Flashback Friday: My First Visit To A Gay Bar

With my NLGJA crew at a gay bar in Chicago
With my NLGJA crew at a gay bar in Chicago – not my first time in a gay bar

One of my colleagues at Instinct Magazine began a chat about gay bars and the discussion eventually turned to the first time we ever went to a gay bar.

Several of us wrote down our memories of that ever-so-fateful day in our lives when we crossed over into fully-formed gays.

Most of the guys remember their ‘first times’ as an upbeat, positive time in their journey.

Mind you, I’m the eldest on the Instinct staff, so my virgin excursion into the deep waters of gay watering holes occurred in a somewhat different time.

The first time I ever stepped into a gay bar was around 1981 (yes, I’m that old). The establishment, predictably called The Corral (I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas), was a comfortable country saloon with an unpretentious and un-posh demeanor.

I’d love to say it was a magical experience of “freedom and free love,” but the most positive thing I remember was it was at least a place for queer people to gather as an accepting tribe.

Being Texas and the early 80s, Fort Worth had little-to-no gay community. I recall there was a heavy stigma to the venue. It was a place you didn’t want to be seen leaving. It was a bit dingy, a bit dark, and a bit depressing – at least to my 18-year-old, deep-in-the-closet self.

I hadn’t figured myself out yet, but in my head I saw myself as ‘straight but accepting.’ A friend had asked me to go with him as he was performing in drag that night and wanted support.

The handful of drag performers that night were nothing like what we see on RuPaul’s Drag Race today. Still, I cheered them on for embracing their authentic selves, and for caring about their performances.

With friends at a gay bar in Las Vegas
Me (second from left) with friends and hubby Michael

Over the years, there’s always been a hint of melancholy to the memory. Some time later, I heard that the bar had burned down. That first experience at a gay bar may sound morose, but…it was just the beginning of a journey.

Since then, I’ve been to amazing gay bars in every state of the country. There were bars large and small that were bright and lively environments that exuded an air of celebration and fun.

Over these 40 years, I’ve seen the LGBTQ community evolve and grow and embrace itself to an exponential degree. And the concept of pride in our community has become much more than a “concept.”

When I go to a gay bar today, I absolutely love the freedom queer people feel – and express – in being themselves in these safe spaces. And that makes me proud.

In 2021, I discovered a fantastic documentary – Through the Windows – that explores one of the longest running gay bars in San Francisco. It’s definitely worth your time in how it captures what the space meant to so many over the years.

One last photo – I found this looking through pics to use for this article.

Michael and I and some friends were invited to the opening of a new gay bar in Las Vegas. We got there early so, with the place being somewhat empty, we posed for this pic.

Everyone else was flexing, but I (true to form) became more interested in my drink…

Let me know if your first trip to a gay bar was good, bad, memorable or meh in the comments section.

With the gang at a bar in Las Vegas