Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Going out

A very brief recap: my wife and I separated in early January of this year. I waited a month to give myself time to adjust to our changed relationship, then I started "dating" men.

It turned out the dating was a joke. I met one guy and we didn't really connect.

As the days ticked by, I realized that I had a very bad attitude about dating which left me feeling completely unmotivated. If someone else wanted to do the work of hitting on me and piquing my interest, I was willing to show up and meet him. But that's as enthusiastic as I got.

It turned out that moving past a 24 year relationship was much more difficult than I expected.

Now things are different. I have successfully rearranged the deck chairs in my head and in my heart. I've reached the point where I am no longer holding on to my former wife or to our past. In that respect, I am motivated to date.

But, as I said at the time, I was afraid that I had another big issue holding me back. I was very worried that I didn't have the drive or fortitude to deal with the headaches of dating gay men.

I'm not certain yet, but I fear that I still have that problem.

My new friendship with Chet is going well. Somehow, miraculously, he's hit a sweet spot with me where he's gay and interesting and attentive, yet there's no sexual tension between us. It's still a new situation, but I'm very grateful to have a low-key, friendly, outgoing, established gay man who was the time and desire to show me the ropes.

Last Saturday we had planned to hang out for a few hours. I was on edge about even meeting because I was afraid to leave the kids home alone for too long or until too late. I told Chet I could meet up but I had to be home no later than 11:30. Always accommodating, he said, "No problem. We can just meet for a drink and talk." So we did.

After about an hour, we both were feeling bored. Not with each other, but with our surroundings. We live so close to San Francisco that there's never much going on nearby. Gay or straight, everyone knows the City is the place to go. So, on the spur of the moment, we decided to drive in to the Castro.

Because of my schedule, we had almost exactly two hours to spend, from 9pm - 11pm. Not exactly prime time on a Saturday night. Still, Chet was a trooper. He amazed me by instantly finding a prime parking spot on Castro Street, right in the center of the action.

First he took me to Cafe Flore, a coffee house and casual restaurant that's a popular pre-clubbing gathering spot. It was surprisingly quiet. Chet attributed that to the fact that the Folsom Street Fair was happening, thereby pulling people to the south of Market bars.

Next he took me to Qbar. He picked it because I told him that I was more attracted to twinks than any other 'type.' According to Chet, Qbar is the place to go if you're under 21 and you just happen to have an out-of-state paper ID with an older date of birth on it.

OMG, yes, the crowd was young. Not teens, thankfully, but predominately mid-20s. I'm really sensitive about my age as it is so standing around a bar with a bunch of kids made me feel extremely self-conscious.

As expected, no one talked to us, but we had fun talking about the bar and some of the guys in it. There were lots of girls there too. I haven't been in a gay bar in many years but I certainly don't remember seeing so many girls.

We each had a drink then we moved on to one of Chet's favorite "hang-outs", the Pilsner Inn. The Pilsner is a neighborhood bar that flies a rainbow flag outside. It's two blocks from the center of the Castro district, which is where Qbar is. Unlike Qbar, it is spacious, well-lit, and populated by men and women, not boys and girls. A number of Yelp write-ups compare it to Cheers. The bartenders and the regulars all know each other by name. And like Cheers, a tourist can stop by and, without much effort, find any number of friendly locals who are happy to chat.

We didn't have time for a drink at the Pilsner, and even if we did, I'm not sure whether we would have interacted with anyone. There was a group of slightly geekish 40-somethings there, and when I saw them, for the very first time that night, I didn't feel like a stranger in a strange land.

After the Pilsner, we walked back to the car, which was parked in the heart of the Castro. There were tons of men and boys around, including one beefy naked guy with a pierced foreskin attached to a chain. He was about 20 years past his prime, although still quite muscular. All I could think about was the pain of the piercing, so I could barely look at him. After I passed I silently prayed that hanging out on the street like that - older, naked, chained and impaled - would never seem like fun to me.

I'm not young. I've spent a lot of time in San Francisco. I've been to quite a few gay bars over the years. I have access to the Internet. "All that is gay" is not new to me.

But you know what? Walking around in the Castro and standing in the QBar made me really uncomfortable. Cafe Flore was a non-event, so that was fine, and I liked the Pilsner, but as I settled in to sleep that night, all I could think about was how THAT life is not for me.

For those of you have never been to the Castro, you might think it's an extreme place. While it's true that they don't let naked guys stand on the streets of Omaha, my perception is that the cutting-edge days of the Castro have long passed. It's not that the neighborhood feels old or tired, it's that the rest of the country has become more Castro-like. So, maybe I'm wrong, but it's my perception that if the Castro doesn't "feel like home" to me then there's no gay neighborhood in the world that would.

I'm trying to keep an open mind, and Chet is eager to push me ahead, but I am as concerned as ever that my lack of enthusiasm for mainstream gay means I'll have a very difficult time finding a gay guy who likes me for who I am - a traditional suburban dad who just happens to be gay.


  1. I don't know that I'm "mainstream gay" per se, but I've certainly been adjacent to it for 18 years if I'm not. And, as I've said before, I generally don't like the Castro. Every city has a different feel; even different bars in the same town can feel completely different, as you experienced. No one is going to feel perfectly at home everywhere.

    There's also the apprehension factor: as you go more, that disappears. I say, hit the Pilsner a few more times before deciding you're done.

  2. There's something useful with insightful soul searching, it helps you understand why you feel the way that you do but do you have to over-analyze everything? Can't you just enjoy the good times without agonizing what it may or may not mean? You go in with such a dour attitude, it's bound more than not to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that the experience is going to be disappointing. Just be you instead of worrying about trying to cater to the whims of the gay crowd.

  3. Cam, this is the first time in a long time that I didn't want to shake you by the shoulders.

    In this post you took responsibility for everything. Finally, it sounds like you've quite blaming your circumstances for holding you back, and for better or worse you are at least trying to forge ahead and find your own happiness.

    It's good to hear also how you are tasting different things and deciding what you do and do not like.

    You have the right to live a lifestyle that is comfortable for you. I certainly understand feeling more comfortable in mainstream suburbia, than in the rainbow flag's a matter of personal choice, right?

    My point is that now at least you seem to be taking an active interest in moving forward with your life, instead of an active interest in making excuses why you can't. Good job. This experience is yours buddy. Own it!

  4. I went to gay bars in Seattle and found myself more attracted to the women there then the men. I was flying solo, but the guys I saw didn't interest me very much. They seemed to be self-absorbed. My take on the guys I saw: "I don't have time for that. I have kids, a life. I am not interested in the drama in your life."

    Maybe I'm just a prick.

  5. Cameron,

    Don't focus on meeting someone. Enjoy your surroundings. People watch in the ones that aren't for you. A relaxed, confident and happy Cameron will be more attractive than a dour, tense Cameron. The details can work themselves out later.

    One think is for certain, you won't meet anyone staying at home...oh wait, I forgot the Manhunt, CL thing...maybe you WILL meet someone at (just kidding)

    Enjoy yourself. Relax your expectations and just try to have fun. You'll find a venue that suits you.

    Good luck.


  6. Austin - I will continue to challenge myself. I'll try different places and I'm sure I'll return to the Pilsner. Out of curiosity, why do you feel the way you do about the Castro?

    Anonymous - 'Just being me' is being analytical. As far as being dour and prejudicial, I don't agree. I enjoyed the night, a lot. I just wish I didn't feel like an outsider. But I'm happy to continue to try. It might just take some time for me to adjust.

    Jack - I'm glad that this post didn't annoy you. We could have a debate about why I've taken an approach that feels right and authentic for me vs. one where I blame my circumstances for holding me back, but I doubt anyone would be interested in that. Hopefully I'll be less frustrating to you in the future.

    AKJ - Be careful about questioning mainstream gay attitudes. You might get accused of having a bad personality. Recognizing that I am at risk of being accused of exactly that - I know EXACTLY what you mean.

    D - Yet again you know just what to say. Thanks for your kind comment and support. I appreciate it!

  7. From my own experience, I got two very distinct vibes from the "mainstream" gay community in SF.

    The first is that it feels like the "clone culture" of the 70s and early 80s never died out there, and that's just something I never liked. It's an attempt at hypermasculinity, and while there are people who are naturally that way, it definitely feels fake when I look at most of them.

    The other was something I didn't even know about until I stayed in a house in the Castro with a friend for a few days: an extremely exclusive "us" vs "them" attitude by the locals. It was beyond "we're lucky we can live here" and into "anyone who doesn't live here is a loser" - almost stateed literally. There was certainly much derision for the "bridge and tunnel crowd" than came there in the evenings or on the weekends. It felt snobbish.

    I had a much better time in the gay bars and clubs that were in other parts of town or outside SF City altogether. And the resort I go to in Guerneville often has a lot of people from the SF area that visit there, since it's a short drive; I generally get along with most of them. So, I think it's just something about the city itself, and Castro in particular.

  8. Every experience is a good one -- for different reasons. So hanging out in the Castro isn't your that a big surprise? You tried it, and now you know. Chet could be good for you, at least get you out after all these years, and get some new experiences.

  9. Well done.

    You could try some gay interest groups: Square dancing, running, hiking and walking, gardening, politics!; gay professional associations. The Pacific Center in Oakland, iffy but worth checking out. And so forth.

  10. Paul and I have five children between us and have a house in a suburb in New Hampshire and a condo in Boston. We were both married to women before. We are boring, normal men in love.

    Like you, I came out and my first experience in a gay bar was in the South End of Boston at Fritz. Not exactly the Castro, but a very gay neighborhood. I thought the same thing. This is NOT who I am.

    But, that does not have to be you. I love going to the Castro (we have an office in SF), not because I feel a kindrend spirit, but because I like to point and say "Paul, look at that guy in the leather and chains". It's people watching. It also happens to be gay friendly.

    One day, I imagine you will be with your partner or husband and will return to the Castro and say, "Well, it's a great place for gay history and these people are funny looking, but let's get back home. Modern Family is on tonight."

    Best of luck to you on your journey.

  11. You should give the bear community a try then. It seems to me you'll fit in perfectly.