8 Things I Miss About Gay Nightlife

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The bartenders. The dancers. The Queens. The wild acceptance of salacious behavior.

There is so much I dearly, dearly miss about being out and about in New York City.

Photo by istock

If there is one thing this wildly-unexpected quarantine has affirmed for me, it’s how unbelievably magical, inspiring, magnetic, and spirited our goddamn town is! The day we’re set free, I’m going to twirl through the city streets like a glittery psychopath six days off of her psychotropic meds!

And while I miss walking and breathing in the oh-so-specific smell of the city — hot dogs and trash and pizza and expired bottles of Chanel No. 5 — there is something that I miss with so much intensity that I actually ache for it: Gay nightlife.

gay nightlife
Photo by Shea Carmen Swan.

Gay nightlife has always been the truest home I’ve ever had, because I can be the most myself in her sequin-scaled arms. I first locked eyes with a girl at the gay bar. I discovered what a gorgeous freak show I am at the gay bar. I’ve cultivated the deepest friendships of my life at the gay bar. I’ve worn my most fabulous outfits inside of the always-stylish four walls of the gay bar — outfits I wouldn’t dare wear out in the general public (gag) because the basic masses would not understand it’s innate fierceness and I don’t like to waste but a modicum of fierceness on a dull, uninspired audience.

I’ve cried black mascara tears in the bathrooms of gay bars. I’ve fought with lovers — publicly — in the gay bar. I’ve tossed back too many drinks and stumbled about, bestowing everyone with melodramatic cheek kisses and unsolicited advice like a drunken eccentric aunt. I’ve celebrated my career wins. I’ve mourned my career setbacks. I’ve bronzed up dozens of boys with my giant fluffy Chanel makeup brush. I’ve glued fallen eyelashes back onto the ever-still lids of seasoned drag queens. I’ve ripped my tights and decided they look better that way. I’ve marveled at the skills of the beautifully bedazzled go-go dancers. I’ve kissed the wrong person at the right time. I’ve kissed the right person at the wrong time. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen out of love — with myself and with others. 

I’ve felt a sense of belonging that I never felt in jobs, in homerooms, in my hometowns. But that’s not all: There are some specific things I miss so deeply I could cry.

Let’s start with…

1. The Bartenders.

I could write poetry about the bartenders who choose to invest their swag and skills into the gay bars. The bartenders of gay nightlife are the backbone of our community. They’re always there to feed us an ornate cocktail when our mouths (and souls) are as dry as the Sahara Desert. They lend us a dutiful ear when our pain is so goddamn persistent we can’t hold it in and need to release it into the air. They coax us out of our terrible, no-good days with their relentless charm and enthusiasm. They keep the energy of the room elevated and electric. They make sure the party is lit but not so lit that the entire institution erupts into flames.

They’re the charismatic wizards who encourage us to talk to the girl, kiss the boy, and set ourselves free on the dance floor.

2. The Drag Queens.

Drag, in my eyes, is the highest art form of all art forms. It is the culmination of all things I love, channeled into wild performance: comedy, razor-sharp insults only unartistic goons get offended by, theatre, dance, drama, sequins, self-deprecation, hair so high it kisses the mouth of God, lashes so long they tickle foreheads, and most importantly, STAGE PRESENCE. No one can command a room like a queen.

When I watch drag, I forget about all the mundane anxieties swirling through my brain. I forget about deadlines, emails, Facebook fights, and social media shit shows. I forget about the zits that pepper my chin and the five pounds I’ve gained. I forget about the dark truths of our strange reality and am instead propelled into a wicked underworld so glittery and so sparkly and so quippy that I have no choice but to be fully present.

3. The Fabulous Girl Drama.

Whenever people say they think lesbians are boring, I just assume they are a) closeted or b) they’ve just never stepped inside a gay bar on girl night! Oh, us queer girls can be many things: Outspoken, flannel clad, butch, femme, lipstick wearing, leather loving, pleather pledging — you name it! But we are NOT boring. Our intricate dramas put gay boy dramas to shame! We fall in love with our ex’s ex’s ex. We passionately kiss each other on the dancefloor. We fall in love whilst waiting in line at the ATM machine. We don’t take shit from the asshole straight dudes who come into the gay bar to be voyeuristic and creepy.

Girl drama is what inspires most of my writing, and I’m creatively starved without it.

4. The Boys Who Like Boys Who Like Girls Who Like Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys. 

If bartenders are the backbone of gay nightlife, gay men are the pumping heart! No one turns up quite like a gay man on a Friday night in NYC. I love watching gay men work through years of hiding and oppression on the dancefloor. It’s both reparative and beautiful to witness a gay man moving energy through his body by dancing the night away.

I miss the packs of gorgeous boys huddled outside the bars on 9th avenue, chattering away, chuckling away, ready to venture to the next party, the next hookup, the next afterparty, the next most wonderful, most fabulous thing.

5. The Wild Acceptance Of Salacious Behavior.

One of the most sacred aspects of gay nightlife is the wild acceptance of all things scandalous and salacious. If you wear your bra and fluffy heels out to brunch with basic bitches, you’ll be sorely judged. If you wear your fluffy bra and heels to the gay club, you’ll be placed on a pedestal and worshipped.

6. The Appreciation Of The Art Of Dressing Up.

No one in New York dresses up anymore. It’s a damn shame really. You can be sitting at the best table at the best restaurant, eager for an influx of fashion inspiration, and you’ll be sorely let down. Every. Time. You’ll find flat-ironed-headed women in expensive jeans and expensive boots and an expensive handbag, but you will not find art and creativity.

If you’re searching for vision, you must enter the gay bar. That’s where the true fashion icons are, perched at the bar in their one-shouldered trapeze dresses and custom suits. So if you dare to dress up with imagination and ferocity, you’ll only be fully appreciated in this town if you go to a gay bar. At the gay bar, you’ll be seen. You might even be thanked for adding a bit of glimmer to this dull world.

7. The Soul Baring Smoke Breaks.

I don’t smoke (anymore), but I love to follow my friends outside for their smoke breaks. I love to stand outside of Cubby and embark in long, deep, passionate conversation with everyone littered out onto the street. Smoke billows out of lips, secrets are exchanged, souls are bared, and feelings are validated! It’s like therapy — only with booze and dykes.

8. Being Around My Gigantic, Ever-Queer Family.

I have my blood family, and then I have my queer family. And my queer family is special because we are bonded in something thicker than blood: We’re bonded in our unabashed belief that we should be our fucking selves in a world that wishes to flatten us out. We root for each other. We listen to each other. We fight with each other. But we all congregate together at the gay bar as if its the family dinner table!

And there is always a moment, usually in the beginning of the night when everything is still and quiet for a second, before the bachelorette parties storm through, where we look at each other, even when we don’t know each other, and share a collective moment of hushed gratitude for this beautiful family we belong to.

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As you may know, so many of our beloved safe spaces are struggling right now! If you can help to support these institutions that support us, endlessly. 

Click here to help support the Stonewall Inn staff. 

Click here to help support the Cubbyhole Bar. 

Click here to support The Henrietta Queerentine.

Click here to support Gingers. 

Click here to support Metropolitan. 

Click here to support Happy Fun Hideaway. 

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