It was almost 7.30 pm on Sunday when I was standing outside of “Rebar Chelsea”, 19th St, Manhattan, New York. It’s a dedicated bar for LGBTQ+ Community. I always heard about the LGBTQ+ community and this Bar culture but never experienced it as homosexuality is legally prohibited from where I came from. But I always wanted to experience and know more about it.
That Sunday I was out between the 17th and 20th street to take some photos of the city. While walking back home, a rainbow flag on a Bar grabbed my attention. I googled the name “Rebar Chelsea” and figured out this is one of the famous LGBTQ+ bars in the town. I was kind of fighting with myself when I was standing right in front of the bar. “Should I go inside and check out? What if someone sees me? What if someone judges me?”
The weather was chilly. So, I was wearing a blue shirt, black jeans, and a black sleeveless jacket. A lot of questions were popping up in my mind. “Would they let me in? Am I wearing the right clothes? What if some incident happens inside? I have my laptop and camera with me. What if someone robs me”? So many questions, but I couldn’t hold my emotion. Just fixed my mind and stepped inside. The security girl sitting out the door scanned me with her eyes. She clearly can smell that I am a newcomer and inexperienced.
“Do you have your vaccination proof?” She demanded.
I showed my Covid Vaccination card.
“Can I see your ID?” She again demanded.
“I am an international student mam. I only have my University ID and my Passport. Does that work?” I asked her.
“As long as it shows you are 21, it works.”
I showed her my passport and she said “Perfect. You can go inside. By the way, mind me asking if are you new here? I mean is it your first-time experience with us?”
I gently said, “Yes Mam”.
“Oh, you don’t have to call me Mam.”
“Thanks. It’s not only my first time with you but with the first time with a gay bar.”
“Great, then enjoy your time. And if you need anything just let me know. I will be here till 2.00 am.”
“Thank you so much, buddy.”
I entered the Bar. The very first thing I saw, it was a bit dark inside, but I can see a lot of colors. There were some home theatres placed inside the bar. I am not an alcoholic or a drinker, but since I hit the bar so I thought I will have to buy something to sit and observe people. I went to the counter where two guys were serving drinks.
“Hello man, how can I help you?” a bartender asked me happily.
“Can I get a drink?”
“What do you wanna have?”
I had no clue what to reply then. I am not that much familiar with names or brands. “Enlighten me with the best one you have. But something refreshing.” I asked diplomatically.
“Vodka, Tequila, or Whiskey?”
“Tequila”, I ordered but had no idea about this.
I was kind of scared inside. But when the drink showed up it looked classy.
“Do you accept cash?” I asked the bartender.
“Yes, we do.”
I gave him 20 dollars and said, “You can keep the change.”
“Are you sure?”
“100 percent positive.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it, man.”
“Would you mind if I sit in the corner?” I pointed out a cozy place at the corner.
“Wherever you want. I will be here till the closing. Let me know if you need anything”.
I settled down and started observing everything. There were two types of people. One is who was there with dates, and the other one is a bunch of people with friends to hang out with. I was wondering if I can talk to someone. But those people were so busy with themselves that they didn’t even notice that someone is sitting alone in the corner. I was just wondering if I can see some Drag Queens as well.
Time was passing away and I found no one to talk to. I am not much social to walk into a group and talk either. By 8.40 PM I felt starving. I called the bartender and ordered a Pizza. When I was having my food, I just heard someone asking me, “It looks delicious. Does that even taste good?”
I looked up, and saw a guy, around 32 years old, 6 feet 2-inch in height, with expensive clothes, standing in front of me. The way he looked, can easily be a model for any international brand.
“Are you talking to me?” I asked.
“Yes. Is it good? If you say it is, then I am gonna order one.” The stranger replied.
“Oh, sure go on. Though I am not familiar with your taste. But this is good.”
He just vanished and showed up again within a while.
“I ordered the extra cheesy one. What is yours?”
“Sorry, do I know you sir?” that stranger made me scared, and these are the words that came out of my mouth.
“Oh, I am sorry man. I didn’t mean to bother you. Was just curious about the taste.”
“Oh, I am sorry for being rude.”
“You look new here. Are you even 21?” He asked.
“Both replies are YES.” The way he was staring at me made me laugh. I started laughing.
“Hi, I am Ari. I am quite regular here.” He approached gently.
“Hey, I am Kaz, and I am a seasonal bird here. Hahahahaha……” And Ari also started laughing with me.
“You wanna join me?” I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to know about him.
“Are you sure?” He seemed surprised.
“Why not buddy?”
He started saying, “Yes that looks like a perfect idea. I was supposed to meet here someone, a match from tinder but he just ghosted me.”
“I am so sorry.”
“I hope you are not here with anyone.” Did he just wink!!
“No-no-no. I am a grad student and here for my school project.” I know I lied. I wasn’t there for the school project but felt like it might keep me safe.
“What’s your project on?”
“Culture and Community. I am working on Queer Theory.”
“So, you are one of those who are taking gay people as a project instead of treating a human being?” He sounded upset.
“Not exactly. I am just here to have my food, meet some new people and learn about some new culture.” I gently replied.
We were getting to know each other. Ari was from Texas. But staying here in the city and working as a software engineer with a private firm remotely. And the conversation kept going.
“Just because I am gay, I was beaten so hard, I had been admitted into hospital for a week.” These words coming out of Ari’s mouth left me speechless. He was sharing one of his experiences.
“I was 22 when I came out to my family. I always knew that my family was conservative but never expected that they would accept me so easily. Though it took time for my dad to accept me the way I am. It was so easy with my mum and my two younger brothers. The time I am talking about is the year 2010. It wasn’t very easy for gay people like us. Today, I can go out and say, ‘I am Gay, I can go out with the person I am dating and make out in public. I even can have my own family with my partner. But you won’t believe how much difficult the situation was back then. I am just telling you about one event. I used to date a boy back then in Texas. He used to work in a Warehouse, and I was just a college student. One day in the evening, he just showed up at my school to surprise me. I can’t explain how much happy I was. It meant a lot to me. He was the first guy I have ever dated. I had soccer practice. He waited for me until the session was over. Then we took a walk close to the playground. We were having some conversation. We stopped under a tree and started making out. There was no one when we were walking. But the moment we started making out, a bunch of my fellow teammates just showed up. Have no idea how they found us out. Some of them were my friends from the same class. At first, they started cursing and abusing us verbally. I asked Yohan to leave. The moment he left, I tried to make them understand my feelings for Yohan or my situation of being gay, but they were stubborn. At a point, one of them punched me in the face. I hit him back and all of them grabbed me and started hitting me from every angle. I was hospitalized for a week and a half. I have no clue how I got there. I was not surprised by the behavior of my fellows, but you know what hurts me most. I never heard back from the guy I was dating. Can you tell me, what was my fault? I am gay, I like boys. Is that my fault? Loving the same sex, is that a crime?”
I had no idea what to say. But I was feeling like crying.