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‘My First Gay Bar’: 25 Coming-of-Age Stories

Jane Lynch, Alexander Wang, Rosie O'Donnell and others reflect on what gay bars mean to them, in the aftermath of the shooting in Orlando.


The Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, 1969. Photo: Diana Davies; copyright owned by New York Public Library.

There were two gay bars in the neighborhood where I grew up. One was Uncle Charlie’s Uptown, the other had a punning name I didn’t understand at the time: Camp David. I haunted them, promenading back and forth with our family dog, whom I had to walk after dinner, and trying to see past the darkened windows and curtained doors, simultaneously hoping and fearing that one of those men in tight jeans would want to strike up an intimacy as he exited. By the time I was old enough to enter such an establishment, I had my own tight jeans and inchoate prospects. But contrary to so many narratives of relief at finding a gay context, my initial experience was primarily of anxiety, because to be where the least acceptable aspect of myself was the explicit topic made me feel more naked than the go-go boys. It was Boy Bar on St. Marks Place, and I clung to someone I knew named Debbie who was temporarily lesbian. Sex was already easy to find, though it unnerved me. Love was not unimaginable, though I didn’t yet have the hang of it. Ease and dignity, however, had seemed incompatible with my gayness until my sweaty June bar visit set me on a new path, one that much later led me to marrying my husband, having our children, and becoming an activist for L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

— Andrew Solomon

(For reminiscences by Andy Cohen, Larry Kramer, Rachel Maddow, Rosie O’Donnell, Alison Bechdel, Rufus Wainwright, Carrie Brownstein, and seventeen more prominent gays and lesbians, please visit The New York Times.)