Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Girl From the Gutter

I left class tonight with every intention in the world of coming home and writing. I've got a few stories on the backburner, and really, sometimes I just have to push myself to write.

But then.

I laid in bed and started reading Autostraddle, as I am wont to do sometimes, and stumbled upon Slate's six-part series on the past, present, and future of gay bars. And because I'm a huge queer history nerd who is absolutely fascinated with the history of the gay bar scene in America, I got sucked in. Hardcore. I mean, who doesn't want to read an account of Alison Bechdel's first experience in a lesbian bar? (Tell me you know who she is because her graphic novel and comics are fan-fucking-tastic.) Who isn't shocked to learn San Francisco had 118 gay bars in 1973 and 33 in 2011?! And, and, and, there is a black and white photograph of queers dancing at a NOLA bar named Dixie's in the 1950's.

Um. I could go die happy now.

So, while I really want to talk all about my week and about the fucked up gender things I can't seem to ignore, and I really want to write fabulous erotic stories for you... instead, I'm going to relive a bit of my own history.

((Musical Interlude))

((this song will always make me cry in a gay bar))

Technically, my first time in a gay bar was in Houston, Texas, in June 2006. Four of us -- me, the girl I'd broken up with a month before, my best friend, and her girlfriend -- went to a concert in Houston. Before we got on the road, I looked up every lesbian bar I could find online, and made it clear to them that, as the volunteer driver for the weekend, I was requiring at least ONE trip to a lesbian bar. At least one.

We went to Sue Ellen's, a lesbian establishment in Houston, but we weren't 21. So the butch checking ID's sent us around the corner, to a smaller, unmarked bar.... which happened to be the only African-American lesbian bar in town.

Wow, we stuck out like sore thumbs.

We couldn't drink, so I think we stayed like 15 minutes. Maybe 20. The place was empty. Instead, we took off to try to get tattoos, which also did not happen. Two of us got piercings instead. Thankfully, my ex and my best friend talked me out of getting a rainbow women's symbol tattoo.

(Dear lord, I really was that gay. I guess we all have to survive the baby dyke phase. My first reaction is to think that would have been a huge mistake, and my second reaction is to wonder if it's easier to get laid with a rainbow tattoo. I'll never know the answer to this question.)

Anyway. I don't really count that.

I first went to a gay men's bar on August 12th; I rang in the first hour of my 19th birthday in the bar. It's a tiny place, maybe the size of my living room and kitchen combined, and very rarely does anyone check an ID. The crowd is predominantly white gay men 35+, though there's some give and take. Though I wasn't legally supposed to be in the bar until I turned 21, I grew up going there because it was so easy to get in. Many of my coworkers, fellow college students, former teachers, old high school friends, and old family friends have haunted that place at one time or another. I've seen holidays and funereal celebrations and birthdays there. I feel like I'm going back to visit family when I make it back a few times a year.

But my first real experience in a queer bar was a few nights later. My girlfriend snuck me off campus during orientation, and I talked a fellow staffer into covering for me. I was an anxious ball of freaking-the-fuck-out. I'd never been within 100 feet of the place. I had no idea what to expect. I'd been carefully schooled on what to wear: jeans, no rainbows (do you wear the band t-shirt to the band's concert? No.), a t-shirt or a button-up, no makeup, chucks or tennis shoes, a color-coordinated leather belt, and no jewelry except a men's watch and maybe something leather. We had a plan. I knew the layout of the bar, how to slip past the doorman while my then-girlfriend created a diversion, who to look for once I got in, not to order my own drinks.

By some miracle, though I thought my heart might explode out of my chest, I made it through the door unnoticed. I felt so young, terrified, out of place. I put on my best "I belong here, so don't fuck with me" face and didn't stop to turn around until I made it halfway up the wooden staircase. I remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wondering who this stranger was. I'd been having sex with a girl since I was 16, and yet, surrounded by so many dykes, my own identity became shaky. What did I have in common with the butch women in their 40's hanging out at the bar? What did I know about the community, about being queer, about these bars and growing up queer and closeted in the south? Who did I think I was, trying to claim a place here, when clearly I had no experience? I felt like an imposter, and I was convinced everyone saw through me. The feeling didn't pass until my girlfriend pulled me in and kissed me, in front of a room full of people waiting for the drag show to begin. And then I knew I was exactly where I belonged.

I left a piece of my heart in that bar, somewhere between 4am line dances and New Years' Eve and a dance floor filled with so many of my friends. I may hate the town, but I'm damn proud to say I grew up in the queer community there.

(Mad points and eternal glory to whomever gets the post title reference.)

No comments:

Post a Comment