The Straight Guide to the Gay BarMay 14th, 2012 | By AidenRN | Category: Aiden, Columns, Contributors
I have noticed, when talking to friends who identify as heterosexual, that there’s a certain apprehension ‘straight’ people have about going to a ‘gay’ bar. They are worried they won’t have a good time, that they will stick out as the token “straight but supportive friend”, or that they might unintentionally offend someone while there. But with bars such as Plan B, Sotto, and Club 5 dominating the top of the Madison night club scene, it’s not surprising that straight individuals are being invited out to those clubs. So what should you expect if you are a straight person going to a gay bar?
The first thing to remember is that the whole purpose of having a ‘gay bar’ is to provide a SAFE space for EVERYONE. It’s not supposed to be a segregating line, where gay people are welcome and straights are merely tolerated; people who are heterosexual are just as welcome as anyone else. Other than that, gay bars are no different than any other bar in Madison. Admittedly, you may run into some more untraditional couples, and the majority of gay bars tend to lean closer to dance clubs than traditional bars. Other than that though, there are more differences between individual gay bars than between gay and straight bars.
Just in case though, here’s a quick handy guide of things to keep in mind if you get invited out and are still nervous. To keep things simple, I will use “guys/men/males” to refer to cis-men (biological males who think of themselves as men) and “girls/women/females” to refer to cis-women (biological females who think of themselves as women). However, I only do it to keep this simple for readers new to “gay terminology” and apologize in advance to anyone who might not fit into those categories.
Stop thinking of the Gay Bar as a novelty.
One of the reasons I like going to gay bars instead of straight bars is that if I were to start kissing or cuddling with my date (who is more often than not also female), I don’t get a reaction. The most common reactions to two girls kissing in a straight bar are either cat-calls and offers of a threesome with some guy, or to be called names and cursed out of the bar. By going to a gay bar, my date and I can kiss and hold hands without any reaction at all, and that’s the appeal. It can be ridiculously annoying to have to watch what you are doing and fight the temptation to show affection to your loved ones, so sometimes just blending in with the crowd of other couples is a relief.
So it is obnoxious when I’m at the bar at Plan B, and hear some girl behind me squealing about how awesome it is to see all the “gay couples look so happy”. Yes, we are happy, thank you, and we appreciate the fact you’re happy for us. But pointing it out to us, like it’s a surprise that we should be any more or less happy that “straight couples”, isn’t why we’re there. Remember, we’re normal people too, so coming to the gay bar to watch the ‘gays in their natural habitat’ can make us feel a little like zoo animals. And like traditional guy/girl couples, gay couples cuddle, fight, laugh, cry and all that with one another, so we aren’t any different from any other couple. With that mind set, the only squealing you should be doing is over the yummy drinks or when your favorite song gets played.
The Lonely Straight Girl myth is a myth
I’m not sure where this urban myth started, but there’s a common misconception that there are an over abundance of straight, or at least bisexual/fluid/what-have-you, girls who frequent gay bars because they get pulled along by their lesbian friends. They feel awkward and out of place, and maybe lonely watching their coupled friends dance together, and are more open to the advances of guys. But with supposedly fewer straight or bisexual males in the vicinity, this makes it easier for those who are straight to swoop in and charm a phone number out of her.
Now, there probably are a decent number of straight girls who frequent gay bars. In fact, on any given night I would say 60-70% of the girls at the local bars are interested in cis-male partners. Some of them probably did get dragged to the gay bar by their lesbian or gay friends. But in my experience, the majority of girls–regardless of orientation–go to gay bars to escape getting hit on by men. I have countless female friends who come to Plan B or Sotto with me, and the moment any guy comes close, they will use me at the decoy girlfriend–dancing close or hugging me even though we have no romantic connection. Sometimes girls just want to have girl time, without worrying about getting hit on and fending off unwanted advances, so going to a gay bar is their idea of escaping that.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t approach someone. If you see someone at the bar, and you manage to get up the nerve to go talk to them (sometimes a daunting task in itself), then by all means go talk to them! Just understand that what sort of partner a person is looking for isn’t always as obvious, and you may get shot down. Don’t take it personally, smile and move on. And who knows, politely being rejected may help you; there have been a number of times where a man’s good humor at getting turned down by me has earned him a drink or an introduction to an attractive, and straight, gal-friend.
You’re not going to offend anyone by saying no thanks
On the flip side of that, if you are straight and find yourself being hit on by someone of the same sex, don’t feel bad if you say “no thanks”. From what I’ve seen, a lot of straight people get so uncomfortable worry about saying something wrong, that they end up blurting something rude. Others even become physically aggressive. I would like to believe that they just didn’t know what to say and got upset, but I have seen fights break out when a gay man went to hit on another guy.
If getting hit on by someone of the same sex is so distressing to you that you feel you have to become physically violent, it is probably best for you to stay home. There’s no way to describe how demoralizing those fights are for other people at the bar. I understand that there are people in the world who disapprove of my “lifestyle”, but being reminded of it while at a place that is supposed to be safe is scary. I’ve seen fights like that, where neither myself nor my group of friends knew either of the two people, and it’s ruined our entire night. If you feel you can’t react without turning to assault, please don’t bother coming to the bar.
If you are otherwise uncomfortable, and don’t know what to say, that’s much simpler. Just “thanks, but no thanks”. Contrary to popular belief, there are no “signs” or “signals” to let people know your gay, so if someone’s hitting on you, just be flattered that they find you attractive. Someone might jokingly mention “gay-dar” (gay radar, for those of you that are REALLY new to the gay scene) but that is even more of a myth. It’s impossible to tell who is gay and who is not merely on appearance, so treat the whole situation like you would if it were someone of the opposite sex. If you aren’t interested, a polite no thanks is all that’s needed–no more, no less.
Remember there is just as much diversity in the gay community as in the kink community
In other words, not all gays are the same, despite the stereotypes. Not every gay man is going to be into leather and non-monogamous relationships, and not every lesbian rides a motorcycle and hates men. Sure, those individuals do exist, but there are all sorts of gays–and all sorts of gay relationships–in the area.
That being said, it is very possible to pick up a kinky play partner at the gay bar, but it’s going to be just as tough to find them as if you were at a straight vanilla bar. I would recommend trying the kink-themed monthly parties, such as Slut Butter at Plan B (See the event page from February’s event).
But also keep in mind that some in the gay community are decidedly anti-kink and quite a few are anti-polyamory. Why, you might ask? A lot of us in the gay community have had a hard enough time coming out as gay in a world that is slowly warming up to the idea. We want people to see and understand that we are normal everyday people–teachers, doctors, lawyers, party-goers–and some people feel like adding “kinky” and “poly” to that makes it even harder for the ‘straight world’ to accept us. For example, when I started dating after my high school girlfriend and I broke up, I was extremely anti-polyamory; I would purposely ignore profile pages on dating sites where it listed the girls as poly, even if I might have liked them otherwise. It wasn’t until I fell for someone who happened to be poly that my opinion changed, and I started to realize being poly didn’t make me “less”.
Unfortunately, that idea is still slow to merge into the gay community, which tries everything it can to keep a mostly spotless reputation so the evils of the world can’t be blamed on “those damn gays”. So if you do face negative stereotypes while at the gay bar, don’t get upset and move on; there are kinky and poly individuals there, you just haven’t run into them yet.
Like I said, gay bars really aren’t all that different from straight bars, except that how the couples are arranged might be a bit different. So go out and have fun. If someone you’re not into hits on you–regardless of their biological sex/ gender expression–just say a polite no thank you. If you want to flirt with someone, go for it–but don’t feel insulted if you get turned down. Just keep the same open mind you would have going into a kink event, and present yourself with dignity. Everything will be fine.