Pecs and The City


I’ve been writing this column since 2008 and I’ve never missed an issue. Then, on the cusp of my deadline for last month, 49 people were murdered inside of Pulse in Orlando – and I had written a column called, “The Death Of The Gay Bar.”

Needless to say, the title was glaringly inappropriate and the content – which highlighted how the safe havens for our community were disappearing – seemed unbefitting to the tragedy at hand. But just like the proverbial phoenix, I discovered that there was truth and power rising from the ashes of the words I had written, along with the one thing that will always bind us together: hope.

Let’s start with deconstructing the point I was making on my first attempt, shall we?

Just recently we saw local gay club Talbott Street shutter its doors after nearly 15 years. While many still debate the reasons for the closure – money troubles, too many bachelorette parties, a haunting by the vengeful ghost of a long-dead drag queen – the point is entirely moot. The cold truth is that a once-thriving epicenter of our community has spun its last dance beat and swept up every square of glitter.

When the doors first opened, I helmed the corner of the copper bar, serving drinks shirtless and glazed in cigarette smoke (Wow, remember how terrible all that smoke was?) to a nonstop crush of patrons. But over the years the crowds dwindled and now the building sits empty, the specters of first kisses and last dances the only thing remaining inside.

It’s sad, really. Any time something ends that has been a part of everyone’s life for so long, a part of ourselves ends with it. When NYC’s super-soaked, super-sexy Splash closed in 2013 after 22 years, my friend Gary was nearly despondent.

Most recently, a group of people have banded together to try to save San Francisco’s 50-year-old iconic gay bar, Stud, when the rent jumped from $3,800 a month to $9,500. No one wants to say goodbye to things that are in our hearts, especially places where people like us discovered not only ourselves but others like us.

So, why are people staying away from the gay bars they once frequented every weekend? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. One of the most common things I heard was the rise of the hookup app, but that’s tenuous at best. True, there have been many articles written on the matter, but it’s simply not a valid reason. Do I disagree with people constantly staring into the glow of their phones instead of interacting with others? Yes, of course I do. Hey, there’s a big world around you. Be present. Live in what’s happening right now. That’s all I’ll say about that.

I do feel that the apps have made gay bars less of a hunting ground and more of a party atmosphere. If you just want to get laid, you can easily do that at home, right? Now when people go out there’s not as much focus on hooking up. People want to dance, drink, meet new friends and sure, maybe catch the eye of someone sexy.

Connecting with someone will always be part of the social scene, regardless of technology and the lure of the swipe. Let me put it another way: I can order apples and bananas from Peapod any time I want, but sometimes I’d rather see them in the grocery store so I know what I’m getting firsthand.

The most interesting response I got to my inquiry was, “gay people are in the mainstream now so we don’t need our own bars.” That, however, is completely wrong on many different levels.

See, whether or not Gus Kenworthy walks the ESPYs red carpet holding his boyfriend’s hand, or Sulu and Iceman are revealed to be gay, we will always be just out of the mainstream. This means that no matter how many straight people you know that love “Will & Grace,” we are different. And we always will be. That alone is something to celebrate.

Take a moment riaght now and think about what makes you you. Is being gay one of the sparkling facets of your life? Of course it is. Even though we struggle and fight and live with a constant breath of fear on the back of our necks, none of us would change who we are.

This isn’t leading to an amorphous point about being proud and always standing up for your rights as a human being (although you should always do both of those things), but merely a reminder that even though it may seem like it’s okay for you to greet your boyfriend with a kiss at Starbucks, there are many people in this world that don’t think it’s okay and will always view us as second-class citizens. Or worse. Take a glance at the GOP agenda and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

This is also a reminder that even though it’s totally cool to drink and dance in a predominantly straight bar surrounded by men and women of varying sexuality, nothing beats being jammed onto a sweaty dance floor locked in a crowd of others who are just like you. Gay bars and their ilk are necessary for our community. We need them to be a lighthouse shining in the dark when we want to feel like we belong.

When we take the time to think about what happened at Pulse, it’s scary. It’s scary to know that people out there hate us enough to drive them to kill. But courage and unity are stronger than fear.

Don’t abandon the places that will always welcome you; the places that allowed you to become who you truly are. Return to your roots. Dance. Drink. Meet new friends. Don’t let those that hate us drive us back into hiding. Don’t let the deaths of our brothers and sisters be in vain.

Come out and be with your community. It’s time. Now more than ever. It’s time.


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