My partner and I made a rare sortie into a central London gay bar the other evening, on our way to see a play. He was craving a cool pint of beer and the nearest decent bar just happened to be one where the more stylish boys hang out. I’m pretty accustomed to gay bars and am a jaded pub goer, having launched myself on the gay scene at a slightly scandalous 16 years old but my partner has never really partaken in the scene much at all, being a much later starter and having lived in more rural areas. It sometimes takes an outsider to spot something and pinpoint a factor that you take for granted.
My partner noticed the constant staring. Being slightly vain, he loved it. Its normal practice in a gay bar to be appraised and I don’t even notice this anymore. The quick look up and down, the sideways glance and the full on full body scan are all perils that you face when entering a bar. It’s habitual, standard practice and is done without thinking and with no terrible breach of etiquette. In fact, it is the etiquette. I wouldn’t even think it rude were someone to look down pointedly at my crotch to see what I was packing or to perform a lengthy examination of my buttocks. It’s just the way of the gay. It often ends in dismissal (I’m with a partner, I’m over 40 and therefore unavailable/decrepit and not necessarily worth the effort) but can end in a brief eye contact, a mutual appraisal or a mutual disdain.
We talked about it and I explained the code of practice in a gay bar to my partner. I explained that it’s often meaningless; that gay men appraise men, just as straight men appraise women and it’s as much a habit as biting your nails or chewing gum.
I have a thousand sneaky ways of looking attractive men up and down in the street. Lechery has to be a skilful art at times. There’s the brief sideways glance at a hot businessman on the tube, over the top of a paperback novel. The window reflection study of a scantily clad hottie in shorts on the top deck of a bus is a classic manoeuvre. The distracted ‘just casually looking around but my eyes have accidentally taken in the lycra cyclist with the muscles and I’ve noted that he appears to have a massive penis’ is a very retro one which is easy to perfect, provided you can feign the right level of nonchalance.
Let the Starey Marys stare in the bars. It’s not at all intimidating unless you let it be so and is actually, quite flattering should their facial expression register a glimmer of approval or lust. If they dismiss or grimace, then just let it amuse you. They clearly have no class or taste or you’re just in the wrong bar.