The Gay Bar: Where we go to judge other people. Where we feel insecure, where everyone’s waiting for a flaw, for a reason to call you a bitch when you are shy, and laugh when you stumble by. The place where they make fun of your clothes, your weight, your age.
The Gay Bar: Where we went to celebrate community. Where we felt safe. A place where we felt at home away from home. A place where we found friends and explored who we were.
What happened to the gay bar? When did we become our own bullies?
We unite behind mantras like “It Gets Better.” We publicly support measures to end bullying, and yet in gay clubs—places formed out of a necessity to build and empower social belonging and community—we are hypocrites.
“Another kid killed himself,” a friend says over drinks one night. “What the hell?” And we shake our heads knowingly. We’re reminded of the scorching memories of how it was for us, how cruel our own bullies were. We remember the hiding, the feeling of loneliness, the endless fantasizing of better lives in more glamorous places.
We empathize with kids who feel like there’s no way out because we were there. And while it’s gotten better, the memories haven’t disappeared. Sure, they make us stronger. But they also make us more reserved and not as trusting. A little more stoic and a little less secure. “Jaded” is the word.
My friend and I lament the gay youth experience over drinks. How terrible they have it in school nowadays! How awful bullying has become! And in the middle of our conversation, an unshaven man wearing a bright pink wig and a latex skirt walks by. My friend and I look at each other and giggle. “Poor guy forgot to shave,” we joke as the man takes a seat at the end of the bar.
The man in pink sits in the same place for two hours; he sips his drink and checks his phone repeatedly. He makes a few calls and I make out part of a voicemail he leaves: “Hey, I’m still waiting for you at the bar. I’m by myself. PLEASE text me or call me to tell me where you are”—or something like that. He looks down at the bar a lot. He’s increasingly disappointed as the night wears on.
I find the man in pink an amusement, as if I’m somehow better than he is. Why? Because he’s unshaven and in a pink wig? Because he’s by himself? Because he’s nervous? On this night, I am a hypocrite; I disavow bullying in the same breath that I perpetuate it.
You know this: It feels terrible walking through a gauntlet of judgmental strangers. Especially when you’re by yourself and you already feel as others might perceive you as deviant. Most especially when you hear them snicker once you’ve made your way through. No level of confidence eludes this reality. We are human beings, after all.
I was a stupid jerk that night—a bully. If he heard what we said or heard us laugh, I helped hurt his feelings. And for what? Ten seconds of a fake, mean-spirited giggle?
My actions are sadly no exception in this environment. Gay bars were once the Domain of the Different—a place where, for what society called “deviants”, felt safe and at home. A place where we made friends and felt accepted, no matter who we were or whom we loved. They have since become microcosms of the environments we used them to escape from. They harbor bullies.
While you celebrate Pride this year, think about what it means. It means more than being proud of who YOU are. It means embracing diversity, even amongst ourselves. It means loving one another with open heart. It means being as open-minded as we want others to be. We’re in this together. Don’t be a jackass like I was. This year, make some new friends, celebrate with an open mind, and have a very Happy Pride.