It is midnight on a Monday, and I am singing at the top of my lungs. Idina Menzel’s greenified face is belting Wicked’s Defying Gravity on screens throughout the bar, and I am sitting on a stool while a blonde, curly-haired drag queen—with legs to the ceiling and heels higher than any human should be able to walk in—drapes her arm around my shoulder and joins me in screaming, “As someone told me lately everyone deserves the chance to fly!”
It was one of the most fun nights I have had since coming out, or possibly just one of the most fun nights I have had. The funny thing is I wasn’t even with anybody that I knew. Instead, I was with a brand new group of people, a group I should have joined a long time ago, and a group that, for the first time, made me feel wholly understood. This evening was integral in my transition from simply accepting myself to becoming actively excited about being gay.
It started with a happy hour. I received a promotional email about a Jewish LGBT event at a bar in Chicago’s gay neighborhood. I almost didn’t go because I had no one to go with me, but I have been trying this new thing where, if I want to do something and no one is around to join me, I do it anyway. The first few times I did this were terrifying, but now I love it.
Going somewhere without a friend to turn to forces me to be far more outgoing than I’d otherwise have to be, and it has led to some great conversations and some even greater dance parties. Sure, it can be a little uncomfortable for a few minutes until I find someone to talk to, but once I do, it becomes so interesting and so fun, especially for someone like me who loves to meet new people and hear their stories.
This happy hour was early on in my series of solo adventures, so I reluctantly forced myself to go, expecting it to be nothing more than an hour or so of chatter, but hoping it would be the place where I’d miraculously meet the love of my life.
Well, it was neither of those things, but it was an incredible night nonetheless. I met a nice group of people—and it was a room full of Chicago Jews, so we all figured out first or second degree connections in under two minutes—and we decided to stay at the bar and hang out when the event was over. That night was the bar’s weekly Musical Mondays, which sounded like it was pretty much made for me.
We spent all night singing, chatting, dancing, and drinking. All around us there were boys kissing boys, girls flirting with girls, drag queens dancing on a stage at the front, and everyone was singing along to the musicals on the screens. I had been out at gay bars before, but this was one of the first times I experienced it all as an insider, as someone who had finally embraced her own self and thus could truly embrace her membership in the LGBT community.
I was having so much fun, and I couldn’t believe the kindness of the people I was with. One boy bought drinks for an entire table just so I could have a reason to talk to a girl who was sitting at it. I had only met this boy a few hours earlier, and I have not seen him since. Yet for some reason he had made it his mission to help me, and I left that night with a date planned for Friday.
Through all of the singing and laughter that accompanied the evening, I kept thinking how likely it was that virtually all of the people inside that bar had been through an excruciating period in their lives before finally finding the strength to embrace their sexual and gender identities.
Most of these people having the time of their lives had probably spent a great number of nights crying before they began having nights like this one. I know I did. Some of the people singing beside me were probably beaten up as teenagers. Some of them probably had parents who no longer spoke to them. Some of them were probably still going through hard times. But not here, not tonight.
I’ve begun to think that one of the reasons people find coming to gay bars so much fun is because almost everyone inside has overcome something to be there, and as a result people are not just drinking and dancing as they would at any old bar. Instead, every night is a grand celebration of stomping out adversity and being who you are.
Being in a gay bar is like being at a party where it is every single person’s birthday. It is this little pocket of the world where everyone can actually be whoever they want to be, one of the only places where you really don’t have to fear any judgment because everyone inside understands all too well what it feels like to be judged.
I used to be skeptical about the entire idea of becoming active in the LGBT community because I did not feel like my sexuality should force me to banish myself to certain bars and neighborhoods and volleyball teams. I didn’t think being gay should mean I had to be separate, but now I’ve realized that being part of this community is not exile from other communities. It is not giving in to segregation or discrimination, and it is not letting the bad guys win.
All it is, it turns out, is surrounding myself with people who understand me and people who are so excited to just be. I feel like when I am in these situations with people, we always end up swapping coming out stories, and no matter how varied each person’s experience is, everyone just seems to get it. That Musical Monday evening was the first time that I felt lucky to be gay. Because it meant I got to be a part of this amazing and supportive world.
It is unfortunate to think that so many people at these bars have probably experienced immense pain, but it is also so wonderful that they can all come together to celebrate that they have made it through. Hopefully someday, embracing your true identity won’t have to be a challenge to overcome, but for now, it feels really nice to have these spaces to celebrate being yourself.
Since coming out, so many people have reached out to me to offer help, guidance and advice. I have found close friendships in people that until now have been mere acquaintances, and I have reconnected with people I have not spoken to in years. I have met tons of people I would have never otherwise come across, and every day I feel grateful that being gay has given me these connections.
At my first Musical Monday, I became so excited for the rest of my life because it would inevitably involve having more great times like that one. In fact, I have already had some. And to think it all began with a happy hour that I almost didn’t attend…