Is your local gay bar still your sanctuary?
"It was Superdry for as far as the eye could see and it all just clicked in to place for me"
So, while my fiancée and I were in Greece we thought it would be a right laaaaarf to find our nearest gay bar and have an old school night out. We haven’t been out to a gay bar for donkeys years so we decided to go for it! We googled our nearest, which was called Silk, and we booked it into our mental diaries. The website promised a drag queen too. We went out for a late dinner and then strolled up the road to Silk. Sadly, the lights were off, the door was boarded and there was no sign of life whatsoever. We felt sad! Not just for us and our change of plans, but for the LGBT people of Corfu. It turns out, that was literally the first and last gay bar on the entire island! So why didn’t it last??
It got us thinking – are gay bars dying out? One of my earliest gay memories (lesbories, if you will) was my older friend taking me to our local gay bar and sneaking me in. I was 15 so it was right exciting for me. It was open in the afternoon so we popped in and played some pool and smoked indoors (yes, that was a thing, and no, I don’t smoke anymore!). When I turned 18, that same bar was my sanctuary. I went religiously every Wednesday on student night and danced the night away. Swiftly followed by a Chinese takeaway; a classic night out. I’ll never forget the first time I went once I was 18. I walked in and saw all the other girls in low, baggy jeans with their pants hanging out. Some wore lumberjack shirts and others were dressed in a classic white t-shirt. It was Superdry for as far as the eye could see and it all just clicked in to place for me. These were my people! I wasn’t such a freak after all. Other girls like to have their arses hanging out of their jeans too. It was an absolute epiphany.
I grew up and I haven’t been back there in years. I think I stopped going frequently at the age of 21/22, but I did have some local favourite gay bars that I’d always revisit on a sunny day. Sadly, most of them seem to have disappeared. It must be said, gay bars are somewhat dingy, aren’t they? It’s kinda what we love about them. They are dark, the toilets are falling apart and haven’t been redecorated since Tony Blair was responsible. The music is cheesy and the floors are sticky, but that’s the charm! However, with my tasteful and more mature (pahaha) brain on, why would I want to go there? There are so many nice bars around these days, with modern music and clean toilets where the seat doesn’t fall off…
The question is, do LGBT people still feel that their local gay bar is their sanctuary? Is it where we go to find "our people"? Do we still feel unwelcome and/or nervous in straight establishments? Is there such a thing as a "straight" establishment? Now, it may be because I live in Brighton/the South generally, but I can’t help but feel that times have changed. Things have moved on. Maybe there isn’t that same need for a gay bar because we are generally much more accepted elsewhere? Or maybe it’s because people are changing and gay bars aren’t. Why can’t we find one that is modern, does play the latest "trendy" music and hasn’t got that dark and dingy vibe? I sometimes worry that a "gay" night out is a bit of a jokey thing, a bit like going to flares on an 80’s night out. It’s not deemed as a valid option for a serious night out clubbing. Am I totally off the mark?
I loved my local. It was a place where I could wear what I felt comfortable in, have my arse hanging out to my heart's content and not stand out. I could be with who I wanted and not worry about hiding it and I spend many nights dancing away to some old classics. On the one hand, I want that for us all. Why should we worry on a night out about whether people are looking? But also, if gay bars are dying out because the problem is resolving itself then this is a great thing! I mean, I feel happy enough holding hands with my girlfriend or kissing her wherever I want (within reason). So maybe society has progressed and there is just no need for that sanctuary anymore?
I’d be really interested to hear from you lot on my theories as I am still not sure! In the words of my old English teacher, discuss…
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