by: Patrick Gill
I love a good drink. Oh sweet Holy Something, I love a well timed well made well deserved drink, even if it’s from the cheapest bottles in the bar’s well. But, this does not mean I am not aware of a danger that has developed for as long as we have been a congregating as a modern Queer culture.
The danger that Queer Culture is tightly wrapped in Bar Culture. Although it is becoming more okay for us to come out and come into the light of visibility, we are still conditioned to believe we are more suited to do so on one side of town, on one kind of street, in only a few kind of institutions that have low lights and loud sounds; worse yet, we come out only under the haze of a drink or five.
To entrench an identity in the ability to enter and pay for drinks at a bar is both age-ist and classist; it can also be sexist, cissexist, abelist, and racist. You limit your community when you make its focal point a bar, for all the aforementioned reasons above, and that this might not exactly where a sober queer person wants to be. But again, when you have been told that you can measure the strength of your sense of “community” by your proximity to a gay bar, when you have only heard and seen that a bar is where you are supposed to go to be yourself, when you have been constantly told that where you meet your partner will most likely be a bar, it is hard to break the habit and to ask where else can we get to know each other.
I do not want to say there are not great gay bars, around every city, around the world. Bars that are inclusive and fun and full of friendly people and the best drinks you can imagine, and, of course, you don’t to be completely wrecked to have a good time. I don’t want to say having a thriving gay nightlife in a city is a bad thing. Without that, it’s sad to say, but I would be shut up in my house all day and night on somedays. Still, I worry at times when the focus of our social interaction is rooted in a state of intoxication.
I, for a spell, didn’t trust people that wouldn’t have a drink with me, which is an ironic statement for someone who long ago used to be “straight edge.” It showed what I thought was an incapability to let loose, that the person couldn’t be vulnerable or take a chance on the wild within- one that may rise when the drink goes down; this is shallow, petty and ignorant. I still trust the most the friends that I have been through firewater and ice cubes with, but to discount the friendships I’ve made clear-headed is a nasty and a disservice habit I dropped.
Never had this more trusting point of view become more apparent as when I recently “dated”  a man who was sober. We met at a comedy club. I understand this is still in essence a place that can limit access, but at least it was beyond our allotted strip of city. Yes, I had had the two drink minimum – but they were watered down so much that they wouldn’t even make a baby hiccup. Our first date was a dinner at a place I felt like people tossed their heads laughing while eating salad, which means it was quite nice. I did have my standard Scotch and Soda – you can’t really blame a man for trying to match the perceived fanciness of the room — but I also had a hefty plate of pasta as my meal.
Also, I also happen to be one of those people who eats a little pre-meal before a first date, in order to calm my stomach and to not impolitely and unattractively demolish plates of food. I eat fast. I don’t really like people to know how fast I am on the first date.
Subsequent dates were more casual dinners, lengthy conversations about his career and my work. We went to movies in and out of the house; I and my wallet were glad we didn’t venture into more expensive eateries and instead enjoyed each others company wherever and whenever we could . We snuggled and made out to the Carpenters, Danzig, half of the Captain America movie, and the show “Ghosthunters.” All of this with the absence of drink. I mean, I drank when I wasn’t with him, but I just never wanted to drink with him. He even asked, at least twice, if I wanted to pick up a pint of whiskey on the way back to his place after dinner. I declined and drank Orange Crush with him instead. He said he wasn’t really a drinker. I wanted to know what that was and how it felt.
I didn’t even drink during our “break up” dinner, where I could have gone for broke and ordered a few cocktails, in an effort to channel some Elaine Strich style courage/comfort. I drank down a tall glass of water while I said good-bye to the tall glass of water in front of me. Handsome as he was, we just weren’t clicking well. It was nice, what we had. We were fond of one another, but something just wasn’t setting the way it should. We both agreed on this. It was surprisingly just fine.
As I started to walk to the train I said one last thing, which is what I hope is not the last thing. We said friendship could still be in our futures. With the precursor of someone who might actually have a problem, I said, “I know this makes me sound like I have a problem, but I want to thank you. For liking me when I am sober.”
His reaction was understandable – an eyebrow flung into a wave, a breathed through the nose heavy almost chuckle. I tried my best to tell him how I thought Queer culture was just so tightly wrapped in Bar culture, how it seems like if you want to meet and enjoy someone, you have to have at least had a drink or five.
I walked away from that relationship with a feeling of knowing: knowing that I could be romantic and thought of in a romantic way, and not just on one side of town, or on one street, or in a few kinds of institutions with low lights and loud sounds; I left knowing I could be charming and interesting and sexy and find someone and be enjoyed by them in a queer sort of way. I can be all this, when I am sober. I can be perfectly fine, I can find my bearings and find out what I want. I left knowing a bit more of my romantic worth. At some point, we all need to need to know more of that.
Patrick Gill is the Co-Creator of In Our Words, as well as the Co-Founder and Host of the queer reading series All The Writers I Know. He is a poet, essayist and short story writer and is working on two novels. He also frequently performs at open mics in Chicago, including the Paper Machete. He is an alumnus of DePaul, and currently is developing LGBTQ-centered anti-bullying curricula for CPS schools. He is a semi-professional word-hustler and a burrito hunter. His mother thinks everything he is doing is a fun thing to do.