David's Chicago Sexual Underground 8/10/22 & P(r)ick of the Week

LGBTQ Chicago history - BijouBlog
David's Chicago Sexual Underground header

Greetings P(r)icksters!

Long time, I know. Haven’t fallen off the planet (yet), just an incredibly crazy spring and summer. Things have somewhat settled down, but I have branched out into a new focus.

Life got overwhelming in the spring. After two years of covid interruptions, we at Touché had planned to host our Mr. Chicago Leather contest in January. That was until omicron came along at the beginning of the year. So we postponed the contest to April.

In the intervening time, I had staffing issues, trying to bring on new staff while others came down with covid and/or had time off for vacations, etc. I spent several nights behind the bar and, a couple of times, just limited hours of operation based on who was available to work.

We hosted a huge, huge MCL contest weekend. While we did not sell out the contest, the bar was packed all weekend and I literally just stood by the bar and watched my crew frantically serve the crowd. It was almost like watching the numbers turn at Mc Donald’s (remember when they used to post number of burgers served?).

All this made me behind schedule in planning parties for Memorial Day weekend when Chicago hosts International Mr. Leather. We figured we would see a pent-up increase in folks wanting to get out after this event was put on hold for two years, too. It was just that!

I was just as frantic trying to line up events, porn stars, dancers and everything else that goes into a six-night run of parties. Not kidding, it was just on Friday the week before everything would kick off on the following Wednesday when I nailed down the last details.

Then we jumped right into Pride planning, including lining up our local clubs to host our leather & kink contingent in the parade. On the heels of the Pride parade, I was also putting together my family reunion back in Ohio over the 4th of July weekend.

Coming back after that is where I took on my new focus, namely monkeypox. After IML & Pride, cases began to take off here in Chicago and it was a scramble to get ahead of it.

I first reached out to Chicago’s Department of Public Health but could only get a “leave a message” response. I could not speak to an actual live person.

Then I reached out to Howard Brown Health Center, they have a clinic just a half block from Touché.

A little history here, Howard Brown was here back in the 1970’s when I first arrived in Chicago. Back then, their focus was on STDs. It was basically a doctor and a nurse in the basement of a church. You had a drippy dick, they’d swab it and give you a shot of penicillin. Gay sex was taboo, most guys didn’t want to go to a doctor who would want to know how you got gonorrhea in your ass. Howard Brown was gay providers taking care of our community discreetly. It was drop in, no appointments, no fees, simple. You needed care and they did it.

Then came HIV/AIDS in the early 80’s. Howard Brown ramped up their efforts to care for gay men in the early days of this disease as some mainstream healthcare was paranoid of this new and deadly unknown illness. In the early days, Howard Brown would line up a medical van to pull up in front of a bar to offer free STD tests and eventually HIV testing in the 80’s. Howard Brown went from a small group of volunteers to a full fledged health clinic. Still lots of volunteers but a growing staff of doctors, nurses and more.

Howard Brown secured federal grants to treat and develop research into HIV/AIDS and continues to play a pivotal role. As they succeeded in treating people with AIDS, they took a more traditional role of healthcare, primary care, women’s healthcare as agencies like the Lesbian Cancer Project were brought under its organization. Howard brown expanded from one clinic in the gay neighborhood to several spread across Chicago. Also, HB would develop connections with other healthcare businesses; you can find a Walgreen’s pharmacy in their clinics.

I thought after our early days of working with Howard Brown on STDs and then HIV/AIDS, they would be jumping on this latest health crisis centered on our community. My first call to the clinic by the bar should have been a indication. This poor kid answering the phone had no knowledge of Howard Brown’s history or mission. He just answers the phone at this health clinic.

Eventually I got a name and email address (not a phone number) and began trying to get something set up to help keep our customers and community safe. Several back and forth emails over a week led to an actual conversation on setting up vaccine events at Touché.

In the meantime, I was contacted by Project WISH at the University of Illinois Chicago about hosting vax events. In a couple of days, we set a day and time for our first Vax Party. Before this, the local bathhouse Steamworks had begun hosting vax events there in late June. This Project WISH would offer vax shots at the baths, usually 100 shots at a time and there was at least twice that number showing up.

Other than Steamworks and now us, folks were scrambling to find vax shots at their doctors’ offices, some city health clinics and hospitals to get vaccinated. Even Howard Brown was offering vaccines on an appointment basis, but they stipulated in the first few weeks that you had to be displaying symptoms to get a shot. As you might expect, it has been just nuts to get ahead of monkeypox. Guess we learned nothing from covid.

Anyway, Project WISH has hosted two vax nights already at the bar, with more to come every week. They run it pretty simple. Folks need to fill out a two-sided form, then line up for a shot. No restrictions on whether you live in Chicago, Illinois, whatever. Our first night was crazy; we planned to start at 9pm but when we opened at 5 that night, the bar filled quickly. (I had to scramble to get staff behind the bar and open the second room.) We learned right away to be ready.

Our second vax party was last Wednesday, and we began prepping right at 5 pm. Had to, as when I arrived at 1:30 that afternoon, there was a line outside. To make it run smooth, I stood outside when we opened and handed each person a numbered ticket and the form they needed to fill out. I was told we would get 140 vax shots that night and I handed out tickets to the first 140 in line.

Once folks got inside, they could mingle around and wait until their number was called. We tried our best to make it a party with music and drinks. Even the medical team administering the shots enjoyed the night. It took them about 90 minutes to jab all 140 doses into arms. They’ll be back today, Wednesday the 11th, with hopefully 200 doses, and back again this Thursday the 11th.

Knowing monkeypox spreads by close extended physical contact, we’ve encouraged guys to slow down at the bar. We stopped showing porn on our screens and backed off some promotions that may entice guys to get touchy feely. It has hit us in the pocketbook, but we survived AIDS and now covid. We’ll keep working to get folks vaccinated and put this pox crap down. It may take a bit more time than we hope, but we can do it. Besides, we still have covid to contend with as well. Guess you can call me Dr. David now.

I’ll be back soon, as our Pride was fun and I have stuff from that to share. First, I’m going to get another round of vax parties lined up and set a couple of days aside to go rider some roller coasters.

Take care, get your vaccines for covid and monkeypox. If you have to quarantine or just hold back till we get the pox vax out, you can still grab my P(r)ick and enjoy yourself. Here’s a couple of fun choices for you to consider.

David

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The Legacy of Forest View Lounge

posted by Madame Bubby

Last week I wrote a blog on The Jeffery Pub, the oldest LGBTQ bar in Chicago, notable not just for its longevity, but because it is owned and operated by African Americans in a neighborhood far removed from the trendy white gayborhoods to the North.

In the course of my research, I discovered another piece of Chicago LGBTQ history. This place was (alas, I have to use the past tense here) located not far from where I grew up and went to college, and, in fact, my brother currently resides not far from it.

The Forest View Lounge was a lesbian bar located in the near southwestern suburb of Forest View, a sliver of a village between Stickney, Lyons, and Berwyn. These suburbs were originally bastions of white European ethnic communities (primarily Czech) that worked blue-collar jobs.
 

Forest View Lounge exterior
Forest View Lounge
Source: https://chicago.gaycities.com/bars/1389-forest-view-lounge

Thus, I was really surprised when I found out about the place, which according to previous reviews on Yelp, was truly a gem of community spirit, not just a bar that apparently served awesome comfort food (especially a legendary volcano burger, stuffed with cheese and very spicy) but a friendly, welcoming place in an area not known in the past for welcoming minorities of any kind.

The bar's owners, Donalou Hendon and Marge Bellisario, were products of that area, making the best of its resources and community. Donalou was also born in Berwyn and grew up in a far Western suburb, while Marge spend most of her life in Berwyn, attending the local community college, Morton College. Donalou also went to Morton College to take courses to obtain her restaurant and sanitation license.
 

Marge Bellisario
Marge Bellisario
Source: http://voyagechicago.com/interview/meet-marge-bellisario-forest-view-lounge-fondly-known-view-forest-view-suburb-chicago/

Interestingly, Forest View Lounge survived a massive flood in the area in 2013. Marge was amazed the place was pretty much untouched, a veritable island in a temporary sea, which in some ways is a metaphor of for LGBTQ-safe spaces.

Now the bar is closed. Donalou died in 2015, and Marge, after a long battle, died of ovarian cancer in January of 2019.

According to Marge's obituary, "Thank you, Marge for accepting and welcoming me every time I came to your bar, even when I felt that I was not welcomed from others," said patron and acquaintance Kim Overby. "You and Donna always did your best to make customers feel like family or good friends. I will miss your laugh and the warmth of your acceptance. Be at peace now and hold your love once again. You are missed by many and we will all hold you and Donna in our hearts and memories."

I find it admirable that both women apparently didn't feel the need to “escape,” like I did. They weren't after corporate or academic glory in the “big city”; they were able to live authentically in their own backyard as life-partners, business partners, and friends to all humans and animals.

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The Jeffery Pub, LGBTQ History Still Being Made

posted by Madame Bubby

I did some family history, and I found out my great-grandmother lived in the Englewood area on the South Side of Chicago in 1940. The place where she lived is now a vacant lot. It’s now a high-crime, low-income area that desperately needs reinvestment and TLC (not synonyms for gentrification).

I, her great-grandson, live way north of Englewood in an area that is now mostly white, gentrified, affluent, and gay. And I might add, stereotypically gay, exemplifying that the public, out and powerful presence of the LGBTQ community is still the gay white male.

But there’s a place called The Jeffery Pub, located at 7041 S. Jeffery Avenue, in the South Shore neighborhood, which after five decades is still thriving, not just surviving, and it’s in a predominantly African American neighborhood. In fact, it is now the oldest LGBTQ bar in Chicago.
 

The Jeffery Pub
The Jeffery Pub
Source: https://www.domu.com/chicago/neighborhoods/south-shore/history-in-south-shore

It was, and still is, based on this article and this article, the gender-diverse, welcoming “gayborhood” for that area, not dissimilar in its social mission to the local taverns of traditional blue collar neighborhoods in Chicago.

And just think: the place was founded before Stonewall, which also reminds one that the Stonewall revolution was sparked by marginalized persons, persons even marginalized by the gay world at that time: transgender persons, persons of color.
 

The Jeffery Pub interior
The Jeffery Pub interior
Photo credit: Max Herman, from Chicago Magazine article

And this place has always been owned by African Americans. I think that is truly significant, as well as the establishment’s resilience in the wake of so many social changes, for better or worse. It’s remained vital in proximity to areas that have experienced a long-term cycle of economic hardship.

It’s really disheartening, though, that if I were to ask typical persons around North Side gayborhood to check the place out, the reactions might range from a rolled eye to even a grimace. Physical segregation (and Chicago is definitely segregated racially) is the result of longstanding attitudes. So often, those who claim to be inclusive reject said inclusivity at the most basic level: physical space.

There’s lots of LGBTQ Chicago, lots of LGBTQ community, outside of the gentrified North Side of Chicago. Neighborhoods change and adapt, but it’s the people who make (or break) them.

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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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LGBTQ HISTORY IN 1978: THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES

1978 was a seminal year in LGBTQ history, mostly because it was the year Harvey Milk was elected in San Francisco to the Board of Supervisors, one of the first openly gay political candidates in United States history. He was elected on January 8, but he was assassinated 10 months later by Dan White, on November 27.
 

Harvey Milk being sworn into office

An article in Gay Life, a Chicago gay periodical of that period, reacts:

"Gay people all over the United States reacted with shock, dismay and outrage to the murders Monday of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Before their deaths both men have proven themselves to be strong advocates of equal rights for gay men and lesbians. Milk, the first open homosexual elected to citywide office in San Francisco, was widely regarded as one of the most visible and influential leaders in the American gay community. Moscone during his term as mayor had been an active supporter of gay rights ..."

Some other news in this volatile year, showing both progress and regression, with a focus on Chicago:

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected an application by Gaysweek magazine to register its name, claiming that it is “immoral.”

The Chicago Gay Pride Parade, according to a statistics compiled by its now iconic mover and shaker, Rich Pfeiffer, boasted an attendance of 10,000. The increase in numbers built on the previous year's increase, mostly because of the anti-Anita Bryant protests that took place at Medinah Temple.
 

Te'Jay's Adult Books sign


Gay porn movies (and probably playing at the Bijou Theater) released that year included El Paso Wrecking Corp. (the famous Joe Gage movie) with Fred Halsted and Richard Locke and Hot Truckin' featuring Nick Rodgers and the muscle god Gordon Grant. Also released were A Night at the Adonis with Jack Wrangler and Malo show us the inside of the gay sex palaces of that time period, and Dune Buddies (also starring Malo). Jack Deveau of Hand in Hand Films was producing some of his best work this year!
 

Dune Buddies poster

We are always researching LGBTQ history and culture. Check out the blogs on our website, and we always welcome your comments and feedback!

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