“Where’s Mark?” I whispered to my friend. “And who is this…woman? Why is she here?”
I have no problem with women. In fact, many of my closest friends are women. But I liked coming to this bar to banter (translation: flirt) back and forth with Mark. It’s all fun and harmless, but a guy can (and will) dream. Plus, he takes his shirt off after nine.
Though there will obviously be no flirting with Michelle, at least the other bartender that comes in later in the shift will have his shirt off by the end of Happy Hour.
The three of us made small talk but my friend and I were polite to the point of being short. However, after a couple of cocktails and a well-timed quip from Michelle at the expense of the absent Mark, my friend and I warmed up to her. At the end of the night, she and I exchanged hugs and started doing so every time we saw her at the bar whether she was serving us or not.
Though gay men and straight women have had a much longer history of cohesiveness than their straight counterparts, I still had to wonder why a straight woman would choose to work in a gay bar and how they’re treated by the clientele.
“It’s a tough environment,” Michelle told me. “I think I would be further along if I had a penis. It was tough at first with the older men but now we’re family. From time to time someone will just turn away from me so they can have a man wait on them, [but] the joke’s on them because I make a better, faster drink!”
I then asked Michelle why she would still choose to work at a gay bar. For her, it wasn’t so much a choice as a connection from when she owned a bar in New York. The owners of this bar knew her from that bar and brought her over.
Despite any difficulties with the initially icy clientele, Michelle found a niche. She told me about a customer who told her that she was a big help when he first started to come out as a gay man. At first, he was a little nervous about being in a gay bar but developed a great friendship with her. This helped him feel comfortable and made her feel good that she could be a friend and not just a drink maker.
Outside of Gayville, such comforting friendships don’t always exist. “People are so ignorant,” Michelle states. “I don’t care what they do behind closed doors, why do they have to care what anyone else does?”
Michelle seemed to laugh when I asked her what she learned about gay life and gay culture from working a gay bar. “I’ve been in it too long not to know anything,” she answered. “It’s straight life that confuses the hell out of me. They’re so weird!”
I personally feel the exact opposite. Outside of wondering why any part of the straight world cares whether or not I’m gay and how I live my life as such, very little confuses me about the straight world. It’s the gays that often confuse me.
Michelle isn’t the only female bartender at this bar. Since I started becoming a regular patron, I’ve also gotten to know thedarker-haired Anna – whose experience is a bit different than Michelle’s except for one main thing.
“I feel I have to work harder,” Anna says. “I’m sure customers would rather I was another hot, young body. I like to think that once they get to know me they like seeing me. I really concentrate on the customer service part and hope it's enough. I hope people can see it’s sincere.”
Anna has been working in gay bars since she was 17 because “they’re more fun”. And she’s discovered an advantage to being a woman. “I establish different relationships that are stronger than the ones based on passing crushes. I’m in a position to introduce people -- whether it’s a helpful business connection or a hook up,” she explains.
Anna is so immersed in gay culture that both of her kids have gay godfathers and 90% of her friends are gay. Her very lengthy experience working in gay bars offers a unique historical perspective. “The gay scene is becoming more diverse. Not that long ago you never could have had a straight guy working in a gay bar.”
Her husband is a rare exception in that he’s always worked in gay bars as a deejay – even at such a time when people would think he was gay if he told them he worked at a gay bar. Twenty or thirty years ago, who could believe that a straight man would be comfortable working in such an environment with the stigma of being considered gay hanging over his head? Interestingly, though perhaps less so, this is still the case. The main difference is that straight guys are caring less and less about working at a gay bar.
“This current generation doesn’t mind as much,” Anna observes. “It’s an indicator of a trend where people don’t care as much how they’re perceived by society at large. The kids now were brought up in a different world where they have gay friends so it’s not such a big deal to them. They’re the ‘shrug and let them think what they want’ generation.”
But some people are slow to change. “I’ve been unfortunate enough to overhear an awkward comment from someone who’s not used to being in gay bars. That made me cringe,” Anna adds.
Considering Anna’s spent a lifetime amongst the gays during such a pivotal transition, I asked her some additional questions as it related to the trending of hiring straight male bartenders in gay bars, which was touched upon in a similar article earlier last month:
Is the hiring of straight bartenders a new trend?
Yes, as a rule. I don’t think it was thought previously that straight [men] could handle the attention they’d get -- which women in straight bars have had always had to handle. But this generation of men, a sample of them at least, have proven themselves comfortable and capable. I also think the trend changing from gay, small business owners to large corporate-run affairs has pushed straight men being hired.
Why is this occurring?
Because business is business. It has to profit. If the best man for the job is straight, then so be it. The gay ghetto is no longer what it was 25 years ago. The disposable income enjoyed by many gay men has attracted much outside business. Gays and straights have been mixing it up for two decades. It’s working and it’s healthy. Hopefully, it’s representative of things to come in society.
Is there a courting of straight bartenders?
Not sure. There’s [certainly] a courting of beautiful men. Eye candy. People come from all over the world to work in the business, [so] there’s going to be a higher percentage of straight guys applying for bartending jobs. The money’s good. The hours are workable for auditions and they can meet connections on the job.
What, if anything, does this say about the gay clientele?
Gay men like to be surrounded by fabulous-looking male specimen. What’s new?
What is positive and what is negative about this trending?
Positive: Good and healthy for society as a whole to mix it up.
Negative: A bit of a tease. I’m not sure it is negative. I think if two equally fabulous guys applied for the same position, they’d hire the gay guy. The straight guy could work in any straight bar but the gay one could still have a hard time in a straight bar. Now THAT would be progress.
Is this a sign of the times? Do you see this as a progression, regression, neither or both?
Progress, but we’ll know real progress has been made when a gay bartender will be just as comfortable in a straight bar.
Gay men and straight women have traditionally co-existed better than gay men and straight men, but not necessarily from across the bar.
However, once you get to know the Michelles and Annas of the gay bar scene, your initial disappointment in the fact that they’re not Mark falls away and provides a new dynamic to the gay life experience.
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Original Fiction from a Sitcom Mind > The Halls of Shambala > The Non-Fiction Archives: 2012-2014 >