Walking across west 12th street I was nervous. I was very nervous. It wasn’t my first time at a gay bar, but it was my first time bringing my straight friends to a gay bar, and it was definitely the first time any of them had ever been to one. (The scandals of ten years ago are nothing today. It makes me wonder about ten years from now.)
This was pre-Yelp and I remember Julia had looked it up on CitySearch, or whatever was before CitySearch — Ask Jeeves? She read a review out loud that called the place we were going a “gray bar.” While I would have thought that was simply a typo, or code for a middle-aged pickup joint, the review had a different explanation. Apparently, it was a place that commonly had a mix of straight and gay patrons. Therefore gray.
I begrudgingly admitted to myself that this place was almost poetically appropriate for the mixing of my straight friends and my gay life, two things I had previously kept pretty separate. After many requests I finally consented to bring them to a gay bar, a place I usually only went with my queer friends. It’s not that I wasn’t out to my straight friends, we just didn’t really talk about it very much. I think I was unconsciously worried that if I acted “too gay” around them they might retroactively decide they didn’t like me.
We had all met on the college track team. We had running in common. Then we found out we had a few more things in common, like a sense of humor, a certain curiosity about the world that is pretty specific to college students, a love of hip hop and Reese’s Pieces. So we talked about those things and only those things.
I had been compartmentalizing my life. At that time I was prone to organizational tendencies. It was not because I’m naturally anal; in fact, just the opposite is true. It was more of a preventative, or maybe a reactionary measure after I went through a phase of losing a lot of things. So my keys had a hook, my wallet had a spot, and my friends all had a place. If you keep everything in its place then you can never lose it.
The kind of stubborn yet vaguely aspirational battle against chaos that I was fighting required a fairly regimented taxonomy of my life. I needed the discipline to provide a firm and swift answer to nagging questions of boundaries, one that was way more than merely being decisive. It was the difference between having the answer to “Where should this pen go?” and knowing where the pen should go — in my case, in the box on my desk, next to the pencil.
That type of resolute separatism is what I needed to function within the black-and-white world I had built for myself. In black-and-white worlds there is no room for “sometimes” and definitely no room for “gray” — bars or otherwise. The thing about black-and-white worlds is that they don’t actually exist, except in the movies. This was reality and I was fooling myself into thinking I could keep from losing valuable pieces of my life by putting them on hooks or in boxes. Anyone who has been to the Container Store and lost her wallet as many times as I have should have come to that conclusion a lot sooner.
My friends wanted into my entire life, not just certain parts of it. I wanted them there too, even if I was just worried that if I let them in I would lose them. We filed into the gray bar and Julia went to buy everyone a round of drinks. We sat awkwardly at the table for a second, and then started talking about the hip hop song playing from the jukebox. I don’t remember what happened next though, everything just kind of blended together.