by KATIE REITER
About a week before I moved across country, one of the small, dark, members-only-type bars in my majority Spanish neighborhood underwent a significant facelift. A rainbow flag appeared in a window, a sandwich board announced a “coming out” party, and the day before I left, the marquee was replaced with brand new signage proudly announcing the opening of Club Xstasy, the neighborhood’s first(?) gay bar. I vowed to check it out as soon as I made it back to the City.
Flash forward four months and I’m back in Brooklyn, walking with a friend to meet up with our group at a local haunt. As we pass Club Xstasy, genius strikes: it’s the perfect night to hit it up. It’s still early, the place already has a good crowd, I’ve got one more day on this coast, and to top it off, the only other homo in our group of college friends is waiting at our destination. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, and the straight white guy I’m with agrees. We meet up with our group and we’re all in to head over to the gay bar, just after one drink.
It’s funny what one little drink can do.
Fifteen minutes later and my co-homo and I are ready to go, but in the span of one drink, the three straight friends we’re with have lost all interest. “You go,” they say, “and then come back here and meet up with us.” This admonishment is composed of sentence fragments that trail off knowingly and nervous stares into empty glasses. The reason for their changing hearts is unspoken. The reason is implied in my friends’ verbal ellipses. They don’t have to say it; their body language speaks for themselves: the reality of going to a gay bar makes them uncomfortable.
When I was coming out, one of my greatest fears was losing my friends, but not because they would have a problem with me being gay. Rather, I feared that social pressures would eventually drive us apart; I feared that embracing a new community would mean walking away from my old one. What I didn’t fear was that my friends would refuse to walk with me.
When the straight majority at our table initially decided to nix the trip to the gay bar, I was floored. The words that I needed to express my surprise, disdain, and really, hurt, were jumbled by the emotions themselves. I at least knew that this was not an argument worth having at the moment, and so my co-homo and I high-tailed it to Club Xstasy. We stayed for one drink before he had to head off to other plans and I had to go catch up with the friends we had left behind.
On the way back, I wondered if my three friends had discussed the situation after we left. The two of us definitely did. I wondered if they verbalized their reasons for pulling out of our little excursion. I know we did. And most importantly, I wondered if they considered what their actions said to their two best gay friends.
I’ve heard too many straight people ask why gay people need their own bars. Gay people don’t need their own bars, they need safe spaces. Safe spaces where they can socialize and just be without having to constantly check themselves or worry that they may become a target for others. When I go to a gay bar, I don’t worry about creepy guys, and I feel comfortable talking to girls because even if they happen to be some gay guy’s token straight-girl friend, I’m not worried about negative repercussions solely for the act of hitting on someone. If my game sucks, that’s my fault, but at least I can rest assured I’m not hitting on a homophobe. But what happens when a safe space becomes an isolating space?
When allies (or supposed allies) refuse to enter queer spaces, they force us out of those spaces as a requirement of maintaining a relationship with them. Since coming out, I’ve been to countless bars with the straight friends in question. Never a gay bar. Never even Pride. There’s no reciprocity on this issue, a phenomenon that itself is seen as normal. There’s no consideration that the lack of comfort or level of awkwardness one of my straight friends expects to feel upon entering a queer space is no more than what I experience inhabiting their world every day. There’s no recognition that by refusing to enter that space with me, they’re inherently shaming me for my orientation, burdening me with the very orientation-based shame they anticipate and choose to forgo. As a gay person, I don’t have that choice.
The more I think about all this, the more resigned I become to my original fears. How many times can I invite my straight friends into queer spaces (and really, into my life), to their refusal? How many times can I receive the same answer and still expect that one day it will change? I’m not interested in acceptance that comes with caveats or relationships that are confined to straight spaces only, and yet it’s hard to walk away.
I’ve been to about a million straight bars with my straight friends, and I’ve mostly had a good time, but I’m also very tired. I’m tired of straight-washing our relationships and I’m tired of double standards. It’s hard to walk away from these people because there is so much more that defines our friendships, but really, what’s the difference between refusing to go somewhere with someone and pushing them away? If our relationship can’t inhabit the same spaces I do, then we’re already lacking a full relationship. Without any effort from you, straight friends, these one-sided friendships are only going to grow more uneven, as time is certainly not making me any less gay.
All I’m asking is for you to sit at the bar with me and sip your drink. I don’t expect you to take your shirt off and slip into some assless leather chaps, but it will definitely earn you bonus points if you do.