The more things change

In 2003, I volunteered at DC’s gay film festival, which meant working with some very nice people and a few overly controlling people, but I was willing to take the long view and deal with challenging personalities in order to get passes to other movies for free. One of the films I went to see was Drag Nuns in Tinseltown (rereleased in 2006 as The LA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence), a documentary about the antics and charity work of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Some of the Sisters attended the screening, laughing along with us and hosting a Q&A afterward.

Unlike other drag performers I’d seen before, the Sisters don’t eschew things like facial hair (a Ru Paul no-no) or insist on lip synching to women-sung songs, but instead will occasionally take on tenor or other “male range” compositions, singing in their own voices.

They also have a tendency to rework lyrics to songs we’d otherwise be able to belt out with them, in order to make a point. I’d forgotten that little bit of Sis-trivia until last night.

Susanne and I trekked to the Tri-Cities yesterday with a few colleagues from the college to see the Seattle chapter of the Sisters host a fundraiser for Walla Walla’s Blue Mountain Heart to Heart organization, a non-profit direct service charity for people with HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis C. Heart to Heart is, in fact, the only direct service charity of its kind in southeast Washington state, and Franklin County, which it also serves, has the highest HIV infection rate outside of Seattle, so their work is rather desperately needed here. I would have gone to see the Sisters in any case, but knowing it was a fundraiser for Heart to Heart only solidified my commitment to making the 60-mile trip.

We found our way to the only gay bar in these parts which, on the inside, was a series of differently shaped rooms and a hell of a lot of seating: booths, high tables and stools, plain diner tables that looked like they’d been purchased from a going out of business sale from the empinada counter around the corner. A room in the front boasted a stage and short catwalk where the Sisters and local performers belted out everything from Xanadu’s I’m Alive (unfortunately not performed on 70s-style roller skates) to Bjork to School House Rock, Electrify, and some strange German song about genitalia that left me covering my face because I was there with a student from the college. Talk about awkward! Thank goodness there’s no sexual harassment policy at Susanne’s school. (Ironic, I’m being ironic.)

As the performances rolled on, audience members left their seats to slip money into the contribution basket at the end of the catwalk. Here’s where I was reminded of the unofficial rules about gay bars:

  1. No matter how gay the bar is, there will always be a creepy straight guy trying to strut his stuff or hook up with some random lesbian. Persistence of said creepy guy is in an inverse proportion to his level of attractiveness. And creepy guys tend toward creepy props/dress, like a pipe or opened up dress shirt.
  2. As soon as a couple first hooks up, they must stand in a corner or against a wall, making out. It helps if they’re anywhere near a heavily trafficked area, so that more people will notice their coupled upness.
  3. Older couples should feel free to bicker in the bar or stand apart from each other, at turns looking cold or hurt.
  4. There will be an overworked, overtired lesbian bussing tables and shooting daggers out of her eyes at the careless customers who spill their drinks for her to clean up.
  5. Even if the gay bar is occupied by 95 percent gay men and < 5 percent lesbians (the other 1 percent straight allies, transgender people, and lost people who haven’t realized they’re not in a straight bar yet), there will still be a long line for the women’s rest room.
  6. A small group of depressed looking older men will be quietly sitting around a video monitor of gay porn.
  7. A few young or questioning people will be in the bar on any given weekend night, looking astonished at the naughty humor and antics of the other people there.

All of these I saw with my own eyes last night, and nearly 20 years after walking into my first gay bar, I smiled a little to myself, because no matter what else changes, these dynamics are the same. Not that I don’t want all of those to stay the same, certainly not. But it’s kind of like I haven’t aged.

Who’s up for Gay Bar Time Machine? Or the Curious Case of Benjamin Buttman? We can make it happen, people. Actually, maybe I should do an Internet search and see if they’ve been filmed already.

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Categories: ponderings, Uncategorized, visiting

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