Back when I was seventeen, I used to sneak out of the house and/or call in sick to work to go hang out at the gay bars. Initially, the euphoria and my naiveté made a powerful mix. As any traumatized slightly neurotic 17-year-old looking for any semblance of escape would be prone to do, I made a lot of bad decisions.
It wasn’t legal for me to be in the bars, even way back then. They had raised the drinking age a couple of years before I turned 18. Yes, it used to be lower than 21. Back then I think people had to have a strong drink handy in order to put up with all the dinosaurs and lack of electricity. ::: grin :::
Over time I would go to many … and I mean *many* gay bars across the south. Went to them all the way from Dallas on up the eastern seaboard to New York City/Long Island.
I was so obsessed with bar and party life I burned out on it before I was ever legal to drink. I look back on those crazy years and praise God I didn’t die. I should have died several times because of:
- Nearly over-dosing on prescription meds (Kentucky was a dangerous place for me), and substance abuse in general.
- Being the victim of violent crime (more than once and held at gunpoint twice.)
- And a really angry freebasing drag queen decided he really really didn’t care for me. There are very few things in this world more dangerous than a really angry freebasing drag queen.
There were other cringe-worthy OMGoodness! “issues” but … you get the point.
The other day an old song, Send Me An Angel, popped up on my iPhone playlist. It was a reminder of something that happened every time I “went out.” This was a vivid gay nightclub ritual to always spend time getting lost in the music. Every bar I went to there was always a point in the evening where I would hit the dance floor and literally get swept up in the music. No matter who I was with, I would just disappear. My friends could join me if they wanted to but their presence was not required.
I danced by myself, with strangers, on top of boxes, in the DJ booth, with groups of strangers, in front of speakers, around the bar, on a bar, on a car in the parking lot once, not a nervous bone in my body … Yep, #WhirlyRandy
Of course, that was around 30 years ago and the younger me knew I would draw attention and enjoyed it. Even so, at some point I wouldn’t care who was watching, I just wanted to get “lost.” That’s what I called it too. In those moments I felt blissful and inseparable from the music. I always took my friend Meredeth’s advice, “Don’t dance to music, let the music dance you.”
One club I went to would always play Send Me An Angel if I happened to be there when the bar closed. The club wasn’t known for that style of music but they would play it as the closing song because, I was told, that the Dj and some of the staff liked to watch me dance to it.
I very much doubt that the now 53-year-old married Randy would get the same attention. That’s quite ok with me.
It’s fun thinking about how things are so different gay bar whirly Randy of the ’80’s is compared to who I am today. Now, I am the older dude who gets there with my husband before they start charging cover and keeps saying, “What?” because he can’t hear for snot because of the “just a little too loud” music. But, I also realize that the difference this time around is a bit more profound than just getting older.
The younger me went to the gay clubs as a haven, a sanctuary. I went to escape because I needed to numb the pain and desperately craved attention. Plus, in Nashville, it was the only semi-safe place for LGBTQ people to hang out. Not every, not even most, young gay men visiting the clubs go for similar reasons as the younger me. I didn’t know then what they probably know now, that you can be happy, healthy, whole as a gay man. I didn’t appreciate (because I didn’t know what to look for or how to recognize) healthy relationship and community back then.
Now, I rarely go to gay nightclubs unless it is to visit with friends. I certainly don’t dance like the little Janet Jackson backup dancer wannabee I used to be.
We are glad for that; yes, we are.
The gay clubs are still a sanctuary but instead of needing attention and a place to numb the pain, I go in to socialize with my community, people I love. Instead of looking around for a party or distraction, today I look around and see beautiful brothers and sisters wanting to belong, to be in relationship, to enjoy the music, and have fun.
Back then, I was hurt and lost. Today, I am healthy, at peace, and at home.
:::the following is said in a cranky old man voice:::
Now, if those youngins would just play some reeeeallll music like Miami Sound Machine, Teena Marie, George Michael AFTER Wham but BEFORE his ’90’s weirdness, and Chaka Khan… I might stay longer! Just kidding, I love today’s music, too.