The Straights Are Coming!
The 1962 film Advise and Consent broke the Hollywood Production Code when it showed a scene in a Manhattan gay bar. What was shocking then may be only of historical interest today, but the iconic scene perfectly captured a moment in time: unmarked from the street, several steps underground, the patrons uniformly men-all impeccably turned out in Mad Men suits. Flash forward several decades to G, the ultra-popular Chelsea lounge. A huge window takes up nearly the entire street front of the bar’s brick facade. It fairly screams, "We’re here, we’re queer, we’re drinking."
The clientele, too, differs greatly from its pre-Stonewall counterpart. It’s no coincidence that G invented an icy twist on the preferred drink of the four Sex and the City über-fag hags. While the vast majority of the patrons are good-looking gay men, there is a healthy smattering of women, and even the occasional straight men. I remember taking a straight male friend to G a few years back. Not a particularly attractive guy (OK, he’s homely), he had a great time, thanks to a pair of beautiful women flirting with him. Apparently, they figured that if he could hang with his gay homie, he had to be cool.
We’ve gone from pariah status to status symbol.
The situation is similar in other bars in other cities. It is a phenomenon everyone has noticed. They’re socializing with us, true. But more and more often, they’re there by themselves. And sometimes they’re even-gasp!-kissing.
Some see this as a healthy outgrowth of society’s growing acceptance of homosexuality. With gay men becoming more open about our sexuality, and the rest of the world more accepting, heterosexual friends and colleagues feel comfortable mixing with gay friends. We, on our part, welcome them into our formerly exclusive spaces. Others, however, believe we have lost something intangible: safe spaces where we could be ourselves without prying or judging eyes; our sense of specialness. You can scoff that the status of gay bars is hardly a touchstone issue. But for years, these were our town center, our meeting place, our safe space. Even now, in smaller cities and suburbs that don’t have a gay center, bars serve as a place where young people can come out and older people can socialize without fear.
One who has noticed and doesn’t like what he sees is a blogger who calls himself "Jewish Author Tough Gay Activist Bear," or J.A.T.G.A.B. The very few straights who went into bars even ten years ago "were generally accompanying gay friends, were very gay-friendly and supportive, and knew how to behave in a gay bar," he writes. Today, straight folks are attracted to our scene because of depictions on Will & Grace or Queer as Folk and go into gay bars like a petting zoo with better accessories. "Straights today often go into gay bars for the wrong reasons and with the wrong attitude," he continues. They’re there for titillation, to be hip and a bit naughty.
Not long ago, I walked into Vlada, a Midtown Manhattan bar that has become popular with groups of single women, and seeing a straight couple making out at the front table. No one seemed to mind or even notice, I might add. J.A.T.G.A.B., however, is especially upset seeing such displays of affection, "as if arrogantly assuming that every gay person is just dying to watch ’normal’ people show them how it’s done." Why can’t they stick to their own, far more numerous, bars? Why do they have to come to ours?
In the case of G or Vlada, the answer might be simply that these are great spaces-as nice or nicer than comparable straight bars. But Addam Stobbs asked recently in the Australian Q Magazine whether the increased presence of straight folks is a result or a cause of decreased gay bar cruising. The many straights he saw on a recent bar outing "seemed to blend in quite seamlessly," he wrote. "None of them looked uncomfortable, none of them looked as though they were there to see the ’freak show’; in fact they seemed to be having a good time with their gay friends. There were a number of straight girls there as well, all getting on really well. There was no sexual tension. None."