Think about your happy place. You know, that place where you can be yourself, relax, do what you want, secure in the knowledge that everything is cool. Be you. The you that you’re meant to be.
15-plus years ago — a lifetime, it feels like — the only place I felt that way was a bar. A dingy, dark, dank-looking place — by design, I later realized, to discourage people from coming in. A place Big Gay Tony dragged me to, in the hopes of finding me a lady. (He ended up going home with the only other guy in the dyke bar, of course, and this lady went home alone every time I went there.)
Honestly, it was pretty gross. It’s probably best I never saw it in the daytime. It was filled with mean girls, a different brand than I hated in high school but cliques all the same. I think maybe someon dealt cocaine out of the bathroom? Or maybe that was the one on Polish Hill. I remember one of my good friends (Caroline, whose calls I eventually stopped returning because girl was drama ALL THE TIME) had sex with her girlfriend in the bathroom. She thought she was so great, but…I just thought it seemed unsanitary. Oh, Monica. Never change.
Even talking about it, we had a code. Those in the know. I jokingly said I thought a coworker was flirting with me a little — a bubbly blonde who seemed extra chipper when I was around. Just something about her pinged the gaydar. My work friends thought I was just seeing the world through rainbow-colored glasses. We found ourselves in the bathroom at the same time and struck up a conversation about our weekends — what we did, where we went, etc. “Dormont,” one of us said with knowing smile. “Me too,” said the other. And then we knew.
My first attempt at flirting took place at this hole-in-the-wall — CJ…something or other. CJ Deighans? CJ’s, we called it, because who has time for last names? I met my first girlfriend there, who had a dog she named after the bar. (Oh, lesbians. Never change.) I met her through her ex, who Tony tried to introduce me to. Honestly, I think he just walked up to overweight girls about my age and tried to play the “Have…you met Ted?” game. You know, before it was cool. I dated that girl I met at that bar for a year and a half…and probably about 17 1/2 months longer than I should have.
The only public place we ever were affectionate was that bar.
Let that sink in.
No touching. No hand holding. No kissing. No terms of endearment. Nothing.
I called her “honey” once while getting into my car in her driveway. She looked like she wanted to throat punch me.
She was also kind of awful.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine your only safe place having floors sticky with beer, air heavy with smoke, dance floor packed with a full spectrum of women — lipstick and leather and basketball shorts and cargo pants — while the DJ with the killer arms played horrible music? Because lesbians love line dancing, apparently.
And then imagine someone walks into your safe place, the one the extremely butch bouncer protects by just looking terrifying while she collects your five dollars, and starts shooting.
Literally the only place you can be yourself is violated.
Where can you feel safe? Where can you be normal when that’s taken away?
I’m a different person now. I don’t need a safe place. I’m my own safe place. I comfortably walk in a safe radius. I’ve changed, and so has the world, I guess. I’m better equipped if someone yells “hey, dyke!” at me, an occurrence that left me speechless at 24. But there’s less shouting these days.
Everyone saves it for the comments section.
Besides, if they’re staring now, it’s probably because of my hot wife.
I don’t need that bar to hold my lady’s hand anymore, but I remember what it was like. I remember how it made me feel.
If you never needed a bar to feel safe, you are lucky.
If you have never had to hide who you are, you are lucky.
If you have never felt fear in doing normal things, you are lucky. Normal things like…
- Holding someone’s hand
- Checking someone out
- Kissing your spouse
- Using a public bathroom and you forgot your purse and/or are wearing a hat
- Using a dressing room
- Getting married
- Choosing to wear non-gender-conforming clothing on any day, especially your wedding day
- Having children
I guess I’m just trying to explain why this shooting is, for me, extra terrifying. Maybe explain it to you and to myself.
15 years ago, that could have been me.
Except this time, I’m the lucky one…because it wasn’t.