A Gay Bar Is Not "Just" a Bar

posted by Madame Bubby


Lately there's been much talk about safe spaces (mostly for psychosocial reasons) on college campuses, but the gay bar, as far as I am concerned, was always a “identity” safe space for LGBTQ persons long before the days of mainstream acceptance of a diverse sexual identity spectrum. And for many years, a precarious safe space, always at risk for being raided, and often depending for suvival on some rather “unsafe” connections (the Mob).

As a young gayling (in and then out of the closet) in the 1980s, I knew about the existence of gay bars, but not much else. Right after graduate school, living sparsely in a studio apartment in a liberal suburb, I knew about the existence of a gay bar in the adjacent suburb (the suburb I lived in was surprisingly dry given its overall liberal college-town focus, no bars or liquor stores, but one could obtain booze in a restaurant).

I was not out, but I wanted to go somewhere where I could totally be myself. I hung out with some friends from college, including one who lived down the street, and I was chummy with the neighbors, but I was never totally myself. I am sure the more sophisticated friends had figured it out (I fit the stereotypes at that time, especially cowboy boots and opera), but my gay “life” was jacking off to John Rechy's The Sexual Outlaw (my first gay book; bought it at Barbara's Bookstore close to my place) and assorted jack off books. Even in a place where being gay did not necessarily mean persecution, I was afraid.
 

The Sexual Outlaw book cover

Barbara's Bookstore logo

On several Saturday nights, usually alone, I would say to myself, I'll just walk down the street to the adjacent suburb and go to that bar. The name of the bar was Nutbush. The innuendo escaped me at that time. I never went. My motivation for not going: how would I get home, what would happen to me sexually if I went, and what if someone saw me there. But the pull was there, because I both knew and felt that I could go there and let all inhibitions down. I had danced at straight discos, I had smoked pot at mixed parties, but I couldn't interact with a guy the way I wanted and needed to.
 

Vintage Nutbus bar ad

By the way, many years later I went to that Nutbush place with a couple of friends who lived in the liberal suburb, now an LGBTQ mecca. One of them said, “This place has always been a toilet.” Yes, it was one of those gay dive bars, a stale, nondescript place smelling of cheap beer and cigarette smoke. A safe space in some ways, perhaps, but not a social space where I could embrace the identity I was looking for.

Fast forward about four years, and I was sitting in one of the oldest gay bars in Chicago, many miles north in Rogers Park. It was called Charmers (it has since closed). This place was off the beaten gay neighborhood track at that time (most of the bars were further south in Lakeview). I made out with a guy, I sang opera in falsetto, and I got drunk. Note the getting drunk is last on the list. But I had arrived. And I knew by that time there was no going back.
 

Decor in Charmers' interior
Charmers interior

Now one doesn't have to go a bar to embrace one's identity. In fact, one doesn't have to necessarily go outside. That's a paradox. But why explore and embrace one's sexual identity primarily on a phone screen? We fought to be able to go outside. Without those bars, we wouldn't be holding hands on the street. Without the social structures those bars created, we wouldn't have survived AIDS. A gay bar is not “just” a bar.

Check out this moving documentary on the history of gay bars in San Diego.

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The Legendary Baton Lounge: Just a Few Steps Away

posted by Madame Bubby

Jim Flint in the Baton Show Lounge

A friend of mine sent me a link to a news item: the legendary Baton Lounge, long a fixture of the LGBTQ community in Chicago, has moved after 50 years in the same location. The entertainment venue, which has featured over the years so many famous drag queens (Chili Pepper, see below, was one of my favorites), had been located in what is now called the River North area. But, according to the news source, rents escalated, and Jim Flint decided to make the move north. And even north of the established Boystown, in the growing gayborhood of Uptown (and walking distance from my abode).
 

Family cast
Chili Pepper

Baton Lounge performers
Baton Lounge performers

Jim Flint
Jim Flint

What is significant here is Flint did not decide to just close up shop. Apparently the venue is still thriving; the entertainment he provides has not gone by the wayside like the great gay adult theaters (Bijou at the top of the list) or the bathhouses (only one is left in Chicago with the closing of Man’s Country).
 

Bijou Theater sign

It’s obvious Flint is not providing a venue of public sex or pornography in the stricter sense; he’s putting on live theater which does not focus on a naked porn star jacking off. Yet, remember, the Bijou used to do and was doing again broader forms of entertainment, rethinking the purpose and audience of the space, before its closure in 2015.

And drag is of course in the global spotlight. Hello, RuPaul (who actually appeared at the Baton). And whether one thinks this fact is unfortunate or not, a drag show is straight-friendly. It has been for some time. Think Victor/Victoria, which of course makes the illusion even more complicated. And that illusion was the basis of theatre for so many years. Women could not appear on the stage respectably in the West until the eighteenth century. The Greek tragedies and the plays of Shakespeare relied on men playing the women’s parts.

(I can’t imagine the Baton putting on a performance of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, though. It doesn’t lend itself well to parody or even camp, though one line in the play, “The queen is falling,” might get a laugh.)

And speaking of straight-friendly, I know someone whose date took her there on the first date. Now, both of us had met her date at a wine-tasting event, and we could not tell who he was attracted to. Still, it seems an odd, or rather, ambiguous, place for an ostensibly straight guy to take a straight woman on a first date, however original and exciting the venue. There was no second date. Que sera.

I was taken to the place on my birthday. I was not sure if that was a straight person’s “safe” idea of gay entertainment (the person who planned the event), but several persons from the office went (not all gay). I did enjoy receiving some attention from Chili Pepper, who was dressed up in some fabulous 1960s retro outfit (kind of a dress with a jacket with white buttons and trim). The host did not believe I was 28 (I wasn’t that young; so much for illusion).

Flint’s new location is in a beautiful building with a deco feel, perhaps an architectural landmark. Much of the area around it is either abandoned, waiting for or in the process of bland gentrification, perhaps diluting some of the illusion or edginess that feeds into that illusion.
 

Baton old and new locations
Baton old and new locations

Still, it’s not far from the legendary Green Mill cocktail lounge, and the Uptown Theater is in the process of renovation, or, more accurately, retrovation. That’s the paradox: idealizing and revisioning the past in a time when daylight too often intrudes upon magic and everyone thinks they are a star shining on the screen of a smartphone.

May the magical stars of the Baton reign for another 50 years.

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Steam

Steam test

I did the steam test this week in Chicago, which has been colder than Siberia, Antarctica, and Mars. I filled up a measuring cup with hot water and tossed it out of the window of my storage room. I was temporarily blinded by that amazing, but sadly fleeting, release of energy I had created.

And all that steam, an explosive combination of extreme heat and extreme cold in this case, got me thinking of not just what steam is, but how authors and artists and filmmakers use steam to convey multiple ambiguities in their works of art.

But steam is not the fog that hides haunted houses, though it resembles it superficially. Steam is released physically under conditions of great thermodynamic pressure. Once released into the air, it dissipates, but it can also be harnessed to provide more power. (No steam engine, no Industrial Revolution!)
 

Early steam engine

For example, the song “Steam Heat” compares the steam heat of a radiator to what will become the heat of passion, however unfavorably. Kissing is what gets that energy, sexual energy released:
 

Steam Heat sheet music

I got (clang) (clang) s-s-s-steam heat, 
I got (clang) (clang) s-s-s-steam heat, 
I got (clang) (clang) s-s-s-steam heat, 
But I need your love to keep away the cold,

I got (clang) (clang) s-s-s-steam heat, 
I got (clang) (clang) s-s-s-steam heat, 
I got (clang) (clang) s-s-s-steam heat, 
But I can't get warm without your hand to hold,

The radiator's hissin', still I need your kissin'... 
To keep me from freezin' each night, 
I got a hot water bottle, but nothin' I got'll... 
Take the place of you holding me tight

The sound of the hissing and the clanging is dissonant and mechanical, the heat; the thermodynamics reveal great struggle to be harnessed, to work, to produce, in contrast to the organic steam produced by the physical and emotional interaction between the lovers.

Steam heat radiator

And in the vintage gay porn movie Turned On!, Al Parker wanders in a fantasy sexual world that resembles a literally steamy gay bathhouse. The steam blurs conventional physical and emotional boundaries. It dissipates, but in its dissipation somehow creates more energy rather than declining into entropy or freezing into rigid crystals. Thus the men multiply, the cocks multiply. Energy is eternal delight, according to William Blake, and in this film it transcends thermodynamic laws.
 

Turned On poster

 

For almost fifty years, Bijou Video has been committed to helping you create your own sexual steam. Check out some of our particularly steamy titles and use the following coupon code for 30% off all vintage gay porn DVDs now through February 28: dvds30

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Odd People and Incidents on Public Transportation Redux

CTA train, Chicago

I was reading a piece lately about some rather deplorable conditions (bedbugs, ew!) and raunchy actions (primarily sex) on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains. The evidence originated from those who should know, the operators of the trains.

Now I am a regular rider (both by choice but also because of financial constraints), and I have noticed some odd behavior lately, and one could possibly attribute some of the aggressive behavior to the polarized climate of stress since the last election, but let's face it, the transportation is for the public. And no one in a public environment is ever completely placid and uniform, despite the presence of certain social etiquette mores.

I won't discuss the panhandlers or persons who sadly are suffering from some form of mental illness, specifically, as they, regardless of their individual backstories, have always been a constant presence on the subway. I will instead focus and comment on the more odd, and one even charming, people and actions I have noticed through the years.

A heavyset African guy plugged into headphones was falling asleep. His head gradually ended up on the shoulder of a young woman sitting next to him. She actually responded nicely, gently nudging him, and I heard her say, “You were falling asleep.” He looked dazed and immediately shut his eyes again. This falling asleep on people is not uncommon; a former coworker of mine told me she did the same, and she told me the nice elderly woman next to her just let her rest that way through most of the journey. I have never fallen asleep on anyone on the subway, though I have often through about resting my head on the chest and shoulders of a few hot guys here and there on various trips.
 

Two men leaning against each other on subway train

One rush hour, on a particularly crowded train car, a woman began flossing her teeth. I think this action ranks with the bedbugs. People were so jammed in and in obvious discomfort that this action went unnoticed, though a heard a few tsking sounds here and there. Ew!

I overheard a woman (and yes, I was listening), overall rather in coarse in clothing and flat of voice, firing someone. Yes, on a cellphone, and yes, on the subway. The corporate jargon words and phrases I heard included, “I don't think this position is working out for you.... as a manager, I've felt the need to discuss what is going on with you recently.... you are just not a good fit for us right now.” On the subway? Come on! Where is the sense of proportion, boundaries?

I've noticed these three incidents involved boundaries. People are doing actions in public that one normally does in private, either at home in the bedroom or the bathroom, or in an office.

And speaking of boundaries, I must admit, I've never seen any overt sexual activity on the subway, and I really don't remember any particularly passionate public displays of affection. But then, I don't take the CTA that late, when more of these incidents might occur, the results perhaps of intoxication other factors that cause one to break taboos.

And lately, because the majority of the riders are plugged into phones (perhaps the new conventional subway behavior), certain actions tend to stick out more, even a conversation. For example, I overheard a heated conversation between high school boys who looked like conventional nerds with big thick glasses, 90-pound weaklings who would get sand kicked in their faces by jocks, about obscure astronomical data. Something about orbits and velocity. Really advanced math. Well, in a few years, these kids will be making the big bucks and never have to ride the subway again.

Still, in my subway observations and musing, I would rather fantasize about the more conventional hot young business guys in their tight dress pants and gleaming brown derby shoes or the rougher types in athletic gear freeballing.
 

Manspreading guy in athletic gear

People on the subway have come a long way since Ethel refused to ride it in blue jeans when she had to take Lucy, vaguely disguised as a beekeeper, to the silversmith. Lucy had somehow gotten a loving cup/trophy stuck on her head.
 

Lucy on subway with loving cup on her head

But that's so much interesting than staring at a phone screen, eh?

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Grass, Weed, Pot, Or Any Other Name

Close up of bearded man smoking pot

 

The early 1970s. An affluent suburban landscape with plenty of space between spacious homes that today would be characterized as vintage. The high school that serves part of this district is a 1960s building with only two floors, bright brick on the outside, gleaming white tiles in the hallway, and wide windows, quite progressive compared to the multistory, dark brick, and overall prison-like structures that were the norm in previous decades.

Yet across the road a ragged piece of what might originally been a forest preserve served as a hangout to the cliques in that high school called “freaks” or “loads.” (I was never sure about the difference between the two in my marginalized social status.) They wore flannel shirts, faded Levis, and big boots (the girls too). They sported long hair (and I remember so many blonds). They really made a point of being distinct from the Protestant WASP jocks and cheerleaders that pretty much ran the school and who probably ended up in that day’s one percent.

And they smoked in that area, which everyone called The Hole. Now I’m not sure if any other type of activity was going on (given that name), because I was afraid to check it out, but it was common knowledge that smoking was going on, and not just cigarettes. Yes, they smoked what many at that time called grass. Diane, a girl on my French class who identified as a load, confirmed that information. Diane was a load (and I got the feeling she may have dealt the substance in hindsight).

Flash forward to college. I was a virgin in the world of illicit substances, until Denise and Punky and some other girls introduced me to the joys of smoking pot (we called it that name by that time). Denise always seemed to have it, because she got it from some big black guy named T.J. Punky too, because she was a punk gal who knew artsy guys on the North Side of Chicago. Denise and I smoked something called “Sense A Million,” which was supposed to be quite potent. I remember vaguely wandering through tunnels that connected the buildings on the campus and making claims that the overhead lights were beautiful and brilliant.

Fast forward to my young adulthood, gayling in the city both before and after coming out, and once again pot seemed to be central to my social activities. The lady who cut my hair used to deal (I had to call and ask for shampoo), and one year she gave me a leafy pot “bud” for Xmas. Another friend used to get it from some unknown dealer in the artsy neighborhood, and often weekend consisted of our own private “pot parties” at my place. We made pizza from scratch while high during the munchies phase (while the pizza was baking, we ate the standard Doritos and donuts).
 

Bag of Doritos

One time this friend and I went a jack off party completely stoned. On the way to the party, we started putting the words “lava lamp” or “planet of the apes” into various movie titles. Think: Our Lady of Planet of the Apes, On A Clear Day You Can See Planet of the Apes, or my favorite, Hello, Lava Lamp. When I came up with that one, I collapsed onto someone’s grassy front lawn, laughing so hard I could not breathe. Needless to say, my wiener did not function very well at the jack off party, but I did end up that night taking home a hot black guy who dressed like a cowboy (who was also stoned or drunk and as a result, a limp dick).
 

Lava lamp

In my more mature years, financial exigencies have prevented me from enjoying the vicissitudes of this marvelous substance.

Based on the above, I associate pot/weed/grass with a time when social activities didn’t depend on technology. Yet even though one could argue that getting stoned wasn’t exactly the best way to connect, when everyone is stoned … or even just two persons … I found that in some persons a sense of humor arise that were not always present in other situations, even a repressed poet or musician.
 

Happy person smoking pot

Overall, I found the best “pot highs” to be a different release of inhibitions than being drunk; senses were heightened, and sometimes very amazing creative thoughts appeared and disappeared. No violence, no teary confessions, no hangover. Everything is fun, silly, and everything tastes good. Joy. Unabashed, uninhibited joy.

Maybe the cock doesn’t rise up literally when one ingests pot, but the Romantic poet Coleridge’s imaginative “fancy” did from the depths of my cannabis-intoxicated soul. That same poet wrote the famous dream-vision poem Kubla Khan under the influence of opium.
 

1979 Coleridge opium induced vision

Maybe that could be a motivation to finally legalize that marvelous grass, weed, pot, or any other name.
 

Pot leaf
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