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My first gay bar experience

It was liberating. It was safe. I was sound.

gayEstablishment Nancy Chen
Image Credits: Nancy Chen

Continuing the conversation on the Pulse massacre is important. By letting these atrocities be drowned out from news cycles, they simply become a footnote, instead of a moment for change. This event wasn’t about gun control or religious radicalization — it was about loss. There was a loss of lives, of community, and of protection.

A loss of safe spaces in these clubs we had turned into our refuges. By sharing our experiences, such as those who’ve turned to Twitter to share #MyFirstGayBar stories, we can begin to heal and reclaim some of what was lost. So, I’d like to share mine.

It’s been many years since my first gay bar experience, yet I’ll admit, there are still elements I remember as if it were yesterday.

I felt a lot of trepidation as I walked up to “the gay street,” as my cousin called it then. I’d been there during the day, and now at night, alone, knowing that I was going to go to my first gay bar, things suddenly seemed very loud and vibrant. I stood in line as regulars greeted each other around me.

There was a dull bassline coming from inside the bar. It may have been blood pumping in my ear, but whatever it was, it was making people around me sound like the adults on the Peanuts cartoons. “Whhaa whhaaa whaaa,” the very large muscular man in front of me broke my trance, and I handed him the ID he asked for.

One guy winked at me when they caught me staring and, even in the dark bar, I was sure I was bright red.

The thumpa-thumpa of the club track hit me, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I stepped into the building. I checked my coat as my eyes adjusted and I looked ahead into the dark bar. At first, I saw nothing but swirls of lights from the dance floor as they washed across the patrons already well on their way to oblivion.

Then I saw the sign. Bright, neon, and a purple that was trying to be pink — it read “Gay Establishment.” Underneath it, two boys were making out. One guy winked at me when they caught me staring and, even in the dark bar, I was sure I was bright red.

The rest of the night is a blur of dance, lights, vodka, and the echo of deep bass thrumming in my ears. I left late and had kissed two boys I didn’t know by the time I did. It was glorious. It was liberating. It was safe. I was sound.

I was home.

Much of the night is a blur. I couldn’t tell you what the guys looked like or any of the music that was playing. But I remember the feeling that I left with: this sense of self -worth, the affirmation that I was OK.

We joke that the club is our version of going to church. In a way, it is. Like a church, these are sacred places. Even in today’s social media world, gay bars help those who don’t have an outlet to connect with their community. They give those who are still in the closet a chance to find others like them; you can flirt with someone and only fear rejection, not a beating. It is a place free from outside criticisms, fear, and misunderstandings.

This tragedy will not take these safe havens away from us. The thumpa-thumpa will keep going. We’ve lost a lot, but we won’t lose our souls too.

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