In this down south gay bar, leather jacket men stand w/ arms crossed. Trade, he walks by, walks by & holds glances. For a $5 cover charge, we all agree: push hand away if NO & hold gaze, jerk head if you’re down for whatever. & I do mean for whatever. Across the country these bars are closing, closing up for good. Ppl say we don’t need them anymore.
“You need to be more casual,” said my friend Ron, a college professor from up north. “Don’t have any expectations.” He told me this on the bus ride over & also said I need to kiss at least 60 cocks to catch my prince. Although his math might be off, he is smart & worldly & I don’t want him to think I’m uptight, so here we are in this pond full of frogs. Not my usual scene. It’s cramped & dark & smells like lube. No prince in sight.
Two rooms: a front place to buy beer + back room for sex things. A chain fence divides the back, which reminds me of a prison porn-o scene I’ve watched on Tumblr. I watch a man sniff poppers, nitrous oxide to make his body feel everything. Ron told me every time he gets a bj in backroom bars it’s a historical moment, which I heard as code for an academic to say he likes public sex.
These hookup bars still make me feel uncomfortable. I’ve come to think of them as loneliness personified in quick sex and far corners. That’s judge-y, sure. But what if someone sees me here?
A man lights a cig. A man gets on his knees. A man grabs my ass, but I pull away from him.
As Ron makes his way toward a twink, I think about these bars (most men are here to fuck, but I over-think every move when I’m nervous). In the 50s and 60s, cops would raid gay bars & cuff men for standing where I stand. Then, the government kept a list of “known homosexuals. Newspapers printed names, and they would lose their jobs. But in 1969 a bunch of queers – led by trans people & cross dressers – fought back. The next year ppl celebrated Gay Pride w parades. Now – nearly fifty yrs later – queer friends make wedding registries for cute dish sets at trendy stores.
Ron makes out w/ a blond guy, and Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” blasts through the speakers. “This is her best song,” says the man-across-from-me. He’s getting a handjob, so I don’t argue his point. On a screen, porn stars fuck doggie-style & I laugh b/c it’s probably not the vid a pop star would want for her song.
A security guard whips out a flashlight b/c NO PHOTOS allowed. Nothing changes as quick as lights. Through pre-internet decades men still met in these shadows. They schemed & plotted & made things happen (both in & out of bed). No shame in that. I walk around the fence & men on walls to prove I can. Don’t make a move, don’t look into his eyes.
A man whistles to match the song’s beat. A man tightens his cock ring. A man pushes hand. A man leans in to kiss me.
I kiss him back (to prove I can). But I’ve always thought it trashy to make out in a bar, so I ask the man to tell me abt himself. He says he’s recently had stomach surgery for polyps and ulcers. He says he got so so skinny & didn’t know if he’d make it.
He kisses me again & I think of his scars. I think of the midnight men who only ever had these bars, the ones who fought for this night & my chance at day. I owe them this moment, owe them more than a glance. I lean into the skinny man’s body & run my hand through his hair. I lean into his body & I don’t care who sees me.
Tyler Gillespie’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Brevity, The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review, PANK, Columbia Poetry Review, Exposition Review, Deep South, Juked, and Hobart. He’s the palest Floridian you’ll ever meet and tweets @TylerMTG