Rebecca Kenton: Let’s Get Together

Festive or Foolish? You decide! Sip City Mixer is having their Holiday party this weekend and is encouraging people to dress in fun or festive attire, ugly sweaters, hideous bowties, silly dresses, reindeer antlers, life-size latke costumes, whatever jingles your jangle. I, who like to think of myself as the font of knowledge of all things lesbian, had to recently fess up that I was not terribly familiar with Sip City, which I now know has been holding events throughout the city since 2017. Side note: according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, only 15 nightlife spaces dedicated to queer and gay women remain in the United States. So it was great to hear that someone was stepping up to the plate to provide places for us to congregate, have a drink and find a sense of community. That someone was this week’s portrait, Rebecca Kenton. 

So, let’s start with your origins, are you from Philadelphia?

No, I’m from northeast Connecticut. 

Tell me a little about growing up there?

Well… there were cows. [Laughing] A lot of cows. We were there near the University of Connecticut. My dad was a math/computer science professor and my mom was a kindergarten teacher, so I come from a family of educators. Many teachers on both sides of the family, but I didn’t go that route. It was a very quiet upbringing, so as soon as I graduated high school I moved directly to Manhattan. I was 17 and I’ve lived in cities ever since! 

That was a bit of a jump. Any culture shock?

No, it was heaven! I was bored and restless in my hometown and being in Manhattan, which I believe is one of the top 3 best cities in the whole world, was exhilarating. I was excited all the time. 

So tell me a little more about the fam, do you have siblings?

Yes, I have a younger sister. She’s in Vermont now in that same sort of New England small town environment. I see my New England country mouse family about every 6-8 weeks. They usually come for a visit. 

Lovely. What was a favorite thing about living in a small town?

Ha, I couldn’t tell you, I was born to live in a city. 

What was the worst weather you experienced there?

I remember one winter when I was little and the snow was up to my neck. But I think I was very young, so if I was 8 that would have been impressive, now maybe not so much. 

Hey, I’d take 3 feet of snow for Christmas. We don’t seem to get much snow any more. 

We don’t! That is the one things that I will say is disappointing about Philly. But I love everything else about my adopted city. 

Did you go to college?

I did; I went to a small college in Connecticut and then I spent a year at McGill University in Montreal. That was my supposed ‘exchange year’, but it wasn’t really a foreign exchange. Montreal is a French speaking city, but I barely had to speak any French there. 

What did you study?


That probably helps you deal with crazy people in the clubs! 

Well, maybe so. But I find when there’s a problem, most people can be gently talked to so that things don’t become an issue. 

So give me the timeline of when you did what.

I moved to NY when I was 17. At the time my parents had moved to Sri Lanka for a sabbatical. I didn’t know anyone in NY, so I was completely on my own and it was exhilarating! It was thrilling to get up every day and be like, “I’m in my own tiny little apartment and I’m going to eat a cantaloupe and canned soup for dinner! And no one can tell me otherwise!” College back in Connecticut, and McGill came after New York. After college, I moved to Boston. 

Ah, I went to school there, Emerson. So, when did you have the first inkling that you were attracted to women? 

Probably crushes on my volleyball and softball coaches. Or just the fact that I was playing softball, I didn’t realize that that it was kind of a lesbian marker. After I came out it was like, “Oh really? Everybody played softball?”

Ha! Even I played and I’m the least athletic person you’ll meet. What were some of the other things you liked to do?

I did play a lot of sports. I was not great, but I played a few. Other than that I was into drawing, reading, I don’t know, doodling around on my bicycle. There wasn’t really a lot to do. I did a little theater and some improv training. I babysat a TON. I always loved babies and little kids so while my friends were working at The Gap, I was babysitting. 

So when you moved to NY is that when you came out?

Nooooo, no, no, no. Aside from teacher crushes which a lot of girls have, I had no idea. I had to get married and have children before discovering anything. I always thought there was something weird about me, I thought I was just weird. I remember clearly thinking, I was 24 and I was an old maid and I needed to get married or I was going to be alone forever. And if I wanted to have children, I’d really better get on it already. I had a clear but fleeting thought, I wish I could have a husband who was a woman, and it made me laugh out loud to myself at such a ridiculous thought. Then I shook my head and was like, “Okay, carry-on. Let’s go find a husband.” And so I did. 

So what finally brought you out?

It kind of hit me all at once, my marriage was ending on its own accord, and in the back of my mind I thought, “I think there’s something in there that I haven’t explored before.” I was always curious but didn’t know a single, not one single lesbian. I went online, and this was back in 2010, before we really had smartphones, so everything was on the computer. I found this strange, dreadful website, but somehow I started finding my way and suddenly everything became clear. I don’t know how else to describe it, it was like, “Oh!, oh? Oh! Okay, I get it now” And what’s funny is that I’ve always had gay guys as friends but didn’t know any lesbians, they always seemed scary to me.

What was the first lesbian bar you went into?

It was Sister’s, I remember looking at the art on the wall and thinking, “Hmmm, the women are cats, or are the cats women?” It was very strange and not a single person spoke to me. I probably looked ridiculous, I’d thought, well, I’m going to a bar so I’d better put on a cute skirt and top, then I walked in and everyone was wearing sneakers and cargo shorts. I felt like I didn’t belong. I was trying to fit in so I looked around to see what lesbians drink and I saw a lot of crappy beer so I ordered a Rolling Rock. I sat on my stool and drank 2 or 3 of them, praying that someone would talk to me. No one did, but there were two women behind me talking about me, critiquing my physical appearance and I was shocked because I had this idea that women wouldn’t be like men in that way. I left somewhat disturbed but also realizing that there was something there. That I wasn’t imagining the feelings inside me. 

I had a similar experience in my 20’s, I used to model and would get a lot of attention from guys, so the first time in a lesbian bar, I thought I’d be the belle of the ball, I got dressed up in my finest disco attire and when I walked in like, “I’m here!” it was like, “yeah, whatever.” It took a minute to win folks over. 

Me too! I was modeling as well, that’s why I moved to New York. 

Parallel lives! So how did you tell the family?

My family is very liberal; my parents were activists in the civil rights movement, agitators and organizers. I think my sister told them in casual conversation so she basically outed me, and I was like, “Well that’s not great, I wish that I’d been the one to tell them.” But I’m very lucky, there was not much of a reaction from anybody. 

So how did you go on to become the Queen of Sip City?

[Laughing] I don’t know about that, but yeah, I did go from not knowing a single lesbian to hosting these great parties across the city. I think I was like, “Okay, I need to figure out my community and I have some catching up to do.” I studied it like I was going to get a degree in How to be a Lesbian. I had no idea that there was a whole culture and history that I was completely unaware of. I started dating someone who was 12 years older than me and had been out since she was 15, so she was instrumental in cluing me in. I was so excited, “Wait, what does that mean? When did that happen?” My head was spinning I was so excited. 

I met this girl on Craigslist, just as friends, and she said, “I’m going to a mixer in Headhouse Square if you want to go” and I was like, [excitedly] “What’s a mixer?” I was terrified, but I went and clung to her but I loved it and went to “Sam’s Mixers” from then on. It was so wonderful to be out and be gay and true to myself. I really opened up and would talk to everybody. I would see people who were me when I first came out and didn’t know anyone, and I’d go over and introduce myself and talk to them: “I haven’t seen you here before, are you new, what’s your name, where are you from?” I became a host for a few years, and in 2017, when the woman who ran the events moved, I was able to take up where she left off. 

I wanted to make it more inclusive, I wanted people of color, and trans people and others to feel welcomed. I wanted it to be more queer than strictly lesbian. For some reason I had to pick a name under duress, and I just liked the alliteration of Sip City, not knowing there was a thing called Center City Sips! Oh well. It started out small and awkward, the first event was in a small place where the lights were too bright and the music too low and everyone just sat there. But it started to grow and get bigger and bigger, I started with the Facebook group which had about 100 people when I took over and it’s now up to 4,000 and we have 5,000 on Instagram, which may not sound like a lot, but it’s hyper-local. 

What’s a most memorable event?

One of the first events was at the Ritz-Carlton, and I was pretty dazzled, going to an event at the Ritz. It was beautiful but then I was like, “Oh wow, it was $18 for that glass of wine…” This summer we did a Pride event at Liberty Point on the waterfront. It was huge and it was neat looking over at the Delaware. We did a pool party at the W hotel which was packed. But sometimes I just like the casual smaller events like at the Garage Bar in South Philly. Each party has its own energy. 

Tell me about the party on Saturday. 

I wanted to make something for everybody, so people can come wearing their most ridiculous ugly sweater or dress up, whatever that means to you. It’s going to be at Franklin Social at 4th & Chestnut. They’re very welcoming and they have a beautiful lounge that’s festooned for Christmas. 

It sounds like a good time, okay, let’s switch to some random questions, favorite place to go in Philly?

I like going to a neighborhood bar and sitting at the bar chatting with my girlfriend or friends. The Good King Tavern in my neighborhood is a favorite. 

Cats or dogs?

The answer is Yes. I don’t have any at the moment, my beloved cat died a year and a half ago, but one day, I’ll be ready for another cat, and then maybe a dog, and then maybe another cat…

What genre of music do you listen to most?

Well, according to Spotify Wrapped I listen to Art Pop? It seems there’s a very specific genre of music that I listen to and I’d never hear of it. I had to google it to see what it is that I like! Apparently it’s music inspired by art, fashion, and something else. I didn’t really understand it, but I guess that’s what I like! 

The most used app on your phone?

I’d say Instagram; I do all the social media for Sip City and all of our other groups, except Melamixin which is our POC group. 

What are these other groups you speak of?

We have a lot of sub groups. Sip City is the main group, then there’s Melamixin, then there’s “Out on the Trails”, which is our sporty group that does hikes and rock climbing and anything outdoorsy. We have a fun little group, “Yip City” where we meet outside with our dogs. Sometimes we do plant exchanges or book swaps. There’s Sip City Singles, we have Sip City South Jersey, which is a new group, and Sip City Chester County which just came back into the fold. 

Who knew you had such an empire! 

There’s a lot of us who like to do stuff! Although it’s pretty much okay to be gay in most places in Philadelphia, it’s nice to have little pockets where you don’t have to think about it, especially since we don’t have a lesbian bar anymore. 

Who would you love to collaborate with and what would you collaborate on?

I don’t know, I do a lot of collaborations but I try to stay in the background. We just did a poetry reading and a spoken word performance, I did all the graphics and social media but otherwise stayed out of it. I do that a lot. I’d love to do a collaboration with the women who created the Ladies parties, Diane and Betty. 

This must take up a lot of your time.

Yes, I spend about 25 hours a week working on the various projects and events, and the rest of the time I’m a mom to a 14 year old boy and 17 year old girl. 


Yeah, having children is the one thing I knew I could not miss out on, and they are truly the lights of my life. 

As it should be…

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