A few months ago, maybe a year, perhaps more, a college classmate e-mailed the gay and lesbian alumni of our alma mater about his Ph. D. dissertation, research on gay models and, as I recall, their effect on the coming out process. While I was delighted that he would be doing such important research, his topic struck a nerve. It reminded me of one of the greatest difficulties I had coming out.
In high school, I met a man whom I would later learn was gay. He was an arrogant self-centered man who looked down on heterosexual couples and even belittled gay men not as “cultured” as he. He did not take advantage of me sexually, yet his very presence in my life complicated the coming-out process.
This man came to mind this weekend when, on Saturday morning, instead of facing some difficult emotions I alluded to below, I attempted to escape them. Finally, I pulled myself together in the evening and ended up, on the invitation of an acquaintance, going to Trunks, a gay bar in the heart of West Hollywood.
I’m not one to frequent gay bars (or any bars for that matter). Often I claim it’s the loud music and the attitude of many of the patrons. But, I wondered Saturday night, if I have often avoided bars because, when I was in my early 20s, that man, the only older gay man I then knew, scoffed at the mere mention of gay bars. He had never been to one; he didn’t much care for the “types” who went there.
Well, it was pretty hard to define the “types” at Trunks, the establishment I visited Saturday night. They were a healthy mix of the gay community. Some were fat, some were thin. A few were buff. Representing a great variety of ethnic backgrounds. There were even a few drunks. One guy seemed stoned. On the whole, it seemed to be a group of decent people gathering to have a good time. Unlike his counterparts at most bars in the neighborhood, the bartender smiled when he mixed my drink and thanked me for tipping him. People played pool in the back. In the front, people sat or stood and had conversations with their friends. The music wasn’t too loud and we could hear each other speak. I had a great conversation about movies with a guy who worked in animation.
As I drove home in Sunday morning’s wee hours, I wondered if I had allowed the condescending attitude of that older gay snob to influence me. Even after I had acknowledged his superficiality and his narrow-mindedness. Early in my coming-out process, I avoided bars as much as I could. And yet later on, I have often had great times when friends have invited me out to bars. To be sure, not all bars lend themselves to the kind of evening I enjoy. In some, the music is too loud and the place too crowded. In others, guys seem more interested in modeling their biceps than in verbal communication. And then there are those where guys do their utmost to avoid making any facial expression whatsoever.
But, then there are those bars, where guys just go to have a good time. Last fall, I discovered Oil Can Harry‘s in the Valley. A friend of mine had met his boyfriend there. The first time I was there, I almost tipped the lesbian bartender double because she smiled when she handed me the bottle of water I had ordered. I couldn’t remember the last time a bartender in a gay bar had smiled when serving me.
This weekend, I learned that sometimes you can cheer up just by going to a friendly neighborhood watering hole, provided you pick the right place and go with the right attitude. Trunks, like Oil Can Harry’s, reminds me of the neighborhood bars that many of my straight friends frequent, where they hang with their friends, relax and have a good time. And I’m sure that there are many other such establishments, perhaps even in West Hollywood, that I have yet to discover.
And yes, there are some places where posing and preening gay men predominate. Where loud music limits conversation. And where drug and alcohol abuse make real communication all but impossible.
I am delighted that my classmate is doing his dissertation on gay role models, older men who, similar to Telemachus‘ Mentor, help young men struggling with their feelings, come out as mature gay adults. It is almost impossible to measure the positive effect that a good role model can have. But, we must also bear in mind how damaging a negative role model can be, particularly to a sensitive young man. How he can make it difficult for that individual to come to terms with his own sexuality. And blind him to some of the more positive aspects of our community.
I have seen some of the worst aspects of gay culture in bars. But, I have also seen some of the best. The notion of a gay bar is, in many ways, like the very nature of homosexuality. It is in itself a neutral thing which gains its quality based on the attitude and efforts of the individual. What the bar owners–and patrons–make of the establishment and what individuals makes of his difference.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com