Sunday Funday is a weekly celebration in the gayborhood that draws out men and shrieking female companions to soak up alcohol and look at each other. As such, in a very rare occasion, I went out on Sunday afternoon to gay ol’ West Hollywood. It was a lesbian friend’s birthday, and she wanted to celebrate among the sweaty, thrusting bodies of male go-go dancers.
When a gay man walks into a place like the famed Abbey Bar that serves as the techno beating heart of West Hollywood, he probably feels like a knockoff Chippendale armoire at the antique road show, being quickly appraised and always for lesser value than expected. As such, I so rarely venture into the doldrums of Santa Monica Boulevard because there aren’t enough drugs in South America to alter my feelings of dejection after each visit.
I should know better at this point, as anyone who spends a Sunday day drinking at a gay bar is not generally someone that I want to know. Yet, every six months or so I find myself back at place with shirtless bartenders and the speakers telling me “It’s Britney, Bitch,” thinking maybe, just maybe it’ll be different this time.
Of course it never is. What struck me on my latest foray was that all the men worth looking at looked the same and the rest were not looked at by anyone. I am not sure at what point homosexuality became synonymous with homogenous, but in Chelsea and West Hollywood, everyone has the same gym-toned body, 4-day scruff and wardrobe from J. Crew.
Despite receiving a fair amount of attention when I am out — men, and gay men particularly, make it obvious when they are interested as they stare intently and sometimes grab part of your body without permission — I still never feel as short or average-looking as when I am in a gay bar.
Of course there are the go-go dancers who immediately make me want to run to the gym and snort lines of whey protein, but most of the anxiety I feel comes from the other patrons, specifically the handsome clones who cluster together like high school girls at homecoming.
I am not sure why these groups of men even feel the need to go out to gay bars since I have never witnessed them socializing outside of their circles and my only guess would be that they like the attention of being admired. It is much easier to catch chlamydia in the bathroom than it is to catch their eye. This “blanking” is a common practice in gay bars, wherein someone looks past and through you as if you were made of air.
I am guilty of doing this too. I tend to draw attention from people I am not interested in and want to evade the awkwardness that would ensue if they came over to talk to me, so if I feel their eyes on me, I look in another direction. I realize I do it, and I feel consciously bad about it, but I can’t break the habit. In any other social situation, I would smile and say hello, but something about the meat market of a gay bar puts an emphasis on sexual exchange, where if I catch your eye it automatically means I want your tongue in my throat.
That could be part of my problem. I have always viewed the gay bar experience as a one in which people go to find a hook up, being that I came out before the dawn of Grindr and I lost my virginity to a guy I met at a bar in the East Village when I was 18.
I am sure there are plenty of people who go to gay bars to just hang out with their friends and watch go-go dancers. I was doing exactly that on Sunday to celebrate my friend’s birthday. But when it comes to a place that I like to go to have fun, I’d much rather spend an afternoon at someone’s home or in a “straight” setting where I don’t feel like I’m being judged at every turn.
In the case of Sunday’s outing, I was sitting at a patio table with the birthday girl and her girlfriend when a guy came over and started conversation with us. He directed most of his dialogue towards my friend’s girlfriend, being that she is 25, blonde, and can talk to a cactus. Within a few moments, his friends had joined him and one started talking to me. I was perfectly happy being mute but was forced to engage with this stranger.
When I go out, I never initiate conversation with anyone I don’t know. I am shy and I feel like I have nothing to say. I am not good at small talk and don’t like inane chatter. It makes me feel stupid and I don’t find I’m witty enough to come up with sharp ripostes. Since I have no long-term and a feeble short-term memory, I can’t recall funny events or anecdotes that I could sprinkle into conversation and instead I just end up asking a bunch of questions I don’t care to know the answer to out of politeness.
How can anyone enjoy themselves in this type of setting? I had to excuse myself to use the restroom and someone in the stall next to me was doing blow. I don’t have a problem with people taking drugs, but I do feel like it’s a bad sign when you have to take them in order to have fun.
Back on the patio, I became absorbed in watching a handsome guy talk to another man he was clearly interested in. Guy number one was wearing basketball shorts and was talking while obviously fondling himself, which is barely appropriate for a 14-year old outside of the locker room. What I realized I was witnessing was a sort of ritualistic dance similar to that of the blue-footed boobies on the Galapagos Islands. He was giving guy number two a fetishized display of masculinity in an attempt to seduce him.
I left to go home and feed my dog, once again feeling like I did not belong — but also that I did not want to belong, either.