If you mourned the 2015 closing of The Lexington, one of the last lesbian bars in the city, but you’re also tired of sad endings for films involving LGBTQ women, come see Alexis Clements’s debut documentary All We’ve Got, a heady, hopeful meditation on resilience and community playing Sunday, Dec. 15 at the Roxie.
Clements, who hails from Brooklyn, came out as queer in 2009, a time when finding LGTBQ community felt complicated. According to her research, by 2010, over 100 bars, bookstores and community spaces across the United States where LGBTQ women once gathered had closed. All We’ve Got Is Clements’s quest to learn more about the spaces managing to stay open despite steep odds. She says she was intentional about approaching the film as an optimistic celebration of survival that did not linger too long on what has been lost.
“The vast majority of queer women media that I had been consuming, specifically around spaces, you know, whether it was in a magazine or in a film or an episode of a television show, it was always talking about loss,” Clements explained. “Pretty much when it comes to spaces, it’s like, ‘Oh, another bar closed. Here’s another space that we’ve lost. Another bookstore closed.’ It was always a lament. And we do need to acknowledge the loss, but why was nobody acknowledging the stories of resilience?”
Through the lessons Clements learns along the way, the film becomes a practical manifesto on how to weather the effects of gentrification. All that remains – the bars, bookstores, community spaces, and queer arts collectives still thriving – have a few things in common, Clements says. They do not have to pay rent, either because they own their own space, or because they meet in free, public space. There is broad, intergenerational community attached to the space. And there is an active resistance to assimilating into mainstream, straight culture. I asked her to elaborate a bit on that last point. She explained that it had to do with the idea that no one’s free until we’re all free.
“These days,” she said, “It’s absolutely possible to be a high-income lesbian with a pretty good job who gets married and is relatively conservative. Who doesn’t need or want to participate in queer spaces of any kind. And that’s fine, you know? Like that’s something a lot of people have fought for, but that person is not actively critiquing the system. And so I think for me, and it became very clear that these spaces have stuck around because they are engaged in political work.”
The joy of this film is in the richness of the archival footage, in seeing an often fraught and hidden ‘herstory’ brought to life. The joy is also in representation, how it highlights voices and cultures and visions for the world that are not often celebrated or even shown in mainstream media. You’ll meet the owners of a lesbian dive bar in Oklahoma, who seem less concerned about turning a profit, and more interested in feeling like home, for a close-knit community that doesn’t have any other public spaces just for them.
In more liberal parts of the country, Clements describes a changing cultural scene where queer spaces no longer exist predominantly as a place to find people to date. She introduces us to the organizers of the Trans Ladies Picnic, a casual meetup that acts a refuge, a place to gather strength. She explores the link between arts and politics with WOW Café Theatre, the oldest collectively-run performance for women and trans artists, and lingers lovingly on the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York, which traces its roots to a 1970s roomy Manhattan apartment, and is supported today by generous volunteers who value community, and remembering and holding the past.
With All We’ve Got, Clements set out to discover where (and whether, and how) community still existed for LGBTQ women. That she was heartened by what she found is something to celebrate. I asked her if she thinks there will always been a need for queer spaces.
“As there are people who are oppressed, then I think that there will be,” she said. “There’s still so much to fight for.”
All We’ve Got runs 67 minutes, and will be playing Sunday, December 15 at the Roxie. The screening includes a Q&A with the director. Tickets are available here.