A Straight Man’s Reasons for Loving Gay Bars

Chris_Arnade

“I did talk to David, pictured above. He grew up in a strict religious Mexican-American family.”
–Photo by Chris Arnade

 Brooklyn Photographer Chris Arnade shares five reasons why he prefers gay bars even though he’s straight.

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I found my dream boyfriend in a Montreal gay bar. He was 65, wearing shorts that almost touched his knee high socks, aviator glasses, a fedora, and sipping half price Labatt’s. I called him Sunglasses Man.

He never moved, never swiveled his head to watch the gay porn playing on the bar’s TVs, never clapped for the lounge singer belting out show tunes, herself a 6’ 2” overly made up older man.

He just sat at the bar as he had for over thirty years watching the odd collection of working class men walk in and out the front door.

Sunglasses Man winked at me, I think. I am not sure though.

Whenever I leave New York City, when I find myself in smaller towns, I like to drink in gay bars.

I don’t think I am gay, I mean sexually that is.

Why then gay bars? Here are my five reasons:

  1. Most every gay has had to fight intolerance growing up. Especially those in rural or religious areas of the country. They understand the pain of life and have often moved beyond it. They don’t forget it though. Consequently they are some of the least judgmental people I have met. Well, except when it comes to what others wear.
  2. Regular bars can be depressing places. Overly loud music, overly bright lights, with angry people trying to drink away their anger, often just making them angrier. Gay men, sorry to stereotype, often have better design taste. In addition, they less often come to a bar to drink away their anger; rather they come to celebrate good times with a close group of friends.
  3. Sports. I don’t really care for sports. Gay bars, if they do have the games on, are respectful about not turning the sound on. Gone is the uniformity of clothes found in other bars: Loud shirts festooned with sports logos.
  4. Conversation. I go to bars to talk and listen to people’s stories. I never tire of hearing the courageous story of a person’s coming to grips with who they really are.
  5. They are just more fun. The lack of judgment allows me to try and dance unselfconsciously.

A language barrier kept me from ever talking to Sunglasses Man. I did talk to David, pictured above. He grew up in a strict religious Mexican-American family. He always knew he wanted to be a woman. For this he was beat up regularly and disowned by parts of his family. After many years they eventually accepted him for whom she is: A proud woman.

So if you want to find me in Pittsburgh, Montreal, Oklahoma City, El Paso, Charleston, Raleigh, or Atlanta go to the gay bars. I am the straight guy drinking cheap beer and listening to stories.

Really I am straight.

♦◊♦



Guest author and photographer Chris Arnade received his PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins University in 1992. He spent the next 20 years working as a trader on Wall Street. He left trading in 2012 to focus on photography. His “Faces of Addiction” series explores addiction in the south Bronx neighborhood in New York City.  This article was originally published on Chris’s Tumblir blog.

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene writes and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
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Comments

  1. I just had an uncomfortable argument with another white friend last week, because I hold the unpopular view that n-only spaces, where n could equal anything, are not good or necessary for moving beyond our prejudices or advancing society. I’ve been a regular attendee of groups for GLBT uni students, for trans men, and of synagogue services. They’re not exclusive spaces, but if you’re not one of them, there are still unstated rules—Noachide laws, a joke you’ll only get if you’re familiar with kashruth—for the ostlanders. Don’t use us to feel better about yourself. Don’t stereotype us. Observe respectfully if you’re not committed to full participation, whether it’s gay country western line dancing or dancing with the Torah. And for the mishpocheh: how else are the goyim going to learn about us and love us, if we don’t welcome the stranger into our bars? Teach them gently what we expect from them in our spaces, but don’t exclude. Remember that we were once excluded. There are those who stand up for the right to be exclusive based on identity. I judge others by their behavior. (And yes, a little bit by the way they dress. ;) )

  2. I’m sorry but as a gay man let me point out that a gay bar is one of the very few places that I should be able to feel safe in just being myself. For all the straight folks there are usually hundreds of bars available while my choices are much more limited. I don’t care how wonderfully tolerant and liberal you are: GET OUT OF MY SAFE PLACES! I can not count the number of times I have been approached by straights in MY BAR who then get pissed off because I am not interested in them, and then there is the risk that they will be offended sometimes to the point of violence should I express an interest follishly thinking that they are gay!

  3. For gods’ sake watch your pronouns. Even if David is happy to be identified as a man or woman allmost all trans women prefer to be called by female pronouns. GMP is supposed to be keyed in to this kind of stuff.

  4. Part of me wants to say, “Welcome all!” However, I was once at a gay bar and a drag show happened to be going on. A friendly couple (two men standing side-by-side looking ever so happy and relaxed) began speaking with me and talking about the mood of the bar. The good flow of conversation led to me asking them if they were a couple and how long they had been together, if they were indeed a couple (especially since it looked that they were holding hands). All of a sudden, I was punched in the chest. The guys were straight and not going to let anyone think otherwise. As I tried to regain composure, one of the straight guys brought me a beer in his lousy attempt to apologize. Too late. Yes, not every straight man will behave this way. BUT IF YOU ARE STRAIGHT and reading this … don’t go to a gay bar unless you don’t mind gay men speaking to you and assuming that you are gay. If someone hits on you, you can always say I’m taken and walk away. And if you have the inert desire to punch someone, just walk away and out of the bar. IF you have any kind of issue with gay folks, just STAY AWAY. No need for violence. Ever.

  5. Hi, I´m straight and very interested in womans when sex is the name of the game ;-) I do agree with the five points and after reading your comments I have to say that every single time I have been in a gay bar at some point of the night I have been approached by someone with the clear intention of having more than a chat with me. It´s normal as most of the guys and girls there are gays or lebians even some of my friends are so they assume I´m one. I have no problems in saying I´m not gay even though my behavior is clearly straight (looking at the girls, smiling them..) , the problem is when people do not understand that NO is NO.. then is when (only sometimes) I find myself having to ask to that person to leave me alone and the other person starts shouting that I should leave that safe space for gays only. Usually I smile and ask a beer for that poor soul that wants to live in a guetto instead of breaking the walls so everybody can enjoy in a bar without having people trying to make others feel bad about their sexuality. Most of the times the beer is accepted :-)

    Ivan

    P.D. English is not my first lenguage but I think (and hope) I made my point clear, if there is any doubt about something just let me know and I will try to reply.

    • When I was a young blade in the bars (many years ago) it was not unheard of for my friends or me to deal with persistent (usually drunk) men that refused to take no for an answer, sometimes even physically pushing them away. I’m told women have to deal with this kind of crap all of the time. So it’s not about you being a straight guy in gay bar, its about being a hot guy in a gay bar and remembering that some men are assholes.

  6. When I invited a much younger straight coworker to join some friends and me for a pub crawl on Seattle’s Capital Hill, I promised to protect him from unwanted advances in a certain bear bar where I was certain he’d be swarmed. His response was: “The only thing worse than getting hit on in a gay bar is not getting hit in in a gay bar.” He is, of course, from the generation that created Gay Chicken and sees their comfort with gay men as a sign of their certain masculinity. I really love his (and my daughter’s) generation of forward thinking young people.

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