When I was growing up, being queer was not easy. I had no space to be myself outside of my bedroom, where I would put on my Dad’s old sweatshirts and dance to the radio, waiting and wanting to be anywhere else. The show Queer As Folk was on television. Every Thursday, I would sit in the living room watching all these gay men trying to learn from them what it meant to be gay. They all had to deal with being gay in a world that might not always get it,but the one thing that was certain is that at the end of the day, they would all end up at Babylon. And, at Babylon everyone was dancing and shirtless and covered in glitter and not reflecting anything that was going on in my small-town life.
The life of a gay man for me was not something to be admired. Every day was a battle just to be able to go to class and exist in my skin and figure it out like everyone else. Being gay was a target on my back that only led to promises of violence. At that point gay was nothing more than a name that I had no identity for yet. That was the days when Boneshakers was around. A friend of mine went there for his birthday but I was terrified to go so I didn’t. He came back wearing a t shirt and I knew at that moment that I was going to do whatever I could to eventually go to a gar bar.
As a man now firmly seated in my queerness, I have seen my fair share of gay bars. I drink in them. I dance in them. Every once in awhile I cry in them. I seek them out.
That leads to the fact that my city—Athens— doesn’t have a gay bar. It is not like Athens is lacking—there are plenty of bars that openly welcome the LGBTQ community, like Sister Louisa’s Church, Go Bar, and Little Kings Shuffle Club to name a few. There is also this kind of D.I.Y. culture here where on any given night queer Athenians can congregate at a bar—making it, if only temporarily, queer. But is that good enough? Sure, we can take over a space and modern technology allows for an electronic gay bar in our pockets, but something has to be said about a town like Athens, with all its diversity, not having a dedicated queer bar.
I started asking my queer friends how they felt about the fact that our city doesn’t have a gay bar. The answered I got were as varied as we are as a community. Athens is such a transient town there might not always be enough gays to support it. Isn’t Church the unofficial gay bar? It’s 2017 we can go wherever we want! God, we need a place that can have gogo dancers. No matter the response, the answer was clear that Classic City does not have a gay bar—but we want one and the sad fact is that we still have to be selective of the places that we go.
Athens is kind of in the middle of the country and 45’s election has emboldened people. In the time since the election, I have been called a faggot in the street, been yelled at from trucks, and have had to listen to all my friends tell stories of the same. I love Athens, but I don’t always feel safe. Walking down the street with friends I find myself hyper aware of my surroundings making sure that we all get to where we are going safe. That is why I would love a place that has a rainbow on the door where I can femme it up and kiss boys without constantly worrying in the back of my mind about all the Chads out there. But, that is not the case right now. It’s not going to stop me from being unapologetically myself - not going to stop any of us.
Sure, Athens may not have a gay bar with disco balls, glitter, or flags.
But that’s okay, we will bring them with us anyway.
Robby Bailey is a writer in Athens, Ga. You can follow him on twitter @robbebailey