Commentary: No More Gay Bars
I think we’ve all had this conversation with many of our straight friends before, “Why are there ‘gay bars’ and ‘gay neighborhoods’? You don’t find places labeled ‘straight’ bars and straight’ neighborhoods, do you? As with every excellent question, I like entertaining this one more often than not. An interesting conversation with my friend Megan this time around helped me to arrive at a different conclusion than what I usually regurgitate to others.
My common and most readily used response in my tool belt goes something like this: The idea that a place can be marked by the queerness of its inhabitants is nothing new. For example, Jews in medieval cities lived in separate spaces and different parts; in essence, having them live in the margins of society. Queer space in America is, I would like to say, similar to this effect. Queers did not get to chose where they lived because of this marginalizing effect. To call a place queer is to communicate who belongs and who doesn’t, who has space and who does not, who is here and who is not. To designate and sexualize a part of a city, a building or a neighborhood has been a very powerful political too in urban politics and gaining queer visibility.
As I’ve said, this response has always been replayed and reused in my mind that I don’t really need to elaborate any further. But Megan, giving me the skeptic look she is characteristically known for retorts “ I understand that much. But when I go to a bar, I don’t really care if it’s a gay bar or a straight bar. I just want to go to a bar and if it so happens to be a gay bar then so be it. But why does it have to be decked out with rainbow EVERYTHING?! Doing that makes me feel that it’s a separate spot. It’s like having a fountain labeled ‘white’ and ‘colored.’”
I didn’t have a response. She did have a point. Hell, being queer most of my life, I even feel uncomfortable walking into a place that screams rainbows, wearing a feather headdress and a juke box with a healthy queue of Britney and Whitney. And while queers have negotiated their subject matter in creating safe environments where queers can just be queers, there is a difference between having an equality sticker or and rainbow triangle posted at eye level at the door and 14 rainbow flags around the perimeters of a bar. It feels awkward, in my opinion, to walk into gay bar nowadays with such loud and blatant forms of segregation. My favorite bar in Long Beach is not ostentatious and the more I think, it’s because I don’t feel like I’m walking into beginning of a randy drag show on the outside and listening to Hollister music on the inside. I like to just shoot the shit, watch the TV, talk with my friends and have a Fat Tire.
I’m not asking for gay bars to look more like straight bars or to stop being gay bars. Quite frankly, I like my bars with their gay men in them. In either case, they all serve the one thing I want: booze, booze and more booze. But they tend to be gay first and bars second. Moreover, not all gay bars are the same. Simply, there is something that self-segregates those types of “I’M GAY” bars that is self -imposed. No one is telling them to put those flags up or to take those signs down. But I don’t need a rainbow to help me feel comfortable. I like my beer just as it is, not with parade marching after it.
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