My first gay bar
I love being married to my wife. And I’m happy for those in New York who will now be able to tie-the-knot. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bill is overturned within the next 12 months by a state constitutional amendment. However, I’m confident that in my lifetime gay men and women across the country will have the right to marry just like the rest of us.
You might disagree with my view on this. Maybe you feel so strongly against gay marriage that you have one of those anti-gay marriage bumper stickers, or you don’t feel the need to examine the issue any further than, “It’s Adam and Eve! Not Adam and Steve!!” Maybe it’s a faith thing for you. That’s fine.
For me it’s not a faith thing; it’s a human rights thing. And more than that — a love thing. I have gay family members and gay friends. For those who haven’t found that someone they want to spend the rest of their lives with, like I have, I hope that they do. And for those who have, I see a love that is no more right or wrong than the love I share with my wife.
In honor of the state of New York legalizing gay marriage, Slate has a feature today titled The Gay Bar. Slate asked “eminent gay, lesbian, and bisexual writers to tell…about their first visit to a gay bar.”
I’m not eminently gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In fact, I’m eminently heterosexual, but I’ll never forget my first gay bar. I dusted off the ol’ Travelin’ Light (the column I wrote from 2002-2006) archives and pulled out the column below on some of my gay bar experiences.
Have you been to a gay bar? I’d love for you to share your story in the comments.
(Oh and this piece is Kelsey circa 2002, so forgive any clumsiness in the writing.)
I’m Kelsey, a single white male, straight as a prize-winning stalk of corn at an Ohio county fair.
Melbourne, Australia– I’m in a bar sipping on a cold one and discussing the finer points of Australian beer with some travel companions. After a hard day of driving from Sydney to Melbourne, we’re winding down. The Prince of Wales Pub stands up to our rigorous requirements- it is the first bar we come to and the beer is cold. Everything seems so right, but then…
I begin to notice a skewed demographic of patrons- they’re mostly men. After a quick canvas the realization begins to set in- I’m in a gay bar. No problem, you have gay friends. There is nothing to worry about. Oh, shit. That’s when I saw them, a group of guys hawking in a half circle, looking in my direction. After some final words of encouragement and a few pats on the back, a small Asian man weaves his way through an imaginary set of cones set in place on the floor by a few too many drinks.
His eyes stare out beneath a pair of droopy eyelids and some snot occupies his upper lip. Stay calm.
“Hi.” Snot lip spoke first. What do I do? A man has never hit on me before.
“Hello.” I am anything but flattered. I would not be interested regardless of his appearance, but he could have at least wiped the snot off his lip. The room closes in upon me. The music is loud and the steady hum of conversation with its waves of laughter echoes off the walls.
Oh no he’s going to speak again. Do I let him down easy? Do I run? It looks like he is on some kind of drug. It undoubtedly fills his loins with unrelenting passion while giving him exceptional strength and speed. Escape is futile.
“You look naughty.”
Naughty! The word hits me in the gut like a sucker punch and on the forced exhale my voice raises an octave in disbelief, “I look naughty???”
“No!” He points to my head of blonde curls. “I said you look Nordic. Not naughty, but Nordic.” He slowly pronounced and emphasized each syllable, “NOR-DIC.”
A vice begins to crush my head and a knife slowly twists in my chest. I’m an idiot. “Oh,” I nervously laugh, “I’m neither.”
Key West, Florida– I work as a SCUBA instructor on the island and I have been told that the drag show is a “can’t miss.” “Yeah, you should definitely take your mom and cousin there.”
At the back of the room my mom, my cousin Brice, a few of his friends, and I look through the bar and up to the small stage.
I am the first to admit that some drag queens are beautiful- not that I go for that kind of thing, I am just an honest guy- but the one performing has a bit of what Brice refers to as a “Dogface.” She struts out on the stage a petite 6’5” muscle cut diva, and provocatively dances to a Cher song.
Beside me Mom is smiling and moving to the music, having a good time. I’m glad I brought her here, a little something that you can’t experience in rural Ohio. The song ends and Dogface steps off the stage with a collection bucket.
Earlier that night I had embarrassed Brice’s friend, Mary, when I asked a Cuban man, who she had been eyeing all night, to salsa with her. She danced and returned with a large grin that fell to a scowl when she reached me, “I owe you. You better watch your back.”
These are the words that haunt me as Mary slips a twenty into Dogface’s bucket, whispers in her ear, and points at me. The room is wall-to-wall people. I am wedged between mom and Brice with nowhere to go.
Soon a bucket is shoved into my face. I look up, a tall drink of water if I ever saw one, into a toothy grin bordered with bright red lipstick. This is bad, very bad. The large red lips begin to move. She’s talking to me. I can’t hear, especially in pressure situations- either my mind flies away instead of fighting to comprehend or something in my ears shut down. I should get it checked out.
I later discovered the question was a simple one, “Are you gay?” A wrong response would have surely led to a life scarring experience and a lifetime of embarrassment.
She’s waiting for a response. Think…think. Play it safe. “I’m Kelsey.”
Dogface cocks her head to the side in question before finally shrugging her shoulders and slowly leaning towards me. There are times in life where a guy requires his mother for protection and/or guidance. This is one of those times and lucky for me, mom is standing right beside me.
Time slows. I turn in mom’s direction in desperation, seeking maternal shelter. The drag queen’s face nears. I hold my breath. Mom’s head deliberately drifts back and out billows long, slow, deep laughs from the gut, “HA…HA…HA…,” the laugh of the devil.
The lips impact my cheek as I back against the wall crawling in my skin. Nowhere to run. The devil laughs beside me. My back is against the wall. Before me in six-inch stilettos is a man the size of a professional wrestler. It’s just a kiss on the cheek…take it like a man. That’s when the suction begins.
My eyes go blank and I stare at my kin laughing hysterically. An animal being eaten alive, my mind drifts from my body, separating itself from the pain and horror.
I gaze down at Kelsey, a dog-faced drag queen stuck to his face, and weep.
So I am about 28, divorced with kids, working my way through school in a hospital – and those nurses like to party. So – on one day, a group of us go to a water park (where we drink beer and get a tan) then we all go to friends house and change, then go to one of our friend’s nice Catholic wedding (where we have champagne), and then, a few of us change yet again, and go with our gay friend Gary to the local gay dive bar. I lied, I said I had been to a gay bar before. This is the 80’s and I am wearing one of those denim dresses with a tight, short, skirt, but a loose blouse with big shoulders. I am young and thin and cute. I have on high heels. I have big hair (from chlorine and weddings). I have had a few drinks and I am dancing with my gay friend Gary, and he can really dance. The floor is sweaty and crowded. Suddenly, I feel hands grab my posterior and give it a good hard squeeze. I jump a foot and scream (like a girl) and spin around and find myself staring and this tall black bald man with make-up – who obviously knows my friend Gary. He looks at me in confusion and says (quite loudly, and with attitude) “Oh my gawd …. it’s a real girl!”
I was 22, and my boyfriend at the time and I were out with some of his friends, a single guy and then another couple, in Indianapolis. We had been out to dinner and then went downtown, ending up somewhere near Mass Ave. We were at a bar that had an outside beer garden and it was lovely, I remember thinking that there were mostly guys there, but I wasn’t paying too much attention to my surroundings! After we had a few drinks there we ended up at a club. I noticed again that there were a LOT of guys around. We were inside the club, me and my pretty boyfriend, dudes circling, when he finally decides to say “Oh by the way, Dave is gay.” Really! I had a fantastic time.
Now if you had asked about my 2nd (or maybe 3rd?) gay bar experience, that is a better story involving a drag show, dollar bill stuffing, and many many long island iced teas! 😉
Great post…I hope that we see marriage equality in our lifetime too.