Where the Girls Are

Oakland as modern lesbian dreamscape.

“To my right, four women in lingerie are making cookies, giggling as they find new parts of each other’s bodies to ‘accidentally’ get dough on and subsequently lick off, Kate Sassoon recalls. “To my left, about 20 girls of all bodies, sizes, and flavors of the feminine are in a squirming, lounging, laughing pile. The scent of hot cookies fills the room and more girls emerge from the kitchen, announcing ‘Hot cookie delivery! Who wants one?’ as they sashay past me.”

Sassoon is talking about Girl Pile, Oakland’s very own (but not only) all-girl orgy, and it’s as good a place as any to start exploring the particular pull this city has on girls who like girls (and grrls who like girls, bois, genderqueers, and trans folk). According to the 2010 census, Oakland has more female same-sex couples per capita than any other city in California—only 700 fewer than San Francisco, a city more than twice its size (although Oakland’s population of male couples hasn’t kept up with the female contingent). Oakland has its own pride festival and a black LGBT film fest that’s been around for more than a decade. It has a lesbian-owned bookstore (Laurel), an eclectic and divey LGBT bar with regular drag king shows (the WhiteHorse), and even that bastion of same-sex experimentation, an all-female college (Mills). It has people like Courtney Trouble, a queer porn impresario who just inked a deal to direct a girl-on-girl feature for the mega-studio Smash Pictures, and Nenna Joiner, whose sex shop, Feelmore Adult Gallery, proudly slings trans erotica and high-end vibrators three blocks from City Hall. It has one of the most popular lesbian-oriented dance nights anywhere in the Bay Area, Ships in the Night. And it has city councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, a self-identified butch who is not only arguably Oakland’s most popular elected official, but was also the chosen candidate of many of the city’s churches when she ran for mayor in 2010.

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