By Mary Jo Klinker
Growing up, I cut my Barbie doll’s hair off in a bob haircut in
order to match my favorite teen sleuth: Nancy Drew. I had short
hair, too. I was the only girl in my class with a bowl cut, so I
guess the doll offered a way to see myself. The series by Carolyn
Keene, the penname for Mildred Wirt Benson, remained on my
childhood bedroom shelf until recently. Now in adulthood, I
remember little about the story arcs and characters in the series.
Whether or not Benson intended it, Nancy and George offered
my budding bisexuality a homoerotic subtext in adolescence.
After a difficult period in my life, a friend sent me a positive
affirmation—an image of an old Nancy Drew cover I once
loved that now read: “The Mysterious Night We Buried Our
Last Fucks.” This kind gesture snowballed into my 2018 reclamation
of a painful space in my home. I patched holes in my
basement left in the wake of patriarchal violence. I painted the
walls orange. I danced. I cried. I proudly displayed my childhood
books, framed the “mysterious night we buried our last fucks”
poster, displayed all of my macramé and 1960s retro furniture,
and put a lectern in the corner.
The “Nancy Drew Saloon” was born. A space for femmes, survivors,
joy, creativity, and collective feminist and queer knowledge
production in rural Minnesota. Each month, I organize a
presentation followed by a conversation salon. The walls have
been filled with laughter and are also a space where folks can
gather and commiserate about pain. Some of us have been lovers.
Many of our greatest erotic stories have been shared here. Some
folks identify as non-binary. Some as fiercely femme. Some as
lesbian. Some queer. Some straight.
The most common bond of this community is not a shared
identity of “women” that rests on biological determinism. It
seems to be shared life experience, righteous anger and empathy,
and resistance to heteropatriarchal violence. After all, in 2013
the first set of intimate partner violence data was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many
of us bi+ women know the structural reality uncovered in
that research: bisexual women (61.1 percent) report a higher
prevalence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an
intimate partner compared to both lesbian (43.8 percent)
and heterosexual women (35 percent). Additionally, 90
percent of bisexual women who experienced gender-based
violence reported having only male perpetrators.
Since its inception, the saloon has housed so many amazing
voices and late-night dialogues, from anti-fuck-boy poetry
readings following the Kavanaugh hearing, to an author
exploring Satanic panic and the cult of virginity. Most
recently, in honor of the 2019 International Women’s Day,
the saloon featured a presentation on the queer aesthetics
of Janelle Monae and a sex toy show-and-tell celebrating
sexual pleasure and radical affirmation of kink communities.
We ended that night, all 15 people, reflecting on the harm
of sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs)
and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) in our
So, is this a “women’s” space? My goal is to emphasize
community healing in this space, not a gender binary that
perpetuates exclusion. This inclusivity is especially critical in
a rural context. The Nancy Drew Saloon offers a space where
we can both struggle to dismantle binary and essentialist
logics of social identities indebted to white supremacy and
heteropatriarchy, and create imperfect communities built
on shared social and political commitments to social justice.
After all, like Nancy Drew, we are all seeking answers.