September 4, 2015

So A Gay Guy Walks Into A Redneck Bar…

I’d been in Minnesota for the past week for work, and I decided to stay through the weekend to hike and hang out at a lake. Friday rolled around, and after a dip in the quarry near the office, I was sitting in my car deciding how to spend my evening.

My client had told me about a country/western bar out on the east end of town. She said it was very “authentic”. I popped onto the bar’s website, and it turned out that there was a country band playing that night. I decided to go because I like a good bit of country music now and again.

I got in my car and headed east of town, where the bar was.

When I first saw the bar as I pulled up to it, I thought for just a moment, “Maybe I should turn around and go back into town…”

I was about to go full-on redneck.

You see, my client was NOT kidding when she said it was authentic. So authentic in fact, that the bar had the word “Redneck” in its sign out front. And a GIGANTIC “Budweiser” sign on the side. And a “Harley-Davidson” sign in bright neon lights. The parking lot was filling up with massive, loud pickup trucks. 

I parked and steeled myself in my car for a minute. Perhaps my fear was a irrational. But perhaps not. I've read about, heard about, and experienced the obstinate, irrational hate in redneck communities and so walking into a place like this wasn’t necessarily an easy thing to do.

I took in a deep breath and got out of the car. As I walked towards the bar, an older guy smiled at me.

“Nice car!” he said as he gestured towards my Camaro.

“Thanks! They’re pretty great cars,” I said. The short exchange calmed me down a bit.

I walked through a set of double doors, into the bar. And then saw a sign right there, proudly displayed for everyone to see as they walked in. I wish I’d taken a photo of the sign - but it said things like:
“Warning! This is an All-American bar.”
“There are going to be guns in here.”

There were Confederate flags peppered throughout the space. Good ol’ General Lee was on the wall.

I felt really, really out of place. I did not belong here, and boy, did I feel it! I didn’t feel out of place because people were throwing weird glances my way or anything like that, though. It was because as I looked around…

...I realized this was the straightest space I’d been in in a long, long time.



It was SO straight that I don’t think even the nails holding up the pictures on the walls were bent at all. It was like being around heterosexuality on steroids.

Somewhere in Toronto right at that moment, one of my gay friends happened to be at a theatre production where there were topless women running about, with breasts spinning in hypnotic circles.

There was a moment where he was making eye contact with a pair of areolas, and simultaneously, I was looking around at the interior of the redneck bar I was in. At the same time, in two different cities and one time zone apart, we both said “Wow. I am so, so gay."

I picked a table at the back, and took in the whole scene. The country band began to play, and then senior couples took to the dance floor and danced traditional countryman-woman dances. It was quaint.

But it was also surreal. When I came out at 18, the only world I ever knew was the super straight world of Alberta. In the 17 years since then, I’ve lived in a couple of different cities, finally ending up in Portland, Oregon. Portland’s the first place I’ve ever lived in my whole life where I truly felt like I belong and fit in. It felt strange to be taken back to a time in my life that as I get older, seems like it didn’t even happen.

It took me back to my youth in rural Alberta, most of which was spent feeling like I just didn’t belong. When you’re young, your limited life experience is all you know. Combine that with a natural human tendency to take past experiences to date and extrapolate them into the future… And I figured that I’d never fit in anywhere, ever.

Whenever I’ve been in really straight spaces like this bar, up until not too long ago, I’d watch straight people do straight people things, and I’d always feel wistful - because I knew I’d never be able to participate in their world, or do what they do - or really BELONG with them. It was compounded by my not feeling I had a real home anywhere I lived.

I was too weird and gay for Alberta. I was too weird for Ottawa. I was too small-town for Toronto. Only when I came to Portland, Oregon, did I feel, for the first
Portland, you SO were the paste-eating kid in class.
time in my life, that I was in a place that I truly belonged in.

Being in this redneck bar, I was experiencing again the familiar feeling of feeling out of place. But for the first time, it wasn’t painful.

It wasn’t painful because I finally knew that although I didn’t belong here… 

…I knew that I finally belonged somewhere.

I’ve grown past needing to keep trying to fit into something I don't fit into. When that thought entered my mind, I realized it was time to leave.

I don’t need to be here anymore.

The waitress brought the cheque. I finished the heart-attack sandwich I’d been eating, signed the cheque, got up and walked past the sign in the entrance, through the double doors, and back out into the crisp night air.

The sound of the door closing behind me was the sound of the door closing on a lifetime of experiences of feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. Finally.

I got into my Camaro, peeled onto the highway, to the city lights, due west.

West.

A little bit closer to Portland, and a little bit closer to home.