they may use it to become more comfortable and confident in her sexuality. And for them, at least they're living out their fantasies in a safe, supportive environment. In that way, it's a useful niche market that appears to be thriving.