Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

On Becoming a Barfly

After close to thirty years of feeling horrifically and uncomfortably
out of my element in gay bars, I have started to look forward
to my regular nights in such, chatting with random folks and having
a couple of beers. I still have the general sense that I've found
myself in the wrong locker room, and the boys around me are playing
games I'm not sure I could learn even if I wanted to, and I doubt
I will ever look around the Minneapolis Eagle and metaphorically embrace
the crowd with a cry of "My people!", but nonetheless I wear my new
badge of Barfly with Pride.

Part of the story here is that I find myself with more free time in
the evenings than I've had at any other point in my adult life. Performing
my duties as Squire of Ramsey's Braggarts Morris Men is significantly,
laughably less of a time commitment than serving on the board of
the local and national gay and lesbian bands was. I am not, at the moment,
in rehearsal for any band or orchestra concert, and marching season
for the Freedom Band and the Police Band has not yet started up. I
happily attend shape-note singing, but I am not organizing anything,
and I don't even have my own keys to our singing spaces (well, except
when somebody with a key can't be there and I go and borrow one).
I am pretty well settled in my apartment, although a few major tasks
remain. It is, in short, a quiescent time.

Which means I'm just twiddling my thumbs and ready to hop out the door
at a moment's notice.

My bar life began slowly, with regular attendance at the two-hour monthly
bear bar night, a tale I've told before in this space. That was hard
at first, because bar settings, to my mind, are absolutely terrible
places to connect with people. What I bring to the table is pretty much
unwanted at that feast. Still, I knew a few people, and I toughed it out
and in time there were more and more people I could spend more and more
time with.

Then the local two-stepping moved its weekly night to Lee's Liquor Lounge,
as I have also noted in this forum. This proved a comfortable setting for
me: the lights are on, the music is reasonable, if you feel awkward talking
with strangers you can just dance with them, and the general ambiance is
such that people are basically shunned if they play aloof gay bar games.
Of course this means that this is a non-cruising setup, but that, to me,
is a good thing. I find myself saying that Sunday evenings at Lee's
feel closer to the gay pub of my fantasies than anything I've encountered
so far.

One Friday night a few months ago, about the time I would normally be getting
ready to turn in, I decided instead to trade my oxfords and chinos for a
t-shirt and jeans and head off to the Minneapolis Eagle. Why, after three
decades, do I still head out to a bar like this? What do I think will be
different this time? Well, what was different this time was that
the months of bear functions and two-stepping nights (plus years of general
involvement in the band and orchestra, which turns out to count for a lot)
meant that I knew over half the people in the bar. The bouncer welcomed me
effusively, and sat with me for a while (turns out he used to date an old
friend of mine, and while I had no recollection of meeting him before he
certainly knew me). My friend Al, whom I'd met at the bear nights, turns out
to be something of a social nexus of the Eagle, where he hangs out all weekend
every weekend. So I sat with Al near the front and everybody coming in came over
to greet him and they were thus forced to peek under the invisibility cloak I
seem to find myself wearing in gay bars (with no recollection of having
put it on in the first place). I should point out, though, that just the other
day Al was recollecting that night; his memory of the evening is that scores
of people came up to me all night long and gave me big hugs and sang out "What
are you doing here?!"

Not all excursions are as much fun as that first one, but most Friday nights,
at what would previously have been the end of my evening, I drive up the road to
the Eagle and have a beer or two and I generally enjoy myself.

And then. And then. The Saloon, the local disco-club-gayboy dance bar, decided
they were missing out on the gay-and-lesbian dollars spent at the bi-monthly
two-stepping dances at the VFW Hall, so they decreed Wednesday to be
two-stepping night. Nobody comes to the Saloon on Wednesday, anyway. I went
to the first of these nights, a tad reluctantly, and when I walked in I
thought, "Hey, this is us!" It was our party, the two-stepping
regulars. Somebody noted, that first night, "More people are talking to each
other here tonight than have talked to each other total in the history
of the Saloon."

So there's Friday, and Sunday, and Wednesday, and the occasional Saturday
at the VFW Hall. And sometimes there are special events on Saturday or Sunday
at the Eagle, beer bust fundraisers for organizations that the folks I've been
meeting are running. And now I am the sort of regular (at the Eagle on
Friday, at Lee's on Sunday, and the Saloon on Wednesday) who recognizes a
non-regular the second he walks in.

In truth, none of this is as fulfilling, in a deep sighing happiness sense, as
a good Morris practice or a singing night or a parade or sitting around in
the hallway with the system administrators at a USENIX conference, and it
certainly isn't bringing me the wonderful deep connections that, for example,
my years in the Lesbian and Gay Bands of America brought me. But it's pleasant and
sociable and comfortable and the bar environment is far more flirtatious
than any I've known before (including, yes, even the hallway at USENIX conferences),
which can be fun. We'll see how long this phase of my life lasts.

In the meantime, I'll have another beer.
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