On the last Tuesday of June, I begin to write this as I wait for 10:30 to hit when the $3 drinks start to pour at Flux, the rainbow flagged bar where everyone knows your name… or at least the face that goes with that booty. It’s the same bar where I struck up an inebriated conversation with a dzaddy who’s still a friend of mine two years down the road. It’s where me and the boys’d go after sitting together for the dinner Jay grilled for us. It’s not the bar where I had to be carried out by friends of friends on the night I met them; I had the relative anonymity of WeHo and Hillcrest for that. That being said though, there’s really no anonymity, or any need for it, when you’re in a community.
So Cal is huge but between L.A. and S.D. the six degrees of separation narrows down to about two with the gaysians. I could measure it in seasons but roughly 23 iPhone updates ago, I lost my phone coming out of the bathroom at Numbers, a defunct gay bar almost 100 miles from home, in San Diego. I flipped out, asked around, and retraced my steps but after five rings the phone was shut off and I knew someone swiped it from my back pocket. All of the friends I was there with posted on social media for me; on the recommendation of Andy, a harnessed army vet and educator I met that night, I texted a sob story to my phone about it having the only pictures of my kid with her dad before he died, hoping that I could play to their conscience and they’d return it (blatant lie by the way); I walked around the streets, searched James’s car, a nurse at Los Angeles LGBT center who gave us a ride to the club despite having just met him that day. By the end of that weekend, I didn’t have a phone but Tom, one of my best friends who was also my patient zero to the So Cal gay scene, lent me his iPad so I wouldn’t be completely detached from the group until I sorted out my phone situation.
Two days after it went missing Pete, a friend of ours who was a student at UCLA, texted me a screenshot of a conversation; the fag to the hag who had my phone saw a Snapchat Pete sent me on the locked screen and reached out to let us know that he had it. Small friggin’ world, right? That Friday, four of us, from the Valley, I.E., Long Beach, and O.C., hopped into my tiny-ass Ford Fiesta and raced down to Hillcrest. We were rushing to get there before Pete’s buddy left with my phone because his “Sure, no problem!” texts devolved into “m ducked iup.. goona leaf”. Less than 10 miles before exiting, everyone in the car was scrambling for their phones, searching through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, for anyone in S.D. connected to that guy. As it turned out Andy knew him and was strutting around Hillcrest so Andy played the San Diego unit of #OperationPhoneRescue which was a night that ended with seven people crammed into a studio apartment playing Never Have I Ever, more than one of us taking a shot to “Never have I ever been in this apartment before.”
The Riverside House, the house two of my best friends rented before they dissolved their domestic partnership, became the group’s home. Every weekend was a house party or kick back interspersed with bar hopping in West Hollywood where, on the dance floor, during sometimes high and often drunken nights, I discovered an authenticity that only exists when people know who they are and what they have to deal with because of it.
There was a man in the documentary “American Experience: Stonewall Uprising” who described the Stonewall Inn as a place to fall in love with somebody, to talk to somebody. It was one of the few places where you could slow dance with someone and feel relatively safe. Before the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the beginning of the Stonewall Uprising, the catalyst for the modern LGBT movement in America, there was nowhere for middle class queers to go, hang out, and be normal except for these bars. They were dingy and supplied by the mafia, some had prostitution rings running out of them, but at least it was somewhere they could be free. This, to me, is still the essence of a rainbow bar: though there might be some weird noises coming from the stall one over, they are the place where people can leave whatever self-rooted anxieties they have at the door and know that it’s okay to be who they are, love who they love, and dance with whomever they feel like dancing with.
Three years before the Stonewall Uprising, before the first Pride parade, before the early morning when trans women literally kick lined the powerful men harassing them, San Francisco’s Tenderloin had the Compton Cafeteria Riots. Sick of being harassed, the drag queens, trans women, hustlers, and the other subculture queers who frequented the 24-hour diner erupted in a mess of flying fists and purses when a drag queen threw their cup of coffee in The Man’s face, putting the trans community on the map of American political history.
In 1950, The Mattachine Society was formed in L.A. It was a straight-laced organization created with the goal of redefining what being gay in the U.S. meant. Through shared personal stories and a grassroots movement their goal was to challenge anti-gay discrimination and, ideally, build a community. The organization was criticized for being non-radical and slow moving but they will always hold their place in U.S. history for being the foundation to the gay rights movement after what happened at Stonewall Inn.
The entirety of the LGBTQ community does not exist in bars. That’s reductive. But having been pushed to the fringe of society for so long and being bombarded with anger and hatred because of who they are the shroud of night, bottomless bottles of liquor, and an open dance floor have a safe and comfortable familiarity. Personally, between 13 shots of vodka and a group of homies who live by the mantra of “just because you do bad things doesn’t make you a bad person”, I found part of myself on the dance floor in Rich’s. i.e. I got hammered in Hillcrest and finally mustered up the guts to get it on with a chick. I can’t say I was particularly slick about it. Shit, I was a hot mess. I give props to Ross, my ultimate wingman, who walked up to groups of women with me asking if anyone wanted to do it with his “hot friend”. Eventually someone was down. I’ll ask you to remember the no judgement mantra we live by when I tell you that I remember holding her hand and trudging around the bar a few times, trying to go through the same locked emergency exit more than once, but I can’t for the life of me remember her name. If you ever read this, it was a fun night and thanks for the sexual epiphany! Ultimately, I got the confirmation I needed… Being bi-curious ends when that curiosity is satiated and the realization hits that pussy is just as good (≥?) as the D.
P.S. I changed my friends’ names.