Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sordid real-world gay life is thriving offline

Boyfriend number 1 and myself rarely visit gay bars, however last night was one of the exceptions. Being on holiday in Southern Europe with some good friends of ours who do go to such places, our friends wanted to go and see what the local bars were like so we went along too. The Internet provided a long list of possible bars. Some bars were marked as ‘gay friendly’, and others were marked as ‘gay male’. We decided to focus on the ‘gay male’ ones.

The first bar was harmless enough, with a slight mid-western US cowboy theme. It was very hidden though. From the outside, the name of the bar was to the left of a very bland door, in letters about 4 inches high. But nothing else was visible. Clearly not going for the passing trade then.

The second bar, however, cannot be described as harmless. The door was locked, and so we ring to be admitted. Once inside, there are very few clientele. Perhaps we are early? Having bought some beers we go and sit down on some comfy chairs near some other guys. Although the guys seem to know each other, they're not talking to each other very much, just sitting in a line with maybe two or three feet between each of them. Immediately a couple of them come up to talk to us. They've worked out we speak English, so they start by saying "What's up" and smiling at us. We've worked out that they are rent boys. The boys are bit older than I would have expected, mid to late twenties and a bit rough looking, probably from Eastern Europe.

Looking around, there is a very fierce guy in a black tea shirt who is clearly in charge of the boys. There’s some gay porn showing on a TV monitor. The men in the porn are very masculine and rugged and certainly not like rent boys, which is what one might expect if the bar is meant to attract customers for the rent boys.

The only other customers are a couple of guys in their forties sitting at the bar, drinking their beers and occasionally giving each other long kisses. A man and a woman enter, strange to get a woman in a place like this. But she seems to know the two barmen, and they take a seat in between the rent boys and us. She introduces herself to the rent boy next to her and starts talking to him. She looks a bit old to be a prostitute, but then that’s in line with the rent boys being a bit old too. In any case she’s clearly part of this world.

After a phone call, the fierce looking guy stops reading a straight porn magazine to grab one of the rent boys, who then leaves the bar. Has he gone to visit a client? Probably not because he’s back within 10 minutes. But boyfriend number 1 tells me later that he saw the fierce guy give the rent boy a small package before he left. So, we're in the centre of drug-city as well as the centre of rent-boy-city. I feel I’m watching a Pedro Almodóvar film, and I’m completely absorbed in the situation, but it’s time to move on.

The last bar we visit turns out to have a slight ‘bear’ theme, with a few stocky guys who have facial hair and who are wear shirts with check patterns. Everyone looks very friendly though, and no rent boys. There’s also gay porn being shown, a gay male orgy in and around a swimming pool. “It’ll play havoc with their water filter”, says boyfriend number 1 as yet another of the guys ejaculates underwater in the swimming pool.

So even in the 21st century, where gay life thrives online with sites like and gaydar, off-line real-world gay life is clearly thriving too. And we didn't even get round to visiting the bars with the back-rooms.

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