When I traveled to Amsterdam a couple of years ago I grew to enjoy heading off at the end of each day to Spyker, a small publike place where I could pretty much count on being able to strike up conversations with whoever sat on either side of me at the bar, as long as they weren't Americans. This is what I look for when I travel, these small connections with strangers. Why not try this in San Francisco?
I headed over to the Lone Star in the middle of a Monday evening, which is usually complete deadtime at gay bars but that can work to my social advantage; it's harder to chat with strangers when things grow crowded and noisy. The Lone Star is known far and wide as the "bear bar", and in some ways it is like the Minneapolis Eagle so at least I'd feel as if I were in my own milieu. (The San Francisco Eagle is also in some ways like the Minneapolis Eagle, but we don't balkanize gay culture quite so much in the Twin Cities.)
All told I did have a fine and interesting time and I look forward to checking out the Lone Star again on a quiet weekday evening, but boy did I have a couple of bizarre exchanges that I'm still trying to figure out.
One thing I've figured out already is that in the Twin Cities I'm a familiar sight: the guy with the really long hair. So while this is notable, it's a given and we get past that pretty quickly, for the most part, or at least people who are bothered by my hair's length get used to it (and yes, evidently there are people who find the length of somebody else's hair to be a bothersome thing). That's why I didn't have much in the way of defense against what I came across in the Lone Star.
I was sitting at the bar, reading a bar rag, looking around and smiling and enjoying the atmosphere. A small tentative and very, very sweet guy came up to me to tell me that his friend was "freaked out" by my hair. Well, ok, this is the sort of thing I use for a conversational opening, so I introduced myself. This guy then told me that he thought my hair was great, and asked if he could touch it. (This isn't as unusual as you might think; sometimes people don't even ask.) I even let it out for him and he gushed over it and explained that he worked in a salon near Union Square and that I should come by so he could trim off the last few inches. This, too, is not uncommon really.
A good thing here was that my talking to this guy on my right created the conversational opening for the guy on my left, who started up a conversation that moved away from my hair immediately, to theater (the guy is a director, it turns out). This was a pleasant thing for me, exactly the sort of thing I look for when I go out. In time this guy asked for my email address, which, since I've become a barfly, I've learned means nothing more than "I've enjoyed spending time with you." Once in a blue moon I even get followup email, but all told I consider it basically a nice smile of a handshake sort of thing when somebody asks for this.
Then the dolts descended.
The man stroking my hair called over his friend and said, "Isn't this wonderful?" and his friend looked at me and shook his head and said "No!" This seemed a bit rude to me, as after all it wasn't me who had asked his opinion. Then he explained to me that he was a hair stylist in LA and my hair was "dated". "Oh?" I asked, "to what year would you date it?" My point was that I lived through the sixties and seventies, and there was never a time when guys in general wore their hair in a long neat braid that falls past the butt. This is eccentric, yes, and not especially stylish or even part of the sexual iconography of gay bars, but "dated" completely misses the point.
Anyway, the guy ignored my question (he was there to lecture me, not to discuss the odder edges of personal style and its ramifications) and did a somewhat offensive psycho-analyzing of why I have long hair and started to give me advice on how I should cut my hair into a subtly layered 'do. Um, ok. Then he walked away (while his friend stayed to play more with my hair).
The guy to my left had a friend come over to him. After he introduced us the friend (who had been watching the hair show) asked me with what seemed (to my surprise) to be a note of hostility, "Why do have your hair like that? Do you enjoy it when guys pull on it?" Seriously, honestly, I didn't immediately realize he was talking about sexual encounters, although that did dawn on me fairly quickly. "No," I said, baffled, "although I don't really mind it" (this was before I realized he was talking about sex). "Then why do you have it?" he repeated. So I gave the honest simple answer, which is the entire truth: Because I like it. That's really all there is to it, but somehow this didn't satisfy him and he thought I was being coy or something.
What I didn't say out loud was what went through my head, in all capital letters, which was this (sans capitalization): "You wear your beard and hair in the exact style, down to the millimeter, of three thousand other guys who were in town this weekend for International Bear Rendezvous. What's it like, I wonder, to have absolutely no personal style of your own? Who the hell are you, whose personal style is as sheeplike and groupthink as a junior high school girl's, who fears the slightest deviation from conformity, to speak to me like this?".
But I didn't say a word. I just smiled. Then I went back to talking about theater.
At which point the LA Stylist came back, sidled up next to me and smiled seductively and said, with a subtextual growl, "If you cut that off I could just eat you up!" Which I suppose was flattering.
Then Director Guy had to leave. I decided to do likewise so I hugged Sweet Hair-Fetish Guy goodbye, which caused his eyes to light up and he hugged me back and he began to kiss me, which wasn't what I was expecting but which was not unpleasant. Then off to the Eagle, which was empty, then home.
And the thing of it is, I actually loved every minute of this, even the inexplicable rudeness about my hair. I feel as if I'm collecting material for a play, although one I'll never actually write.