Groundwork: Before you set out you may want to conduct a little research and get surfing online. Gay bars in some areas may not be at all obvious preferring to maintain a low profile. I'd been walking past my local gay bar for years unaware it was even open, never mind gay. This is where the internet has opened our lives to a huge degree. We don't need to know someone who knows, nor do we have to embarrass ourselves by hollering across the office - 'hey guys which bars are gay around here?'.
Spartcaus!: When abroad the gay bible of the international traveller is Spartacus with its listings for every pink hotel, club, bar, sauna, beach and cruising ground there is. But be warned, the copy deadline they work to is somewhere back in the days of Russ Meyer porn flicks, so entries may not always be up to date. How many times have I planned a trip to a rated bar only to find it’s been un-queered or shut down?
The Witching Hour: A word of caution. You may want to temper your expectations of your first gay bar. You might have in mind a night of Mardi Gras mayhem, but what awaits you is closer to a drop-in centre. Not all gay bars are chrome and glass palaces. My first bar served drinks in plastic glasses, didn’t ‘do’ ice and had a carpet that stuck to the feet. Nice!
Also, many bars may not get busy until very late in the night, or at the weekends, which can be frustrating if you’re still in your marriage. Ok, so you know there's a party going on out there, but it makes sense to keep the peace and be back in your kennel by a respectable hour. If you’ve agreed boundaries abide by them.
Anyhow, a bar’s quiet hours were when I usually had the cute thing behind the counter all to myself!
Rite of Passage: Some people say why go to a gay bar at all - there are other ways to socialise. So there are, but a bar does provide an accessible and convivial environment in which to meet other gay men, one-on-one. Added to which, going to your first gay bar is like a rite-of-passage. You’ve come out and it’s time you enjoyed some inaugural partying.
The Right Fit: If you're lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area you'll be faced with a choice of bars and it may be a bit of time before you find a bar to suit you. A bar full of very young twinks and chickens may seem tempting but once inside, if you're d’un certain age you could feel a little out of place. Around the corner there'll be another bar with a broader range of ages (and where the music might not be quite so loud - and how that remark ages me!).
Out with the In Crowd – Don’t get hurt: In coming out the utter relief can result in a euphoria that has you plunging head first into the shallows. Mind you don’t bang your head.
An occasional experience of mine when I first came out was if I tagged on with the 'in' crowd. That's where the fun was being had and as I didn't have leprosy, why shouldn't I? So, there they'd be having a whale of a time and, being able to hold my own when the fur starts flying, I might throw a quip into the fray.
Well as a new boy in town that would just be too much and I'd be greeted by a tumbleweed silence over which you could hear the dead breathe. A none too subtly hissed ‘Who’s the straight?’ filled one such moment.
It's amazing how cold the air can be made to feel around a camp fire (!) but it's just an example of how gay people in a group, no matter how out they are, can display all the old insecurities and vulnerabilities of polare days and, if inclined, freeze you out.
Well shut the door if you're stopping!: If it happens - try not to take it too much to heart. That same group today I can have rocking with laughter and they'll egg me on to be even more outrageous, but that's because they know me now. I'm trusted. I've earned my diamante spurs as it were. It took time though. It takes time. That's gay living for you, so never think it's going to be easy.