With increased tolerance and inclusion of LGBT people into the mainstream, Aaron Darkwood asks if it’s time to hang up the disco balls of the gay clubs and bars…
As I write this, I’m sat in a very open-minded café bar on the south coast of England. It’s gay-run, has a mix of staff of all sexualities across the LGBT spectrum, and an assortment of races and cultures… and I love it! Looking out of the window before me lies the local gay scene, with its bars, and clubs, its saunas and adult shops and more. Each year there is a gay pride, which I take part in, and each year the scene is moaned about, complained about (by its venues and its patrons) and shrinks just a little bit more. So why does it even exist?
Many years ago, back in the black and white days, the gay scene existed because of necessity. A gay boy simply couldn’t go to a straight club and dance, be open and kiss someone of the same sex right there in public. Sadly, in many parts of the world and in some dark corners of the UK, that still exists, but where does the future lie for the gay scene? As the 21st century reaches out and embraces us with its conformity, equal rights attitudes and more, will the “us and them” attitude just dissolve into nothingness? Gay bars have, over the last decade, branched out to other corners of the spectrum, firstly allowing women in (before my time, but I know gay bars were men-only for some years), then the bisexuals and now straight people. More desperate for money and income rather than the selectiveness of the clientele? Is money now a driving factor, or have attitudes changed suffice that a segregation is no longer needed?
Can gay-only venues continue?
Only last week a 20-year-old friend of mine said he now goes clubbing in straight clubs rather than gay ones; is this the path of our younger members? As it seems now, gay bars and clubs are primarily driven by age; the clubs have the younger end of the LGBT community, and the bars driven by the senior 40+ types. Some men (mainly men) in the community still don’t feel comfortable with the gay scene even, choosing to instead conduct their romantic solicitations in cruising grounds, cottages, toilets and more.
So putting money to one side, and noticing that locally the most popular venue in the gay area is this mixed café bar, has the dawn of the new century altered people’s perceptions? In chatting with several other gay men today, their views were shared that they rarely went out onto the gay scene, and didn’t feel that attitudes carried in gay-only venues could continue. I share that view that some gay people (I use gay to represent all LGBT areas) do still cling onto old-fashioned ideas about segregation, and they themselves object to straight people entering into ‘their’ territory. Which is ironic, as those same people would explode in protest, if straight bars were to openly discourage gay patrons.
I feel that so long as we have gay venues, we continue the ‘them and us’ barrier. But are the straight venues liberalised and modern enough to take a mixed audience such as the place I now sit within? Maybe when new bars open up or have a refurb, they should open with a statement that they’re an open sexuality establishment, that the venue is equal opportunity for anyone to drink/eat within?
The thoughts and feelings from my friends I spoke to were that if as gay men they went into a straight bar and chatted to a guy, there was a risk of great offence being taken and a confrontation, and this was the reason they gave for not going to such places. To a degree I share and accept that thought, although I think that when ‘on the prowl’ out in a bar by any person of any sexuality, there is a degree of eye contact and body language that is usually established prior to making any kind of conversational advance…
But if these venues of the future stated that they are open to all, then the clientele should get on board with this also, so that if a guy gets chatted to by another guy he simply can say he isn’t interested, without taking extreme offence by it. After all, gay guys get chatted up by women all the time, and they certainly don’t explode in anger!
I feel that the future lies in these mixed establishments, where sexuality just isn’t an issue. It’s quite rewarding to sit and watch the afternoon customers go about their business. Gay couples coming in, there are two men sat to my left, a lesbian couple exchanging coffees and chat across from me. There is a family catching up and grabbing some food, and some grandparents and little children being served by a transsexual chef. Humans are just being humans, all going about their daily life as they should, with sexuality not entering into anything.
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