Thursday, May 22, 2008

Women and Men - Still So Far To Go

Tonight marks my first month here in San Diego, and so far I have to say I’m pretty impressed. Having just moved from Mobile, Alabama, I’m still overwhelmed by the incredible community presence here in Hillcrest. The rainbow flag flies over business after business, pink stickers proudly emblazon cars, and out gay men and women walk hand in hand in front of God and everybody. No, ma’am, this is not at all like Mobile.

Still, as much as I like all of this, there is one aspect of it that I definitely do not enjoy. You see, in a town like Mobile, there aren’t a whole lot of places for gay men and women to spend their time. Consequently, what places there are make certain that they are friendly and welcoming to all who choose to enter. What community exists is small enough that there is still a strong sense of inclusion.

Not so here in San Diego. When I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to wander into The Flame, I was told that Tuesday nights were Men’s Nights, and I should go somewhere else on a Thursday. He went on to say that men can go in if they really want to, but they should expect to be met with attitude and poor service. “Women here only have two bars, and they don’t want men in them,” he said, as if that cleared everything up.

To be fair, I did not go into The Flame that evening, nor any evening since, so I cannot say that he was right. Heck, the ladies there may be the nicest folks around, and my friend may just be an idiot. Still, it is clear to me that very few places here in San Diego actively seek a diverse group of customers. And, if the ladies in the city are protective of their two bars, could it be because the rest of the places don’t seem to want them around?

One other interesting observation. . . at least to me. Because there is only one country bar here in town, men and women can be found there. As I sat at the bar and watched groups of men and women dancing, drinking, and laughing together, I thought to myself that maybe this place would be the first of many bars in town where all of us felt welcome. If we can dance together here, why not everywhere else? I mean, it isn’t that far from a two-step at Kicker’s to the Macarena at Rich’s or the Flame, right?

Unfortunately, when I left the bar, I walked out through the restaurant. There, I still saw an almost even mix of men and women, but it wasn’t at all like it was inside. Outside, not a single table was occupied by a mixed group. I saw a table of women, then a table of men, a couple of men, then a couple of women, and so on. So much for coming together.

Perhaps it is the Southern Gentleman in me, but I truly do respect and appreciate women. I relish the spark and color of conversations with women, because we are so different. And, as part of the male gay community, I know that many of those who have worked so diligently in the battle against HIV/AIDS are women. Would we men have rallied so quickly and passionately if AIDS had hit the lesbians first? I would like to think so, but who knows?

My point, and I do have one - thank you Ellen - is that we all face enough discrimination and ignorance and attitude because we are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. What is the sense in facing more from each other?

I will go to The Flame this weekend, and to Club Bombay the weekend after, and I anticipate that I will be welcome there. And, I certainly hope I will see women at Shooterz and the Loft and every other bar in town, and when I do I will be the first to let them know they are appreciated. Until we learn to be there for each other, male and female, “Celebrate Diversity” will be just another stupid slogan.

One last thing. I had the incredible honor of meeting Urvashi Vaid during the Voices ‘96 rally. Is there a better example of someone seeing above and beyond all of the lines we draw between ourselves?

Originally published in San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, 08.29.96