Feature – Worst enemy

Are gay men their own worst enemy?

By Gareth Rhys Chapman

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I’ve just come back from the States, where I spent a couple of weeks allegedly “working” in Chicago, but mostly used it as an opportunity to check out the scene over there.  There was the usual mix of guys – twinks, bears, cubs, pervs – and on the surface it seemed just like the UK scene.  I went with a friend and adopted the usual British tactic of ordering a drink, sitting in a corner and bitching about everyone else in the room, occasionally heading to the dance floor for a suitably restrained boogie – all the time casting a quick eye around the room, dismissing any “unsuitable” advances with a death look.

After playing this game for a good couple of hours, I was ready either to go home, or to dive in quickly on some unsuspecting guy for a pull.  Unfortunately, I was a bit scuppered in my quest for unhappiness, as a rather fit American decided to waltz over and try to chat with me.  I was ready to repel him with my ascorbic wit but he said to me “Are you OK?  You look really unhappy”.  This knocked me slightly, and my guard was down – so I started chatting.  I ended up talking quite openly with him about me, my life, and the gay scene in England – something that normally requires large amounts of alcohol, and exhaustion of every other possible topic of conversation.

I started to have a revelation.  Gay bars in England can often be quite unfriendly places.  Groups of friends go to them, have a drink, take the piss out of anyone who tries to approach them (unless it’s clear from the outset that they’re shaggable), and then go home – often unsatisfied – and do it all again the next night.  When I started to relax a little with the fit American, I began glancing around the room, and realised that everyone here was quite willing to chat with whoever – even the fat old baldies with their hands in their pockets jiggling about with their “phone”.  Still cynical, I was convinced that this bar must be some bizarre inbred place (after all, this is the Midwest), and that people couldn’t possibly be this approachable, friendly and attractive.

The next night we went to another bar, and I decided I’d try out the newly-learned tactic of going over to groups of people who were clearly already friends, and see how easy it was to integrate.  Not only did it take seconds for them to seem genuinely welcoming, but they also offered to show me around the gay areas of the city, and seemed keen on getting to know more about my life.  I was convinced that in fact they must be in some kind of gay cult that they were trying to get me to join, and I’d have to be initiated by killing a pig and smearing its blood over my body.  Not so.  They just were interested in talking to different types of people.

I started thinking that maybe this is where the gay scene has gone a bit off track in the UK.  People often talk about the ‘gay community’, but in fact it’s become more of gay ghettos, with people segregating themselves into artificial groups based on age, looks, ethnicity, body hair…  By restricting the groups of people you talk to, you may well miss the friend-of-a-friend who is your true soul mate.  After all, there are already a limited pool of “out” gay men who are in the right headspace to have a relationship (or whatever) – why ration yourself even further by not even chatting to friendly guys in bars who, admittedly, you might not immediately want to sleep with?  Plus, gay guys are often more interesting than our straight counterparts (fact), and you may well find new guys who you connect with for reasons other than sex.

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