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Why Northside?

Cincinnati Queer Blogging Carnival Submission -- February
Back2Stonewall.com have decided to try a little experiment, and we're bringing other homo-bloggers along for the ride. Every month, we are going to propose a topic, and we're asking others to respond. We are going to solve this city's problems one blog post at a time. This is my submission for our February project (Question: "Why Northside? Is it our 'gay ghetto?'"), and we'll see how many others play along. Check out QueerCincinnati.com for updates and others posts.

It's so easy to trash something. It's so much easier to be a critic than a cheerleader, yea? Our very nature as gay men makes us prone to catty bitchiness and cold hearted back stabbing. We are gold medalists in the fine sport of destroying everything and everyone around us. It's what we do best. And I'm no exception.

In that vein, I love Northside. I tried to rewrite this blog about 100 times, each time criticizing and generally being myself. It appears, though, that it's not always as easy to complain as it is to speak well of something.

I'm not from Cincinnati. If you ask me what high school I went to, I say "Wando." I have, on more than one occasion, heard the response, "What, is that like in Indiana, or something?" I find it funny that 99% of this city, especially this queer city, can't imagine that there is a world outside of the greater Cincinnati metro. It plays a little into the mindset, I think, of us hating so easily on institutions like the great and mythical gay neighborhood of Northside.

I grew up in the deep south -- Charleston, SC, to be exact. Though I was a theatre kid, and it is arguably one of the more liberal mid-sized Southern cities, it is not a gay haven, even if OUT magazine tells you it's a primo gaycation destination.

It's not if you are GAYcating and not just VAcating.

I don't know what it's like for young gay boys in Cincinnati, growing up, where they dream of going when they turn 18. But, for me, it was this place called the Arcade. I never made it, but I've been given the impression that it was a crude mixture of the Dock with the Serpent, with lesbians. I did not dream of going there because it was the cool place to be. I dreamed of going there because it was the only place to be outside of the one sad lesbian bar and some other Golden Lions-esque creation known as Patrick's.

Yadda yadda yadda. I'm in Oxford, and I make it to Celebrity (my first gay bar) and love it. Yadda yadda yadda. I'm 19 and am in the car with two people I met on gay.com, and it's the first time I'm learning about Cincinnati.

"Northside," the older one tells me, "is in a valley between two hills -- College Hill and Clifton. It's the gayborhood, where all the gay people hang out."

He wasn't much for interesting conversation. Hey, I met him on gay.com. They rarely are.

Perhaps it's telling that my first introduction to Cincinnati's gay scene began at the Serpent at the ripe old age of 19, wasted, being tied to the cross and whipped. It also explains my distate for Jacob's -- "only prissy guys go there" -- and my long delayed time at Bullfishes -- "bar for dykes." But I remember loving the fact that I was in a gayborhood. In one block, I could do pretty much anything. I could eat White Castle (which I grew up idolizing because it was my dad's drunk food in college), I could meet gay people (and lesbians!!!), I could go volunteer somewhere (oh, boy... if only I knew then...), and I could get laid. How could I not love this?

And, later, I would learn about gay pride. My first gay pride was Cincinnati. It was lame. Some things never change.

To this day, I still love Northside. It still has that energy for me.

I'll admit it. I sometimes forget what it was like to have been in the South, and be gay. When I go home, and there's only three gay bars and almost nothing to be done ... and you bounce from bar to bar with the same people you were at the first bars with. There's no changing. There's no movement. We talk here about the same people being everywhere you go. But, here, yea, there may be the same people at Little Bit every night, but I can go down the street to Below Zero to a whole new crowd (which will be similar to the crowd from last week). That's great, and wonderful. At least if you make an ass out of yourself at Adonis (which I did this past weekend), you can leave and take the (hour-long) drive to the Dock and find people who don't know that you just fell on the dance floor and knocked some twink's drink out of their hand.

But back to Northside, because it's nothing like that (because if you did the above said thing, everyone up and down the strip will know by the time you hit the next bar).

Northside is a strange, bizarre other world. Even outside of the bars, it's still super gay. Yea, you don't see boys walking down the street hand and hand in the middle of the day (honestly, have you seen that anywhere in Cincinnati? and, really, when was the last time you walked hand-in-hand with your boyfriend? be honest...). But you have such fabulously gay friendly businesses and business owners, and to this day I am amazed by the amount of pride flags in houses.

Everyone talks about "that house on Isle of Palms with the rainbow flag" down in Charleston. Because there's only one.

Is it OUR version of Castro or Boystown? Absolutely not. But we're Cincinnati. We have to fuck it up somehow, don't we? And that's ok. That's who we are as Cincinnatians. We are a conservative city and we have a conservative gay scene.

Is it the ideal place for things like the Gay & Lesbian Community Center or Gay Pride? Absolutely not, but I can't think of much better of a place. I would like to see all that downtown, or perhaps in Over-the-Rhine, but that's just my feeling (and one that a lot of people agree with but nobody who is in a position to make those decisions, unfortunately).

Is it even a gay ghetto? Absolutely not. It's not our separatist enclave. We don't define our world or our life around it -- it would be impossible to be homonormative in Northside daily.

But it's ours, and it is what it is. I can imagine that, young gay boys here in Cincinnati, dream of going to BronZ one day. And I would have been the kid who, growing up, would have snuck off to Northside some afternoon to walk up and down the street and just feel that maybe, just maybe, I, too, was part of something bigger and gayer and somewhere closer to where I belong.

I still do, kind of.

See, late at night, when it's warm, and it's just past midnight so you have the mix of the semi-drunk smokers and the new entrants to the bars for the night, I can't help feel like I'm home in a street full of queers, passing back and forth between bars, hugging, kissing, squealing, fighting, planning, talking, smoking, and smiling. Everyone smiling, and maybe a little tipsy.

It may not be the Castro, but it's enough to feel like this is where I belong.

Barry blogs regularly over at QueerCincinnati.com, and you can follow him over at Twitter, or you can email him if you're really desperate to know the details of his life at queercincinnati@gmail.com. Thanks for reading.

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On economic downturns

My dad lost his job today. Of the six people that work in his architectural firm, they cut three. Despite everything he has done, he lost his job.

I remember in the early 1990s, when we went through a similar situation economically and the news was dominated by the crisis daily, my mother turned to my dad at the dinner table and asked if we were secure. He responded that it would be OK and there were no worries.

It's a shockingly vivid memory that keeps coming up in my head as you hear stories of people losing their jobs in this economy.

It's funny, this many years later, and with my dad finally in a job that he truly loved, that he would now have to go through this. And it's even funnier because, despite my own financial distress, that the economic crisis finally comes home. It finally "makes sense," if you will.

I think I am immune, for the most part, to the ups and downs of the world. When people inquire as to why I try to be so hooked in, it's because I don't generally feel the distress, and I am making up for the lack of emotional attachment by sheer volume of information. I am generally fairly relaxed and laid back about international problems and crises. Emotionally, I felt 9/11, and I have yet to be able to feel much else when it comes to the news.

When something of that magnitude hits so close, it's hard to match much else in your head. It's really hard to personalize much else. Sure, it's awful, the ongoing genocide in Darfur, or the Russia-Georgia crisis, or the millions of people losing their homes (myself included), but that kind of stuff still feels so distant and impersonal.

This was a little closer to home, and it ranks up there with one of the more expected phone calls I've ever received.

On a daily basis, I don't think about the economic situation in this country. When I go to school, or go to work, these kind of matters don't really process. See, my job has been government funded for years and so, at least in the near future, is secure (unless I screw it up). I was also the last class in my school to benefit from the "work off your loan" program at the hospital, which was shut down ostensibly due to the end of the contract, but probably was removed due to the loss of funds. Even there, though, we are going to start getting federal financial student assistance so I don't feel it and the program will probably benefit from the amount of people seeing nursing as a stable and lucrative career.

When I went home for Christmas, I live in a fairly affluent suburb and my shopping experience was not dramatically altered from years past. I still nearly freaked out in Barnes & Noble due to the ungodly numbers of people in there just two days before the holiday.

And Cincinnati isn't exactly a booming city. Sure, I think it's clear if you pay attention that building projects and gentrification has slowed down, but you really have to pay attention. Otherwise, it's much the same.

In other words, where is the economic crisis in my life?

Apparently it's in my dad, a man who gave up a lot to raise his kids. I know that he never sought other options or took a lot of risks because he loved us. To this day, he would rather protect us than tell us the depth of the problems he and my mom have in terms of finances and the house and their health.

I'm sure it took a lot to tell us that he had lost his job.

My most poignant memory of my father was him staying up late one night to work on an extra credit project with me. We were up to 4 a. m. making it right, and he had to work in the morning.

By the end of his time, he hated the job he was working at for years while I was a kid in Charleston because it paid the bills with minimal stress, a job that passed him over for a promotion because he cared too much about his kids and would rather do stuff with us than with them.

And so, at 55, he got a job that he loved and that loved him, and that had to fire him because they laid off the shortest tenured employees. The irony is that, at his old job, he would have stayed on for reasons of seniority.

That's something, isn't it?

Barry blogs regularly at QueerCincinnati.com and is very active on Twitter.

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On having sex with "straight" men

A few months ago, Vivica (drag name) called me and, with purses falling out of her mouth, she squealed, "I had sex with a straight guy!"

"Yea? When? Where is he?" I responded.

"Right here, playing Halo!"

Uh-huh.

Just this past weekend, darling Katy of Kate's Random's Musings was driving me home from our meet-up when she turned to me and asked: What percentage of straight men have sex with other men?

Do you want the official stats or personal experiences?

I'm here to tell you, ladies, it's a lot of them. And in this, your best gay girlfriend is not going to be your best friend.

A few years ago, the popular media became obsessed with the racist and homophobic concept of "the down low," thanks to people like Keith Boykin and, ha, Oprah. It's racist because it targets men of color as sexual predators, and it's homophobic because it is another part of the cultural rhetoric that says gay sex is bad and will kill you. The down-low is rarely framed as much more than an AIDS thing.

The white straight girls out there usually giggle when we talk about the "straight" boys we hook up with. First, they think it's funny because they equate it with the down low. Second, if they don't, they think that they, too, could pick up these guys out of a crowd just because they have a few gay friends and, thus, a touch of the gaydar.

Sorry, ladies, my mother can pick up on the closeted theatre kid pretty quick these days, too.

And we're not necessarily talking about the stereotypical white version of the down low -- the "three beer queer" -- oh, no, I have slept with and talked about sleeping with a large handful of perfectly sober "straight" men.

The original version of this column started off talking about a particular straight man that wants to have sex with me. "I just want to see what it's like, getting head from a guy," he tells me every time he sees me. But, over the past week, I had to add three more notches in my bed post from otherwise straight men.

The reason the column changed was a specific experience with this one young UC boy who, just five hours before he showed up at my front door, had had sex with his girlfriend and now was asking to be on his knees for me.

I called him out: No man who sucks cock can truly call himself straight.

He left a little while later, hustling out the front door to walk the mile plus back home at 4:30am, sobbing. He was an idiot, and I don't have time for apathetic self-delusion.

It's funny that, while we -- your best gay girlfriend -- joke regularly about how hot your boyfriend is, your dating pool represents a large and growing field known as my "potential fuck pool." The chat rooms are littered with married and straight men who know perfectly well the fetish they are playing into. They understand the sexual power their so-called sexuality has over gay men.

You could make an argument that it's unfair to talk like this, as queer theory talks about the difference between identity (straight vs. gay) and behavior (homosexual vs. heterosexual), but no queen calling me at 3am saying "I just had sex with a straight guy!" is thinking about Michel Foucault, let alone the inner workings of gender and sexuality identity politics.

What I should be talking about here is the fetishization of 'straight' men in the lives of gay men. I should discuss how disgusting it is that we have completely given up on our identities as gay men to pursue some idealized version of masculinity and how we should embrace the gender spectrum our community purports to represent. I should be talking about how disgusting the ideal is and how bisexual men, and "masculine" gay men use the fetish of the straight fuck bud as a way of getting laid more easily. I need to talk about how beautiful and wonderful and strong all those people out there are who are not afraid of being themselves and expressing themselves outside of the expected gender norms of male vs. female.

But I'm not.

I just wanted to brag. Ladies, I'm having sex with your boyfriend, and I'm not sorry about it. I buy into the fetish, too; I like a little roleplay in my life. And if he thinks he's fooling me into believing that this is his first time with a dude... well, if that gets you off, bud.

Because I know better. You're a man whore, plain and simple, and you're insulting gay men, you're insulting your girlfriend, you're making straight men look like shit, and you're nothing but a jackass.

But, sometimes, I just need to get off, too. . . and sometimes, when you don't leave crying, the apathetic self-delusion is kinda hot.

PS --> I wanted to add this in real quick. There is a valid point to guys wanting to "experiment." Fine. But your command of the subleties of gay sex and communication on sites like Craigslist tells me that you've done a little more than experiment. Please, explore, have fun, just don't have the stupidity to think this queer is going to buy into your heterosexuality.

Barry blogs regularly at QueerCincinnati.com and Twitters even more regularly.

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David

Let me tell you about David.

...at least, I think his name is David. It's either that or Daniel, or Denny, or some other name that begins with a D.

...or it's Brad.

Regardless, we'll call him David.

I met David one night at the Serpent. Like any good time at the Serpent, we made out and probably engaged in a little more fondling than is appropriate for a public place. I don't remember if we did anything that could be interpreted as sex, per se, but I know it was enough that the southern belle in me curled her toes a little bit and said, "Mama won't like this."

The point is, he said he was surprised that I would make out with him because, usually, people go after his friends.

David was not unattractive. In fact, I would say he was downright good looking, despite his lack of a chin.

But he was also really sweet and quiet and gentle, which is a set of qualities that you have to admit is attractive whilst trolling for trade at the Serpent. Usually, you end up with men who are as willing to call you "boi" or asking for you to refer to them as "sir." The sweet, quiet, and gentle part of me sung out for something a little more that evening.

And, not to abandon my hopes of getting a little play, I went after David and got him.

David was surprised that I pursued him, and he probably went further than he would usually in a similar circumstance. He told me that this was his first trip to this establishment, but he was enjoying himself, as evidenced by the excitement pressing against my thigh as we made out in a dark corner of the bar. The fact that he was a noob to a bar made famous solely on its reputation for debauchery made him all the more attractive.

He was an innocent, and we all know gay men's tendencies to want to destroy every last bit of innocence in each other until we're left jaded and bitter and getting rocks thrown through our front windows, perhaps from a former bit of trade, perhaps from a random person on the street.

David eventually left the bar, asking... well, begging me to come across the street and join him and his friend at BronZ. I told him that, since I just bought my drink, I had to slurp it down and say good-bye to my friends. A few more quick kisses later, he left the bar with his friend on the promise that I would run over soon.

I never left the Serpent. See, I rarely go there with friends.

The stuff that goes on there, well, I never thought it was particularly conducive to a good night out with the girls.

Unless that's what you and the girls do.

I saw David again this past weekend. He was making out with some guy I had cruised a few weeks before. I may have made out with this other guy (perhaps he was Brad?) at another time, but that's besides the point.

This weekend, David and perhaps-Brad were on the pool table making out.

I joined them, making sure to give each one equal attention. When the subject of a threesome came up, neither objected to it.

This is not a column about how I scored a threesome this weekend -- I didn't -- but, rather, that David was the first one to head towards the back door and, assumedly, to drop his pants in preparation for a public menage a trois.

I didn't join him; I went back for another drink and made out with the muscle daddy at the door of the bathroom.

I wondered, as David and perhaps-Brad went back in expectation, if David realized just how far he had come from the noob I caressed in the corner to the Serpent-boi he was becoming.

And, somehow, David had become less attractive to me.

I never saw either of them again for the rest of the night. Perhaps that was for the best.

Barry blogs regularly over at QueerCincinnati.com and is a ferocious Tweeter.

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Language matters, especially when talking marriage (Guest Blogger: Jason Boeckman)

First Guest Blog -- Jason Boeckman, of Miami University, put this in the Miami Student (the inspiring Miami Student Article here)and I just loved it so much I had to repost.

I am one student voice. And you don’t have to agree with me. But all I ask, Miami, is that you please listen to me and hear me out.

Despite the rain, I stood at the steps of Cincinnati City Hall Saturday afternoon as part of a nationwide movement in protest of California’s Proposition 8. No doubt you’ve heard of it. Aside from the presidential contest, it became the highest-funded campaign on any ballot in our nation Nov. 4, the campaigns for and against the proposition raising a combined $73.4 million dollars. That’s a lot of money. Money that isn’t feeding our nation’s homeless and hungry, or supporting our schools, or combating crime like drug trafficking.

This must be pretty important, to neglect such extremely pressing social issues, you might ask? You bet this is important. Because what’s at the heart of all this is exactly that: the human heart. And for many Americans, the human heart is aching. And the human heart cannot believe, cannot understand: How could this have happened?

But the human heart is strong. And the human heart is taking action.

Students from Miami, Xavier University, University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University stood together in solidarity along with other Cincinnatians and Northern Kentuckians to speak out against marriage inequality and also the absence of federal legislation protecting gay and lesbian Americans from workplace discrimination and crime motivated by hate. Cincinnati’s turnout was one of the strongest in the nation. Margaret Cho even showed up.

At the protest, I began to realize how wrapped up in language a lot of this is. For instance, what’s all of this talk about “redefining” marriage? It’s time to clear the air. It is not a redefinition coupled gay and lesbian Americans are after, but, rather, an extension of this civil right to them. They want only to be included.

There should be marriage for gay and lesbian couples and here’s why: Domestic partnerships and civil unions just don’t cut it. Yes, in some states these are almost equivalent to marriage, but here is the problem (again, back to language): How likely are you to declare “I’m getting civilly unioned this week” in place of a simple statement like “I’m getting married this week”? Or how likely are you to say “I’d like to introduce you to my beautiful domestic partner” instead of saying “I’d like to introduce you to my beautiful wife/husband”?

Additionally, I’m not sure this phenomenon called “gay marriage” I’ve been hearing so much about really even exists? If it did, you would think I’d hear a whole lot more about “straight marriage.” I attended a high school friend’s wedding ceremony last month—the first wedding I had attended in 23 years, actually—and I’m almost positive my invitation didn’t read “You’re invited to the straight wedding of Ben and Heather Robertson.”

This all should sound pretty silly. And I’d like to think I even got a laugh or two.

But in all seriousness, a marriage is a marriage and that’s the message we were communicating last Saturday.

I’ll tell you what a marriage isn’t because that might help, too. As much as I wish Britney Spears well, her 55-hour Vegas marriage did nothing but disrespect the institution. What’s not a marriage can be found in the example of former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer’s infidelity. And what’s definitely not a marriage is when gay and lesbian people enter sham marriages with a person of the opposite sex because of societal pressure to conform or feelings of expectation or obligation. I have the sneaking suspicion that if gay people were allowed to marry other gay people there’d be fewer spouses and children affected by divorce following comings out. I can only imagine how unhappy, guilty and desperate it’d make me to live a lie like that. But that’s the reality for some in our country. And it’s a reality we have the power to eliminate.

And nobody’s perfect. In fact, it’s been well documented that roughly half of all marriages in our country end in divorce, and for a variety of reasons. But people marry because the chance of failing is worth the possibility of succeeding. Don’t we all deserve that chance?

Gay people exist. We’ve graduated beyond pretending as a society that this isn’t so (see Obama’s acceptance speech, Nov. 4). And gay people fall in love. Gay people fall in love like any of us do and their love is just as legitimate. If our country is going to give those couples permission to explore that love, how can we not reward their commitment with marriage?

I haven’t met the one. But what if one day I should be so lucky and I meet him? I would hope that our country had come around by then in terms of marriage equality. But make no mistake. When I commit to that person, he will be my husband and I will be his.

Barry blogs regularly at QueerCincinnati.com, and can be contacted via email at queercincinnati@gmail.com or on Twitter

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Many Apologies...

...for not posting over here in a long time. School kinda came crashing down on me this semester as well as the 100s upon 100s of things that I get myself involved with.

Why do I know this is about to turn back around? I'm making lists of topics again.

See, part of my process for writing is simply writing down what I want to write in the future. It's stage one before I pick a topic and run with it. I actually had a moment this weekend and wrote down a list of six topics.

Does it mean it's going somewhere? Of course not, but at least I'm starting to re-engage my brain over here. I promise you all will hear from me the minute finals are over :-)

Much love to all of you.
Barry
QueerCincinnati.com

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On which I lamblast the gay community

As usual, the WALK TO STOP AIDS was a success.

I'm getting bored with the ongoing excellence and pride that STOP AIDS (formerly AVOC) takes in its crown jewel of event. Every year, it's the same old well-organized, fun event where hundreds of people show up and hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised. I'm annoyed by the free stuff I get, the competition I generate raising money against friends, the hugs you get from everyone you know when you're walking around Sawyer Point, and the exhausted relaxation in the grass with your Dixie Chili at the end of the 5 miles. And, I know, I know. Those people they get to cheer along the route and hug you, give you high fives, and tell you how great you're doing -- I know. Bothersome.

This was my sixth year there. And it's just annoying to have to be involved that much, isn't it?

And this year, I'm glad to see so many of my fellow homosexuals agreed with me. See, when I came out and thought "gee, I want to get involved," I did what every self-respecting queer does... get involved as much as possible everywhere I could. And then I started dating, made friends, got laid a couple of times, and became more jaded than my own good.

Maybe I'm not as active as I have been in the past.

But, I would like to whole-heartedly agree with every single homosexual who decided to sleep in the morning of the WALK TO STOP AIDS rather than drag their hung-over asses out of bed, write a $10 check, and walk for about two hours in the interest of supporting their community.

You're right, the whole noxiously cheerful and feel-good-ness of the event was just too much to deal with at 8am. STOP AIDS should really do something about that.

And, you're completely right, when you say that everything you go to has the exact same people show up. To me, it's almost a disappointment that there are few dedicated individuals in the community that really try to make things work so there is an ongoing set of gay things to do. I mean, after all, it's not like there is something to do every single night of the week at a bar or otherwise. I mean, the volleyball and softball leagues are practically silly with the amount of people that participate. There should be fewer attendees. And, while we're at, less people should spend time playing competitive sports with other people of the same persuasion in order to have fun.

I've been to the bars, too. And the great community-oriented focus of many of them does get on my nerves. I hate going to places where people know my name, where it's fun to move around and dance with guys that may actually want to sleep with me, and get harangued by an ugly drag queen who has
nothing but love in her heart.

Personally, I'm glad Universal Grille closed. It's one less place I have to think about going on a Friday or Saturday night. I would much rather spend my time in a bar where I don't have to be gay.

I think there should be more barstool activism. After all, that fits much better into my life than this whole "getting out and doing something" thing that actually makes sense. Why can't GLSEN -- whose primary focus is high school's and younger -- just do something at my favorite local watering hole? That's where we'll be, after all. It seems absurd that they would ask me to pay to go to a dance in support of the dozens of gay kids who want somewhere to go and not worry about possible harassment.

Speaking of the kids, aren't they so cute when they participate? Wait, when does that guy turn 18?

But, back to the Walk. . .

It's really sad that no one is dying anymore, isn't it? It's really inconvenient that anyone would mention that you could. It is a real downer.

It is wrong that people are getting better and living better with the disease; after all, just 20 years ago, gay people were dropping off like flies. And maybe it was better that way. Then we all understood just how serious it could be. It's not like STOP AIDS/AVOC has gone out of their way to make sure everyone is included that can be included, and it's not like they haven't done everything in their power to make sure that no one leaves their events with a positive feeling in their soul and that maybe you've made a difference that day.

All the hugs and "thank you"s in the world can't make up for, apparently, a couple of well-placed deaths to get us off our asses, right?

Wrong.

My snarkiness aside, I am disappointed with all of you. Every last person that slept in rather than getting your butt out of bed, writing a check, and high tailing it Sawyer Point -- you missed out. A lot of people will say, "But, Barry, you don't go to everything." You're right, I don't. But I make an effort to attend when I'm interested or when I know it's important. And, yes, AIDS is "my issue." Maybe you have your own.

But this is in no way directed to the mass of regulars you see. This is not for the Scott Knox's, the Kathy Laufmann's, the Jill Benavides's, the Dan Ley's, the Doug Meredith's, the Harold Keutzer's, the Michael Chanak's, or even the bar owner's of the world.

The ongoing depopulation of gay events and locations is indicative of a broader issue -- the community's growing disinterest in itself. In a time when we get to be gayer than ever, when we get to be out and proud, we have, apparently, decided that we don't want to be, anymore. We want to be just like everyone else. The revolution is dead, and the interest in what we can offer to each other is dwindling.

Don't tell me about how you want to have kids until you tell me how you want to help build community. You don't get to have children or get married until you've paid back the people and the places and the organizations that have worked so hard to allow you those rights.

You don't get to tell me, anymore, that you have a picture of your partner on your desk and that's all you ever wanted. First, you have to hug Michael Chanak and all the other pioneers in employment in Cincinnati.

You don't get to talk to me about how supportive your parents are, not until you go to a PFLAG meeting or at least tell a PFLAG parent how important they have been to the cause.

You don't get to talk about the great strides we're making, or even celebrate the passage of Cincinnati's human rights ordinance, until you thank Jill, Gary, the NGLTF, or the countless of volunteers who fought. Or, talked to Equality Ohio.

You don't get to mention how many gays are in the media, until you listen to Cheryl and the great crew over at Alternating Currents... or any of the countless people that made the gay TV show in the 1980s (and that's not hard, as Burger of Serpent fame is a former contributor).

You don't even get to talk about gay history until you can list off at least five pioneers and what they did... it's easy to learn, just contact gohi.

And, more salient to the original topic, you don't get to talk about how important a condom is, or how valuable testing is, until you use one, get tested, or at least write a nice email to STOP AIDS thanking them for 20+ years of tireless efforts they have putting into saving all of our asses ... literally.

Guess what? You have a responsibility to be there to pay homage to all those who came before. And you have a responsibility to learn that history. And you have a responsibility to honor it.

You no longer get to sit across from me and say "Well, I just don't do gay stuff" because you are doing "gay stuff" just by talking to me. And you wouldn't have been able to do that years ago, if it weren't for the hundreds and thousands of people who worked, were abused, and died for your right to sit there and be condescending and complain about the lack of community engagement.

It is your responsibility to be engaged in any way possible, in every way possible.

Where have all the gays gone?

The same question could be asked of a hundred different events for a hundred different organizations at a hundred different times. Again, this is not person or group specific, but it's about a "community" that has all but lost interest in itself.

Bars are closing and homo's are flocking to straight bars in record numbers. Gay pride is dominated by nice hetronormative homo's. Drag queens are looked upon as a menace rather than the glorification of gender anti-norms and challenging the system. Drugs and sex are bad, while sitting at home with your partner and a dog is what we hope to achieve. And no one is getting laid on gay.com. It is, increasingly, a "community" that doesn't take itself seriously anymore.

They are just fading away, and we'll have a generation where the gay bar is for special events (or a special night at an otherwise straight bar), and prides are no longer liberally disseminated throughout the country but reserved, instead, for a few choice locations where "I can go and really be gay rather than this backwoods bullshit town I live in."

(Sound familiar? It should. One of my readers said those exact words to me.)

And that's disappointing because those were the places and events that helped me and directed me out -- and, when I lost my way, reigned me back in. I know I won't go to everything, but I'll make a damned better attempt than most people.

But it shouldn't just be about me, or Mike Volmer, or Penny Tration, or Chris Seelbach, or this person or that person. It should be about everyone. And that's why I'm not pointing fingers ... because it's not their fault. It's all of ours.

All because these places we should be -- AIDS walks, drag shows, group meetings, -- are dying and I don't want to find myself twenty years from now at some empty event thinking Where did all the gays go?

Barry blogs regularly over at QueerCincinnati.com, and you can either email him at queercincinnati@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter.

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Loose Ends

Gender.

My mother still has no idea what I mean when I reference gender in discussion. I don't think 3/4 of the people I talk to know what I mean by it. When I talk about "gender deviation" or "trans-identity," the impression I get from the pallid stares is that most people are picturing a drag show in their head. And, while that immediate gut reaction is valid and important - as drag is probably the most regular example of gender performance that people can relate to - it is not everything. However, the rhetoric of the gay rights movement probably rests on a better understanding of the spectrum that gender implies.

Transgenderism is a term found within the Ohio Revised Code as an asterik under the phrase sexual orientation, linking the two together under the law. Ohio is actually on the cutting edge of the movement, as the term is even modified to include whether real or perceived. Cincinnati is one of a number of growing municipalities that protect sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. I know, I was little shocked too. Lacking a regular and/or valid LGBT rights organization that could lobby for this kind of coup in the world of Citizens for Community Values, the ordinance relied on the activism of individual lobbying efforts and the support of knowledgeable council members to get it through. But the protection of gender is, ultimately, the lynchpin of the whole movement and could, in fact, be the end of our "community" as we seek to place ourselves more firmly in the mainstream. As we continue to buy into heteronormativity and abandon our amassed experiences and identities, as we seek our own integration, it is gender that will continue to divide us.

My own gender identity and expression is confused. When asked in an online chat room, "r u masc" ("are you masculine?" -- i.e., do you conform to the expected and stereotypical gender roles attributed to "men"), perhaps out of self-delusion, I would answer "yes." As if I was fooling anyone, especially after I would pull up to someone's house with Donna Summer blasting on the radio -- whatever, I was still passing easily. Sure, I dabbled in drag from time to time, but that didn't play into my primary, quotidian gender expression. I thought all the jokes were camp -- done in play.

That is, until i heard myself on the radio and the DJ made the comment: "You sound like a drag queen." Insignificant actions yield huge results in my world. I hung up and, parked in my car outside of Golden Lions watching boys, I listened to the interview.

Oh my god, I sound really gay.

Though the interview was lighthearted, I was sure I had butched it up for the mainstream station. "Overactive pilot light" were the words that came to my mind -- the flame always on. I called my friends to recount this story, and they were more amused by how long it took me to find out than anything else. I went up for a new job a few months later. It's rare you get the opportunity to ask questions of your interviewer -- since this was only the second job I had ever interviewed for and not gotten, and because they were colleagues, I took the opportunity. "You were too... [long pause] enthusiastic." It was the most bullshit cover for "you're too gay" that I had ever heard.

"Mama" is a social identity I've taken on with my friends. It's an honor usually bestowed upon dowagers and drag queens. With me, it was a description of my gender role, and an expression of the safety within the feminine. I knew it was mine, and that it embodied who I was, when Sity Hall called me Mama at the Dock one night. As Mama, I am safe as a sexual being, because it's funny. As me, whose escapades are the stuff of legend, my sexuality became creepy. As Mama, all things are allowed. I became genderqueer to allow my sexuality to be OK, even within this community that theoretically embraces sexual and gender minorities.

As femme, I am sexualized and fetishized within the eyes of the most uber-masculine, hyper-dom's, and I'm not saying I don't play into that sometimes. But the assumption is that I also have to be a bottom (a position I enjoy, but have only done so in the past few years, but not primarily). The pride I have in my body and my sexuality is key to me -- to be stripped of that based on my expression is unfortunate. It's devaluing to the "community," to all of us queens because we are out and proud. We live the life of the revolution, of a fight yet to be one.

When we seek protections for gender identiy and expression, it is not for some theoretical trans-identified person that may or may not be around. Rather, it is a protection against all of us. The movement here, for the most part, has moved beyond the right to have your partner's picture on your desk -- a litmus test which is awful in a "community" that embraces sexual minorities. It's no longer about the right to domestic partner benefits or the right to simply be known as gay. There, we are just tying up loose ends.

It's about personal expression, and the right to personality, even on Craigslist.

Barry blogs regularly at QueerCincinnati.com. Feel free to email him at queercincinnati@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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