5—Touching the closet door on the other side of the world
6—The first gay bar I went to was in Salt Lake City—of all places! I’m no longer a fan OF THOSE but the people I met THERE made quite an impression. those bars are memories that are deep in my heart.
I’m in France, in my hometown. Because I’ve live almost 20 years in the U.K. and I can now enjoy the best of both worlds whenever I’m here: ‘home’ is a familiar place with people that I’ve known forever but it’s also become an alien environment to me, which makes me feel like a tourist.
I’d never noticed the beautiful architecture in the centre and I now enjoy things I used to dislike, the slow pace, even how basic certain things can be. How much we change! I used to love gay bars when I first came out. Back then I could go to those ‘safe havens’, free of judgement and meet people like me (and hoping to find a partner). I can’t stand them now. Times have changed too. Who needs gay bars anymore?
My last date kissed me in a regular pub full of straight males, something inconceivable 20 years ago. Society has become much more open and many ‘regular’ places now fly a rainbow flag (making it a little confusing for gays of my generation). Dating apps have rendered gay bars less than essential too: you can converse from the comfort of your home instead of driving into town and spend money waiting for someone to chat you up.
Yet I know some people who only go to gay bars, the same two or three places, weekend after weekend, year after year. Same for their holidays. I never liked the idea of a ‘gay ghetto’. How limiting!
We talked about being gay, and being gay Mormons. It was the first time I had this kind of conversation.
When friends convince me to go (maybe once a year), I am reminded how British/European gay bars play the same music (which I can’t stand) and as tacky as they are seedy. Why can’t gay bars be classy (in any kinds of ways)? Aren’t gays supposed to have style and like nice things?
I rarely enjoy the feeling I get from patrons in gay bars. You get the bitchiness that some guys feel forced to put on, you have the intoxicated guys in heat who want attention, and the guys who want (you) to feel they’re better than you with just one look. In some bars, you are observed as if you were cattle. They can be real ‘meat markets’. I remember some guy say, “turn left, turn right… Yeah, not bad,” when ‘courting’ someone standing near me.
I find gay bars judgemental and full of people I have nothing in common with—apart from being judgemental and gay myself. I feel uncomfortable in most of them. A long time ago I got to the point where I no longer felt that I belonged to the LGBT community. Identity politics have excluded conservative and religious folks like me. I came out to be my own person, not to fit in the ‘gay’ box with the hope of being accepted by a community with strict parameters. I could have stayed in the LDS Church for that!
I understand that is my personal experience. I have been to places that were just fine and I am sure there must be some places out there that are well-appointed and have fantastic customers and where I could have a good time. If you know such a place, click Contact. I’ll meet you for a drink!
Also, I can appreciate that the country and city where I live may be much more progressive than others and that, in some areas, gay bars may still be what they were for me and provide a safe space for like-minded people to gather and meet a soulmate (or a partner for the night).
I discovered gay bars in Salt Lake City, Utah, of all places. Pushing the door of The Sun that night of July ’97 was a turning point in my life. As the sun set, the windowless place exulted upbeat music from its brick walls giving off the heat of the day. Cars were parked outside and patrons were coming in and out.
It was the second time that day I’d walked all the way from Sunnyside to the west side of the city. ¹ I was too excited to feel tired. My face burnt a little from the sun I had caught earlier—and because I was so nervous and embarrassed. This new adventure was something forbidden. What if Shawn (or others) heard about this escapade? What if someone drove past and saw me standing there? So I decided to step inside.
The air conditioning immediately wrapped me. The owner hadn’t lied earlier ² : the place was teeming. I wonder what others made of this shy-looking sunburnt boy. I think I would have been classified as a ‘twink’ but a very self-conscious one.
There was nothing ‘gay’ about the place. But it was nonetheless very intimidating. I ordered a soft drink from the barman, so fast and so efficient—unlike those in France. I started having a sore stomach again when an older man came to me and put me at ease. He could tell I was a newbie and came to the rescue. He didn’t even have ulterior motives. I told him about myself and he introduced me to a guy in his early 40s who had served a mission in France.
It was the stage of such a turning point in my life.
We found a table and we talked about being gay Mormons. My stomach stopped hurting. It was the first time I had this kind of conversation—and it was absolutely amazing. Not only was it wonderful knowing I was not alone with my homosexual feelings and talk about it, but those two men had the particularity of being Mormon too. I felt safe. I felt safer than ever before in my life! Later that night, the guy who’d served his mission in France drove me back to Shawn’s. I slept so well that night.
I am still extremely grateful for those two men. Sadly, we lost touch after that summer. Same with Mandy. I may have been naive back then but I did notice she was not like other girls. She had an Adam’s apple for starters. And as completely new as this was for me—and for mostly everyone, back in ’97!—I never felt uncomfortable around her. I had no issues using the pronouns She and Her either. To me, she was not just a woman, she was a lady.
Again, things have changed. Today some men with beards thicker than I could ever grow mine get offended if I call them ‘Sir’ and some teenagers confuse me changing genders on a weekly basis—picking them among the 54 new ones I have never heard of before. Mandy had been born in the wrong body and she needed reparative surgery. It cost her so much money (as it wasn’t covered like in the U.K.) and had lost friends and family in the process. Her sex-change had cost her her job too (unthinkable in the U.K. where mere debate on trans is punishable by law). Mandy had paid a high price in any ways possible. Yet she retained a very positive and kind attitude. I will forever admire her and I hope she’s well and happy.
I went to The Trapp another night. Much smaller than The Sun, it catered to an older clientele and had the feel of a western country bar. I think I’d still love to go to a place like that. It was a busy night there too. A middle-aged man wearing a Stetson hat kept staring at me. I was flattered—and amazed. Apart from Bruce, ³ whom I had met in Texas, this had never happened to me! Knowing someone was attracted to me was a new experience. And a man to boot! He approached me. There was something about him that made me feel uncomfortable and I’m glad I had the notion not to engage conversation.
My favourite part of the evening was when guys got to the patio to line-dance. Something quite unique. I loved it! And this was a gay bar— all those Stetson hats and cowboy boots were worn by gay men! (even if I don’t think they had real cowboys in SLC, Utah).
I went back to those bars in the summers of 1998 and 1999. As for The Sun, a tornado ripped through SLC in August ’99 and destroyed it. My friends and I went to check it out after it happened. It was so weird. I was there the night before—the bar’s last night—when it had been the very first gay bar I had ever been to. Now it was gone. I picked up one of bricks the tornado had scattered all across the road as a souvenir and I brought it back home to France.
Then I didn’t go to Utah for ten years. The Trapp was still there in 2009. This time I had no fears when I walked in. I was out. I was no longer a member of the LDS Church. The Trapp looked so much smaller than I remembered—and so much seedier than I remembered too! It no longer was a western and country bar. One of the barmen, Michael, had been there in ’97 and still looked the same, but everything else looked different. I tried to recapture the emotions and conjure up the memories but the magic was gone. I’d like to re-visit sometime again, though. Because The Trapp was the stage of such turning points in my life.
Tonight, I have found the brick I brought back from The Sun. It was still in my old room, here, at my mother’s house. I’ve decided to take it back with me to the U.K.