To clarify a little: There have always been pockets of the gay and lesbian world in which I have felt absolutely happy and comfortable (and popular! and loved!), most notably in the social context of the gay and lesbian bands but in other social settings as well. There have even been times when one of those subworlds has taken over a gay bar (at a band conference, for example, or during two-stepping night at the Town House) and the gay bar became a happy pub for me. What's different is not me and what I'm enjoying, but that a regular old gay bar has become more like the social gay subworlds in which I have always felt at home.
Why might this be so? Like Miss Anne Elk, (ahem), I have a theory, which is mine. And that theory is that it's all because of the Internet.
It seems as though the new version of the running joke of what qualifies you for your "gay card" is that you have an IM handle. And a profile on bear411, or gay.com, or needsexnow.org. It took me a while to realize just how prevalent, even ubiquitous, online hookups were, for people seeking hookups. What first made me realize this was how often I was starting to hear (or read on livejournals) complaints about online hookups. I would hear complaints about how dishonestly people present themselves, perhaps, but my favorite complaint was that the only people you meet in a sex-seeking forum are people who are seeking sex. (You'd think this would lead to the obvious conclusion but, no, often it leads to the stated conclusion that this is because gay men are so shallow.) In other words, I was seeing (more and more) the very things I used to see in gay bars that made me feel that they were not the places for me: a focus on sexual encounters divorced from a social context.
Recently, in several different places, I have started to read that gay bars in many cities are drawing generally smaller crowds (particularly on weeknights) than they used to. This is often (and I think correctly) attributed to the fact that people no longer need to go out to a bar if what they are looking for is a sexual encounter -- in fact, looking online is far more efficient, like shopping at Amazon.com rather than going to a neighborhood bookstore.
Then it all came together for me. In my theory.
What I think I'm seeing at the Eagle (and even at the Saloon when I've gone there recently) are people whose interest in going out is social. Of course there is a sexual undercurrent, and I have certainly been witness to many hookups at the Eagle, but folks with the laser-focus objective of sex tonight and nothing else have to some extent been filtered out.
At the Eagle, there are social groups, and you can move about and among them over the course of the evening as if you are at a party. This is not what gay bars felt like before the Internet.
Is correlation causality here? You tell me.