Watering Holes

The First Time: Gay and Lesbian Writers Discuss Losing Their Gay Bar V-Cards


Stonewall Inn in 1998. (Robert Giard ©Jonathan G. Silin)

As gay pride month winds down, Slate.com‘s June Thomas takes a close look at that fabled meeting place where the gay rights movement ostensibly began: the gay bar. The first piece, on Monday, focused on the historical importance of the bar as a meeting place, both social and political.

The second piece asks gay and lesbian writers to chronicle their first experiences in gay bars. The resulting stories, from the likes of Alison Bechdel, David Rakoff, Simon Doonan, Dan Savage, and more, are alternately hilarious and heartwarming.

Where was your first gay bar experience? What was it like? Share your thoughts in the comments section with queerty!

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  • TMikel

    That is going back a long way. My first gay bar experience was in Rock Island, IL, in 1969. It was a rather seedy wretched place – many were back then – but it contained gay men. I remember dancing with an older man whose lover got very upset and having to leave in rather a hurry to avoid the bitch fight. My friends and I quickly drove back to Iowa City, laughing about the entire episode. That was my first experience. I met my life partner in a gay bar – The Wreckroom – in Milwaukee in 1984. I have been in many gay bars, many of which no longer exist. I loved the bathhouses too. The ’60s and 70’s and ’80s were great times to be gay. Now I am older, and I hope wiser, and I am still glad that I am gay, out, and alive.

  • Shannon1981

    Thank you for sharing TMikel. My first gay bar was in 1998. I was 17. It was crazy, I was a glittered up club kid, too young to be there, fake ID. Lots of booze an ecstasy. And women. This bar had a room called the red room. That’s where the girls were. I hung out in there alot. Scared and on drugs and excited…that bar, and the experiences had therein, changed my life.

  • nowliveit

    My first ever gay bar was Charlie’s in Denver. I was so far in the closet that I didn’t know where the door knob was.

    BUT here’s one for you. I went to Maui, Hawaii for a month for some training. One evening I got to use the rental car on my own. I secretly had found this gay bar on the island. I went in feeling so uncomfortable and uncertain. I sat at the bar and no one greeted me and no one talked to me. Of course, I was too ‘whatever’ to approach someone. I wanted to feel some freedom so I mustered the courage to go dance by myself on a, maybe, 10 x 15 ft stage. I then went to sit down at the bar to work on my drink. A man came over to me and said quietly in my ear “you shouldn’t be in this bar if you’re straight”.
    Talk about retreating back into my shell. That did it… for awhile

  • mseh

    1977, Club Madame in Washington, DC. After first going there for a birthday party, I spent many nights there, often capped by a late-night breakfast out with some of the performers. It was a lesbian bar with drag shows on the weekends. What an introduction to ‘the scene’ that was! Oh, the good old days…

  • Sebastian

    AHH the memories! It was 1982, I was fifteen and visitng New York City for the first time (i was brought up in Tahiti, south pacific)..I was with my older brother and sister. They were 25 and 21. Went out for a walk and started seeing men on dark places kissing. It was so hot and I had known I was gay since I could walk and talk! Met this 20 year old hustler (remember being fifteen, had no clue what a hustler looked or acted like but looking back at how he handled himself…he was defenitely a hustler) He asked if I had money and yes I did. We went to this bar that I only remember having a black door from a small street. Paradise (ok a seedy paradise but hey men kissing and touching, for a gay boy..that was paradise) Never was I asked for ID, I was tall and skinny but looked much older than my fifteen years). That back room was , well you can picture it, can’t you? We didn’t think of HIV or Aids back then but than again it was the early 80’s. My brother and sister were worried as hell when I got back to the hotel at about 4 in the morning! They knew without question what i had been up to and all they could ask was, “Had a good time l’ill bro?” Hell yeah! and to all you youngster out there…It does get better, hell it gets GREAT!

  • Elloreigh

    First time in a gay bar: I was a sophomore in college, and there was a bar that was rumored to be a gay bar downtown. So I plucked up the courage to check it out, and found it basically empty (hadn’t caught on yet to the fact that people don’t really show up until 11:00 or later). Played a video game with some guy about my age or a little older. Felt really uncomfortable pretty much the whole time I was there though, so after a few games told him I had to get back to the dorm to study and left.

    Second time, I went with my boyfriend-at-the-time to a gay bar in the nearest town that had one. Really small – bar on one side, row of booths on the other. When we walked in, a kid I’d gone to high school with was sitting there, kissin’ on some guy. We spotted each other at about the same time, waved at each other and laughed. One of my best female friends in high school had been head over heels in love with him (they were next door neighbors). There were rumors about him in high school, but she always insisted he was just ‘shy’.

  • Donnie Ray

    My first gay bar experience was at the Habana Inn complex in Oklahoma City in 1999. I was a student at OSU about an hour away and drove there one night during a big basketball game (when I knew none of my frat brothers would notice my absence). I bounced around the bars in the hotel complex, then went to a nearby bar called the Park that had a few male strippers dancing. Overly drunk (this was one of the first nights I got to enjoy my fake ID), one of the dancers (a straight Canadian… supposedly) talked me into purchasing a room for the night so that I could buy a “private dance” from him. After taking a couple hundred dollars out of my Mom’s credit card, I enjoyed this private dance (which really was just an erotic dance over me while I whacked off). Afterwards, I opened the curtains (as I noticed was the custom in the hotel complex) and kind of took in what had just happened. Suddenly, a group of 5 or 6 very young (and, judging from their outfits, slightly inexperienced) trannies walked by the window. We made eye contact and they made it clear that I should invite one of them into the room. The only one I had any interest in was the cute, shy boy/girl in the back who seemed to be playfully hiding from me. I pointed him out, he sheepishly came in and we started to make out (btw, this was also my first night to fuck a guy). During the entire debacle, I just kept thinking he looked just like my pledge brother Zack (name changed to protect the guilty)… just kept thinking “OMG, he looks just like Zack… can’t believe how much he looks like Zack”… Long story short… he said his name was Roy, but it was Zack, who a year later was our fraternity president (I was drunk and he was wearing makeup). A absolutely wonderful night that was followed by two years of awkwardness. Now I live openly in NYC. He’s married, I think with kids, and incredibly involved in the Oklahoma Mega-church culture. Que sera sera

  • Leah C

    Athens, GA in 1994, I think. The one gay club in town was called Boneshakers and of course I was sure I was going to drink cheaply, dance heavily, and ogle cute gay boys like the hag I am. Who knew I’d end up meeting my first girlfriend that night! I was scared out of my mind to dance with her, but it was a good scary feeling. I was drunk, she was adorable (and I was later to learn she was VERY experienced at turning out “straight” girls) and it was probably one of the best nights of my life. I moved to California after college, but went home recently and found out the club is now closed. It’s sad, because it was the only really gay space in that college football town, but it’s kind of cool, because now a lot of gay, bi, and trans kids there don’t feel marginalized. They go to all the clubs, and there’s no gay ghetto anymore. Le sigh…

  • dvlaries

    The Lamplighter, at the ground level of Northgate Apartments, Camden, N.J. It was a dive, a hole in the wall, but warm and wonderful when I was 19. (Drinking age was still lowered in 1973, thanks to Nixon, of all people). The jukebox was loaded with every black diva of the time, and they were all heroes to us: Love Unlimited, First Choice, Three Degrees, Aretha, Diana, Gloria Gaynor, Betty Wright, Lyn Roman, Mavis Staples, Shirley Bassey, Barbara Acklin, Jackson Sisters, Lyn Collins … they were all there.

    Sometimes romance started, sometimes not, and after closing a large group of us would head out to the diners on Rt. 73 or Rt. 38 for ‘breakfast’ at 2:30a.m., and carry on uproariously. God, how did I juggle that and a worklife on so little sleep?

    Sweet youth, sweet memories.

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