My first gay bar experience

It was coming up to my fourth weekend in Dallas. I had achieved all of the goals I had set for myself pretty quickly, there was just one big one remaining: I was determined to socialise with other gay people of around my own age (or generation). My experience at church had been disappointing, I really needed to get out of my comfort zone and start meeting new people.

Comfort zone. That’s something motivational speakers talk about a lot. Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing, so we are told. We’re told to throw ourselves into situations that are new and scary to us and this is how we grow emotionally, as people. I have been out of my comfort zone for about 2 years now.

It started when I became dissatisfied with my job and decided to get another one. That was a difficult decision and it cost me a great deal of stress, but the rewards were 10 fold. I then realised I was dissatisfied with other things about me and realised (to my great shock) that I was, in fact, gay.

I was then constantly out of my comfort zone in everything from meeting gay people online, to calling and the visiting Neville Creighton of gayline (a gay support group, I guess) to joining a new gay-friendly church, to falling in love with a young guy and breaking up with him again. Life suddenly became very busy.

Then there was the upcoming move to Texas, getting my driver’s license (something I had put off for a long time), getting my citizenship, organising things I had never had to do before, moving over here, driving on the other side of the road, car, insurance, new people, new culture etc. Suffice to say I have been doing a lot of growing recently.

So, it stands to reason that as I surf the incredible crest of this “discomfort-zone” wave I am on, I should also work on socialising more. This means (for a gay man) going to a gay bar. It’s what gay guys do, apparently, that and go to the gym and call people “darling”.

Now, I have never been to a bar with the intention of “meeting” anyone. This is simply because I never wanted to. I have only ever been to bars to drink and to socialise with people I already knew, meeting new people is something I prefer not to do unless pushed.

I was pushing myself this time. I had heard and read about an apparently good gay bar called “The Roundup Saloon” in Cedar Springs, Dallas (Cedar Springs is the so-called “gay strip” of the big D). The place looked really nice and it looked like it was big enough that I could slip in unnoticed, have a quiet drink and find out if this was the place for me. It had a cowboy theme and I have to admit I have developed a bit of a fondness for country music.
It was with a great deal of trepidation that I got into the car and put some condoms in the glove compartment. Now, I have never carried condoms before because I have (sadly) never had any use for them. I didn’t plan on “getting lucky” but we make contingency plans for those things we don’t want / expect to have happen. If everything happened the way we wanted it to, life would be very boring. Besides which, I reasoned that allowing my own prudishness to put my health at risk would be a very stupid thing to do.

I drove into town at around 7:45pm. It takes half an hour to get into the city so I arrived at 8:15pm, just in time for “howdy hour”. My first hurdle was finding a parking space. All the car parks were full. My first instinct was to just turn around and go home. “I couldn’t find a park” is a very poor excuse though, so I gritted my teeth and found one a few blocks away.

As I walked towards the centre of the festivities I realised why this had been called the main “gay strip”. It was like any inner-city street: littered with bars engorging themselves of people coming in off the well-lit streets. The only difference was, the guys held hands.

I passed a restaurant and it was full of gay couples talking over a light meal. I couldn’t help but feel something of a twinge of something. Was that regret, or perhaps even jealousy?

I walked up to the door and entered, not giving myself too much time to really be cognisant of what I was doing. I walked up to the first bar I saw (roundup has 5 bars) and ordered a Vodka & 7Up. I had made a mistake once before of ordering a Vodka and lemonade only to discover that Americans don’t equate “Sprite” and “Lemonade” the way barkeepers in New Zealand do.

The Vodka is different here but I didn’t care. The barkeeper called me “honey” and only charged $1.25 for the drink (“howdy hour is a kind of happy hour, I guess). I was beginning to warm to the place.

I walked into the main area which is dominated by a large wooden dance floor. The music was up-beat country, some of the songs even familiar to me. Not because they are well known but because I have experienced a lot of country music. I propped myself up against the railing that surrounded the dance floor and tried not to look conspicuous.

Now, I must confess at this point that I was scared and I should probably explain why. Some straight guys are kind of scared of gay guys. The reason for that is partly because they fear the gay guys might “do something”. Exactly what they might do is never quite explicated but I think people fear the general social awkwardness of the potential for unwanted sexual advances from the same sex. They may also slightly fear that small part of themselves which is just a little bit curious or excited by the whole prospect. I think it’s fair to say that homophobes fear themselves more than anything.

Ironically it was these same two fears I fought against as I stood there looking out onto the “gay scene” unfolding before me. On the one hand I was deathly afraid that I would be accosted by some experienced “cruiser” with only one thing on his mind. On the other hand, I was afraid I might not protest too loudly.

I distracted myself by taking in the ambiance. Roundup is a lot lighter than most bars with good, colourful lighting. The ceiling is a rich dark colour and is heavily textured with lights suspended from the ceiling. It’s done up to look like an old-fashioned saloon. Lots of wood, lots of brass, and some neon lights finish the look.

A pair of lesbians (they looked to be about 60) got onto the previously unoccupied dance floor and started to two-step. I smiled. It’s rare I get a chance to see queer people just being themselves in a safe environment. They were eventually joined by some men and I realised a few things: Everyone was dancing the two-step, everyone was older than me and no-one was dancing alone. My heart sank but I didn’t give up hope. I had seen some people who must have been in their 30’s or so, perhaps the younger crowd came in later.

I finished off my drink and went over to the Tequila bar (yes, they have a special bar just for Tequila, my kind of place) and I asked for a very rare, very expensive Tequila (Agavero) which they didn’t have. So, I asked the barman to surprise me. He gave me a white Tequila which was, honestly, very good. I then went back to the first bar for another $1.25 Vodka & 7Up. The drinks here taste like mud (just like the water) but I wasn’t complaining too much. The barman kindly gave me a shot and a half because he wanted to finish the bottle.

I drank half of the drink there in the bar, just listening to the music and the banter of the pundits. My fears turned out to be unfounded. This did not appear to be the sort of bar where people were hell-bent on anonymous sex. This was just a place where old friends got together to sing, dance, drink and watch TV, talking about the good times or gossiping about so-and-so.

I made my way back to the dance floor and realised with a start that the Tequila had been stronger than I had first anticipated. I groggily took up my post back at the railing around the dance floor and watched.

The floor was full of couples now: about 10 couples in all, going around and around in circles, all dancing the two-step. It slowly dawned on me that this is how they danced for real. This really was them dancing. I am used to the more modern dancing that came about in the 70’s & 80’s with the advent of “disco” there would be no “disco” here.

My heart sank further. I wasn’t going to be able to dance. I usually dance alone or in a group. Dancing the two-step requires a partner, something I was already painfully without.

I spied two guys who must have been around my age. They were dancing as everyone else does but there was a difference. One man had his back to the other, they were only touching chest-to-back. The guy at the back had his thumbs in his back pockets. The incredible thing, though, is that they danced perfectly in step, their feet and their bodies moved fluidly to the music they truly moved as one on the dance floor.

They were one. I wiped a tear from my eye and chided myself for being sentimental. Still I couldn’t stop the thought: “just a quarter of that, all I want is a quarter of that.”

So, I stood there morosely on the side of the dance floor, trying to understand how the system worked. There was a system. Men (and women) lined the sides of the dance floor waiting for their turn to dance. People danced mostly with their partners or occasionally they swapped with friends. The occasional male/female pair would pop up as well, but they were a rarity.

“Will no one ask me to dance” I wondered to myself. The alcohol had really kicked in by now, since I had finished my second (extra strength) Vodka. I wondered if I should ask someone. The guy to my left looked like he could be around my age but he didn’t seem to show much interest in dancing. I found myself in a laughable quandary which serves me right for being so scared in the first place. The problem was not in avoiding unwanted advances, but in attracting wanted ones.

I was just about to give up on it when someone clapped me on the shoulder and asked me to dance. I agreed immediately and he led me out onto the dance floor. His name was Jesse, he looked to be about 45 in the shade and he was quite burly. Still, I wanted to dance so badly, I wasn’t about to turn my nose up. A dance is hardly a proposal.

As I stepped onto the dance floor I realised that the alcohol had certainly marred my motor skills. I wasn’t going to be able to dance particularly well tonight, but I didn’t care. At first, he let me lead, which was fine. I can do a half-decent two-step. Then I told him he could lead because I was far less experienced at it, but it turns out “following” while dancing requires far more skill than I expected. Imagine two men both trying to follow simultaneously, one of them slightly tipsy. Yes, you get the picture. In the end I led and it was great fun. Those of you who know me well know that if I am in the right mood I will happily dance till I fall over from heat exhaustion.

Anyway, after one dance we retired to the side of the floor, I met some of his friends and we talked a little. He told me he was a little surprised to see me here, that he had expected me to be at a place like “JR’s”. I made a mental note that that’s where all the young people must be hiding. There was a line dance, which enthralled me to watch. Then Jesse went off to dance with someone else and I sidled off, back to my favourite bar, but this time for a “straight” 7Up.

It was almost 11pm and I was not sober. I needed to sober up if I was going to negotiate the two spaghetti junctions and 30 miles between me and home. I left the bar and went for a walk up Cedar Springs. I walked north as far as I dared, then turned around and walked back.

By this time I was thirsty and hungry. I went to “JR’s” for another 7Up and sat down to judge the character of the place. It was darker and there were far more young people. Old people too, for sure, but the ratios were far more normal. Also, I was pleased to note that the music was the familiar deafening roar of modern dance music, something I was more at home with.

I stayed there a while, then ate some pizza at an all-night pizzeria (throwing my entire diet regime into disarray) and made my way back to the car. It was about 1pm. I had bought my last drink at around 9pm but I still didn’t trust myself to drive. I put the seat back down and fell asleep.

I awoke at 2:30am. Sweating profusely from the residual heat in the car and smelling of cigarette smoke from the last bar. I instantly remembered where I was and what I was doing and started the car to leave. I got onto the I365E and settled in for the long journey home. Suddenly the road bent around and I was going the wrong way. It took me a while to figure out what was wrong.

Because everything looks different at night, I had taken the turnoff to the I365E, north bound, whereas I needed to go south. After quickly getting onto the right direction, the trip home was plain sailing, I have made that trip many times in the past. I arrived home as if on auto-pilot, noted proudly that I had maintained better than 50mpg fuel consumption, threw off my clothes and passed out on the bed.

It was certainly a night to remember. Next time I will try JR’s first and progress to Roundup later in the evening.