31 agosto 2016

My First Gay Bar

By Carlos Martín Gaebler

Dedicated to Efrain, with brotherly love

42nd Street membership card
For generations of gays and lesbians, walking into a gay bar for the first time has long held a significant place in our personal histories. This was never more apparent than in the days following the homophobic mass shootings at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people lost their lives, and which prompted many to recall the nights they had spent in similar venues, and the sense of community they found there. Every gay person remembers the first time they went to a gay bar and how they felt.

Prior to the internet era, gay bars were integral to our social development. They were an escape from the often unfriendly outside world, packed every night of the week, and everyone inside was a friend, a brother. In those analogical times, we were awfully lucky that the guys weren’t focused on their iPhones but on each other when you entered the place. Also, fortunately, in 1980 AIDS hadn’t yet started its devastating advance.

At the time, I was a Spanish graduate student and Teaching Assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill ready to set the world on fire. 42nd Street (later on renamed as Power Company) opened in 1979. It was a converted department store (Rayless) located in downtown Durham, North Carolina, on 156 West Ramseur Street, next to the Corcoran multi-storey parking lot, with bars encircling the dance floor and the biggest disco ball in the Carolinas. The ground floor led to a mezzanine balcony at one end and to a basement full of pinball machines and pool tables at the other. The DJ booth sat above a stairwell overlooking the dance floor near the back bar. The large dancing area was like a hedonistic shrine, and Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” was its anthem. Conversations would stop the second it came on and everybody would rush to the dance floor to join in this celebratory ritual.

This iconic disco was a non-segregated space where gay men and lesbians, black and white patrons, old and young, homos and straights, even Dukies and Tar Heels, haha, shared a good time together in brotherly spirit. It was a club for equality like I have never seen since. I was a gay kid in my early twenties who had just come out of the closet after years of unbearable loneliness. I had been victim of humiliation and bullying during my adolescence. At 42nd Street I had no need to fight off bullies because I was among boys like me, and I felt protected.

I was first taken to 42nd Street by Tony and Tony, a gay couple I had met upon arriving in Chapel Hill. My jaws dropped when I walked through the door. I couldn’t believe my eyes, gorgeous guys everywhere. I remember asking my friend Tony “But are all these boys gay?” He simply answered “Yep!” My life was never the same after that day in the fall of 1980. I went back countless times during my 3-year stay in Chapel Hill. I would get a lift from school friends or from my housemate Ritchie Bennett. I would drink liters of orange juice and water to stay hydrated and dance the night away.  I recall the 80s disco music, the liturgy of the awesome drag shows, the cute guys milling about, the club kids dancing bare-chested on the speakers: It was gay heaven! I could be myself. I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I was finally home.
Original 42nd St advert with no physical address.

13 comentarios:

Carlos Martín Gaebler dijo...

PS: This is my personal reminiscence of this legendary gay dance club. I now hope social historians will pick up from here and produce a video documentary for TV or YouTube so that new generations will learn what a significant role 42nd Street played in the history of North Carolina and about the 80s dance club culture.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I especially want to thank Greg Hutcheson, Efrain Zambrana, Dale High, Eddie Pearce, Mark Holt, and Jim Mathews for their enthusiastic contribution to my research.

GPS Location: 35.995765º or 78.903616º Currently the basement premises, which hosted the bottom floor of 42nd Street, are occupied by Teasers, a men’s club. The rest of the venue (the main floor and the mezzanine) remains closed and just as it was three decades ago.

Dee Hache dijo...

Carlos, that was faaaaaaaabulous! Thank you so much for sharing. I'll be sure to share it with our friends!

Gema Pastor dijo...

Qué bonito, emocionante e íntimo!! Gracias por compartirlo, Carlos. Creo que podrá ayudar a muchas personas que pasan por situaciones parecidas. Enhorabuena!!

ROCIO PASTOR GUEVARA dijo...

I Love it Carlos!You've expresed your feelings and experiences so well and it's great that you're sharing them with the world. Nobody shoud ever hide their feeling or sexuality whatever they are, so I applaud the powerful message in your blog. Congrats!

J.A.S. dijo...

Me ha encantado la historia, imaginarte entrando en el bar y cómo bombearía tu corazón en ese momento, jaja!

M.M. dijo...

Thanks for sharing that, Carlos. Moving and inspirational!

Paco Rubio Cuenca dijo...

Acabo de leer tu escrito y me ha encantado. Se ve que fue un cambio muy importante en tu vida. Y lo describes de una forma magistral, y no creo estar exagerando. Deberías escribir más sobre tus experiencias de aquellos años, cuando aquí estábamos saliendo de los oscuros años del franquismo. Me he quedado con las ganas de seguir leyendo más detalles del ambiente y de las gentes que frecuentaban 42nd Street. A mí me consta porque en una de las veces que nos vimos tras tu estancia en EEUU te noté muy cambiado, eras otra persona diferente al Carlos de los años de universidad. Destilabas felicidad y libertad por los cuatro costados, jeje, y estabas muy comprometido.

L.F. dijo...

Really sweet and moving article, beautifully written as well. You can really feel what the author experienced and what those years and 42nd street meant for him at that time, and how they played a key role to what he is today.

Felicia Coffey dijo...

I enjoyed this piece, and I think it's especially important to remind people that homophobic attitudes have real consequences for young people, such as feelings of loneliness, isolation, self-hate, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. We must refuse to let innocent children and adolescents go through that kind of suffering. All young people who feel isolated deserve to find their own 42nd Street, wherever it is!

Marian Turner dijo...

Carlos, I read your article--I think it's fantastic! And beautifully written. Kudos to you!!!

Lola Cáceres dijo...

¡¡Sencillamente genial!! Me ha emocionado leerte. He podido imaginarme a ese Carlos de veinte y pocos años descubriendo un nuevo mundo en el que la homosexualidad se vivía como algo normal y no era algo raro ni discriminatorio como sucedía en Sevilla en esos años. Me ha alegrado saber, por el comentario de Paco Rubio, de la alegría que transmitías cuando volviste. Estoy segura de que sabes la suerte que tuviste de tener estas otras vivencias que, sin duda, te ayudarían a paliar los momentos menos felices que tuviste que vivir por tu orientación sexual.

Aunque yo no tengo un nivel excelente de inglés, tu forma de contarlo me ha transmitido de un modo muy bonito tus sentimientos, tus emociones, tus recuerdos de aquel lugar y aquel tiempo. Leer esas líneas me ha parecido un soplo de aire fresco. Sí, como alguien más arriba comentaba, yo también me he quedado con ganas de más.

Gracias por compartir esas vivencias también conmigo.

Mª José González Madariaga dijo...

A pesar de mis lagunas de vocabulario, tu historia me ha emocionado profundamente... Lo volveré a leer con un diccionario para quedarme con la profundidad de los detalles. Ahora entiendo tu buen rollo en North Carolina del que hablábamos después de las vacaciones...Otro abrazo.

V.G.A. dijo...

Me ha gustado mucho leer tu historia. Es increíble que recuerdes la situación con tanto detalle. Yo no me acuerdo ni de lo que cené anoche 😂

Yo también recuerdo la primera vez que entré en un bar gay, pero la experiencia fue totalmente distinta en el sentido de que ya me imaginaba lo que me iba a encontrar. La era de internet es lo que tiene, que ya nada nos sorprende porque lo hemos visto antes.

Es muy interesante leer este relato viniendo de alguien que ha vivido los años previos al SIDA, realmente debió ser un duro golpe a la comunidad gay del que todavía hoy no se ha recuperado (en mi opinión).