True Stories: Gay Memories – Going To A Gay Bar For The First Time #LGBTQI #LGBT

As a gay man, you may be surprised to hear that one of the biggest hurdles I faced was going into a gay bar for the first time.

Image showing rain on windscreen of a car on a Saturday night with blurry lights in the distance
True Stories – Going To A Gay Bar For The First Time

At 17-years-old, I was in awe of my straight mates. They’d been wandering into bars and nightclubs for the last year with the only threat of getting asked for age identification.

At 17-years-old, my straight mates were not only getting drunk most Friday and Saturday nights but were boasting about sleeping around with members of the opposite sex without any worry. Whether they’d slept with many of those they mentioned was open to debate.

At 17-years-old, it was against the law for me to sleep with a person of the same sex. If I boasted about it, I could get myself into trouble. The law stated that, for my safety, sex remained on hold until I reached 21.

Of course, I overlooked that particular part of the law. Like any red-blooded male at 17, my hormones made my brain think of little else but wanting to (putting it mildly) get laid.

By the time I reached my 19th birthday, I already had what I had considered a boyfriend. He was over the age of 21 and thought I was too.

On one particular, wet Saturday evening, I found myself sitting in my boyfriend’s car. Holding hands with him, we listened to the patter of the rain on the roof as we watched the raindrops splatter on the windscreen. For weeks, we’d both built up the courage to go to a gay bar for the first time.

The bar was out of town and miles from where we lived. However, neither of us wanted to get out of the car and walk up the steps to the bar. Instead, we both sat there trying our best to peer through the spattering of rain, trying to make out the figures going into the bar.

“It’s nice and warm in here,” I said.

“Yeah, too wet to go outside,” responded my boyfriend.

For the next half an hour, we made an excuse after an excuse as to why we should stay in the car. Even though curiosity ran through our minds of what was on the other side of the doors to the gay bar, our bodies remained fixed to seats while we continued peering at figures entering and exiting the bar.

“What if we bump into somebody in there who recognises us?” asked my boyfriend. “If there’s somebody in there from work, I could end up getting beaten up or sacked.”

Not only did those words cut me in half, but I began to worry that if the police raided the bar, my boyfriend and I would be in serious trouble because of my age.

Although at 19-years-old, it wasn’t against the law for me to go into a bar, I questioned if it was against the law for me to hold hands with another man in a public place.

Terrified of the consequences of entering a world where people would have welcomed and accepted us for who we were, we drove off and went home. Hiding who we were and how we lived our lives seemed a much safer option.

It would be months later when I talked about that night again.

“If somebody you worked with had been in that bar, wouldn’t they have been as terrified as we were at being spotted?” I asked.

“I never thought of that,” came the reply. “But it’s still a risk, isn’t it?”

Six years later, as I made my way on a coach to a new life, I left behind a boyfriend who had been secretly sleeping with another man he worked with.

Have you ever been terrified to do something or go somewhere for the first time? Please share the details in the comments section or, even better, contact me about submitting your story as a guest post.

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70 thoughts on “True Stories: Gay Memories – Going To A Gay Bar For The First Time #LGBTQI #LGBT

  1. Even though I didn’t come out until the early 1990s, going to gay bars terrified me–probably because I grew up in a religiously conservative household. I was so scared that when my boyfriend asked me to go with him to a local gay bar, I just turned on my heal and said no. No explanation. No apology. Thank goodness he continued to pursue me because we were together for the next twenty-two years.

    1. What happened in our past can often affect our decisions about why we don’t want to do something. Even though I knew I was gay, going into a gay bar terrified me too. Probably, fear of the unknown. Yet, I had no problem going into a straight bar – perhaps because my mother was Landlady of various bars and pubs for many years.

  2. It is so important to share these stories. Your loved experience is an important part of dismantling oppression. My daughter (11) is trans and we fear doctors. I also fear the thought of getting into an accident and her going to the emergency room without me.

    1. I’m sorry you have those fears, Jan. I hope I can reassure you that in the western world, we now live in a time when being LGBTQI is much more acceptable. I understand your fears because I often find myself in a position of having to correct somebody who thinks I have a wife and having to think twice before I correct them. We have to take stock of a situation before deciding what to do.

  3. It angers me that you had to go through that, Hugh! Talk about discrimination. Luckily, the times have changed. Some. I remember your story about driving off on that coach. So, I guess he really did cheat on you…

    The only times I’ve been terrified to enter a place is when it had to do with tests – at school, for my driver’s licenses, for my US citizenship, to get interviewed…

    (PS: There’s a small typo in your top title and caption under the image regarding the word “gay”. :))

    1. There was so much discrimination back when this was all happening to me, Liesbet. Not just towards gay people but also towards women and many minority groups. All a sign of the times, so it’s great that things have changed so much since then. I know it still goes on, so there is still a lot of work to be done, but we’ve come a long way.

      Interviews are undoubtedly scary encounters. Your comment reminds me of the times I’ve visited the U.S.A and how scared I was when approaching the border forces. When you get an arrogant border control person, my fears are made much worst, although I’m pleased to say I’ve never been refused entry…yet.

      Thank you for letting me know about the typo. I’ve now corrected it.

  4. I had a similar experience. My best friend and I stood outside the only gay bar in Belfast when we were 18, excited but terrified to enter. We must have there for what seemed an eternity. When we mustered the courage to go in, we were surprised to see it was pretty empty. Never mind, we were just super excited to be sitting in a gay bar. It seemed like a big hurdle to overcome then.

    1. It’s good to hear that you actually made it into the inside of that bar. It took me at least another year after this true story before I made it through the doors of a gay bar. It was as big a hurdle for me as what ‘coming out’ to my family was. However, I’m still happy to have experienced both situations, as I learned a lot from them.

      1. Yes coming out was extremely scary, although it’s definitely getting better with each new generation thankfully. I am just so thankful we live in countries that appreciate being gay 🙏🏼

        1. Same here. Although there are still many countries where being gay is still a crime. Some have the death penalty for being gay. I hope that one day soon, being gay will be accepted everywhere.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience Hugh. I can only imagine the concern – first for going to the bar first time, then, being discovered, underaged, and fears of getting fired or beaten up. That is just horrible to have to live with those fears. Glad all worked out as you aged. 🙂 x

    1. What angered me most of all is that all my heterosexual friends were allowed to do what I wasn’t by law without any concern, Debby. It seemed so unfair at the time, but we’ve come a long way since then.

  6. This post is an excellent reminder that it hasn’t been that long since people had to worry about being themselves. I once had to meet with the guardians of a young cancer victim in a primarily black and impoverished neighborhood in Oakland. I had to learn to walk quickly and keep my head down. And to accept that the norms aren’t the same for everyone.

    1. Yes, similar situations still exist in today’s world. Not only is it such a shame it still happens, but it goes to show that we still have much work to do to fix our broken society.

  7. Indirectly, this puts me in mind of an old friend of mine. When I say old, I mean he was 97 when he died a few years ago. He started out as a client, but we became friends, still meeting up when he no longer required my services. He was very old school. Always wore a suit and tie – even if he was spending the day sitting at home! It was quite a few years before I discovered he was gay, and that was by chance. He never mentioned it, or even alluded to it. What struck me was that, having been born in 1918, he was almost 50 by the time the law changed in 1967 – which meant for half his life it was illegal to be a big part of who he was. And, let’s face it, the law change didn’t mean being gay was suddenly acceptable. So, for most of his life, he felt it necessary to hide that aspect of himself – and probably still did to some extent right up the time he died. In many respects, it’s hard for me to comprehend that, but it still angers me.

    1. I can only imagine the stories your friend would have been able to tell, Graeme. His life will have been very different to the lives of gay people in the 21st century. I wonder, though, if he got a sense of thrill and adventure when going to places where he could have met other gay men? I remember those feeling when visiting gay bars for the first time, often accompanied with emotions of fear and panic. Such places did exist, and I recall evidence of some of them when I took my first step into gay bars in the early 1980s.

      I can understand your anger, but I wonder what he would have said to you had he seen your anger because of the way he wasn’t allowed to live his life and be who he really was.

      Thank you for sharing the details with us. I’d love to have been able to interview your friend and find out more of what his life was like living as a gay man when it was against the law to be gay.

      1. He was a fascinating man, Hugh, in so many ways. I was able to learn a lot from him, none of which had anything to do with his sexuality! A reminder of why we should make time for the elderly. They can enlighten us about stuff that happened before we existed.
        All that aside, I hope all is well with you.

        1. I agree, Graeme. I have a 95-year-old aunt who I visit regularly and who I quiz about the past. I’ve learned a lot from her and also obtained some great old photographs. She’s the last of her generation, so I’m happy to have gained so much knowledge about the family history.

    1. I’m fortunate to have become an adult after 1967 when the law in the UK was changed so that it was no longer a crime for two men to have a relationship, Norah. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for gay men before then, although I have read articles about underground nightclubs where gay men could meet. But the risks they put themselves in were far greater than the ones I faced.

  8. It’s a tough read Hugh. We both went to London at much the same time and I had my many rational and irrational fears and panics but nothing on a scale when the law was also against you or you could be sacked or beaten for going to a bar. At least some progress has been made but not enough when you hear the stories so many women tell of going about daily lives and getting harassed as a standard.

    1. Progress has indeed been made, Geoff. But, as you mentioned, it’s deplorable that society seems to be going backwards in other areas. The recent cases of women being harassed and murdered while going about their daily lives are dreadful. There is still a lot of work to be done. However, I look back on much of my life in London during the 1980s and 90s with happy memories.

  9. Who doesn’t have fears or was terrified to try something? The difference was you were probably going somewhere that wasn’t as well accepted by society at the time. Unfortunately, overcoming bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination is a problem our society is still challenged by.

    1. Very true, Pete. Although things have changed a lot since. Acceptance of gay and bisexual people has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 40 years, although there is still a lot of work to do. I’m fortunate to now live somewhere where being gay isn’t a crime. Many gay and bisexual people in some parts of the world face the death penalty for being who they are. I hope that by the time I leave this world, being gay or bisexual isn’t a crime anywhere on our planet.

  10. Thank you for sharing that heartfelt moment of your life, Hugh. As teenagers, we have enough to deal with, but to be gay in those days was difficult at best. I remember a few guys in high school who seemed different, but in San Diego, there were a lot of cliques that I had no clue about. When I found out certain ones were gay a few years later, my older self said, “Oh, that explains things” from my still limited world-view. It simply didn’t occur to my naive self in the mid-70s. You certainly had to be brave to fight for your lifestyle.

    1. It’s a pleasure, Terri. I don’t know why I haven’t written more of these posts, especially since some of my older posts on the same subject have gone viral. In fact, this post is already my most viewed post of the year so far.

      I would never have dreamt of ‘coming out’ at high school, even though I knew I was gay. There may have been hidden cliques, but I don’t recall knowing about them either. It would be several years before I encountered another gay person, although, looking back, I’m sure I’d probably already done so. All I recall is that I was terrified of telling anyone or anyone finding out, so I expect there were many like me in the same position.

  11. I commented earlier but I think I forgot to push the send button cause I don’t see my comment. Anyway just wanted to say thanks for sharing a piece of your life story with us. 🙂 I never knew there was a law about sleeping with the same sex. Sorry it was so rough back then.

    1. I moderate all comments on my blog, so your comments won’t appear until I approve them. The reason why I moderate all comments is that it stops any nasty comments from appearing. I’ve had my fair share of them over the years, so choosing to moderate them all is the best way for me to stop them. I hope that reassures you that your comments are not getting lost?

  12. The pain of the betrayal from your boyfriend and the crushing irony of that night sat in the car accompanied by his fear of being recognised by someone at work must have left it difficult for you to trust anyone for a long while Hugh. And how awful to have a society condemn you on a day to day basis like that, I hope you feel things have improved significantly from where they were back then.

    Thanks for sharing your intimate past like this with us.

    1. At the time, my boyfriend worked in an all-male environment Paul. Although his words shocked me, I fully understood what he was saying. When this story happened in the early 1980s, society was very different towards gay people. Things have certainly come a long way and vastly improved since then, but the work isn’t done yet. I hope that before I leave this life that there won’t be any country in the world that make it illegal to be bisexual or gay.

      It may seem odd, but many found the risk posed back in the 1980s of being gay to be a bit of a thrill. A bit like a naughty schoolchild hoping they won’t get found out. Outside of London, it was a very secretive life full of pitfalls and risks. Once you crossed the threshold of going into a gay bar or nightclub for the first time, a whole new world opened up in front of you.

      1. Yes, I can imagine it must have been a big step to take and I hope once it had been taken it got easier. I remember when someone would point out a bar and say it was a ‘gay bar’ and that sounds now quite a quaint term, so I suppose that feels like a positive. I work with a gay man, quite flamboyant in his manner and I haven’t heard any derogatory terms even from the alpha males in the warehouse. 30 years ago that would not have been the case.

        1. Definitely would have been very different 30 years ago, Paul. Even with the likes of TV stars such as John Inman and Larry Grayson on our screens, if you lived outside of London and was gay, then you kept it to yourself for fear of the consequences that could come.

          I’ll be writing another post about my experience of going into a gay bar for the first time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all the fun many will think it would have been, but it certainly helped me on my way in living who I was.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story. My youngest is gay and we have a great relationship and I ask him uncomfortable questions about his life – so I can understand but children can only tell their parents so much. I appreciate the insight.

    1. Thanks for reading this post, Danny. Many children are embarrassed to talk about their sexuality to their parents regardless of whether they are gay or straight. It took a long time to tell my parents. My mother said that she always knew and was waiting to allow me to tell her.

      1. Hey Hugh. Thanks for getting back to me. I should have mentioned my son is 30. He has been out for 9 years, happily married. When he finally decided to break the news I gave him a hug and said “it’s about time you told us.” Even at 30 children can only say so much to parents so I try to have the uncomfortable conversations. Just so we can be open, so I can understand his POV and we all grow.

        1. My mother said precisely the same thing to me when I came out to her. But I know how your son feels about talking about his sexualaty. Even today, I don’t like talking openly about it. Why? Because there is always that element of risk that somebody may turn on me. The scars I got all those years ago can still be opened and cause me distress. On the other hand, I have no problem writing about it, even though whenever I publish one of these types of posts, I still get comments from trolls. They seem easier to deal with, given that I ignore them, mark their comments as spam and block them.

  14. Wow I never knew there was ever such a law about sleeping with the same sex. I can’t imagine how hard it was for so many, worrying and sneaking around. Thanks for sharing some of your life with us. 😁

    1. Up until 1967, it was against the law in the UK for two men to sleep together. This law only applied to men, not women. In 1967, the law was changed to allow men to sleep together in private, providing both were over 21. The law was lowered to 18 and bought in line with heterosexual couples in 2000.

      Unfortunately, there are still countries where being gay is illegal. Some countries have the death penalty for being gay. So there is still a lot of work to be done.

  15. Oh my goodness, Hugh! I have so many stories from my youth! I would shock everyone I know. I would have to write a “fictional” memoir. LOL! I love your stories and I’m glad you’re you! ❤

    1. Your stories sound intriguing, Colleen. If I can tempt you to write one as a guest post, please feel free to let me know.

      I’ll have more of my own true stories coming up this year. Some of my older true story posts seem to have suddenly gone viral, so I hope these new ones do the same.

  16. I used to go into gay bars with my roommate who was gay (and we were both in the military in the 90s). I always loved the sheer joy you could feel in those establishments, and I could be my goofy self without fearing judgement. For me, my biggest fear, believe it or not are escalators, I am always afraid of getting stuck in those teeth on the stairs. I am an extrovert, so public speaking doesn’t bother me, or being in a crowd, but put me in front of an escalator and I become like stone – frozen in my tracks.

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone having a fear of escalators, so thank you for sharing it with us. I do wonder where these fears stem from?

      I had many straight female friends who used to love coming to gay bars with me because as well as feeling safe, they could enjoy themselves a lot more without the fear of being hit upon all the time.

      1. Yes, that is exactly what it was, and way more fun than the meat market straight bars!
        As far as the escalators, I think something must have happened when I was a kid, but I will avoid escalators at all costs!!

  17. I like the feeling of tension you brought in this post Hugh – I can’t imagine the anxiety you felt just by wanting to be yourself but the concerns of what could happen if someone found out.

    Your note questioning claims of your friends sex lives always made me laugh, as I had similar thoughts when younger at my own friend’s bragging, though the reason I stayed quiet was the social stigma that never having sex by your early twenties made you a pathetic loser!

    1. Thanks, James. It was undoubtedly stressful knowing that I was allowed to sleep with a member of the opposite sex, but sleeping with a member of the same sex could get both of us into serious trouble. And my anxiety didn’t stop once I started going to gay bars. There was always the threat at the back of my mind that the bar would be raided by the police or that I’d be set upon by homophobic thugs as I left. It’s one of the reasons why we always left in groups. London was different, though. The city seemed to have a protective blanket around it, so the threat wasn’t as obvious. It’s one of the reasons why many young gay men moved to London in the 1980s and 1990s.

  18. When fear surrounds us, especially fear based in reality, we don’t think clearly. Early on, I worked for a firm where image was almost more important than talent. I got into trouble for wearing jeans to a hockey game after having been given tickets at the office. I never accepted tickets again. I’d buy tickets in a section where I was unlikely to run into a coworker. We shouldn’t have to fear losing our livelihood over what we wear or who we love. Mankind has so far to go…

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Dan. Isn’t it strange what things and situations can cause us to fear the most, especially when we’d never have believed it could happen? It would be many years before I stepped into a gay bar for the first time. When it happened, I compared it to walking into a room full of strangers, even though 90% of the people there were living the same life as I was.

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