Last weekend (September 1 – 4) I went down to Austin for a bit of a holiday. It turned out to be a very memorable trip, not the least because my timing was serendipitous. This post is a long one about how I discovered that Austin is, in fact, quite gay. The image on the right is of Stephen F Austin. The father of Texas and the man after whom the state capital was named.
I had just had a long day, a very long day. For reasons I may elaborate on elsewhere, I had been driving for 8 hours non-stop. About 4 of those hours had been spent getting from Dallas to Austin, in itself a 192 mile trek.
My eyes were starting to close involuntarily as I took the turnoff to my hotel. Thank goodness it was easy to find. The Holiday Inn is a place that I trust implicitly since I have been to their branches in other parts of the world. After parking in the temporary parking space I walked up to the counter and “bing!” the gaydar goes off.
Now, this much was expected. The stereotype which says gay guys work in hospitality seems to hold water: the guy behind the counter was quite campy. What wasn’t expected, however, was the fact that two of the couples in front of the counter were giving off the gay vibe as well.
Now, usually, my gaydar is set on “optimistic” because, well, we all live in hope, don’t we? That said, with couples or groups its easier to be sure since you can observe how they react to each other: the occasional glance, the odd touch, the speech patterns. If this sample was anything to go by, 60% of the hotel was totally fruity. I grinned.
As an aside on gay detection: gay guys don’t all lisp, mince and flick wrists. We don’t all speak in a high pitched voice and call each other darling. But I think that many of us “camp it up” a little so people can figure things out for themselves. If I could wear a bright pink triangular neon sign without causing offense, I would. I cross my legs when I sit, I mince when I remember to, it also helps that I have this pretty gay looking bracelet. A boy once called me a “faggot” as I walked past in the street: I was so pleased I could have kissed him.
Anyway, my suspicion as to the level of gay at the Holiday Inn was confirmed when I spied an advertisement for “Oilcan Harry’s” (a well-known gay bar I had read about before coming) proudly displayed in the foyer. I guessed this must have something to do with the “last splash” which I had also briefly read about just before driving down. More about that later…
After checking in and getting all my stuff settled, I dragged myself back out of the hotel room, closed the door and took a steadying breath. I was dead tired but I intended on achieving as many goals as I could in the brief time I had available. One of my goals was to experience the local night life.
Now, those of you who know me personally know how difficult this is for me since I am painfully shy. Still, I sucked it up, got into my little hybrid car and drove the city centre. I found parking on 4th and walked to 6th street (what appears to be the local gay strip in Austin).
I walked past a long queue of people and found myself at the entrance to Oilcan Harry’s. I turned back to look at the queue in surprise. This was the queue for the bar, out here on the street! I looked over to the opposite side of the street to see a group of hetero people queuing for their own bar. As I joined the back of the queue, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. We were here, and we were not required to go in the back way (so to speak). We could loiter outside in the street like everyone else. I didn’t feel like I had to hide at all while in Austin.
Anyway, I finally managed to get to the front of the queue. Apparently there was some football game or something and the right people won, so everyone was out celebrating.
Now, normally, when I enter bars people don’t ask me for ID. They never ask for ID anymore and I always feel a little cheated. There was a time when I looked young for my age and I was always so embarrassed when I got bounced because I didn’t have a driver’s license. Now that I have the beard, it makes me look older at the exact time when I would rather look younger. Then again life was never supposed to be fair.
This time, much to my pleasure, the guy at the door asked me for my ID. I showed it to him with a smile.
“So, who’s with you sweetie?” he inquired
“Huh? Oh no, it’s just me” I said with just a twinge of regret.
“Well, Stephen with a PH, welcome and have fun” he said cheerfully, handing me my drivers license and giving me a playful slap on the rump.
Now, I know that girls complain about such treatment but I have no idea what they are complaining about. It made me feel good and I didn’t feel threatened at all.
I went through to the inner sanctum where a guy with no shirt asked me how many people I was with. “Uh, just me” I repeated a little despondently. He took my money, gave me a token and ushered me onwards.
As I walked in it was immediately apparent why there was such a queue: the place was packed. They played modern music, unlike my last gay bar experience and I was already warming to the place. I avoided a couple who were making out in a very serious way and sidled up to the bar.
“What’s this for?” I queried the barman, proffering the token a little bewilderedly.
“That’ll get you a drink. Anything you like, honey.”
“And he does mean anything” the guy standing next to me emphasized with a knowing grin.
“Uh, Vodka – 7Up, please” I suggested. He made quickly made my drink and asked if I wanted a lime or lemon. “Oh, that’s OK” I said, reaching for a lime myself. He went for the limes too and we had an awkward “oh no, don’t worry, I’ll get it” moment.
Armed with drink and lime, I made my way to the dance floor to see what was going on. The difference between this and the other bars I have been to was striking. On the other side of the bar, on top of what looked like an extension to the bar counter were three young (I’d say mid to late 20’s) men. Three young men clad in nothing but a G-string. G-Strings with money tucked into the straps. I got an eyeful then turned my attention from the thong to the throng.
I walked through the crowd, taking in the sites, trying to match pace with the flow of patrons around me. It was so packed that the people really did “flow”, filtering slowly between each other like rivulets of molten lava.
Now, as you can probably guess, the place was almost 90% men. That said there were a few token Lesbians and/or straight girls there joining in the festivities. I know it’s a terrible stereotype but many Lesbians do appear to be quite large women. I experienced this first hand when trying to squeeze between two of them. It’s really hard to describe but I will try.
There were two women standing at the bar, face to face and talking. They were both about twice and a bit my size. A constant stream of skinny gay guys squeezed between them, voluminous breasts and flesh squishing against smooth neat backs and chests. The girls laughed good-naturedly every time a guy did this. It really was a comical moment.
I made it out to the back of the place and found another (rather more festive looking) bar which did far more fruity drinks. I did another lap of the bar and eventually ordered a Long Island Iced Tea.
Now, a Long Island Iced Tea is a very potent drink which you can down pretty quickly. Why was I so intent on getting drunk, you ask? Well, I wanted to dance of course!
I love to dance, but on the rare occasion I do go out (maybe twice a year) I usually go with friends. Almost everyone here at the bar had come with someone else or (in the case of younger people) with a whole crowd. There’s an odd sense of isolation that comes from going to a social event on your own.
So, I stood on the dance floor with my back to the wall, drinking happily. Many of the guys had their shirts off and most of them had no body hair. Apparently they do that to make themselves look younger. It was working. Once I had finished my drink (doesn’t take much, I am a cheap date) I started dancing.
Now, dancing in the “modern” style is quite easy, it’s a variant on the two-step (one, two, one-two, one, two) to a faster tempo. You have to remember to move your arms and the rest of your body or you look like a Goth at a rock concert.
It’s easy to get self-conscious in that situation. Were you to behave like that on your own in a place with better lighting you would look completely spastic. The thing to remember though is that everyone feels self-conscious. They are so busy being afraid that someone will notice how much they suck that they don’t have the time to notice how much you suck.
The thing is: just enjoy yourself. I love to dance and so I danced till closing time (around 3am). After a brief walk around the city and a quick drive home, I all but collapsed on my bed with exhaustion.
Now, you might consider that to be gay enough. “Surely going to a gay bar with scantily clad guys dancing on tables and shirtless men gyrating on the dance floor is gay enough” you say. Well, no, it isn’t. Not quite.
You see, I had been researching about this “splash” thing. It’s a biannual event and I had fortunately happened upon the “last splash” which happens on the first Sunday of September. This event happens at the only nude beach in Texas: Hippie Hollow. I decided God must be telling me something. It was just too much of a coincidence that I turn up in Austin at exactly the right time without any planning. I resolved to go, no matter how scared I was.
The trip out to Hippie Hollow is a long one, but I made good time, I arrived there at around midday and got out of my car with a bag of clothes and a towel in my hand.
I walked up to the entrance with more than a little trepidation. I had never been to a nude beach in my life. I had never had the opportunity, but besides which I have always been too afraid. There was a time when I was afraid that my body would expose me as being gay, that I would have no reaction to women but that naked guys would cause my own naked body to respond in a very visible, very embarrassing way.
I can be aroused just by thinking about certain guys fully clothed, let alone naked, so I was going to start off with all my clothes firmly in place and only disrobe if I was certain I wouldn’t end up embarrassing myself or offending anyone. I was fully prepared to go naked if that’s what it took to fit in. I may be shy but I do have willpower.
My hands were shaking as I walked past the first “rest room” (Americans don’t like to use the word “toilet” they think it’s dirty or something). Everyone walking along with me was also still fully clothed. With the exception of the occasional old hippy couple I didn’t come across a single naked body which was something of a relief to my frayed nerves.
As I neared the festivities, the words of the lady at the gate made sense: “go way down to the west end, you’ll recognize them when you see them”. There was a great of music coming from the West end. I walked through a group of young people handing out something very colourful. A guy pressed a packet of condoms into my hands. “Have a great day” I grinned ruefully and put them into my pocket. I was a little bemused since the by-laws at the beach explicitly prohibited “lewd behaviour” of any sort. Anything requiring a condom qualifies as “lewd” in my book and I had no intention of needing them.
I finally ended up at my destination. It’s not so much a beach as it is a cliff. Lake Travis is a hydroelectric reservoir and is carved out of cliffs which comprise what must be some kind of limestone or sandstone. I picked my way through the trail of broken rocks and found a place in the shade, well back from everyone else.
I took advantage of my position to get a feeling for what was going on. This link is a shot I took as I was leaving, I didn’t want to take pictures up close since that would be rude: See here for the large version.
Out on the water, about 50 or so pleasure yachts and power boats sat moored just off the “shore” (or rather, where the rocks plunged deeply into the water). Between them, on them, and around them, people danced and swam in the water, to the sound of contemporary up-beat music. I found my foot tapping along to the beat.
The cliff dropped off quite sharply about 50 meters from where I sat. Because of vertigo and shyness I sat well back under the shade of some trees. Between me and the start of the steep descent, a few guys were getting changed in full view but I was pleased to note that there was no physical reaction on my part, possibly because my hands were shaking violently the whole time.
Not to be outdone, I unbuttoned my shirt and let it hang open. This can be quite dramatic since I was wearing what my friends know as my “stripper shirt” it has buttons which come undone at a slight pull and so I can literally rip my shirt off for dramatic effect. Not something I do very often, mind you.
As the minutes passed by I realised I hadn’t planned this very well: I had nothing to eat, nothing to drink, no sensible shoes and no sun screen. I needed water. At the thought of water, I suddenly became quite thirsty. I resolved to go back to the car and buy some supplies. I picked my way back through the rocks and onto the pathway, trying not to sweat too much in the interminable heat.
I passed a group of guys, one said “natural, no ass” under his breath as they walked past. It took a while for me to realise he was referring to me, and then a little while longer to realise it wasn’t necessarily a compliment. Now, I am happy with my body. It took me a long time to get to this stage but I actually like myself the way I am and would not deign to make any large adjustments if I were given the chance. There was a time at University when I used to cover myself up with bulky clothing. I guess I was self-conscious, aren’t we all? I have decided I should get better jeans though. I have a very nice ass, thank you very much!
I took a quick 30 minute trip to the local store and bought some drinks, chocolates, a cooler box (they call them igloo’s here I think) and some sunscreen, then made my way back to my spot on the “beach”. The party was really starting to swing into action.
I found a spot next to a couple who I didn’t find attractive (I was in no state to be sittig with anyone I might find attractive) and took off my shirt again. One member of the couple made a little noise at this, I guess it did have the dramatic effect after all. I covered myself in sun screen and even managed to ask one of the guys to do my back. Prudence overcame shyness here. When you’re pale like me a sun burnt back is a very bad thing.
Finally, before I could think too much about it, I took off my jeans. There. That was my final concession and as far as I would go. In fact, it was as far as I needed to go. I was surprised that no one (with the exception of a few old hippies) seemed to have their clothes off. Most people were in what I would call board shorts or skimpy little hip-hugging things you could possibly mistake for swimming shorts.
I surveyed the crowd and immediately began to feel “fat”. Now I really am not fat. In fact, I lost a bit of weight while I have been here through diet and exercise. I know this because my jeans which were originally very tight now have about 2 inches of play on them so that they drop to around my hips in a most satisfying fashion.
Even so, the guys around me had far less fat. How can I describe it? Well, mostly they had a Brazilian bronze tan, and that was not the only thing Brazilian about them: they had no body hair, none. Just smooth chests and backs, accompanied by well defined, toned muscles. I have to admit I felt inadequate.
It’s ironic because those are not the sorts of guys I like anyway. I like guys like me: geeky and perhaps with glasses as an added bonus. There were some guys like me but we were by far the minority, most of the guys in attendance were impossibly pretty boys.
In my self-conscious state I studiously ignored everyone else’s eyes, trying very hard not to attract attention. Once again, I found myself a single person in a crowd of groups. Everyone had come with at least one friend explicitly so they wouldn’t feel awkward or embarrassed like I did. In hindsight that was silly of me but we don’t always have the benefit of hindsight when we need it do we?
I spent a good few hours like that, just listening to the music, watching the people pass by and developing an abstract theory of gay male social interaction from observation. The shy people sat way back where I was, so that no one could see them. The more attractive/outgoing people sat on the cliff’s edge, the most attractive/outgoing people were out there on the boats or in the water, having fun while everyone else looked on enviously or begrudgingly.
I decided I was being silly. Everyone feels self-conscious at this sort of thing. The winners are those who pretend the best, or distract themselves long enough to no longer pay it any mind. I picked up my stuff, modestly wrapped a towel around my waist and walked to the edge of the cliff. I was going for a swim damnit, let them try to stop me!
I weaved through the people standing and sitting on the rocky shore, making my way slowly but inexorably down to the bottom. Halfway down I almost lost my footing and the towel slipped off, so much for modesty. I finally made it to the bottom and got into the water with nothing on but my briefs and sunglasses.
It was immediately apparent why everyone had brought a pool noodle or two. The water was very deep just off the shore. Also, because it was fresh water our natural buoyancy was quite low. Still, that wasn’t going to stop me, I treaded water for hours, just enjoying the cool of the water and the company of people I have identified as my own kind… or close enough to it anyway.
Once I was sick of the water and starting to prune up I got out to dry off on the cliff face. Still, I felt fat and unattractive sitting there on the side of the cliff in the company of all these “beautiful” people. There were older men on the boats taking pictures of the pretty young things on the cliffs as they dipped in and out of the water. I was a little surprised when I caught one taking a picture of me!
I glanced at a guy to my left, he was just a little younger than me, geeky, certainly with no muscles tan or anything of the sort. Still, of all the guys there, he would have been my pick for the most attractive. He did have glasses after all. As soon as he was out of the water, he put his shirt on hastily. I know that feeling well. I wanted to tell him it was a shame he felt he had to do that, it was shame that he didn’t have the confidence to be the beautiful person he was without having to compare himself to everyone else.
I realised then that God can teach us things in the strangest of places, even at a gay party on a nude beach in Texas. I think the lesson to be learnt from that is this: we’re all self-conscious of our bodies and there will always be someone more attractive than you are. But when it comes down to it, we are all beautiful in our own way. It’s our failure to believe in our own beauty which makes us unattractive, not the other way around.
I know a guy who used to do body building. Try as he might, he could never get himself big enough to satisfy his need for self-improvement. He felt small even though those around him thought he was incredibly well built. I know people who are too short, to tall, too fat, too skinny, people who have a real or perceived flaw which they try and hide but which makes them who they are. I know a guy who is very attractive but seems to hate his body so much he… well, we all hurt at some points in our lives and the thing is: we really don’t have to.