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PrettyQueer.com | January 26, 2015

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When Bears Attack

When Bears Attack
Andrew Extein

Freshly minted from liberal arts college, in the dawn of my first “real” relationship, and eager to explore what gay adults do, I curiously and skeptically walk through the doors of The Faultline. My slender frame, young face, social anxiety, and colorful clothes stand out here. For anyone that has not patronized this particular establishment, The Faultline is an old-school gay bar in Los Angeles that features all the traditional iconography of the bars that came about in the early ‘90s that focused on bear and leather culture. The interior features a pole for furry dancers to cozy up to, black walls that ease facial crevices, and a “test your strength” arcade game.

“I assumed that all gay spaces would be a ‘safe haven’ for gay men…”

A few steps away, the patio reveals a comfortably sized space for socializing and casual groping, though with enough light to dissuade heavier petting. Two stripper poles flank a stage that, to my knowledge, has been occupied only by what I recognize as the geriatric homosexual equivalent of a village idiot. Glazed eyeballs drift around his skull while he dazzles the crowd with his limp limbs and syncopated dance abstraction. Stout men with migrating hair, overtanned raisins in worn leather chaps, eagle-eyed chickenhawks with discreet baseball caps, and the more testosterone-fueled Silver Lake glitterati all chatter and glance about the space. The bathroom reveals a more lecherous set, where frequent trips allow for maximum cruising potential. Lining the channel between the patio and bathroom are stacks of gay publications, a bit tousled but largely untouched. Therein lay stacks of advertisements for gay liposuction, gay lawyers, gay plumbers, gay sex clubs, and gay bars that would appear to be replicas of the simulacratic situation that I am finding myself in at this very moment.

While this experience is not altogether unfamiliar, it represents my new life in a new city—transplanting my roots into fresh gay soil. I am still in disbelief of the story I am about to tell, akin to an anxiety dream only half-remembered. My boyfriend at the time, a couple friends, and I drank beers and chatted pleasantly with each other, taking in the scenery but not really interacting with the natives. Soon we were approached by a rather burly man, taller than us, and draped in an outfit that consisted of 100% denim. I appreciated the specificity of his personal brand and possible fetish, but appreciation was soon replaced by fear. I imagined that this man would initiate typical benign conversation: “Do you guys live here? Have you been here before?” Instead, his opening: “What the fuck are you guys doing here? Get out.”

To say that I was taken off guard would be an understatement. I honestly could not believe what was happening. While I have felt uncomfortable at gay establishments before, mostly due to my own insecurities, I had never actually had a confrontational experience. Finding offense to our slim bodies and hipster attire, the man continued: “You guys don’t belong here. You guys aren’t gay, you’re fags. Look at what you’re wearing. What are you doing here? You guys are fags, you’re not gay.” The man berated us with homophobic insults until a bystander intervened, then shrugged and said, “Well, this is the Faultline,” half-defending the denim man’s rage. Legitimately shaken up, I hung around for a few more minutes out of pride, then dashed toward the exit.

This event raises a lot of questions about masculinity, gender expression, subcultural exclusion, assimilation, intergenerational contact, and social spaces within gay culture—more than I can address in this essay. I assumed that all gay spaces would be a “safe haven” for gay men at least, imagining that trans folk, women and other sexual minorities more at-risk for harassment had their own places to go. What I learned was that despite falling under the same gay umbrella recognized by Jerry Falwell, the Human Rights Campaign, and Will & Grace’s viewership, I still had to deal with the concept of “us versus them.” The shared experience of growing up gay in a straight world was not powerful enough to allow for a bonding experience with this man who viewed me and my friends as the “other.”

More likely, he probably viewed us as the mainstream gays of this era—white, young, entitled, gentrifying, culturally insensitive and blind to gay history. And perhaps we were. I moved to LA not because of my knowledge and admiration for its rich and diverse culture, but because of first love, and coincidence. Perhaps I was gentrifying The Faultline. This bear and leather scene that highly values casual masculinity deserves its own space to preserve and proliferate its culture. Already banished to a gay ghetto, those of a generation who lived through and survived the ‘80s AIDS era, whose fuller bodies have been historically desexualized, and whose sexual codes, fetishes, and apparel have been overtaken by 2xist, have the right to be wary of encroaching gay assimilation. As evidenced by my admittedly smarmy description of the bar, perhaps I do not give it the respect that it deserves.

Conversely, this culture appears foreign, strange, comical, even threatening to me. I am a fervent and enthusiastic spectator of gay subcultures, sometimes looking on in awe, other times in revolt, intrigue, or mockery. As a skinny, fresh-faced bespectacled Jew, I stand out in the fleshy crowd. My defense mechanisms kick into gear and I separate myself from the throngs of cowboys and cubs, positioning myself as enlightened outsider. I am simultaneously jealous and threatened by bold and seemingly natural expressions of masculinity, a trait that I am clearly lacking. I start to view these people as “them,” men whose gender expression privileges them to a higher degree of reverence and sexual appeal both within the gay community and outside. Men who I will never be accepted by, and men who I will never become.

The confrontation with the denim man evokes a violent complexity of queer issues. As a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, I am drawn to the psychodynamic underpinnings of this interaction. What did the masculine man learn about being gay in 1970? How has this affected his identity, his desires, his self-worth? How have my upbringing, attachment style, generational culture, and family system informed my gay identity? These questions are all worth exploring, and such analysis is vital to revealing meanings within queer cultures.

Comments

  1. Scott Kepford

    Very well written Andrew, congrats. Clearly by someone with a masters degree, ha ha. The only critique I could offer is that even with (or due to) all your privilege-checking it still to some degree comes across as someone with some sort of privilege complaining about being attacked by those without that privilege – of youth, education, body shape, cultural relevance. It’s somewhat tempered by your assertion that actually the ‘masc’ guy has the privilege, but that side of it isn’t really dealt with til the end, and I think could be something you could mention more explicitly – who was coming from a place of privilege in that situation, or in other words who was Othering who? Or is it not about privilege at all and more about the Balkanization of queer micro cultures from the mainstream and from each other, and a lack of interest in bridging these growing divides? Is there space for or any interest in a truly inclusive queerness mirroring the supposed multicultural impulse in greater society, and might subcultural spaces of declining relevance be a fertile place for a wider spectrum of queer identities (as in Los Angeles the Eagle and Faultline often seem to be, when compared to Weho clubs or even Akbar). But those are obviously somewhat tangential implications that could be expanded upon with other work later. Great work, and I definitely think you should do a series about intellectualizing horrific gay bar experiences as a way of fomenting queer utopia. Fun!

  2. Brian Monahan

    Over all, the issues that you brought up about generation gap, culture, gay identity, and self worth play a critical roll in how a gay scene or subculture works. Paying your dues to be in that sort of bar scene, or dressing the part as it were shows respect for the previous battles that this type of gay scene fought and struggled for years to form it into where it is today.

    Its truely obvious that having this experience and being that upset about it means you havent been faced with real battles, life threatening situations, hand to hand combat and just plain harrassment about your sexuality. These are the good times we live in now. Just 20 years back, that same bar scene would have never happened, simply because you wouldnt be OUT. Its the battles of yesterday that give you the right to form your opinions today. Instead of talking about the death of a friend that died from getting throttled by a redneck, your talking about an uncomfortable situation at a bar. You werent discovered leaving the gay bars and then followed home or to work so he knows where you live, only to later on harrass you at work or kill you.

    In a nutshell, he got defensive to protect what was his scene, his comfort zone. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. If you and your friends were in YOUR type of bar, and he walked in alone. Would you not instantly poke fun at his attire, or his stance?!

    • Riles

      I think any decent human being would welcome a stranger with open arms into their bar, regardless of how they looked. I certainly don’t walk up to random people, criticize their appearance and berate them until their leave a space I frequent. Your comment seems to imply that gay men nowadays should be happy with what they have and not complain when they’re made to feel uncomfortable in a place they should feel totally comfortable. That’s bullshit. A gay bar is a gay bar, and as a gay man, the author of this piece should have been welcomed in there, period. Take your cliqueish attitude elsewhere bro.

      • Samantha

        I am a transwoman and have heard some “masc” gay guys make transwomen feel uncomfortable. Despite what you might think there were a fair amount of trans women and lesbians who fought for acceptence of the entire LGBT community in the stonewall riots and just after. Both groups are largely unheard of in early days history terms.

        Whether someones a youg gay guy, a fem gay guy a lesbian or a transwoman we should all at least have the chance to feel as though we are in a safe space.

  3. Yoshi

    It’s so typical it’s comical: Man uses his physical size and perceived masculinity to railroad this guy into a point of submission. Then, in an attempt to seem like he has some recourse the boy does this pseudo-Thought Catalog piece that perhaps misses the point that this belligerency might be from the size-and-beauty prejudice big men receive perpetuated by those with “slim bodies and hipster attire”. It’s missed communication all around.

    It’s the privilege of masculinity vs. the privilege of being conventionally attractive. I see both sides have points and both sides have issues.

  4. Ben

    Boy, he wished he could fuck you and was mad he couldn’t. Have pity on the poor old queen. Your slim young frame means that at least for now, you’ve got the upper hand. Shaken as you were, Denim Guy was probably devastated.

  5. trannypunkcunt

    This article really bugs me. It more than bugs me, it makes me really angry. You’re hyper-intellectualizing something that’s painfully obvious to someone outside mainstream queer hipster culture (or at least to me).

    You said yourself you may have been gentrifying the bar. But it’s not even so much gentrification – that’s a part of it, though. But no, it’s more that you were invading a space that wasn’t yours for an adventure. Kind of like a suburban straight white bro going to check out a dyke bar in the city. You were playing the part of the cultural imperialist. It wasn’t about masculinity, it was about cultural imperialism and the force-feeding of consumerist/hipster/youth-centric queer culture on everyone else who is queer.

    You invaded a subcultural/countercultural space with your friends while exuding mainstream/hipster cultural cues. If you were at a punk show you’d probably have been beat up. Not for being queer or trans or anything, but for being a hipster asshole who knew nothing about the space or cultural environment into which he had stumbled, and thereby stepping on pretty much everybody’s toes by gawking at and judging their style. Which, by the way, it is obvious that you did by your writing.

    A leather bar is not a gay bar. It’s a leather bar. Just because it’s a gay leather bar doesn’t mean it’s for all gay dudes. Assuming that just because your gay/queer you’ll be welcome in all gay/queer spaces is naive at best and plain stupid at worst.

    Trust me, I’m a trans woman and a dyke and SHARP/punk and I’m pretty much shunned from many/most dyke spaces, many/most trans spaces, and a lot of women’s spaces. The only place I have is the punk/ska scene, and if hipsters show up at our shows and in our spaces and stare at people and wander around in awe, we’ll tell them to get out. It’s because many of us, especially the queer ones of us, have actually been treated like shit at the hands of people who look/act like that. I’ve had hipster dudes follow me home and hipster fags call me a sick drag queen and spit at me. Even if you don’t mean any ill will, the assumption is that you’re a part of the exclusive queer scene that has pushed on and hurt and othered so many other queers.

    The folks in the leather scene I know feel similarly to this. My guess is that’s what you experienced. Clubs like that are insular for a reason. To chase away hipsters and touristy-folks who come in “to see what the experience is like” or “to learn about other parts of the gay scene.” People who are really just seeking unchallenged embrace everywhere they go. It’s clear that you feel a sense of entitlement to be everywhere and that your world is very “me-centric.” Being an academic, educated, hipster, dude may get you points in some places, but it makes other people despise you – fairly or unfairly.

    But see, this article is overflowing with so much unchecked privilege that reading it made me feel like I was drowning in it. I think you need to grow up and realize that you and your friends are not the center of the universe, and that your style-way of being isn’t what everyone thinks is cool, desirable, or in the least bit interesting.

    Yes, my comment is harsh, and I am angry. Like the guy at The Faultline. Deal with it.

    • Ben

      The person above would defend the firefighters in Birmingham.

      Really, he probably just wanted to fuck you.

      • trannypunkcunt

        Wait what?
        This article is about a queer mainstream cultural dude going to a queer marginalized cultural space and expects to be welcomed with open arms and being shocked when he’s not.

        In other words, it’s a privileged dude feeling entitled to having less privileged people welcome him with open arms. Like if one of those firefighters had gone to a jazz club with a mostly black clientele and been shocked when he got kicked out. Obviously I’m stretching here, but I’m trying to run with your shitty metaphor.

        • Ben

          It’s never not shitty to make someone feel unwelcome. I just think this was about something more universal than this boy’s demographic. More likely, I think, it was about his youth and beauty.

          • Ben

            Or, more fairly, about an older queen’s insecurity.

          • trannypunkcunt

            Not everybody thinks that young, hip, skinny, dudes are beautiful, and not everybody aspires to be like that. Most people in the leather scene really are NOT into twinks or swishy hipsters, and instead are into, well, leather dudes.

            So I kind of doubt what you’re saying. Just a little bit.

            Especially because there’s lots of rules and expectations and dress codes in the leather scene. A lot of leather bars won’t even let you in at the door if you’re not dressed right. Why the fuck would patrons at a leather bar want a bunch of hipsters hanging out there?

            Really, I don’t even know why this article exists. It’s just stupid. Like, if I were to go to a leather dyke bar dressed how I normally do when I go out, I’d expect to be turned away or yelled at or thrown out.

            Assuming that the whole gay world will embrace you because you’re gay is just super conceited. And then using your privilege as a mainstream-ish gay person to rag on and make fun of people in the leather scene and justify it by going “I’m an intellectual, teehee! What’s going on in this situation!?” is just fucked up.

            It doesn’t matter what the person’s motives were in the moment for kicking out the author. Even if they were just jealous or something (which as I said, I doubt), our author was still acting presumptuously, invading subcultural space with a more dominant consumer-culture attitude, then using the article to attempt to shift the cultural dynamics by ignoring everything about the situation except for the gender expressions of those present. Thereby trying to paint himself as a victim.

            In my book, that’s totally fucked. And it makes me mad.

            • Ben

              Hey, young slim writer of this article, if you want to grab a drink with a young, fit smartie, my last name is Kawaller :-)

            • Squawk

              I’m glad this came up, because there’s something that bugged me about this article that has nothing to do in particular with “hipsters” and gentrification and much more about an overall problem that I see with trans memoir/essay/creative nonfiction, particularly on the internet:

              It tends to be true in dramatic writing that characters who things happen to are much less interesting than characters who do things. And it also is true that interaction is much more interesting than rumination.

              And, so here’s the problem: it’s this formula that’s popping up with trans writing, that’s like, I HAVE AN ANALYSIS OF MY GENDER, THROUGH WHICH I AM GOING TO EXAMINE EVERY BANAL INTERACTION WITH A MICROSCOPE, AND TELL YOU ABOUT IT. And that is zzzz. Here’s a wacky thought: instead of giving us your very informed sociological theory about why this dude reacted to you the way he did (or, conversely, trolling in a comment, offering an equally useless and uninteresting analysis of the situation) maybe next time something like this happens, you could maybe, like, TALK TO THE DUDE AND ASK HIM WHY HE SAID THAT. Like, take the opportunity when someone is rude to you as an opportunity for communication, instead of something to conjecture about on the internet later. Maybe you will find that your prediction is right. Maybe you will find that the troll’s prediction is right. Or maybe you will find that he was carrying around the pain of when his father told him he couldn’t be a dancer when he was eight. But you will have actually learned something real about someone, and that is good not just for us as readers, but also for your ever-lovin’ soul.

          • Buddy

            This is about the author walking in with apprehension and isolating himself from the “natives,” AND it’s about anxiety on the part of the antagonist at the dissolution of queer culture as he knows it.

            Also since you revealed your last name, we can all use facebook and see that you know each other.

    • Andy

      Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

      You are someone I’d welcome with open arms into my circle of friends. This is much more well thought out than my comment but it hits the nail perfectly on the head.

  6. Andy

    Aww you poor thing! A bear told you to take your tired butt back to WeHo? Good, that’s exactly where you belong.

    Your whole point of visiting was obviously to document just how disgusting these bars for fat men are. You’re painting such a lovely picture of our 90’s decor and just how horrible it is there. LEAVE. I’m glad someone read your butts! But he was wearing ALL DENIM! GASP. MY LIFE IS OVER.

    Your article is a thinly veiled hate towards us beastly Gays who dare not starve and go to the gym nine hours / 7 days a week.

    I was once told, “you don’t belong here you fat fucker” at RAGE. Why would any of us bears waste our time in your shady part of the woods.

    And for your misinformed FYI, there are plenty of femmes, trans, drag queens within our little section of the community and plenty of admirers. We’re not so quick to be all butch as you so claim.

    This is a completely misguided write up on a legendary bar that so many men love.

    Go home and stay there. That guy was right to rip you one, perhaps he was psychic and knew you’d be writing such a snotty article.

    • PupDog

      I agree. Its a rough crowd kind of place. You can get challenged there in several ways. If you are going to go exploring then at least make a passing attempt to blend in, so now you know. If you are for real, and you have just came out moments prior, and chose The Faultline for the first gay bar to visit, then you and your friends need some lessons, and Karma was there that night to serve them up to you. Do you think this is a harsh? Just be glad that you didn’t get picked to be taken home buy the guy, for his pleasure and not yours. That would have been a real challenge for you, a night of giving to him.

      • Hey, I think the original article’s kinda obnoxious too, but there’s no need to be all rapey about it!

  7. Nogga

    I read this article because Andrew tagged the band I am a member of in a complaint about Lucian saying this article was “kind of obnoxious.” So I needed to read it myself before I got angry about anything. The thing is Lucian has his opinions and I have mine and neither of us speak for the entire band. So I came here to make my own opinion.

    Well, I read it and re-read it to make sure I understood. I am sorry you had an awful experience at this bar. In an ideal world every place should be a welcoming safe space regardless of gender expression, race, presumed education, financial background, ability and so forth. How ever as you are well aware that is not the current situation.

    Your article is a mark of privilege in itself. Your criticism of the bar and it’s inhabitants was already in a place of “them” vs me. I will be honest, I am not very well read nor do I have a degree in anything. I had to read the article multiple times to actually understand it. It is loaded with academic language and though there are some acknowledgments to the privileges you have it is still not quite there. I get it you are just graduating and newly out, so congrats to you. I mean it. Please use these instances in the future as a learning moment. If you are entering a space that feels unsafe or unwelcoming that would be the moment to perhaps turn around and go somewhere else. If you are insistant on going in looking for new experiences and to have some real cultural exchanges don’t sit like a tourist admiring the landscape, try talking to the “natives” have a dialogue. It will make you seem less like a gawker and more like someone reaching out to another community.

    So as far as Lucian calling your article obnoxious, I feel it was short hand for some of the things that were mentioned in previous comments about privilege and how you are painting yourself a victim, and many of the other issues that were more pointedly discussed by other commenters.

    So apologies for miscommunication, and please again understand there is a difference between Lucian, Myself and the rest of the band.

  8. Buddy

    Hon, whether you meant it to come across this way or not, the first 3 paragraphs make it sound like you are trashing the “natives,” the “overtanned raisins,” the “lecherous,” and the “chicken hawks.” Very aloof. Nothing puts a bullseye on your forehead like that kind of detached, above-it-all attitude. Unless you’re in weho.

    You mention awe, revolt, intrigue and mockery, but never excitement, celebration or love. Give that last one a try. The four emotions you mention are negative and/or cold, but people will be more willing to open up to you when you open up to them. And if you don’t respect the bears’ bar (which you own up to), being called out is part of the baggage that comes with that.

    The gay bar can be intimidating (probably because it is charged with our desires), but you don’t need to be hypermasculine. You just need to be open to your excitement at being there, like that “geriatric village idiot” you mention. He’s happily doing his thing.

    So it’s hard for me to sympathize, since it’s seems like there’s a lack of community on both sides here. I love the side show quality of the Faultline, but if you’re just gawking, you’re a tourist at the zoo. Be bold. Get your hands dirty. It’s your community.

  9. Bagby

    You make your blatant ageism bluntly obvious, right up front, then are precious enough to be caught “off guard” (shocked, shocked she was …) that someone reacted to the self-absorbed attitudes you embody.

    Enjoy your innocence, kiddo. Your wrinkles coming. Fast. And you will be pushed aside and ignored too – by kids with more vocabulary than sense – for that’s the culture you’re creating for yourself.

  10. Hi! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects? Thanks a lot!

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