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Mark 1

Mark 1, born 1977


Summary

Mark, a 30 year old heterosexual man, started going to mixed straight gay nights in 1995 aged 18, and then onto predominantly gay bars, preferring the atmosphere, music, freedom of expression, and lack of conflict. He went regularly until 2001, now occasionally. He refers to a number of (former) gay bars. He compares the adolescent experience of gay and straight young men and the effect on perception of gay people compared with other friends without that experience. He encouraged straight friends to engage with the gay scene and helped at Pride 2006. He explains how he wants to show gay people that not everyone is prejudiced.


Contents

Straight man's first experience of gay bars - 10, 15, 20, 30, 40
Straight man's perspective on gay bars compared with straight bars - 30, 60, 70, 85, 90, 100
Friends reaction to straight men going to gay bars - 80
Impact of mixing with gay people - 110 140 165 180
Impact of straight people going to gay bars - 90
Comparison of growing up gay or straight - 120
Challenging prejudice and homophobia - 150 180
Coming Out - 120 130 180
Clothes - 45 70 110 150
Drugs - 50, 90
Alcohol Licencing Laws - 50
SLAG at Steering Wheel - 10, 15
Tin-Tins - 40, 50, 110
Jo-Joes - 40
Pride (04 and 06) - 80, 160, 165, 170



Straight man's first experience of gay people and pubs

10 ""I went to gay clubs through 1995 - 2001 and later intermittently to a gay bar. I first started going to gay pubs around my eighteenth birthday - my first experience was at the Steering Wheel, which used to be on Hurst St just opposite the main entrance to the Arcadian Centre. It was a regular Friday night called SLAG, promoted by two people, one who was quite prominent within the gay community, a big colourful character called Pat. It was the first time I'd ever seen a drag queen, a character called Twiggy, who was on the door. As a straight lad who hadn't had much experience, I wasn't shocked or scared, but a bit curious about what was going to be inside this club if this person is on the door!"

15 "We'd gone (to SLAG at Steering Wheel) purely because we'd been on a Saturday which was straight, and we thought we'd try it on a Friday. We ended up going every Friday for virtually three years afterwards. We met various people there, all different sexualities. Even though it was named SLAG, (straight, lesbian and gay), there was probably a higher percentage of straight people, though there was a strong gay presence. That was the first time I consciously spoke to people who were gay."

20 "The first time I properly spoke to someone, me being quite na´ve or innocent, I didn't catch on that they were trying to chat me up so I ended up chatting to them for half an hour, then that person turned out to be talking to me for just one reason, and when they approached me I did back off politely, but I learnt quite quickly that the majority of people weren't really like that and I'd just been unlucky the first time."

30 Safer, freer atmosphere in gay bars

"The first thing I noticed was there wasn't any trouble. I'm not a confrontational person and I don't like the beer culture, I noticed the atmosphere was far friendly and less predatory than in or the , which had just opened. It felt a lot safer, and that people had gone to have a good time, rather than to get hammered, or sexually motivated. The other thing I really liked was the , they were playing music in there that they weren't playing in the other clubs".

40 "Then through various people that we met then we started going to other clubs, Tin Tins, or some of the bars, Jo Joes on Smallbrook Queensway. I don't know if you'd categorise it (Jo Joes) as a gay bar, but there were certainly gay and lesbian members of staff and clientele and was a pre-club bar for Tin Tins.

45 When I first went (to Tin Tins), that was the most visible sort of experience of a gay club, I remember walking in, to the top of the stairs, there was a cage with people dancing in it, a lad dancing in it with his top off and wearing a pair of hot-pants and a feather boa, I'd never seen anything like that, and although I was a little bit taken aback, it illustrated quite quickly to me that it was a place where people could be themselves and have a good time."

50 Impact of drugs

"Obviously there were other influences which promoted them having a good time, there was a lot of drugs in that club (Tin Tins), and they didn't have an alcohol licence, which exacerbated that, I don't know if it was the Council targeting it or because it was a late club night, it used to go on till 8:00 or 9:00 am in the morning."

60 "The only negative experiences I ever had of those clubs were straight blokes who should have been in the main stream in Broad Street, that had come there because maybe they thought that girls went there because they felt safer and they cottoned onto this and thought, 'well if we go there we're going to be the only straight men who are targeting them so we'll have a higher success rate'. The only real trouble I ever had was from people like that.

70 I kind of embraced the scene that I was in, and some of the clothes I wore said to them 'this person's gay', and a couple of times, there were comments or people trying to intimidate me, it had to be pointed out to me - I didn't really notice it."

80 Reaction of straight friends to a heterosexual man going to gay bars and Pride

"We went to Pride a few times, me and two of my mates, and maybe some girls, and some friends who were gay or lesbian that we'd met, so there'd be a bigger group. Then speaking to people who I knew from the area I lived, or from school, they were saying, 'well why are you going there?', and were very prejudiced against it and were questioning us as to why we were going, 'are you going there because you are gay? Is there something you need to tell us'.

85 "They couldn't understand because it was a more comfortable and enjoyable place to go than going to Broad Street and constantly looking over your shoulder in case someone's going to glass you, this pack mentality you get in beer communities. It was just safer and more fun place to go, that's why we continued to go, but still people had difficulty understanding that until we managed to get them to go. Then the majority, not all, would go there themselves."

90 Impact of straight people going to gay bars

"I don't know whether we're partly responsible for those clubs becoming more mixed, and I don't know whether I should feel guilty, or proud of that, because it may well have contributed to the richness of the client base, the diversity of the environment, but it may well have taken something away, because there were only a couple of (gay) clubs, and the ones we went to then, they all closed a long time ago, and I don't know whether that was the drugs, or because they'd lost their original direction."

100 There is pressure on guys to act differently in straight clubs - yes, but I can still go to a straight club and have a good time, but it kind of felt safer, I don't like confrontation, this beer boy thing.

110 Mark was asked about his perceptions of gay people before he went to the clubs: "I just didn't know, I didn't know anything. Before we went to the Steering Wheel, we ended up in Tin Tins one night, a group of four straight lads, and we must have stood out like a sore thumb, I felt like we stood out, whatever the fashion was at the time, in pin-stripe trousers and a white shirt, blatantly very young, didn't know what was going on in town and I remember being a little intimidated when I went there, but gradually introduced myself to different places. As a straight guy I didn't feel anything negative, it was all positives.

120 Mark compares the experiences of young men growing up and growing up gay. "There's similarities and differences - the information that a couple of friends have given me, or I can try and empathise....., one or two people I know found it really difficult to , but then similarly in my life, I've found something difficult to admit sometimes, for example when my parents got divorced, I found it really difficult to admit that at school, because everyone was 2.4 children, 'my daddy does this, my mummy does that', and I found it really upsetting to reveal that, and I mean it's completely different to admitting your sexuality..... "

130 "There was a freedom, but then I was quite a late developer as far as girls and sexual experience was concerned, whereas a lot of my peers were going on dates a lot earlier, and that was partly due to me being a very shy introverted person, and I suppose there could be some sort of similarity between that and not wanting to or tell your parents, having that reluctance to be yourself 100%. A lot of my peers were experimenting a lot sexually, while my friends from the gay community, I don't want to stereotype, but it seemed like their first experiences were even later than mine were. I don't know if that was because there was an age restriction on clubs, and they just didn't meet anyone who they could be themselves around. I think looking at it now, because of my character, I felt a little more at home within an environment that was welcoming to every different type of person. I did feel safer, definitely.

140 Changed perception of gay people from getting to know them

"I think I definitely have a different perception of gay people now. Two close straight friends from that nucleus that went to gay clubs and made a lot of gay friends, their attitude today is much less , non-homophobic, whereas other friends who didn't have that experience, just offhand comments, illustrate the fact that they still do have issues about things like that, and I think it really helped. Not that I or my friends had a particular problem beforehand, but just experiencing it and realising that everyone is the same and we're all still people, rather than a lot of my friends who didn't go to those clubs and think, 'uuggh why are you there?'. They're the ones with the problem really now, because as a direct consequence of not having that experience, they have a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding, so it definitely helps, I do think that the people that didn't have that experience were, and are, ignorant, and not just ignorant, but negatively ignorant, they don't know, they make negative assumptions, and they have negative opinions. So I think it really did help us to understand."

150 More freedom over clothes - and clothes as an indicator of being gay

"You could be more free, more extrovertly, wear that you definitely wouldn't wear to a mainstream club, having said that you still had to get the train, get the bus, so we were still walking through town. I remember wearing some sort of outfit of polo-neck crop top and white shiny tight trousers, which I wouldn't wear now just because I've grown as a person, but I still get ribbing for it now from a few people. I remember coming home and my mum knew that I was now sexually active, but she'd only ever seen girls, and her coming from an older generation and probably never having much exposure, it looked to her, as if, possibly, her son was gay. I remember her asking me, and I said, 'no I'm not, why are you asking me?', and she said, 'because of the you're wearing, well why are you wearing them?'. I don't know, it got kind of hot dancing all night so that helped, and apparently my bum looked good in those trousers, so this girl said, so I thought I might as well embrace it, hadn't I! There was more liberty."

160 Pride - a heterosexual perspective

I had a bisexual friend, she worked in Prague] so I used to go there to see her, and through her actually worked at Pride last year (in 2006) in Cannon Hill Park, just serving on a bar, so we went and helped out."

165 "A couple of years earlier we managed to get a lot of our friends who had never experienced anything like that, to come to in 2004 and they loved it, absolutely loved it, and 'We wish we'd come out with you when you went to those clubs, man' and I was like, 'Well, we did tell you!'"

170 "The things I enjoy the most about Pride are the carnival, almost like a Mardi Gras, and there's nothing else like that in Birmingham, it can be quite a dull, drab, boring place, but this was like a massive street party, and everyone was happy, and there was lots of colour and lots of character, and it just felt like a good place to be. There are obviously material things like, you hear better music in my opinion, and it gets you going and makes you feel that you're alive, more than music with just lyrics about girls, you felt like people were embracing life a little bit more, and it gave us the chance to do so as well, there was never any animosity. I never witnessed anything, it was just loads and loads of fun and it felt like the whole vibe was just there to have a good time, there weren't any ulterior motives, even though Pride was there to promote the gay community, and make it more accessible to people who are interested but who haven't pursued it, it's got those core values, but obviously those things aren't as important to me.

180 Not all straights are prejudiced
"Having spoken to a couple of people and hearing the difficulties they've had with their families, and at school and with peers, when they were coming out, or within the first few years after coming out, and I just felt as obviously the people that had given them trouble or grief were straight, I kind of felt as a straight male, that I should be completely opposite to those people that had given them trouble, it didn't matter what their sexuality was, they might be more willing to be themselves in the future, because I've experienced negative things in my life and I know it leaves emotional scars on you, and those emotional scars can inhibit and change the way you really want to be. You have to sort of mould yourselves into something that isn't going to be affected like that if you want to be happy. I felt, probably completely wrong, that if I could be decent and not be bothered about it, it might help them, or at least realise that not everyone is prejudiced.