by Brandon Tietz
I am a 32-year-old heterosexual male touring a gay bar called Missie B’s on 39th Street. Within the first five minutes, I’m down more than $20 between cover and a Maker’s Mark on the rocks. On the legions of flat screen TVs is a live feed of a man dressed in women’s clothing and masked in heavy-handed makeup. He’s wearing a form-fitting dress and black heels, a platinum blonde wig with Texas beauty pageant curls. The drag queen is lip-syncing to the track playing over the PA to the whoops and wolf-whistles of the crowd. Women and men, they beckon for the performer to come their way so they can insert Washingtons and Lincolns into his false bust. He mock-sings and circulates the stage and crowd, picking up tips and allowing audience members to motorboat whatever he’s passing off tonight as tits. The song concludes to a wave of cheers, and tonight’s host assumes the stage, hyping up the crowd for the next performer with sassy banter and over-the-top coaxing.
I keep moving and go upstairs through the back stairwell. It’s a smokers haven. There’s so much secondhand in the air you could chew it. After passing through saloon-style doors, I’m in a more traditional club setting that consists of a dance floor and bars. Near the DJ booth are metal boxes in which male go-go dancers stand upon, thrusting and teasing their packages. The audience eats this up, but even if they wanted to cross over and flirt they couldn’t because of the red velvet rope sanctioning off the talent. These guys are ripped to shreds and hypersexualized in banana hammock thongs that threaten to spill their junk with every hip gyration. Meanwhile, guys mill about at a respectable distance, sipping their drinks while they quietly ogle them. I know this look. I’ve given it, too. The “I’m looking at you but pretending I’m not looking at you” look. It’s painted on half their faces – both the girls and guys mingling about upstairs. I keep walking around to the tune of a Britney Spears remix, and it’s quite possibly the most diverse club setting I’ve ever been in.
I see old, young and middle-aged. I see black, white, Asian and Latin. Both lesbian and non-lesbian women are in attendance. There are about 31 flavors of gay men: bears, twinks and harness-wearing leather daddies. There’s a young gay in fishnet underwear. There’s another gay playing it super conservative in a polo and khakis. I see punk gay. Calvin Klein pretty boy gay. Biker gay. Drag queens over six feet tall. And I see them all intermixing, not being cliquey or standoffish. It’s a far cry from what I’m used to, where certain groups stake their claim at a club and hang with their own. I also notice there’s no table or bottle service. There’s no “overpay to be a VIP” angle. There’s a couple shirtless shot boys roaming around, but other than that, everyone gets their own drinks and there are no designated spots. In short: everyone gets along, and nobody is better than anybody else.
Back outside on the smoker’s patio I’m tested. I’m smoking, checking Facebook on my phone, and an older gentleman (old enough to be my dad) asks if he can bum one off me. I give him one and then he asks for a light. When I’m sure it’s sufficiently lit, I put the lighter back in my pocket and go back to looking at my phone again. The man says, “Thanks.” I say, “No problem.” He takes a drag and says, “You’re cute,” and at this point, my blood ices over because I knew something like this was in the realm of possibility, but I wasn’t counting on it. I’m a guest here. I don’t want to be rude, but on that same note, I don’t want this guy to waste his time trying to flirt with me. So I do this very awkward nodding and smiling thing, angling my body away slightly, and he gets the hint that it’s not going to go anywhere with me.
I slink back downstairs where a Dolly Parton tribute is lip-syncing to the pre-recorded track on the main stage. He, too, is wearing a huge blonde wig with a healthy amount of rouge coating his cheeks. Although the drag show appears to be tonight’s main attraction, the entertainment value it holds is completely lost on me. Perhaps if I were a fan of this particular genre of music (or drag queens) it would be different. After the length of a vodka tonic, it hits me that I’m the exact opposite of the intended audience. Once again, I head upstairs where the music is a little more in line with my palette. There’s a show happening up here now, too. The go-go dancers, now off their boxes and beyond the velvet rope, are lap-dancing a guy at the forefront of the dance floor. A large semicircle of onlookers cheers this on, clapping and whistling as the birthday boy is polished by two dude’s packages. I watch this play out, looking briefly to my left where older gentlemen are camped out, no longer staring covertly now that the show has passed a certain threshold. The situation, the mood, has become more unbridled than it was not even an hour ago. Whatever restraint was previously being exercised has relinquished. This becomes physically relevant when I distinctly feel my ass – not grabbed – but fondled in a non-accidental way by a guy behind me.
This, I quickly learn, is going to keep happening, keep escalating if I continue to hang out at this place. I can’t start shit. I can’t take offense or make a scene, because this isn’t my joint, and I knew the risks going into this. For a gay man, this is a hypersexualized place of joy and freedom. Guys flirt and they flirt hard. This is the place where they don’t have to tone down or hide their real selves. Even as an outsider, I know that much is completely relevant. As a straight man though, I’m infringing upon something. I’m upsetting the balance. Even if I’m not sending out any signals, by simply being in the building, I’m sending out a signal. So I remove myself from the situation, glad that I went and briefly immersed myself in the culture, but aware of the fact that I just crashed a party that doesn’t belong to me. Although my imposition was minor, it was an imposition nonetheless. For a straight guy, unless you’re sidled by a female companion – like it or not – you’re going to be viewed as fair game.
Brandon Tietz is the author of the novels “Out Of Touch” and “Good Sex, Great Prayers.” His short stories have appeared in “Warmed And Bound” (Velvet Press), “Amsterdamned If You Do” (CCLaP), “Spark” (Vol. II), and the Chuck Palahniuk anthology “Burnt Tongues” (Medallion Press). Visit him at www.brandontietz.com