Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Source of Pride

The first time I ever went to a gay bar I was terribly disappointed.  I had dreamed of oiled up, impossibly tan, muscular guys in jockstraps, deafening disco, and mountains and mountains of cocaine.  Come to think of it, I also imagined a lot of Halston and fur coats and gigantic gold hoops (obviously in the fantasy the women were fully, fabulously clothed).  So maybe I was just sort of dreaming of my idealized version of Studio 54 x Fire Island.  That was not what I found.  Thank god, because who knows what would have become of me.  What I found was normal.  Normal is not a feeling a gay kid knows.  Sure, plenty of the good bad stuff happens.  But for the most part, it's just a confluence of people.  People who sometimes feel on the fringe--breathing a little easier because they feel normal.  No one thought my voice was weird or wondered why such a tall kid would stay home and arrange flowers on Friday night instead of play basketball. Like I would wear baggy shorts?
The story of these flowers is here
I have felt panic scared that someone would hurt me simply because I am gay on many occasions.  Not in a long time, but that sort of elemental fear is a Rubicon.  I've always thought that gay men and straight women are fundamentally compatible because we must protect ourselves with similar cunning.  Therefore we protect each other.   When I was 17, ironically I skipped school to get balloons for my favorite teacher's birthday.  I was wearing tiiiiight ripped jeans, a navy button down, and a Black Watch tartan tie.  Back then I had two hairstlyes.  That day was my "1950s jock look".  As in cleanly swept back on the sides with a little boxy pompadour. It was my typical preppy I might be going to the yacht club or a gay orgy I haven't decided look.  On my way in the store, a fabulous woman who looked like a Bond Girl said to me Oooh baby you are too groovy for the Giant Eagle, honey! We talked about my hair and if I ripped my jeans myself, bought them that way, or if the rips happened organically (it was a combo of 1 &3).  She said I just love you and we went separate ways with our carts.  In the back of the store where the ribbon and fish food were, there were two men.  They were probably buying fish food and I was obviously buying ribbon.  They started saying awful things to me.  I was panicking and thought maybe if I hadn't been wearing such a gay outfit, this wouldn't be happening.  And then I hear I DON'T THINK SO and see my fabulous Bond Girl new friend literally charging the guys with her cart.  She was valiant and victorious and I was submissive and scared.  Strangers can be heartbreakingly cruel and they can be eclipsingly kind.  I repay those karmic debts when I see the opportunity.
The next day I wore different ripped jeans (with a slash under my left butt cheek, a long-retired SAJ signature), a white button down, and a white jacket.  Oh and some loafers I was in overdraft for like three weeks for.  I figured whether I looked gross or glam, I was gay either way.  Might as well do it being too groovy for the Giant Eagle.

In this time of agony and shame, there is still Pride and community to be found.  My heart is broken for the victims, their families and friends, for Orlando--and broadly, for all of us.  My spirit is buoyed by the love, support, and pride that is flowing.  Gay clubs reach far beyond gay people.  I used to work with a woman who went to a gay bar on Christmas Eve every year.  She is straight and married and has a smart, hilarious daughter.  The first time she did this, her mother had recently passed away and she had no friends or family to spend the holiday with.  So she went to Union.  She said she was included and loved and felt real family.  It became a tradition that she still practices.  Except now she brings her family to share with those who might need the warmth.  So I would like to ask you to share your memories and experiences of gay bars with us here in your comments.  Your first time, the most fun time, the time you puked on a drag queen--whatever.  Anything goes.