Conservative Writer Seduced by Gays
"There's a fundraiser for the Stop-Dr-Laura people. In the meat-packing district. Could you get over there & give us 800 words?" Thus my noble editor, for whom I had previously done a piece on the campaign by gay groups to shut down Dr Laura Schlessinger's forthcoming TV program.
Now, I am a conservative person of conventional habits, who has only the most incidental contacts with the world of gayness — which, all things considered, I should prefer to know nothing about. While always willing to take up a challenging assignment, there was something about that toponym that I found a bit … forbidding. It sounded, in fact, like some arcane piece of gay slang: "Are you packing meat?" Was there really such a place? I called Chandler Burr.
Chandler is the author of A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation. He is gay and lives in Greenwich Village. I am acquainted with him via some e-mail exchanges about his book. Chandler proved very helpful. We had dinner at Markt on 14th and Hudson, then walked over to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center on 13th Street. A gentleman at the desk had no information about the fundraiser but recognized the address my editor had supplied. It was a bar, he said, and phoned them for us: no answer. Chandler showed me around the center. One large room was packed with youngish men sitting in rows on meeting-hall chairs, talking very animatedly. This, Chandler explained, was a "Date Bait" event. Each participant wore a number. After some prescribed period of mingling and chatting, you wrote down the numbers of people you'd like to date. All the numbers were fed into a computer and everyone was assigned a couple of dates, which they had to turn up for. "I don't know how things go in your world," I commented, "but in mine, everybody would want a date with the best-looking girl." Yes, that happened, said Chandler; but the computer sorted it all out somehow. (And in fact, there are now heterosexual "Date Bait" events at colleges and such.)
We walked over to the fundraiser address. It was indeed in the meat-packing district, which does indeed exist, and is indeed quite forbidding: dark, cobbled streets stinking of blood, ancient dirty buildings shuttered and bolted — the time was now 9:30 p.m. The address was just a door. As we contemplated it, it opened and a large, mean-looking fat woman of indeterminate race, wearing a purple mumu and Tammy Faye Bakker makeup, emerged. We asked about the fundraiser. Yes, she said, and waved a flyer at us. The flyer had some artwork and the address; this was the place. But not open till ten. She disappeared. So did Chandler, who said that icky gay clubs were not his thing. I took a walk round the block, then a couple more. Now there was a bouncer at the door, a large shaven-headed man in a leather jerkin. With the exquisite manners of the very muscular, he took my five dollars and let me in.
The bar was small, about fifteen feet square. On one side was a stage furnished with a beaten-up antique chaise-longue and a mike; on the other, a deejay booth. The music was very loud, the light very low. The bartender was a fellow of about twenty-five wearing nothing but a pair of severely cut-off denim shorts and a great deal of body piercing. Fundraiser? He was vague, but thought there would be a show later, and yes, probably some fundraising. I explored. There was an even smaller room downstairs, guarded by Tammy Faye — who, in a brief conversation, proved not mean at all, but had no more information than was on the flyer.
Back upstairs there was now a second customer at the bar, even more obviously straight than myself. We conversed, as best we could above the music. He was another reporter, from a German radio station that keeps an office in New York: "Mainly we broadcast news about the U.N., which people back home are very interested in," he explained. Strange people, the Germans. The music thudded, the mirrored ball turned, the bartender lounged. When, we asked him, would the fundraising start? Later, he guessed.
By eleven, combat fatigue had set in. We were still the only two customers in the place, and were hoarse from trying to talk over the music. We left, to courteous farewells from the bartender and bouncer. Next morning I told the tale to Katie, my personal trainer. Katie is a lesbian of a conservative inclination; but she sometimes goes bar-hopping in the Village. "I must say," I told Katie, "It wasn't at all a negative experience. I thought I would feel menaced, but I didn't. Everyone was very nice."
"They probably thought you were a cop," said Katie.