Jackhammer owner Jimmy Keup said that if there is one thing the bar prides itself on, it is inclusivity. The Rogers Park bar has long been advertised as a welcoming space for a variety of subcultures, including the BDSM community, which has its own basement party space in Jackhammer known as "The Hole."
"The bar's vision when we created the space was to have it be all-inclusive," Keup told Windy City Times. While many play spaces only allow men, Keup said, Jackhammer has marketed itself to everyone in the LGBTQ community and beyond.
But a recent complaint from a transgender patron has called that claim into question, and not just for transgender people, but for Keup himself.
Elias Krell went to Jackhammer Oct. 28, 2010, to party with three friends (two transgender-masculine, and one female). Krell identifies as a transgender FTM (female to male), and he had been into The Hole several times without incident. Krell and his friends were standing in a dark corridor known as "The Alley" when the bartender approached them and told them to leave the space.
"I hadn't been in the hole 10 minutes when the bartender pointed in my face and said 'you, you need to leave," Krell told Windy City Times. "He said 'because you're not a man.'"
Krell does not pass as male, and the bartender incorrectly assumed he and another friend were women.
According to Keup, Jackhammer does not enforce a gender policy in The Hole itself, but he said, staff will not allow women to be in the Alley due to safety concerns. The Alley is a hallway linked directly to a side-door exit. Staffers sometimes cannot see into it to make sure that patrons are safe. In August 2007, a gay man inappropriately touched a straight woman upstairs at the bar, and she called the police on him. Keup said the bar has been sensitive about women in the Hole ever since. Unless a woman is dressed in fetish wear, he said, bar staff will not allow her to be in the Alley.
Jay Lacey was the bartender working in the Hole Oct. 28. He said he saw Krell and his friends and thought there were "two lesbians, a female, and a male."
"[They] assume that I am supposed to know they are transgender," Lacey said. "When I see a woman go back there, it's about the safety of women."
Lacey confirmed that he asked Krell and his female-identified friend to leave the Alley. Lacey also told another transgender friend to leave the Alley, but when the friend spoke back with a deep voice, Lacey said he realized he probably made a mistake in asking Krell to leave.
"I went back to the bar and was like, 'What just happened?'" Lacey said. "I just assume. It's making an assumption."
Jackhammer bought Krell and his friends a round of drinks to apologize, but Krell said the incident left him feeling shocked,"invisible" and "not understood." He worried that other transgender people would kicked out for not passing. He and his friends left, and he hasn't been back since.
Shortly after the incident, Krell's boyfriend, Madsen Minax, e-mailed Keup a complaint letter. Minax, who is well-known in Chicago as the bassist of Actor Slash Model, knew Keup personally because the two had worked together on fundraisers and concerts at Jackhammer. In the letter, Minax asked Keup to clarify Jackhammer's gender policy.
"If you don't want women and transgender people in the hole, (though that would be a bummer) enforce that," the letter stated. "However if you do wish to remain/be inclusive, it has to be consistent. As it stands now, we don't know when we are safe and when we are not, and it shouldn't depend on whose bartending that night."
Minax told Windy City Times that he sent the e-mail more than once and left messages for Keup at the bar, but Keup never responded. After two months of silence and a request to comment from Windy City Times, Keup said he was ready to talk and regretted his failure to respond to Minax sooner. He said he will apologize to Minax, Krell and his friends, and that the incident "had been dealt with internally" already.
"This is a learning experience," Keup said. "It's a message to the gay community but also to the fetish community that there are other people who are not the same. It's not black and white."
Generally, Jackhammer has maintained a positive reputation among many trans-masculine patrons. Leithan Clews, another trans-masculine person, has been frequently the hole with gender-variant friends for two years and has never had a problem. He said he was "surprised" to hear of the incident. However, Clews said, most bartenders did not know he was transgender until recently and that since they have figured it out, he wonders if it has not changed the way they treat him. "I do feel like they're more uptight with me now," he said. "But then again, they do have really strict rules."
Krell said that he will accept Keup and Lacey's apology and return to Jackhammer. But he said, the staff needs to clarify what its policies are and why. "They want to say they are trans-friendly," he said. "But when it comes down to it, they do think that trans men have to pass and that women are vulnerable so they have to dress to prove that they want to be there."
Minax's e-mail encouraged Keup and staff to seek out "Transgender 101" (transgender sensitivity training) from the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois. Keup said he intends to do that. "We need to do a better job," he said. "And, absolutely, we are willing to do that."