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Hr - Experience as Other

In: Other Topics

Submitted By clarissarod
Words 2298
Pages 10
As I walked down Main St. towards Zooleggers, I took stock of the area around me. I had been on the street many, many times, but had never really taken the time to really look at the area. The street was reminiscent of an era long past, with slightly decaying row shops with apartments above, stretching forever down a quiet downtown street. In the middle of the block, was my destination for the night, Zooleggers, Lafayette’s only gay bar.
Zooleggers was by far the worst looking shop on the street. The outside brick was gray and well worn. There was large backlit sign, faded and cracked through years of neglect with the former name of the bar, “The Sportsman” written in huge letters. Below that, marquee boards rested to both sides: the right had a collection of exposed fluorescent lights, the left a hastily created white vinyl banner with the name "Zooleggers" displayed in a subdued font. The windows in front were darkened so that the inside of the bar was barely visible to people on the street.
As I opened the heavy glass door, I couldn’t help but notice the flyers taped to the window. One had a list, complete with pictures, of drag queens that regularly perform at the venue. Another listed some future events for Lafayette PRIDE. And yet another flyer listed some upcoming indie band shows at Zooleggers, which surprised me a little because it didn’t seem like the type of place to host indie bands.
After I walked through the inner door, I was greeted by a tall man, with long white hair, sitting at a tiny grade school desk. He asked me for my ID, and while he searched for my birth date on my Tennessee license, I had a chance to look at the rest of the place. The main room was a long, thin corridor, filled with a large bar, and a sea of mismatched tables and chairs. Tangles of small, flashing Christmas lights were strewn haphazardly from the ceiling, spidering out to every surface of the bar. These lights, along with the occasional flick of a lighter, were the only light sources in this main room. The place was fairly crowded with men wearing everything from suits, jeans, and even a couple vibrant feather boas.
A tap on my shoulder woke me up from my assessment and made me jump a little. The doorman giggled at me slightly, smiled big, and said something like, "Don't be so jumpy, sweetheart - we're all friendly here... well, except that bastard," gesturing towards his chuckling friend, a large, overweight man sitting near the door. After handing me back my ID he told me to check out the other side of the bar, “where the girls usually hang out”. As I walked through the bar to check out the other side, I noticed a huge floor-level stage that was designated only by a white line and brown linoleum flooring. Even further down, there was another doorway with brighter light, that opened to a room with yellow walls, old posters, and a group of cutely dressed, 20-something year old girls playing pool. A couple of the girls looked up at me when I walked into the room, smiled and then went back to their game. I saw a sign for the bathrooms, so, feeling a bit nervous, I decided to make a bit of a beeline to the really gorgeous, unisex bathrooms, in order to wash up and calm a bit of the nervousness.
After emerging from the bathroom, I really wanted a drink to help me be able to talk to people so I headed back out to the main room to try to get a beer. Surprisingly a seat opened up at the bar, and after checking with the guys sitting around it, I hopped up and ordered a beer. I sat there quietly for a little bit, taking in the situation and feeling a bit quiet and out of place. Not only was I the only girl sitting at the bar, but I think I was the only girl on that entire side of the building, aside from the occasional girl from the back room getting another drink.
I listened to the conversations for what seemed like hours, although in reality it was only about 20 minutes, before a middle aged, portly man said something that I knew a little bit about, Purdue football. I eased my way into the conversation by asking how the team was predicted to do this year. The guy let out a huge laugh and said something like, “since (Drew) Brees graduated, we haven’t had a season worth a damn.” I giggled and told him how I remembered when Drew played because I had had him in a few classes and had a lot of fun going to the games because the team was doing so well.
We talked for a little while longer about where I was from, where he was from (Indianapolis), and what initially brought us to the area (school). He asked me what I was doing in the bar that night and I proceeded to tell him a little about this paper. He was very surprised that I had never been in that bar, even when it was “The Sportsman”, especially when I told him that one of my friends actually used to own the bar next door. He asked if I was sticking around for “the show”, and when I asked him about it, he told me to stick around because it was “worth writing about”.
About 20 minutes later the lights on the stage lit up, and out walked one of the scariest looking drag queens I had ever seen. (Apparently not all drag queens look as good as Patrick Swayze did in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.) She had the thickest fake eyelashes, and more chest hair than 90% of the men I know. It was hard to gauge exactly how old she was, but if I had to take a guess I would figure about 50. The crowd started clapping and dollar bills came out to tip her as she shimmied through the crowd that was now made up of both men and women. My night ended with a group of women coming on stage with a giant spinner with various STDs written on it, trying to get people to spin the wheel to show what STDs you could get if you don’t use a condom. After a brief safe sex speech they handed out condoms from a trash bag to whomever in the crowd wanted them.
Honestly, I wasn’t too surprised by my reaction to the previous night’s events. Getting up the nerve to walk into that bar was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. However, part of me wondered if that “uneasy” feeling had more to do with the fact that I don’t like to venture out into new places by myself, and less to do with the unfamiliar situation in which I found myself. I knew from the start that safety and the uncomfortable feeling of constantly getting hit on would not be an issue. I just really think that it had to do more with being alone in a new place. And to be completely honest, I don’t even like going to the grocery store by myself, so heading to a bar without friends or family was really out of my comfort zone.
I will admit that I felt much more comfortable sitting at the bar with all of the men, than I did in the back room with all the young, pretty girls playing pool. One would think that I would be more comfortable, being that I was out of my comfort zone, with people who looked more like me (i.e. women). However, real life the majority of my friends are male, so I found myself gravitating towards the male section of the bar. Because of my experiences dealing with a male friend base, I know what men typically talk about when in large groups, so I made the assumption that gay men and straight men still pretty much all talk about the same things. I was really happy to find out that my assumption was true. However, I will admit that I still felt pretty uneasy hopping up on a bar stool in a place that was filled with nothing but men.
Due to the fact that Zooleggers seems like a pretty community based place and everyone seemed like they knew everyone else in the bar, the patrons’ reactions to seeing me, a newcomer, was one of curiosity. I received a lot of smiles and “hellos” throughout the night, but for the most part everyone seemed to be glancing at me from afar. It almost felt like I was surrounded by a giant fish bowl and everyone was watching me swim around to see what I was going to do next. On more than one occasion I wondered if people were trying to figure out if I was gay or straight, and if they concluded I was straight, were wondering why I would be hanging out in a gay bar. It didn’t really make me feel unwelcome or anything like that; it just made me feel a little out of place. Thankfully, the doorman’s initial friendliness did a great job to ease some of my tension. I was really excited at his reassurance that this place was a friendly place, and even happier that he made a joke at his buddy’s expense just to try to put me at ease. It also felt really relaxing to be able to talk to the man sitting next to me about a topic I knew something about, sports. And that relaxation even opened me up to a few more conversations throughout the night with various other patrons, which I’m sure I wouldn’t have had if I had stayed so tense.
This experience did teach me a valuable lesson about myself. I need to step out of my comfort zone more often in order to develop better social skills. Had I stayed quiet the whole night, I wouldn’t have had very much to write about for this paper. Stepping outside of myself and being the “different” person in a setting, allowed me to learn more about my weaknesses in social settings. Also, I learned that being the “different” person can be a tricky thing. It can be very hard to find a common ground with people that live different lifestyles than you are used to. Thankfully, I was very lucky. I was in a situation where I was able to find common ground a little easier. Had I been from a foreign country and had a language barrier, my situation would have been much different. I think having this experience caused me to have a lot of sympathy for people that “stand out from the crowd” and don’t really want to.
Living and working in a situation where I was different than everyone else would be a tough thing for me. I can’t imagine having to go through the anxiety that I felt every day. I think I would be much quieter, more introspective, and probably a little depressed because of that constant feeling of not belonging to an in-group. I would like to think that over time it would get a little easier, as I picked up on group norms and learned more about the culture in which I was living. Plus, because of my initial anxiety problem of being in new places alone, once I spent a good amount of time in that situation, I wouldn’t have the initial “newness of a situation” problem. Beyond that, I don’t think being the only straight person living around a gay community would have much of an effect on me, other than the fact that I would be lonely because of lack of dating options.
In conclusion, this experience taught me a lot about my shortcomings as an individual in new social situations. I now know that I need to branch out beyond my typical social setting, and not be so scared to try something new, in order to truly develop as a person. Deep down I know I am completely capable of handling myself in whatever social situation I am thrust into; and in the long run I think I would actually get a lot of enjoyment out of trying new and different experiences.
This experience also helped to enhance a lot of my beliefs on the right for everyone to be treated equally. I grew up Catholic, and spent 13 years in Catholic school being told that homosexuality is immoral and wrong. As I got older I started questioning those teachings because I didn’t believe that falling in love with anyone should be considered immoral regardless of gender. Then, throw in the huge debate on gay marriage, and I just couldn’t understand what it was about the gay community that made people so afraid to treat them as equals in society. Sitting in that bar, and talking with the patrons, I realized that there is no reason why they shouldn’t be given the same opportunity for equality that has been given to every other protected class in the United States. People are people, no matter how they look or who they love, and when you get right down to it, everyone wants the same things in life: love, food, fun, comfort, family, and occasionally…even a winning sports team.…...

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