I once fell in love with a man in Panama. He had a gorgeous smile, a thing for fried plantains, and the best butt on either side of the Puente de las Americas. In some ways he was more experienced than me, in others very naïve. We flipped for each other, and burned through 18 condoms in our first weekend together.
Luis was funny. Luis was very smart, as witty in English as in Spanish. Luis lived at home, was not out to his parents, and is probably still scared to death of his mother. He lied to his parents whenever I came to town, about where he was going and who he was going to see. He wouldn’t hug me hello or goodbye at the airport—I got a handshake if I was lucky, and he looked over his shoulder before he’d give me that. On my first trip to Panama, our entire relationship was conducted in our mutual friend’s apartment and on her balcony, where we couldn’t kiss in the daytime, lest anyone passing in a speeding car on the busy street three stories below recognize Luis in the arms of another man.
It wasn’t until my second trip that we ventured out to the bar. Nobody had any fear about being seen out at the bar, Luis explained, because no tattle tale’s reputation could weather the inevitable round of And what were you doing there? that would follow any attempted outing. It was a safe space, even if everybody there did know you were a married man making out with a Catholic priest. It was the only public space in which I ever felt Luis relax.
We went more than once, but it’s our first trip to the bar that’s etched across my soul as one of the ten most memorable nights ever to happen to anyone ever pretty much since people invented remembering stuff. The music that night was all in Spanish, poppy and insanely danceable. We might have each had one cocktail, I think there was rum in mine, but it’s hard to merengue on a crowded floor and eat the face off the grinningest man in the club without spilling, and anyways only a crazy person would have stepped out of Luis’ arms just to go stand in line for a drink. We held each other for hours, sweating and dancing and laughing at nothing. I sang along to words I’d never heard. Luis taught me how to unhook my hips and move my feet. He led, he spun me like a top, and the more we danced and the later it got, the longer I wanted to never stop dancing. Sure the sex with Luis was fantastic, but I never knew two people could have this much fun together.
I was already living in San Francisco. I was already flying London and Sydney, New York and Miami. I’d been out for a decade and wasn’t going back into anybody’s closet for anything. Our break-up was crushing, sudden and hurtful, and not long in coming. But that night, dancing in a gay bar—with a guy I hardly knew, to songs I’d never heard before, sung in a language I didn’t speak—I knew uncensored, joy-splattered love for the very first time.
These days I’m not a big bar-goer. But you’d never know it to read my stuff. The Gay Club is the scene of a turning point in more of my stories than I should probably admit. Todd and Josh fall in love in one, Tanner and Clark fall in love in another. Fox discovers his respect for Thumper in a backwoods bear bar, and Esau and Drew engage in all manner of scandalous behavior in a Downtown Denver hotspot. Boys dance, boys flirt; boys propose, boys break up; boys win cash prizes in amateur strip shows and cum surreptitiously in their shorts on the back patio. Like the bar in Panama, the gay bar’s a safe space in M/M fiction, where characters can get up to whatever needs getting up to without having to factor in gawking passersby or the disapproving Dominant Paradigm. (Unless the gawking passerby is into it…)
The shooting in Orlando is horrifying and havoc-wreaking on any number of levels. I’m not here to tell anybody how to feel; I’m pretty sure I don’t know how I feel about it. My husband works at one of the more popular bars here in Denver, and I’m now a 9-1-1 operator—it’s easy to imagine the ways a personal nightmare could unfold in a similar situation here; impossible to know the ways the lives of those involved in or affected by the real-life rampage have been shaken, smashed, and re-shaped. All I do know is I believe in the mission of this anthology: to celebrate queer love so that love may triumph over hate, and to try to get a little bit of money to people dealing with funeral expenses and medical expenses and mental health expenses they never should have had to incur in the first place. I very intentionally set my story for this project in a gay bar yet again, to help reclaim that safe space—for my husband, who works in one; for my friends, who hang out in lots; for all the people falling in love with people like Luis in places like Panama who need a safe space to dance and flirt and suck face and engage in all manner of scandalous behavior.
I was pleased to be invited to contribute to this anthology, and I’m thrilled with the turnout. Proud to count myself among the forty-nine JMS authors—to say nothing of the millions of other people trying to make sense of spinning through space on this big ball of dirt—who believe that love is the answer. That love is stronger—importantly, braver—than hate, and worthy of a safe space, be it a bar or a bookshelf.
JMS Books will donate every penny of the proceeds from the Love is Proud anthology to Equality Florida to benefit the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and their families. So please enjoy the e-book, or better yet, clear a place on your shelf for the paperback, out tomorrow.