I saw these men as being in their domain, depraved and sketchy, whereas I was just passing through. Then again, I understood I’m the company I keep: a man over forty with a Friday night hard-on, passing as desirable in the dark. I didn’t end up here out of loneliness. I’d arrived with my companion, the Famous Blue Raincoat. We’ve been domestic for years. “It may seem difficult to understand why two men who are happy with each other will take the risk of going to these places where the whole atmosphere of the group will tend to drive them apart,” wrote Gordon Westwood—a pseudonym—in his 1952 book Society and the Homosexual. It was the author’s hunch there was no other spot for these coupled men to rendezvous. To the homosexuals, “in a pathetic kind of way this place is their home.”
But that was another era. I hadn’t been driven to The Bar by society’s lack of understanding. Throughout the twentieth century, London pubs, cafés and clubs would be taken over—“selected” as Westwood put it—by a homosexual clientele. The unofficial meeting places could be so discreet most other customers wouldn’t notice, and occasionally so brazen an orchestra would strike up a tribute when an attractive male entered the room. Proto-gays were segregated by class as much as anything else, sticking to the exclusive cellar bar at the Ritz on the one hand or an East End boozer on the other—or, in the case of privileged men in pursuit of a bit of rough, moving from the former to the latter. In this diffuse network of commercial spaces, the clientele might be tolerated to various degrees because it brought business. (Matt Houlbrook, an authority on London queer history, figures: “The pink shilling was a potentially lucrative market, and men’s demand for a ‘home’ always ripe for exploitation.”) Now we were being elaborately catered to: The Bar was designed for a demographic of masc-presenting homo satyrs. — Jeremy Atherton Lin, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out
This week, Atherton Lin and Isabel Waidner will be on Instagram Live to discuss the new book Gay Bar.
See link below for details.
This isn’t a Dream: Conversations with Writers
Thursday, February 25.
7 pm in London, 8 pm Paris.
From top: Jeremy Atherton Lin, photograph courtesy of the author; Jeremy Atherton Lin, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out (2021), cover image courtesy and © Little, Brown; Isabel Waidner, We Are Made of Diamond Stuff; Isabel Waidner, book cover image and author photograph courtesy of Waidner.