Through These Eyes: The Truth About Gay Bars


“Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.” So opens Salman Rushdie in his novel Midnight’s Children.

Rushdie intended the statement to serve as a reflection on how we come into the world. Having been absent from world history until in it we are born, we’ve had no chance, yet, to have any impact. We’ve had no say in the matter of how we came to be, nor under what circumstances our childhood will unfold. We thus come into the world unburdened, but imprisoned.

I take the thought into our community, and into our bars, clubs, parties, social circles. I see us today, silently judging those around us because they are too fat, too poor, too ugly, too stupid, and, ironically, too gossipy.

The GLBT social world was born out of a longing to feel at home, to be present in life, comfortable and accepted. And it took us a long time to arrive where we were when the first gay bars opened–we then were brave enough to build our home, to build social circles, to create our own solidarity, to have a safe haven where what mattered had nothing to do with the color of our skin, our sexuality, our gender, or our aspiration. Gay bars were where we went to show that we were a family; where what mattered most was our heart, our openness, our strength. Where what brought us together were our hopes, our dreams, our bravery, our courage.

But since the first gay bars enshrined in them this sense of unity, the patrons have changed. Those who appreciated, created, and cultivated our social scene–who marched in the first of our parades and who saw their friends fade away from the disease that still plagues our community–are, at ever-increasing speed, being replaced by a generation (to which I am part) that maybe holds an increasingly different set of values.

Walk now into any gay bar and find yourself subject to ridicule, sometimes innocuous, oftentimes hurtful. Find in gay bars people for whom vanity and materialism are tops. Find what we call “drama” and “shade.” Find here a sense, more so than ever before, a sense that we aren’t welcome unless we fit the profile of who we “should” be.

Where once there stood a safe haven, we find now a place of heightened insecurity, where hurt feelings feed on themselves to create more gossip and pain.

Here, we are bullies to our own.

In our absence from the past, appreciation of progress decays. Our community, strong though it is to the outside, trembles now under itself, forgetful–absent–on issues we once faced.

We rally today behind wonderful, empowering causes when our community is in peril. We show power in our yearly marches through our cities. We have always held these public displays sacred. But our community isn’t based on annual events. Nor should we await crises for us to assimilate.

We should feel at home always with our brothers and sisters, unabashedly unafraid–and welcomed–in the places we built together. Gay bars were meant to build a sense of community and to serve as homes for diversity and inclusion, not for drama or judgment.

I visit gay bars today infrequently for this reason. Where people tear each other down is a place I’d like not to visit. And isn’t it sad that I (and maybe you) feel more at home at straight bars than gay ones?

Think about this the next time you’re out and have an urge to whisper to your friends about how fat someone is, how poor they are, how laughably alone they are. Instead of making someone feel deviant and unwelcome, think about smiling (or, *gasp*, saying hello) rather than shutting him off. “They” are like you: trying to fit in. Hoping for friends. Hoping for conversation. They are at this bar, dear reader, and listen very carefully–they are here to find a sense of solidarity, which, at your core, is what you’re after, too.

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