There is no gay bar in Athens.
In a town of roughly 120,000 (give or take 70,000, depending on whether school is in session or not), one would think that there would be at least one space that specifically catered to the queer community.
There was Boneshakers in the past, along with Detour and Club Blur, but these all closed their doors years ago. Georgia Bar used to hold a monthly gay night, which served as a bastion for the queers of Athens (and many of the surrounding counties), but this too has ceased.
Boybutante acts as a queer hub; a drag show revue, which raises money for AIDs Athens, Boybutante began in 1989 and has since raised more than half a million dollars. But what is one night in the face of the other 364?
All this is not to claim that queer culture exists wholly and solely in the bar scene—this is simply not true. But if history has taught us anything, it is that we need safe space to call our own; it is vital to our survival, for after all, is there not safety in numbers?
So why the lack of collective queer space? There are certainly queers in Athens. Ask any one of them—they’ll have dated or fucked most of them, or know someone who has. In high school the scene would be called cliquish, but incestuous feels more apt. (Two separate friends, on the verge of a hookup, have been told by their partners that they possessed a reputation for being good in bed).
We cannot be blamed for scavenging off of an ex’s exes, or friends of friends; we are working off of a limited pool. A cursory glance at Grindr confirms this—the same parade of dull faces and naked torsos greet you every time you log on, and before you even reach the basic membership’s max limit, you are already scraping at guys in Lawrenceville, over 30 miles away.
“The queer scene in Athens fluctuates. There’s always an ebb and flow,” explained lifelong resident Ian Gunthrie. “Athens just has a transient population. So the ever-changing scene isn’t even a queer thing, it’s an Athens thing.”
“It’s not like people aren’t interested in queer events—people are thirsty for them,” Ian added, who has hosted and performed in numerous events, including a mermaid drag show at Seabear, where he was the only drag queen present. “There just aren’t always the bodies to fill the space.”
The University is an obvious draw for Athens—it is Georgia’s oldest and largest institute of higher learning, with an ever-increasing student body. The vibrant music scene has also drawn would-be musicians from all over the country.
“It’s easy to not grow up here—you can get around without a car, live cheaply, and still have fun. That’s what attracts a lot of people. But then the students graduate and the musicians move on.”
Whether residents will admit it or not, the university serves as the lifeblood of the community, and the student body accounts for a substantial proportion of the city’s population. So what impact do the students have on the queer scene?
“UGA is definitely a work in progress. I was asked by their Gay-Straight Alliance to serve as a board member. This was right before I was about to graduate high school, and I had absolutely no intention of attending UGA.”
Ian, when pressed on the aptitude for Athens queers to break off into their own private cliques offered one possible explanation.
“Students aren’t always aware of their queerness, and by the time they are it’s time for them to move on.”
This transient, evolving population is endemic of any college town, and brings along with it its own benefits—and flaws.
“Athens is always changing, which I love, even if it is a negative. We just need more queers, we need more people to stick around.”
Perhaps there is no solution to Athens’ Queer Problem. The community is presented, it would seem, with an eternal “Chicken or Egg” scenario—do queer spaces fail because of a lack of queers, or is there a lack of queers because queer spaces keep failing? Perhaps there are not enough of us to matter. Perhaps we do not stick around long enough to create an impact.
Or perhaps not.
“Whoever said being a big fish in a small pond was a fucking idiot,” Mr. Gunthrie concluded over drinks, “but at least a Megabus ticket to Atlanta is still only $5.”
Alex Franco lives in Athens, GA, where he works at a spa. His fiction has appeared in Polychrome Ink. He is moving to Paris.