gay bars

David Masello’s article Last Night at the Web in the Gay and Lesbian Review begins with “like most spider webs a bar called The Web, which existed on East 58th Street for decades until it closed the other month, would snare you unprepared.”  For years the lives of gay men revolved around bars, the only place other than parks and truck stops to find other gay men, and Masello’s bar was huge with disco dancers and patrons who stuck dollar bills in inappropriate places.  What caught my attention was the distance between the author and sex.  He talked about it as something other people did. I may have it wrong, but it brought up my San Francisco-centrism. Sex for us was immediate and revered.

 In the early 70s bars on Polk Street catered to younger men, often men of color and older queens who had made homes in the 60s in the nearby Swish Alps, and what I remember of their apartments is not sex but black and white tile foyers, cocktails and cats. Bars I knew on Castro Street and South of Market, starting in 1973, were sanctuaries where we met partners who wanted to indulge in physical pleasures and celebrate masculinity.  Men I came out with on Castro Street wore flannel shirts and jeans that showed off pricks without embarrassment, and our apartments were filled with bromeliads, cookware and douche hoses.  Our bars were magnets where we made plans to go home and try new techniques and new ways to make friends. Men were passed around among friends, and the next day we talked about it and compared notes. We asked men who tip-toed around what they did why do you waste time on deception when you can make music with your prick and asshole? We were men who believed we deserved each other’s masculinity, and when old idioms didn’t work, we made new ones that did.  I was not a fan of discos because dancers stayed late and then were too tired to fuck well.  Yes, we did measure men by skill as well as looks and prick size. Men who loved discos talk about the communal energy, and I get that.  My closet is when thousands of us marched on Washington or City Hall, but for me the story of bars is one that honors them as the institution where gays learned how to be men.


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2 Responses to gay bars

  1. William August 4, 2013 at 4:14 am #

    Hi Chuck,
    My partner and I just finished reading your post about Gay Bars.
    My partner is 9 years older than I and he was out there dancing in the 1970’s to Donna Summer and the like, and using the bars as a way to meet a men or even a group of men, connect with them and explore those new techniques you mention. He did this with no concern for his health and the freedom it gave all men at that time to explore their masculinity is something I never knew.
    When I first started to realize my sexuality, I was also reading in the newspapers about a new health crisis hitting gay men.
    My story is not new to you. It is the story of many men my age, who were young and frightened that “just because I am gay, I’m also going to come down with this disease” AND DIE a terrible death.
    I found the bars, I went out and meet people who where “like me” (Gay) and I danced, drank, stayed up late into the night/morning, but then went home… alone… safely by myself to sleep until class in the morning or work in the afternoon.
    I went home alone because I was scared to do any other thing… I was modeling for John Casablancas’ agency back then.. So I want you to know, I was not un-attractive, and going home alone because no one wanted to play with me… I was going home alone because I was too frightened of my own health to go any farther than dancing, drinking and talking into the night with the people who there looking at me as the next guy to play with.
    I too miss what the bars had to offer…
    To me, they were where I was able to go and find other men like myself… Tell jokes about old Hollywood movie actresses, hear gossip about what certain guys hanging out at the bar where “into”, and feel like I was “part of something” bigger than myself.
    It was the days before the internet, cell phones and so many other things the young “Gaybies” have today…
    But, I was having fun in my own way. Not with the sexual abandon my partner enjoyed just a few years before me, none the less, it was a good time for me and one that formed friendships I still enjoy to this day with the men I met those first times I nervously entered a “gay bar”.

  2. Wendy October 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Gay bars already create a different impression than the way it did years ago. It seems like a lot of people associate gay people with sexual activities when in fact, they could be the nicest people that you can meet and they are the ones to hand out with if you are looking awesome and wholesome enjoyment!

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