Saturday, July 3, 2010

First Time in a Gay Bar!

First off, I’d like to apologize for my absence as a writer lately. Apparently there are actually people who look at this page (and don't get me wrong, I'm flattered). Things have been kind of busy on the professional front, but my life has relaxed very recently. Just in time to enjoy living in this incredible city, rocking and jazzing my way through the sultry summer. I’ve always loved summer here in Canada—it’s a time to be outside, enjoy life, and revel in new experiences.

Recently, I had one such experience—my first time in a gay bar. I’m almost 25 years old, and having lived in a city (for nearly 4 years) that has a vibrant gay scene and over 10 blocks of such establishments, one might wonder: how is this possible? Wasn’t I ever curious? Well, admittedly I was, and I had heard of all of them from my volunteer work in the gay community. But I could never really think of a good excuse to go. For starters, I don’t really like drinking alcohol. Furthermore, I’m not much of a dancer. Isn’t that what people go to bars to do, to drink and dance and cruise? So if I’m going to be bad at all three, what is there for me to do at a gay bar other than stand around looking dorky?

I thought about going last summer in August after starting this blog, just to have something new to write about in describing what it felt like to go. I came close, but every time I looked into the bars, with their men hanging about in scanty t-shirts, I just stood there with an open mouth and couldn’t force myself to go in. What would I do once I entered? Would I talk to anyone or just stand about looking sadly preppy and out-of-place? Probably the latter, I thought, so I avoided this little experiment altogether. Once I went to a regular bar with live music just to stay awake one night when I had an early morning flight, and I didn’t find it to be a particularly friendly environment. The band was ok, but more for background music, and I eventually found myself sitting at a table with my laptop whipped out, writing some e-mails. Talk about pathetic! But seriously, the only other thing I could think to do is stare off into space while looking bored and ordering coke after coke. Doing something productive seemed like the better solution.

For me to enjoy going to a bar, I would have to go with someone. Someone who invited me, who wanted to go with me, and who would watch my back or provide a distraction in case I wasn’t feeling very comfortable. I would, of course, do the same in return. I had the opportunity to go with a group in my volunteer work in the gay community, but back then I was feeling even less adventurous and never opted to go. Beyond that, none of my ‘gay friends’, always being such a loyal bunch (haha, not), never really expressed an interest in going with me. So I just set aside the whole experiment for another day. I’ve been to just about every other type of gay event, and I’ve met plenty of people, but a gay bar, that was something I was totally virgin to, until recently.

As it turns out, though, one of my gay friends and I have become closer lately, and he apparently likes spending time with me (who would have thunk it?). He does like to go to gay bars on an occasional basis, but rather to dance instead of drink or cruise. He’s exceptionally passionate about dancing and takes it very seriously. He’s not bad either. Why doesn’t he just go dancing in regular clubs? Well, as it turns out, he has had some really great experiences in gay bars and has had at least one magical evening in which he met an astounding guy on the dance floor and fell in love afterward. His story was intriguing, I must admit—like something from the movies. He invited me to go to this gay bar with him, one that he has been to from time to time and knows some of the people who frequent it.

The name of this bar is the Stud—an exceptionally cocky name in and of itself. If you call someone a ‘Stud’ in English, it can be an expression of macho adoration, but more often than not it’s an ironic emasculating joke or insult directed at someone who thinks highly of his abilities. I love the names of many of these bars. When I was in San Francisco for business recently, I walked through the Castro one day and noticed there was a bar called the Stud there as well (apparently a popular theme), and another one called “Blow Job.” And what exactly do people do in an establishment called Blow Job? Hmmmmmm. As for the Stud, I’m not writing this entry as a review of the bar. It seems like a fine and recommendable place, all things considered, geared more toward older, bear, facial hair, etc. I fit in fine in that regard. This posting is more about the atmosphere and philosophy behind such places than it is about the setting itself.

First, apparently there is something of an unspoken dress code. I admit, I have my own style and don’t really adhere to traditional fashion sense, which has for many decades made jeans the rule. I wear pretty much everything but jeans (mostly dress pants or khakis of different colours), and my pants are relatively tailored to me but in no way could be considered very ‘tight.’ Apparently it’s important to wear not only jeans but tight jeans/shirts when going to such bars. My friend was giving me a hard time about that, so what should I wear? Something tight… He had seen me in two pairs of pants which I thought were reasonably tight, so I asked him if they would suffice. He said, “well, they don’t do you any justice (ils ne te vont pas du tout), but it will do.” I was a little taken aback, and when I called him later, I said in a rather cheeky tone, “so, are you sure you don’t want to talk more about my pants?” I actually thought I looked good in one of the pairs. I couldn’t help it—I decide to pull a prank on the jeans scene just to make my point. Actually, I do own a pair of jeans, a hand-me-down from my grandpa with a semi-elastic waistband and a very ‘relaxed’ fit. I know, ewww…To my credit, I never wear them. I wore a nice pair of pants with my smokin’ hot Parisian leather belt, and a nice white dress shirt that I tucked into them. Then, over it all I wore my very wide gram-pee jeans (which made me look like I had suddenly gained 100 pounds, all in my hips). After putting on my jeans, I headed off into the night to meet my friend at the Papineau metro station. His reaction to me was precious—at first shock, followed by him shaking his head, hand on his forehead, an embarrassed smile spreading across his face: “You’re not serious, you can’t be serious!” “What,” I said, “these are my jeans! You said it’s a jeans crowd, don’t you like my jeans?”

Being a good friend, he was preparing himself to go with me anyway, and you can imagine his even greater surprise when I turned to him and said, “no, I’m not really serious.” At that moment I ripped off my pant button, tore open the zipper, and stripped right in front of him to my transformed, less embarrassing state. He seemed much happier, even proud to be with me—he certainly didn’t distance himself or his hands from me once we entered the bar, that’s for sure.

So I’ve come to the conclusion--it’s probably a good idea to get drunk if you really want to have a blast in a bar. Honestly, I’ve never been drunk and really don’t wish to be. But everyone else seemed to be already there or heading that way. When bouts of greater illumination hit the dance floor, it became clear just how uncoordinated everyone was, flailing about rather pathetically. Oddly, everyone seemed so much more energetic and skilful in the dark with the fast-flashing lights, which apparently masked the reality of the situation. In general, the whole experience was utterly new to me. I have had some incredible and exotic experiences in my travels around the world, more recently charging through a crowd of thousands of women in burkas to get to a historic mosque that I wanted to visit. Yet that bar, in my own city, was probably one of the most foreign experiences I’ve ever had. Honestly, I think I might have preferred the women in burkas—at least they were a respectful bunch. In any case, I invariably made a number of noteworthy observations. I apologize in advance if I sound like a judgmental, cranky old man. Sometimes that is exactly how I feel.

My first impression—it was crowded and utterly dark, with only some briefly-flashing lights on the dance floor to provide illumination. I couldn’t really see anyone or anything. My friend tried to introduce me to one of his friends just after we stepped in, but I still don’t really have a clue what the guy looked like. How is anyone supposed to meet anyone if they can’t see anything? Of course, the one place where there was rather bright lighting was the bathroom, whose door was propped wide open so as to encourage passers-by to look in on other guys at the urinals. Not wanting to put myself on display, I used the one stall twice, which I noticed had acquired a condom wrapper at some point in between my two visits. Needless to say, I was careful where I put my feet.

Furthermore, how can anyone really have a conversation? That was my second impression—the music was blaring, and I could only really shout out “enchanté!” when I was introduced to my friend’s friend. Really, there was nothing else that could be easily said with all that noise. Whenever my friend and I would want to say something to each other, it would involve pawing the other’s shoulder and shouting into each other's ear, and even then comprehension was a problem. Clearly I wasn’t going to be bonding with anyone, including my friend or anyone he knew, through clever conversation.

A third thing that struck me was the way people danced. I figured that when people danced in a bar, they danced with someone. A natural assumption, right? That definitely wasn’t happening. Most people were just dancing alone on the floor, flouncing about without showing any real interest in engaging with other people around them. When my friend first went out to the dance floor, I went with him thinking he might need someone to dance with. But that was clearly not the case: he never oriented himself toward me, and eventually I went to take a break on the side and pretty much stayed in that corner for much of the evening. If I was going to be dancing by myself, it seemed easier just to dance there. My friend rejoined me there frequently; I’d say we spent about 30-40% of our time in the bar together, although as previously stated, we rarely had any noteworthy conversation (just stood next to each other). Mostly I stayed in my corner and he danced on the floor. No one in the room (except a few distinguishable couples) actually danced with each other. Everyone seemed too wrapped up in their own personal bubble.

Furthermore, there was gay porn on video screens all across the bar, which portrayed men engaging each other in just about every activity one could think of. At one point when he wasn’t dancing with himself on the floor, my friend explained everything to me with remarkably blunt logic. The porn was intended to make people excited, so that they feel more like touching. The darkness was further to encourage people to touch each other and add to the excitement, thus ensuring a good time at the bar and that the clientele would be happy with their experience. The darkness also served, quite clearly, to add mystery and mask the rather dingy reality of the situation. Furthermore, the club was kept just toasty enough to ensure that people would sweat and feel like heading to the bar for yet more drinks, whether they were really dehydrated or not. The noise also clearly encouraged other non-oral forms of communication. And there you have it, in a nutshell—this particular gay bar explained. I’m guessing it’s not that much different at other places.

So how do people meet each other in such a place, and eventually fall in love? Well, one thing I can conclude--definitely not by talking. Perhaps more so by looking at each other. My friend often says that whether you feel like being with someone or not is often relegated to the “first glance.” There was just enough light that you could make out people if they are standing close enough, and that’s something I noticed many people doing—walking by other people closely while staring at them. This is the aspect of being in that club that probably disturbed me most: the way people glared at each other. I realized that they were supposedly giving each other the “come to bed with me” look, but I found it highly disturbing and frankly unattractive. The way that they looked at each other had a penetrating ferocity and didn’t seem at all friendly. I thought flirting was supposed to be light-hearted, friendly, and fun! At other times it wasn’t so much ferocious as it was a sad, puppy-dog gaze. I took comfort in the darkness, where I could dance along (after all, there was nothing else to do) in my little corner without worrying too much about people noticing me. But when people would walk by and stare, it was awful enough to make me stop in my tracks, look away, and wonder what I had done wrong.

I tried to ignore it, and I was doing really well in that regard until at one point some guy to the side of me did not take my obliviousness as a clue to my disinterest and kept invading my personal space. Of course, I would shift away and not look at him, keeping my eyes focused on the dance floor where my friend was. This other guy kept shifting closer and closer, until I was literally in a corner with my back flattened against the wall and my hands covering my private parts so as not to be grazed again by his own advancing hand. The nerve! It was right at that moment where my friend came and plunged his hand between the two guys I was cornered behind, grabbed my arm, and yanked me out. He’s used to that kind of behaviour happening in bars—he cracked up, my first ‘violation.’ I would have moved myself had it gotten any worse with an abrupt “excuse me,” but I guess part of me was relieved to be rescued (who knew I might find comfort in the whole damsel-in-distress routine). We found another corner to hang out in, and he stayed with me for most of the time thereafter, with just one excursion to the dance floor. We mostly just danced there, side by side (but not really together). Of all the things I enjoyed there, it was really being there with him that I enjoyed most, seeing him in his element (even if I wasn’t in mine). All things considered, he was very considerate, protective and good to me. I’m not sure, however, that he’s going to want to babysit me at a bar again in the future. While I swore up and down to him that I had a great time, let’s just say I certainly haven’t received any additional invitations.

Another thing that struck me there is the arrogant pride that seemed to possess everyone. People would just stand there trying to look too-cool-for-words, as if they were extraordinarily busy doing nothing. One good example: one of my friend’s acquaintances was there in the new corner we went to, and I said hi after my friend greeted him, but the guy totally ignored me and continued to do so despite standing right next to me for another hour. I wasn’t terribly interested in getting to know him myself, but still—wouldn’t it have been preferable to banter a bit rather than stand there silently next to each other, him with his arms crossed? Then the guy went out on the dance floor to dance in front of my friend, with occasional glances back toward me as if to prove something. Honestly, I didn’t really care, but I suddenly felt like I was back in Junior High with a group of guys trying to out-cool each other. It was at that time that I realized: at 24 years old, I have already outgrown the club scene. Why all these men who were older than me hadn’t matured as much, however, remains a mystery….

So basically, I’ve determined that people meet each other in bars by staring each other down, feeling each other up, watching each other piss, getting drunk, etc. Basically, it means going home with someone that you might find somewhat attractive but whom you’ve never really talked to, and then waking up in the morning wondering what exactly you came home with. Not exactly my style. While my friend has met people in bars (probably in a similar fashion as described above, minus the getting drunk part), he prefers meeting people online, where some form of conversation is inherently more likely.

So I’ve learned something—bars are probably not going to be my scene. Volunteer/group activities and online discourse are also clearly not perfect, but they seem to be more viable options for forging real connections with people based on some kind of intellectual exchange. And while I did glance at my watch rather frequently, I honestly did have fun. I saw my friend, I danced (perhaps not gracefully, but acceptably), and I got the endorphins flowing. My friend and eye bid each other farewell with bisous at 2 am as we both went our respective ways home. I only slept three hours that night, but I woke up the next day in one of the best moods I can remember having, and I spent that glorious Sunday wandering about in the sunshine. I felt surprisingly wonderful considering how little I slept, and I never feel that way--amazing, even glowing, and people noticed. So I decided that perhaps I should try something similar again sometime, if only for the intense exercise. In general, I can conclude that the bar scene is not my favourite place to spend my time. I understand why people want to go—the fun, the mystery—perhaps tonight will be the night when someone special says ‘salut!’ While that may not be likely (you probably won't hear the ‘salut’ even if it comes your way), it does seem to be worthwhile to go if you have someone there to have fun with.