A recent trip to Washington D.C. and New York City revealed
some interesting aspects to gay life: gay life has diminished. Gay life simply
isn’t what it used to be and that may not be a bad thing…or is it? Today’s march on Washington will make a
little dent in the politics of gay equality or as Rep. Barney Frank said “The
only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass.” It does give outlet for some people who
are emotionally tied up in the politics, but to what degree it influences—we
will have to wait and see.
My own belief is that culture and politics are mostly
changed by art. Movies and television in particular have an enormous influence
on young people. To that degree we have certainly been engaged in mainstream
culture, though one wishes the stereotypes would someday end (Chris Colfer’s
Kurt in Glee is a lovable but extremely stereotypical character). Movies and
television reach millions and send out messages about the degree to which our
American culture is willing to invite and accept being different. So while
Kevin Walker’s relationship (in Brothers and Sisters) with the slightly
annoying Scotty Wandell is a great step forward, their physical relationship
has always seemed awkward and without flame.
But back to the tale of two cities.
On a tour to Arlington cemetery we met an older gentleman by
the name of Bobby. He was 69 years
old, wore a toupee and the blackest eyeliner against his pale pink skin. He was
alone. He sat down next to us and began a conversation. He seemed to know a lot
about Arlington and invited us to watch the changing of the guard with him and
he knew the exact place to stand for the best view. The changing of the guard
is almost a tribute to Michael Jackson for surely they are doing the moonwalk
with Bob Fosse like movements. It’s extremely serious and the young men in a tight
face-off check each out each other, fixing their ties and fondling their guns.
Bobby took us backstage so to speak afterwards and told us that they always
have two men of equal height as to not create a distraction. That Bobby knew so
much and was alone there in the great cemetery made one wonder: did he have a
lover who was in the service or was he simply in love with the rugged good
looks of the young men in the changing of the guard?
Back in DC at DuPont Circle was there another kind of
changing of the guard. Using the iphone application Gay Cities we located a gay
bar in an alley where four muscular boys in underwear were standing atop the
bar, gently moving their hips and lowering their crotches into the faces of the
people sitting at the bar. On a television screen located above the entrance,
porn was looping, a soundless reminder of sex. The music was loud of course, so
conversation was reduced to nods and occasional wonderment as a young dancer
lowered his underwear to descry a perfect orb of muscular flesh. Not exactly
New York City, just like I imagined it…tall buildings and
everything. I used to live in New York City. It was the 80s and the decade
began with Ronnie Reagan as president and the occasional report of a “gay
cancer” showing up in gay men. This was a different NYC. There were the piers,
still being haunted by men in shadows and Central Park was notorious for a lot
of public sex.
Flash forward to 2009 and the village is essentially a
straight haven of expensive cafes and endless gyms. The Greenwich Theatre, a
landmark movie house on Greenwich Avenue is now an Eclipse Gym and Spa. Times
Square, once home to The Gaiety, a midtown strip bar is gone. Closed in 2005,
it opened in 1976 and for thirty years provided a fun outlet for the voyeur in
all of us. Times Square now resembles a Main Street theme park only massively
It is of little help for pine for the past. Change is
inevitable and written into the DNA of life itself. As one grows older there is
an expectation of elegance, a kind of Noel Cowardish desire to be surrounded by
beauty, flowers and quaint music. Using that little iphone application once
again, after a chic little dinner in the lower east side, we decided to visit
at least one gay bar. The closest bar was something called The Cock. We were
given free drink tickets and entered into a dark room with about four people.
Signs everywhere screamed: sexual activity is not allowed. A DJ played music fit
for a party of 40, a loud thumping mixture of grating sounds that allowed no
interaction with the four other people, even if we wanted to. Fleeing into the
balmy New York night one remembered Uncle Charlie’s on Greenwich, but that too
As someone who used to write travel articles for gay
publications it should be noted that at some point and I think it was San Diego
I gave up. SD had some great straight bars, chic, elegant, perfectly modern and
sleek, and while we hunted for the legendary Hillcrest, all we found was a few
bars that felt like the 80s, wooden, old and not particularly attractive.
This was true of Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City. Along the
seashore in PV, there were magnificent bars with 50 foot Buddha’s and
shimmering curtains. Maybe our gay radar is broken, but we went to Blue Chairs
Hotel rooftop, and indeed it was it offseason, but it was tired.
In Mexico City, there was an enormous amount of public
handholding by young gay people. But the bars, all packed into one street
resembled fish aquariums with steamed windows and people literally being pushed
to the edge of the windows.
Maybe these places are for the young with better tolerance
for sound and surrounding. Visiting gay bars is a kind of nostalgia regardless.
Most people interested in sex are at home retouching their photos and sending
endless emails to strangers.