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At the Lab, a Brooklyn nightclub and rental hall, a petite Hispanic bartender sporting braids down the middle of her back and a baseball cap is taking a break on a recent Friday night. Then she spots something in the crowd and leaps onto the bar. She sees another woman dressed in boyish hip-hop gear hitting on her femme girlfriend on the crowded dance floor. The bartender jumps to the floor, pushes her way past dancers, and grabs her woman by the arms. After giving her a rough, disapproving shake, she drags her quarry back to the bar, where the girlfriend will remain standing in silence the rest of the night.
"It's a property thing," explains Siya, who, like the bartender, looks like she's walked out of a rap video. Among the 15 tattoos that adorn her beige complexion are a large Bed-Stuy on her forearm and Brooklyn on the back of one hand. She's 20. "You can be holding your femme girlfriend's hand in the club, and she could be looking around, searching for a flyer AG. She's going to want to stray, slip her a number. All lesbians are sneaky," Siya says.
At the weekly 18-and-over females-only hip-hop party going on, about half of the black and Hispanic crowd is femme, the other half "AGs," or "aggressives," who also refer to themselves as "studs," whether they're fly or not.
Later, when two AGs get into a pushing match over a femme, one shouts, "Suck my dick, nigga! I'll fuck your whole shit up!" Friends break it up, pulling one outside the club to get the story. One of the women had tried to talk to the other's girlfriend while her back was turned. But it's a common occurrence. No femme, committed or not, is really off-limits.
"When you go to the club and you're an AG, your mission that entire night is to find the baddest femme in the club and make her your girl," says another woman, who calls herself Don Vito Corleone. "Just like every rapper wants the baddest video chick on his arm, so do AGs."
Rap videos have long provided men of color with milestones on their journeys to manhood. From being a successful street businessman (Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ten Crack Commandments"), to learning how to treat a woman (Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit") and protecting their manhood (50 Cent's "What Up Gangsta?"), guys are told how to be indestructible, sexually assertive, and in general, badasses. The misogyny and homophobia implicit in that message has long raised the hackles of critics. Oprah Winfrey and columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. made news recently for saying "enough" to the influence of rap's rougher edges on black culture.
But for increasing numbers of very young black and Hispanic lesbians, the bitches-and-'hos lyrics of their musical heroes are the soundtrack for a thug's life they pursue with almost as much passion as they do the hottest femme in the club.
"These AGs have a disrespectful mentality, and they get it from men, hoodlums, dudes that are in the 'hood all day," says Kysharece Young, an AG, rapper ("Ky Fresh"), and freshman at Monroe College. "They act like a bunch of little damn boys that ain't got no sense."
Rapper Siya is flanked by Vanessa Villot (left) and Ashanta Harrison. Its a property thing, says Siya.
photo: David Yellen
As rap songs boom through the Lab's speakers on a Friday night, AGs dominate the place, shouting lyrics that objectify women as playthings. They point their fingers in the air to simulate gunfire, and throw down lyrics at other AGs like they were calling out rival gang members.
Like most men in the culture, young lesbians respect Jay-Z's business sense, consider themselves to be hustlers like Jeezy, and take the no-holds-barred approach of Lil Wayne. For these women, there seem to be few older lesbians they can look up to, or organizations that mean much to them, other than the crews they create themselves.
Among the older women who do make the scene, Kimmeee and Madison, lovingly called "Uncle" or "Father" by the younger women, promote the parties at the Lab and run girlzparty.com, the nexus for the black lesbian club scene. They say they've watched the change in younger women in the last few years.
"It gets rougher each year, and it has a lot to do with who their idol is and who they want to image themselves after, like these thug rappers," says Madison, who launched girlzparty.com 12 years ago.
"I wouldn't say there are too many [female] role models," says Kimmeee. "We get a lot of girls that come out and their idols are men and they feel like they have to be men."