Queer Space

Gay Ghosts II: Safe


"Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them. You simply say, 'Here are the perimeters of our attention. If you prowl around under the windows till the crickets go silent, we will pull the shades. If you wish us to suffer your envious curiosity, you must permit us not to notice it.' Anyone with one solid human bond is that smug, and it is the smugness as much as the comfort and safety that lonely people covet and admire."

- Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

"What’s noticeable about gay bars in the main is not their status as centers for public political organization but their anonymity. Equality also means the right to a space of one’s own, and gay bars represent a sort of separateness, or freedom from scrutiny, that’s available nowhere else in the culture. Unlike members of other marginalized groups defined by ethnicity or religion, gay people do not grow up in families comprised of people who share their demographic profile. There is, at first, no mother tongue to describe their experience of life, no traditions to bind themselves to the world. Gay bars are where gay people have, historically, found one another to learn that language and those traditions — and to invent them. Being gay is not a religion, but a place in which people come together to celebrate who they are in the face of life’s obstacles could be compared to a church."

- Daniel D’Addario, "The Gay Bar as Safe Space Has Been Shattered," time.com, June 12, 2016

In the children’s story of Ferdinand the Bull,
the bull gets off. He sits down, won’t fight.
He manages to walk out of the ring without that
sharp poke of steel being shoved through
his back and deep into his heart. He returns
to the ranch and the sniffing of flowers.
But in real life, once the bull enters the ring,
then it’s a certainty he will leave ignominiously,
dragged out by two mules while the attention of
the crowd rivets on the matador, who, if he’s good,
holds up an ear, taken from the bull, and struts
around the ring, since it is his business to strut
as it is the bull’s business to be dragged away.

It is the original eagerness of the bull which
take’s one’s breath. Suddenly he is there, hurtling
at the barrier, searching for something soft and
human to flick over his shoulder, trying to hook
his horn smack into the glittering belly
of the matador foolish enough to be there.
But there is a moment after the initial teasing
when the bull realizes that ridding the ring
of these butterfly creatures is not what
the afternoon is about. Sometimes it comes with
the first wrench of his back when the matador
turns him too quickly. Sometimes it comes
when the picador is driving his lance into
the bull’s crest–the thick muscle between
the shoulder blades. Sometimes it comes when
the banderillos place their darts into that same
muscle and the bull shakes himself, trying to
free himself of that bright light in his brain.
Or it may come even later, when the matador
is trying to turn the bull again and again,
trying to wrench that same muscle which he uses
to hold up his head, to charge, to toss a horse.
It is the moment the bull stops and almost thinks,
when the eagerness disappears and the bull
realizes these butterflies can cause him pain,
when he turns to hunt out his querencia.

It sounds like care: querencia–and it means
affection or fondness, coming from querer,
to want or desire or love, but also to accept
a challenge as in a game, but it also means
a place chosen by a man or animal–querencia–
the place one cares most about, where one is
most secure, protected, where one feels safest.
In the ring, it may be a spot near the gate
or the place he was first hurt or where
the sand is wet or where there’s a little blood,
his querencia, even though it looks like any
other part of the ring, except this is the spot
the bull picks as his home, the place he will
defend and keep returning to, the place where
he again decides to fight and lifts his head
despite the injured muscle, the place the matador
tries to keep him away from, where the bull,
sensing defeat, is most dangerous and stubborn.

The passage through adulthood is the journey
through bravado, awareness, and resignation
which the bull duplicates in his fifteen minutes
in the ring. As for the querencia, we all have
a place where we feel safest, even if it is only
the idea of a place, maybe an idea by itself,
the place that all our being radiates out from,
like an ideal of friendship or justice or perhaps
something simpler like the memory of a back porch
where we laughed a lot and how the setting sun
through the pine trees shone on the green chairs,
flickered off the ice cubes in our glasses.
We all have some spot in our mind which we
go back to from hospital bed, or fight with
husband or wife, or the wreckage of a life.
So the bull’s decision is only the degree
to which he decides to fight, since the outcome
is already clear, since the mules are already
harnessed to drag his body across the sand.
Will he behave bravely and with dignity or
will he be fearful with his thick tongue lolling
from his mouth and the blood making his black
coat shiny and smooth? And the audience, no matter
how much it admires the matador, watches the bull
and tries to catch a glimpse of its own future.

At the end, each has a knowledge which is just
of inevitability, so the only true decision
is how to behave, like anyone supposedly–
the matador who tries to earn the admiration
of the crowd by displaying grace and bravery
in the face of peril, the bull who can’t
be said to decide but who obeys his nature.
Probably, he has no real knowledge and,
like any of us, it’s pain that teaches him
to be wary, so his only desire in defeat
is to return to that spot of sand, and even
when dying he will stagger toward his querencia
as if he might feel better there, could
recover there, take back his strength, win
the fight, stick that glittering creature to the wall,
while the matador tries to weaken that one muscle–
the animal all earnestness, the man all deceit–
until they come to that instant when the matador
decides the bull is ready and the bull appears
to submit by lowering his head, where the one
offers his neck and the other offers his belly,
and the matador’s one hope is for a clean kill,
that the awful blade of the horn won’t suddenly
rear up into the white softness of his groin.

One October in Barcelona I remember watching
a boy, an apprentice, lunge forward for the kill
and miss and miss again, how the bull would fling
the sword out of his back and across the ring,
and again stagger to his feet and shake himself,
and how the boy would try again and miss again,
until his assistant took a dagger and stabbed
repeatedly at the spinal cord as the bull tried
to drag himself forward to that place in the sand,
that querencia, as the crowd jeered and threw
their cushions and the matador stood back ashamed.
It was cold and the sun had gone down. The brightly
harnessed mules were already in the ring, and everyone
wanted to forget it and go home. How humiliating
it seemed and how hard the bull fought at the end
to drag himself to that one spot of safety, as if
that word could have any meaning in such a world.

QUOTES CITED IN PASSAGE; POEM, "QUERENCIA," BY STEPHEN DOBYNS; INTERIOR IMAGES VIA PULSEORLANDO.COM, THE WASHINGTON POST, CLUBZONE.COM, AND YELP 

Gay Ghosts I: Lived in Bars


G.A.Y. at ASTORIA: Dancefloor and Stage, London, UK, 2003

G.A.Y. at ASTORIA: Dancefloor and Stage, London, UK, 2003

"There is no queer space; there are only spaces used by queers or put to queer use. Space has no natural character, no inherent meaning, no intrinsic status as public or private. As Michel de Certeau has argued, it is always invested with meaning by its users as well as its creators, and even when its creators have the power to define its official and dominant meaning, its users are usually able to develop tactics that allow them to use the space in alternative, even oppositional ways that confound the designs of its creators." [5]

BUS PALLADIUM: Back Hallway with Spare Disco Ball, Paris, France, 2003

BUS PALLADIUM: Back Hallway with Spare Disco Ball, Paris, France, 2003

“The first year contained the thrill of newness, and the thrill of exclusivity - that all these people who might not even know each other, but who knew who each other were, had been brought together in the winter, in this little room, without having done a single thing to bring it about. They all knew each other without ever having been introduced. They formed a group of people who had danced with each other over the years, gone to the same parties, the same beaches on the same trains, yet, in some cases, never even nodded at each other. They were bound together by a common love of a certain kind of music, physical beauty, and style - all the things one shouldn’t throw away an ounce of energy pursuing, and sometimes throw away a life pursuing. 

Within this larger group - for some of them came but once a moment, or twice all season - was a core of people who seemed to have no existence at all outside of this room. They were never home, it seemed, but lived only in the ceaseless flow of this tiny society’s movements. They seldom looked happy. They passed one another without a word in the elevator, like silent shades in hell, hell-bent on their next look from a handsome stranger. Their next rush from a popper. The next song that turned their bones to jelly and left them all on the dance floor with heads back, eyes nearly closed, in the ecstasy of saints receiving the stigmata. They pursued these things with such devotion that they acquired, after a few seasons, a haggard look, a look of deadly seriousness. Some wiped everything they could off their faces and reduced themselves to blanks. Yet even these, when you entered the hallway where they stood waiting to go in, would turn toward you all at once in the one unpremeditated moment (as when we see ourselves in a mirror we didn’t know was there), the same look on all their faces: Take me away from this. Or, Love me. If there had been a prison for such desperadoes, you would have called the police and had them all arrested - just to get them out of these redundant places and give them a rest. 

There was a moment when their faces blossomed into the sweetest happiness, however - when everyone came together in a single lovely communion that was the reason they did all they did; and that occurred around six-thirty in the morning, when they took off their sweat-soaked T-shirts and screamed because Patti Jo had begun to sing: ‘Make me believe in you, show me that love can be true.’ By then, the air was half-nauseating with the stale stench of poppers, broken and dropped on the floor after their fumes had been sucked into the heart, and the odor of sweat, and ethyl chloride from the rags they clamped between their teeth, holding their friends’ arms to keep from falling. The people on downs were hardly able to move, and the others rising from the couches where they had been sprawled like martyrs who have given up their souls to Christ pushed onto the floor and united in the cries of animal joy because Patti Jo had begun to sing in her metallic, unreal voice those signal words: ‘Make me believe in you, show me that love can be true.’” [2]

THE COCK: Bathroom View #1, New York, NY, USA, 2002

THE COCK: Bathroom View #1, New York, NY, USA, 2002

THE COCK: Bathroom View #2, New York, NY, USA, 2002

THE COCK: Bathroom View #2, New York, NY, USA, 2002

"No place better realizes his juvenile dream of grown-up space than this piano bar: where he produces so many signs of adultness that one would almost think he is suffering from a delusion that (despite his frequent patronage or his manifest majority) there may even now arise some difficulty about his right to be here, which he is prepared to assert by exercising it in every way possible. As he inhales the intoxicating bitterness of adult life through the tobacco, or imbibes it in the alcohol, whose prodigal consumption starting from the moment he gets past the door only the eagerness of his intemperance persuades us is not a formal condition of admission, like the removal of one's shoes in a Japanese foyer, he is celebrating not so much how far he has journeyed from a place—his mythically straight-laced home or home town—as his distance from a time, that of his childhood, when he couldn't abide either of these acrid tastes. And if it were not enough that the law had already designated both substances for adults only, he must further subject them to protocols connoting adult ways of consuming them. Well versed in the manual of sophisticated smoking, for instance, he pinches the cigarette tensely between thumb and forefinger, as though held with any less rigidity it would be in danger of slipping from his grasp, or even of disintegrating, while his remaining fingers, left to fend for themselves by the mental or motor exertions this vise requires, fly ungovernably into the air. So he means to signify the adult theme of Work, having understood from his father, who even off the job never had time for him, that smoking, only apparently allied with the conditions of leisure, relaxation, pleasure, was really of a piece with all those worrisome, demanding obligations of adult life that, unlike a child who "didn't have to" perform them, but had only to hear how indispensable the driven performance of them was to putting clothes on his back and a roof over his head, couldn't be neglected." [1]

THE ENDUP: Seating Area with Secret Basement Staircase, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2002

THE ENDUP: Seating Area with Secret Basement Staircase, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2002

THE ENDUP: Main Dance Floor and DJ Booth, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2002

THE ENDUP: Main Dance Floor and DJ Booth, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2002

G.A.Y.: Pink Barstools, London, UK, 2003

G.A.Y.: Pink Barstools, London, UK, 2003

"Or, adopting the pose shown on a different page, he sets the cigarette stiffly at arm's length behind him or to his side: by which gesture he burns incense to adult Self-determination, the triumph of his will to smoke--or not--as he pleases, when--but only when--he wants. If 'the habit' now makes that victory wholly imaginary, he is at any rate free of the asthmatic manifestations that formerly would have greeted the faintest wisp of one of those great clouds amid which, comfortable as a rococo divinity reclining on them, he now sits perched atop his stool. Or again, having turned another page, he waves his cigarette in so generous an arc that he might be a conjurer and it his wand. From the ashes that he scatters no less grandiosely than if they had come from the cinerary urn of a loved one, what is reborn is himself, a big boy now: this gesture of Largesse having literally secured his enlargement by the simple expedient of doubling the amount of space that others must allow him. The ingestion of alcohol (as distinct from its application, in the form of cologne, where mere proof of use is required) has similarly to bear the supplementary mark of sophistication, here inscribed by the fanciful nomenclature of the cocktail, that once mystifying set of names which he can never now pronounce without taking secret pride in the worldly initiation that has entailed their correct usage, or—what is the same thing—without feeling deep relief, whenever he orders a 'screwdriver,' a 'grasshopper,' a 'greyhound,' a 'Manhattan,' that the bartender does not scowl, or smirk, or give any other sign of being asked to bring forth from his shaker a tool, an insect, an animal, the whole metropolis." [1]

GHETTO: Red DJ Booth, London, UK, 2003

GHETTO: Red DJ Booth, London, UK, 2003

“With the Nightclub Interiors I was interested in 'outing' these spaces that are normally imagined and experiences cloaked in color lighting and darkness. Using lighting and the large format photography, I wanted to create a detailed record of these places that are so often mythologized.

The thing I love about the Interiors project is how it operates on the one hand as an almost typological, documentary photography. On the other hand, this wouldn’t be enough to keep me interested.

Nightclubs provide a location for the creation of the LGBTQ community. The closest thing I suppose to a national gay holiday is the night of the Stonewall Riots, which began in a gay bar in the West Village in 1969. Even before this, academics such as George Chauncey wrote about the significance of these places in his book Gay New York, dating back to the early 1920s, I believe (it’s been a while since I read it). Looking back at my own life, the club was the first place I could really perform my sexual orientation in a semi-public space. Despite their limitations - and there are MANY - it provided a location for me to express my sexual identity, and I am certain, for many others.” [3]

JACQUES CABARET: Red Bar and Stools, Boston, MA, USA, 2001

JACQUES CABARET: Red Bar and Stools, Boston, MA, USA, 2001

LES BAINS: Friday Night Swimming Pool, Paris, France, 2003

LES BAINS: Friday Night Swimming Pool, Paris, France, 2003

"The social life of the men who participated in this study centered around interaction in the gay bar. The importance of bars in the lives of these men is reflected in the finding that all but two of them reported frequent visits. One of these men, who was in his late sixties, felt that he did not fit in because of his age. He occasionally went to bars but only with a friend. Such an excursion would normally be incorporated into an evening out, with dinner or a show. Even on these occasions, he would limit himself to one glass of wine and then leave early. The other man who no longer when to bars was a recovering alcoholic. He felt that if he did go, he would be strongly tempted to drink. The acknowledgment by the other recovering alcoholics that they still attended the bars even though they did not drink is clear evidence of the importance of these establishments in the gay community.

When male homosexuals talk about the gay bar scene, they typically use the generic expression, 'the bar.' This term evokes emotions for gay people in a way that it does not for heterosexuals. It refers to a social institution around which people's very lives are organized and to which their daily schedules are oriented. Many men 'live for the bar,' as the focal point of their nonworking lives. In this sense, 'the bar' is simultaneously a particular bar and a generic term, with implications reaching well beyond individual drinking establishments.

For gay men, especially those who are not in love relationships, the bar is a social center where friendship cliques meet to exchange gossip and information and to enjoy each other's company (Hooker, 1967), and is still the most common setting for this kind of interaction. In a Los Angeles study, for example, Fifield (1975) found that social activity revolved around the bars and that few bar patrons socialized in other settings. The problem, as Fifield sees it, is that the social options of gay people are severely limited. Read (1980) further notes the special importance for the homosexual tavern as a place where people can feel accepted. For Read, the essence of the bar is that it is 'a setting in which it is possible to find and experience a commonality that contrasts with the world beyond the tavern's doors' (p. 69) That is, the attraction of the bar is not merely alcoholic or sexual; it is a place where a person can feel 'normal.' There, his homosexuality is accepted, taken as a given, and shared by others in the setting. It is the one place in which he does not have to worry about covering his feelings or being rejected for his sexuality. Thirty-nine percent of the men I interviewed mentioned a feeling of belonging as an important motivation for going to gay bars." [4]

THE SCALA: Pink Staircase, London, UK, 2003

THE SCALA: Pink Staircase, London, UK, 2003

"The power of this function of the bar cannot be overemphasized. As noted earlier, many gay people grow up with a sense of isolation. They have feelings they cannot share with anyone, and they often believe that they are the only ones in the world with homoerotic attractions (Weinberg, 1983). Despite the fact that homophile organizations have existed for forty years in the United States (Yearwood & Weinberg, 1979), a wider gay world has been formed only relatively recently with institutions such as churches, restaurants, banks and the creation of holidays such as Gay Pride Week. Yet for gays, the tavern has historically been virtually the only place where group solidarity is expressed. The gay bar has traditionally brought individuals together to deal as a group with a common problem of adjustment: the normalization of a stigmatized identity. It is, therefore, properly understood as the focal point for the formation of a subculture (Cohen, 1955).

Achilles (1967) notes that the most important function of the bar is the provision of a meeting place within which gays can comfortably interact. 'Without such a place to congregate,' Achilles feels, 'the group would cease to be a group' (p. 230). The loss of the group, either by its dissolution or by leaving it, may cause severe problems for some gay men. Without such a group serving as an extended family and providing emotional support, validation of one's normalcy, and recreation, the individual would have a more difficult time developing and maintaining gay identity (Nardi, 1982). This seems to be especially true for some gays who have very little to do with heterosexuals except in work or school settings, and whose associations are therefore limited to other gay people. Since the bar is where they meet their friends and since they perceive few alternatives for social interaction outside of the gay world, they are effectively locked into the bar scene if they want any kind of social life at all. If they leave the bar, they may also abandon much of gay life and become isolated from the gay world." [4]

SINNERS: View of the Chandelier from the Second Floor, Amsterdam, NL, 2003

SINNERS: View of the Chandelier from the Second Floor, Amsterdam, NL, 2003

THE HOLE: New York, NY, 2005

THE HOLE: New York, NY, 2005

ALL BAR INTERIOR IMAGES BY JESSE FINLEY REED; TEXT [1] TAKEN FROM "THE PIANO BAR" BY D.A. MILLER, AS REPRINTED IN THE BOOK STUD: ARCHITECTURES OF MASCULINITY; TEXT [2] TAKEN FROM DANCER FROM THE DANCE BY ANDREW HOLLERAN, 1978; TEXT [3] AS WRITTEN BY JESSE FINLEY REED, TAKEN FROM EASTVILLAGEBOYS.COM; TEXT [4] "GAY MEN, DRINKING, AND ALCOHOLISM" BY THOMAS S. WEINBERG, 1994; TEXT [5] TAKEN FROM "PRIVACY COULD ONLY BE HAD IN PUBLIC: GAY USES OF THE STREETS" BY GEORGE CHAUNCEY, AS REPRINTED IN THE BOOK STUD: ARCHITECTURES OF MASCULINITY; MANY THANKS TO JESSE FINLEY REED FOR HIS HELP WITH THIS POST