My first visit to a gay bar was to the now-defunct Gold 9 in Studio City, CA, and it was as awash in closeted homophobia as you can get. You see, this took place a full ten years before I came out. To this day, I worry I was a jerk.
Several of us from my film program at the University of Michigan had moved out to LA late in 1990 to pursue our dreams. We all settled within a few miles of each other in the Valley or in Hollywood proper. To make LA seem a little more like home, one Saturday afternoon we set out to “interview” bars, to see which ones offered the proper mix of drink prices and amenities like pool and darts.
It was going along all very heteronormatively as the six of us walked into Gold 9 on that slow Saturday afternoon. It seemed like a nice dive, nothing out of the ordinary. Two gentlemen were shooting pool so my friend Mark wrote his name on the chalkboard. Beers were obtained. We chatted among ourselves, completely unaware of our surrounding; it wasn’t as though the Gold 9 was awash in rainbow splendor.
The two gentlemen finished with their game and proposed doubles. Mark and another friend Jim agreed. Then Jim decided to sweeten the pot: “What are we playing for?”
One of the gentlemen, in ripped jeans, replied, “How about the loser congratulates the winner?”
Play commenced. I looked for a bathroom. As I had been drinking that afternoon, I just went opening doors in the rear of the bar without really reading what was on them. The first one I opened contained a toilet, but was also filled nearly to the ceiling with cases of Budweiser. Not wanting to pee on the beer, I shut the door and read what was written on it: WOMEN. Curious.
I found the proper bathroom. Halfway through my business it hit me. What kind of bar would use the women’s restroom as dry storage? THAT kind of bar, that’s what!
I stepped out of the bathroom into a completely different bar. There were no posters of bikini-clad beer models, but a lot of Mardi Gras beads. A small rainbow flag hung behind the bar. The few patrons had suddenly turned into homosexuals.
I wanted to cry. I knew deep down this was where I belonged, but I couldn’t say anything because that closet door was still ten years away. I slumped in a chair next to the jukebox. At least it would be interesting to see how my friends would lose their shit.
They didn’t disappoint. The gentleman in the ripped jeans let slip that the Gold 9 was gay. My friends did everything short of shout “Run away! Run away!” as they scrambled for the door without finishing their beers. Because I’m weak, I joined them.
In the car, we all laughed. The phrase “loser congratulates the winner” was repeated until it became the most salacious thing one man could say to another. More laughter.
I’m including this in #MyFirstGayBar because not everyone’s first time in one was for the right reason. My friends and I treated that space with an incredible lack of respect that day. I just treated it as a joke. For that, I am sorry. I am still ashamed. The closet is a rude, confusing place.
I’d give anything to go back in time and correct my frightened behavior. The gay space is not a joke.