Making a Connection:
The Charm of the Watering Hole
By Renarldo Head
When I was given the opportunity to write for the magazine I asked myself “What would I write about?” After thinking about it for some time and deciding against several other less interesting topics, I settled on writing about what I knew. Nightlife.
I didn’t want to take any of the pessimistic point of views, or even write it as a young party boy, which I can sometimes be. No, instead I wanted to take everything I have learned as a bartender for the last six years and convey the funny, strange, animalistic and inspiring experience it has been. Working at a gay bar is truly a test of character but it is also a wonderful chance to see how gay men can work together and be a support for one another...something not many people write about.
It all began in the Serengeti... We are all familiar with the image of wild animals of all types drinking from a communal watering hole, the sun slowly rising in the background in some obscure land (We can thank “The Lion King” for that.). The most striking component to this image is the fact that even natural predators put their differences aside just for a while to enjoy the refreshing waters. The sense of community is clear from how calmly and unobtrusively these unlikely neighbors share the same drinking space. It’s almost magical to see how even untamed beast recognize the “sacred space” of the watering hole.
Although we might not be wild beast or even tribesmen, and I seriously doubt any of us will be visiting the Serengeti anytime soon to drink from a still body of water, we have our watering holes just the same. Nightclubs and bars for the African American gay community are common ground were “animals” of all types can been seen, all walks of life, all socioeconomic classes and all races. For this reason it is important for us to look closely into the dynamics of such places if we are to better understand the plight of the African American gay male.
Do you remember the first gay nightclub or bar you ever went to? I do, and I am sure most of us can recall the event as if it were yesterday. The details may be hazy but the sweaty palms and general awkwardness stay with us. There is a reason the experience is so easily recalled. The shared experience of such places leaves an impression on us that will shape our understanding of our community. From that moment on we are forever changed.
Lets take a look at the different personality types we can find in our local watering holes. This is an exercise in observing social dynamics. Defining the “food chain” can better help us understand where we are on it, and how we can better interact with the inhabitants to avoid common social pitfalls.
The bunnies - The bunnies are typically the fresh faced young guys who hop around from one corner of the bar to the next, looking for whatever comes their way. Also known as social butterflies, these energetic socialite wannabes can sometimes be entertaining, other times they are just annoying... Are you a bunnie?
The foxes - The fox is typically a young guy who is just learning bar etiquette and while he is still very naive, he has learned how to sneak in the night, stealing numbers left and right. He is attractive and he knows it, he flaunts it shamelessly. Bunnies fall prey to the fox. The fox falls prey to the hyena. Are you a fox?
The hyena - The hyenas are the seasoned flamboyant bar patrons who don’t mind laughing or yelling at the top of their lungs. They've “been there and done that“ and they don't care what you think about them. They come to have fun with their other hyena friends. They can see right through a fox, and have him as a meal. The hyenas fall prey to the Jaguar. Are you a hyena?
The jaguar - It may seem that the Jaguar is at the top of the food chain but even this magnificent creature has its predators. The jaguars tend to be the smoothest and most handsome men in the bar with an undeniable charisma. By the time you realize that they are cold blooded masterminds of the hunt it will be too late. Jaguars work silently with full knowing that their prey will come to them. The Jaguar is only trumped by one other. Are you a Jaguar?
The Human Being - All of the above categories are stereotypes. While our human ego loves to put labels on everything no one completely falls into just one category. We are unique individuals capable of defying categories, labels and stereotypes. The choice is always yours, you could chose to be a bunnie, a fox, a hyena or a jaguar as long as you have the understanding that no matter what “role” you chose to play, your humanity is what connects you to everyone.
In the bar, the lights are dim, the music is loud and the drinks are strong. It can sometimes seem as though there are literally animals roaming the watering hole. However, for the African American male that environment can offer emotional support, escapism and a sense of family. Our bars and clubs are an access point to the wider gay community. Our community is beautiful and when we approach it positively, nothing but positivity can come from it.
In our community there are wise men, there are big brothers, supportive uncles and mentors. These people can uplift our spirits and be more family to us than our blood family can sometimes be. After looking past any negative associations that come with the bar scene my personal experience has been a positive one. The people that I chose to engage with enhance my environment and feed my spirit. They have helped me become the man I am today, and without the bar scene I would never know how supportive our community can be.
About the author: Renarldo Head is a real estate agent with Long & Foster by day and a professional bartender by night. But freelance writing is his passion and his goal is to share a vision of a more united community where understanding and compassion are the standard.