Friday, July 30, 1999

Gerry Schmidt: “The Bar”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #109, July 30, 1999)

The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus (TCGMC) recently presented a concert called “Out Takes: Our Stories, Our Lives.” It was a wonderful mix of music by the chorus and spoken word presentations by individual chorus members. Gerry Schmidt sings in the chorus and is also the director of Vox, one of TCGMC’s subgroups. When I heard Schmidt read his story, “The Bar,” my immediate thought was that it needed to be in this column. The audience at the concert certainly enjoyed it, and I hope you will too.

PHOTO: Gerry Schmidt

“The Bar,” by guest columnist Gerry Schmidt

Welcome to Boston. It is early fall, just before the leaves start to turn, and it’s 1986. The air is cool and crisp, and I am full of excitement and anticipation. You see, I came out as a gay man just two months ago, in July, and I’m getting ready to make my first trip to a gay bar. I’m still kind of new to Boston, so I picked THIS bar because I know how to find the street it’s on!

A look in the mirror tells me I’m ready. My Dockers are smartly pressed. My Izod polo is brand new, and the collar is flipped up just enough to be trendy. I’m wearing the requisite L.L. Bean boat shoes with tasteful argyle socks, and if you pass just close enough, you’ll catch a whiff of Calvin Klein’s Obsession.

I climb into my little orange VW bug, windows cracked just enough to give me some air without mussing the hairdo, Whitney Houston singing to me. (Ooo, I really DO wanna dance with somebody!) Twenty minutes later I’m on Tremont Street driving by where I think the bar is supposed to be. All I see is a very dark looking building, with the doors painted black and the windows too (at least I think it has windows). So I circle the block twice and finally decide to park and walk up to the place, hoping the street address is just hard to see.

As I approach the door I finally see the street number (it’s painted black too). I can hear music inside, so this must be the place. My heart is racing. I quickly check my hair and the flip in my collar, grab the door and enter—THE EAGLE!!!!

It’s a little dark, but that’s OK, it heightens the intrigue, so I walk up to the bar to order something to drink. The bartender, a rather scruffy looking guy with his shirt unbuttoned down to there, looks at me, does a double take and then heads my way. Was I just cruised? It must be the ensemble! I order a drink appropriate for the occasion and venue—a White Russian! Again, he gives me a double take (he must really be attracted to me) and after digging out his cocktail recipes book, brings me my drink.

I stand there sipping my cocktail, overwhelmed that I’m actually here, and finally take time to check out the bar. There’s a pool table and a couple of pinball machines and a few barstools over by the wall. That’s about it. So where are all the patrons? I mean hey, it’s already 9:30, for Pete’s sake!

About that time the front door opens and I freak out. In walk these two guys, each of them about 6’5”, and they’re dressed in leather! I mean FULL leather. They’ve got biker boots, chaps, something I’ve since learned is called a harness, a vest, dark sunglasses, biker’s cap, they’re smoking the biggest, nastiest cigars I’ve ever smelled, and laughing as they enter! I’m terrified, so I quickly turn around and start studying my drink intensely. Maybe they didn’t see me, or better still, maybe THEY’RE in the wrong bar and they’ll just turn around and leave. But noooooo! They walk right up to the bar and stand—on either side of me!!! I’m convinced they’re going to do unspeakable things to me, things that happen only in jail, or so I am told, and am quickly bargaining with god for my life. The beers they ordered arrive and they turn to talk to each other as if I didn’t even exist between them. And here’s how the conversation started:

“Oh, you should see those new curtains I made for the piano room! They’re just faaabulous!”

I’ve met a lot of gay men and lesbians since that night 13 years ago, and one of the discoveries I’ve made is that drag comes in many shapes and forms. It’s not just heels and a dress, but it’s leather, or Levis and flannel, or cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat. It’s the insistence on wearing only designer labels, or even wearing a tuxedo. It is an opportunity to be who we are in our most comfortable environment. And to this day, my friends and I laugh when we think that my appreciation of such things got a great start thanks to a couple of gay men in leather, talking about curtains!

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