By: Caitlin Bergh
I’m nervous. Everything about my outfit feels wrong. This is my first time going to a gay bar, and I made the horrific discovery ten minutes ago while I was getting dressed that I don’t own any “gay-looking” shoes. I don’t know what “gay-looking” shoes would look like, I just know that I don’t own any. But I can’t cancel; I’ve been planning this for too long. I finally convinced my friends to go with me, because it would be too terrible to go to something like this alone. It’s so stressful. My hair feels ridiculous. My body feels like a disappointment. My clothes make me want to die. I have never had less confidence than I have at this moment. I wish there was a Tegan&Sara Outfitters open this late. Or that such a thing even existed in the first place. I wish I were a different person. A person who could go to a gay bar and be a lesbian and go home with a girl. I wish I could be a person who lives the life I want to live.
I’ve been coming out to doctors, therapists, parents, friends and family for about a year now, and before that I battled the gayness within myself for two years. This is my first time actually doing it; my first time “being gay.” It’s my first time going out, in my body, and pursuing other people of the same sex. Deep down, in my gut, I still feel, as I always have, that pursuing someone of the same sex is wrong. That it is disgusting and evil. But deeper down, in my gut, I know without a doubt that I am gay. I am only attracted to women. What else am I supposed to do?
So far, my experience of being gay has had nothing to do with sex, dating, or fun. It has had everything to do with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, multiple therapy sessions and hospital visits every week. It has had everything to do with having eating disorders, meltdowns alone in my room or publically through social networking sites. It has had everything to do with intricate and elaborate suicide fantasies that were, in fact, totally lame. I dreamt of killing myself by locking myself in a cabinet at the library, for example. Jumping in the river and just refusing to swim.
But some of my ideas about suicide were scary. I used to lay awake almost every night in my 12th floor dorm room on my bed, which was right beside the window, and think about what it would look like, what it would feel like to just let my disgusting body roll out of that fucking window. Just to feel myself fall, twelve stories; it would be the first time since childhood that I would feel free. Then it would all be over. No more worrying. No more hating myself. I thought about it every night. I don’t know what kept me from doing it. I think it was the fire alarm on my wall.
When I had been a freshman in college, I had missed a fire drill because I’d slept through the noise. When I told my parents about it, thinking it was funny, they responded by driving into New York City the next day with a special gift for me. A fire alarm for my room. That way, if I didn’t hear the building-wide fire alarm, I would hear the special fire alarm next to my bed. Like always, I was probably a terrible jerk to them when they gave it to me. Maybe I rolled my eyes and made fun of them for it. But I hung it on my wall, and I think it secretly meant a lot to me. It was silly, but it meant something. It meant that someone wanted me to be alive.
I meet up with my friends at the subway station at 116th and Broadway in my stupid, straight shoes. The air is muggy but not the kind of hot muggy that makes my hair curl; it’s the kind of cold muggy that makes my hair frizz. Of course, the weather would conspire against me at a life-changing moment like this. They all look perfect, my friends. Some of them are gay, some of them are straight, and they all are dressed accordingly. You can tell who is what. No one can tell anything about me except that I’m super uncomfortable with myself. Sounds like a promising introduction to my first night of trying to meet people I am romantically interested in, doesn’t it?
We get out of the subway. THIS IS IT! I’ve been waiting for this. I feel sick. I want my life to just end. Panic and disgust that I am doing this wash over me, but also excitement! This is what I want to do. Why is this so hard for me if this is who I am? Well, Caitlin, maybe you’re not. I play the old taunting game with myself. The game where I question my own “true gayness” and tell myself I’ve just been doing all of this for attention. Shut up, I tell myself. You know you’re a fucking lesbian, you fucking sicko. Don’t pretend that you’re fucking not.
I’m 21 years old, but as we approach the bar in my stupid shoes, I might as well be 14. Is there any feeling in the world more vulnerable than this? Not only am I worried about how these people—these LESBIANS—will perceive me (incorrect shoes, no confidence), I’m also wondering if they will even believe me. What if no one believes that I’m gay? (Maybe if they don’t believe you, then you’re not, Caitlin. Shut up already!). What if they tell me I’ve done all of this for attention? Send me home in my dumb shoes? Ban me forever?
“I think I wore the wrong shoes,” I say to my gay friend as we are approaching the bar. She looks at me. “I mean, they don’t look gay,” I say, desperate. “Caitlin,” she says, “most people at this bar are here for a reason. They will assume you are, too.” That’s a relief, but also awful. Sure, I want them to think I am gay. But at the same time, I can’t believe they are going to think that about me. It’s disgusting.
“And besides,” she adds, “it’s going to be too dark to see your feet.” Well that was good news. I prayed that it would be too dark to see anything. Could it be a gay bar for people who are too ashamed to open their eyes and see what they are doing? Where bodies just get thrown together in the dark to live out their craziest fantasies and no one knows who they were with? That would be my ideal first lesbian date (six months later, when I would naively date on Craigslist W4W, I did have that exact lesbian date).
We go into the bar and my desire to die only builds throughout the evening. It is not good. It is crowded with Tegan and Sara. They all look great, these lesbians. I just can’t stand myself. I go into a corner. I will not dance. I don’t know how to gay dance. I’m not going to give myself away. Everyone is drinking beer. I want gin, but I order beer. Again, not going to unveil that I drink straight drinks. My friends who are really straight and wearing shiny tops and heels start to get hit on by Tegan and Sara types. Oh that’s just fucking great, I think. Yeah, totally. I get it. They are fun because they are different. I am invisible because I’m neither the same nor different. I’m not Tegan and Sara. I’m not Barbie. I’m just an uncomfortable person whose self-loathing is palpable. Sure, of course, they are the ones who get hit on. But I want you to know, they didn’t do any of the hours of soul-searching that I did to be at this bar! They are just people at a gay bar. I am a GIRL AT A GAY BAR, okay!? It’s fucking just my luck.
I decide that I can’t let my straight friends beat me at my own game. I pull myself together and start dancing near a girl, then eventually with her. She’s a Tegan. Cute. Nice hair cut. Sassy, with bangs to the side. Wearing all black. I like that. Deep. Emotive. She smells good, I like that, too. Yeah, I mean, I think I could really fall for this chick. I love how her body is a girl body. That is the most exciting part. “You’re cute,” she says. I look to my right and left. “Oh, thanks,” I say, wanting to barf. My arms brush hers. Oh jesus, I think to myself, ohhhh jesus. “How old are you?” she asks. I want to ask her to come home with me. But that is not my age. “21” I say, like it isn’t embarrassing, because I didn’t know that it was. She laughs. She turns to her friend and whispers. Ok, relax, stay calm, I’m sure she is laughing with me, not at me. She has really great bangs. I can’t really see her face in this light though. Still, I’m pretty confident she is the ONE. “Honey,” she says, “I’m 41. I gotta go.” And in an instant, she is gone. I see her dance over to a group of “older lesbians”—you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all seen them. Something about their shorts. Always so high-waisted. Could spot ‘em from a mile away.
Ok, that was a bummer! But at least I did it! I talked to one! A lesbian! For real! My confidence is now at negative 25, instead of negative 50. My straight friends are now in the middle of a shark circle of Tegans. I must not give up. I will get more numbers than they will. Will I even get one number? I spent more time in therapy than all of my straight friends combined. It just isn’t fair.
I see my next victim. She has long blond hair and is smiling at me. I like how she has long hair. I reason to myself that it is a sign of her being open-minded because she doesn’t have the gay look. She’s wearing high-waisted jeans with a black shirt tucked in. Admittedly, it’s not a great look. I praise myself on not being a “judger” as I make my way closer. I see now that she is also wearing a fanny pack. Black leather. And this was pre-hipster-fanny-pack movement. But it’s cool, sure, the 80s are making a comeback. She is smiling a lot. A LOT. It borders on creepy. She is holing a glass of wine. “What are you drinking?” I ask. “Oh, white zinfandel,” she says, smiling harder. Is she going to eat me? We are dancing and I guess it’s fine. I’m proud of myself. My gay friends are watching me from across the room. I give them a knowing nod of the head. We are all pals now; we all get it. You know, man, chicks. I get it now. I’ve danced with more than one.
Fanny pack lady is spilling her zinfandel all over me. And all over herself. Her smile is creepy but I can’t stop staring right into the middle of it. Mesmerizing. Her hair is so blonde. I always wonder if that is natural. I wish her pants weren’t so high. It is not the opposite of yucky. But whatever, man, I’m dancing with a girl. So you know. Ugh, I hate myself. Sick. She leans towards me, splashing zinfandel down my shirt. “Hey,” she says, smiling. “Hey,” I say back, neutral. She starts touching me. All. Over. Her hands are like little octopus arms. They move so fast from my back to front feeling everything I could swear she had more than two. Plus one of them is still very occupied by her wine. Her fanny pack is rubbing up against my lower back sweat. Mmmm, sexy. Just what I had always fantasized about. This is what I came out for. Fanny pack on back sweat. Please know that I’m fucking kidding.
“What do you do?” wine lady asks. She takes a twirl, all by herself, with her zinfandel. I wait for her to finish revolving. I look around to see if there might be other options, other people to dance with. Nope. They are all involved. (It was an early lesson about lesbian life). “I’m a student,” I say to twirly girl. “Oh, grad school?” she asks. “College,” I say, like that isn’t embarrassing, because I didn’t know that it was. Her hair goes shooting upwards and then back as she tosses her head back to laugh. Zinfandel is splashing about like there is an invisible Shamoo in the room. I want to ask what is so funny, but she is still laughing, and her head is about a yard away from me, that’s how far she tossed it back. When she finally brings her head back into earshot, I say, “what’s so funny?” “Doll!” she says. (Doll?) “I’m in my fifties!” Uh huh, okay. Okie dokie. Yep. This place must be really dark. Either that or I have a thing for cougars. I step away slowly, “nice to meet you,” as I retreat into my group of friends, who want to know why the fuck I was dancing with someone more than twice my age with a fanny pack and wine at a gay bar.
I’m brushing off the zinfandel as we get into a cab. “Do you guys think I should have gotten her number?” I ask. Everyone laughs. “NO!” “Wait, I’m serious! She might have gone out with me.” “Caitlin, no,” they say. “Do you guys think this means I have a thing for mom-types?” I ask. Everyone laughs. “Probably,” my gay friend says, “but it’s too soon to tell. If you do have a thing for moms, Caitlin, that is OKAY. You’re doing it, Caitlin. You. Are. Doing. It. And what did I tell you? Nobody saw your shoes.”
Caitlin Bergh is a Chicago comic. She is the producer & host of The Funny Story Show at LooseLeaf Lounge and co-producer & co-host of Performance Anxiety Chicago at The Pleasure Chest and #LadyBros Comedy at Cole’s Bar. She is a winner of the Moth StorySLAM & has performed at Mayne Stage, The Comedy Bar, Zanies, Berlin Nightclub, Chicago Underground Comedy, as well as in NYC and LA.