At the Gay Bar…

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The Prince of Wales was pumping, along with the rest of Fitzroy Street. In the name of gentrification, the Port Philip City Council had constructed some kind of super-tram stop where Fitzroy Street curved into The Esplanade and, in their wisdom, effectively created a bottle-neck. It became even busier than it was before. At eleven thirty at night, the dark was split into a kaleidoscope of refraction. I parked the Passat down a side street on the West St Kilda side, the only place you’d even consider finding a park at that time of night.

As much as St Kilda had changed from the heroin and prostitution capital of Melbourne of the 1980s into the Bay-side playground of the year 2010, some things had remained constant. One of those is the Prince of Wales hotel. It stands on the corner of Fitzroy and Acland Streets, a three-storey pub that looks like an Art-Deco ship moored in the concrete footpath, staring vainly out at the water a few hundred meters away.

The building had been developed a lot in the last decade; for starters, the owners painted it. Not only that, but the old Prince band-room is now the place to be on a Saturday night when it hosts the busiest nightclub around, ‘One Love’. One of Melbourne’s most prestigious restaurants, Circa, operates on the other side of that floor. It also has a pool on the roof and a boutique 5-star hotel in its old rooms, but it retains the concrete-floored, cattle-run of a main bar downstairs. The gay bar was still nestled in the bottom left-hand corner.

Pubs and bars aren’t my scene. I hate the sweaty, musky dark. Things had improved a lot since smoking indoors was outlawed, but the down-side was that the cigarette smoke had acted as a kind of cloaking agent. Without it, bars and pubs began to release the sordid odours that had been slowly leaching into their walls, ceilings and floors for years. A place like The Prince had decades’ worth of rank odours emanating from it.

I couldn’t see anyone from the footpath, but that didn’t mean they weren’t inside. The gay bar, like the main bar, was packed. There wasn’t any security on the door. I pushed in through the overwhelmingly male crowd and looked around. Domenic was at the bar, wearing his beret. I walked up and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned away from the two men he was talking to, one of whom was a tall black man who tried to catch my eye. I let him do it.

“Domenico,” I say, employing the nick-name I hung on him in high school. He threw his arms around me and drew me down into an embrace. “Meet my friends – Richard and Germaine!” Germaine, the tall black man, licked his lips and smiled.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, as he extended a large, soft hand. Domenic watched this with an enormous, expectant smile.

“And this is Richard, my other, shorter, whiter friend.” A smaller man, bald, goatee, black wool blazer in spite of the heat, leant forward.

“How do you do,” he said, and he shook my hand briskly. As he leant forward, the bar lights caught the faint sheen of sweat that had gathered on his forehead.

“Richard is my Australian agent,” Domenic enthused. “Germaine is one of his other…” Domenic started wafting his hand at the explanation, as if trying to dispel its insubstantiality.

“I’m here for a film,” said Germaine.

“Oh really?” I asked. “Which one?”

“Not at liberty to say,” he replied and smiled, as if this was a conclusive means for closing the subject. “We’re shooting down at the Docklands.”

“And Michael’s taking you out for a night on the town?”

“Better than expecting me to do it,” said Richard. “I am so out of touch with where to go… if you want a good coffee, I can organise that. But after dark, I don’t know where to go or what’s going on.” The more Richard talks, the more obvious it is that he’s straight. I can tell that he thinks I’m gay. And so does Germaine.

“I’ve invited one of my friends down. Clay – you remember,” I said, jogging Domenico’s elbow.

“Clay, of course I do.” Michael and Clay knew one another through me. Domenic is a timpani player now, currently employed by the Viennese Symphony Orchestra. “You’ll like Clay,” Michael said to Germaine. “What is he?” asked Domenic, turning back to me. “An Ultimate Fighter, is that what you call it?”

“Basically, yeah. He’s an Ultimate Fighter that’s got himself in a bit of trouble.” As soon as I said this, I regretted it. Domenic arched an eyebrow and I shook my head.

“Big, crude and tattooed,” said Michael, changing the subject.

“I love to get my teeth into a bit of rough trade,” said Germaine.

“You’ll have to hold him down first,” I said. “Could be a big job.”

“That’s the kind of job I like,” said Germaine.

“What are you drinking?” asked Richard. “The agency’s paying,” he said as he held up a credit card.

“Vodka and tonic?” Richard pointed the card at Domenic and Germaine, inviting their orders. I put my back to the bar and leaned against it, elbows up. Clay soon darkened the doorway. People parted around him. It’s not often I see Clay in an unfamiliar setting, but when I do, I get a flash-back to the court hearing. I can imagine how he must have appeared to the judge. In fact, this is part of what has made him succeed thus far in his sport; he comes across the same way on television. In the cage, even the referee seems scared of him.

“Domenico!” he said, extending his hand to shake. He slapped me on the shoulder and then extended the handshake to both Germaine and Richard, who had to awkwardly put down the drinks to return it. Germaine seemed to withdraw his poof persona, engaging with Clay as an ostensibly ‘straight’ man. I was unsure whether this was because he was embarrassed or intimidated. Clay looked around him, taking in the room and the crowd. Many of the poofs were looking at him askance. Because of his size, he drew a lot of attention anywhere he went. In a gay bar, it was even more pronounced.

“Unusual for a straight man to be so comfortable in a gay bar,” Germaine said, smiling.

“I worked in a gay bar as a bouncer for many years, when I was studying,” said Clay. “One of the best jobs I’ve had.”

“Really?” asked Richard.

“Absolutely. They never fought – there doesn’t seem to be any need for anyone to assert themselves in that macho way. They never give you a pain in the arse.” Germaine raised his eyebrows and sucked on his straw, suppressing whatever witticism was dancing along his brows. Richard, less subtly, gave a guffaw. “The other thing about it, if you’re attractive, they let you know.”

“Yes, yes,” I said, preparing myself for a gust of Clay’s never-too-far-away vanity.

“No, really,” he said, “Think about it. Young girls who are attractive, they grow up knowing it, because they get constant attention. Young men, though, young women never say anything. Romance is a cloak-and-dagger business for young straight people.” Clay stopped and drew a breath, looking for the end of his sentence. “Gay men understand themselves as objects.”

“Gay men understand themselves as objects,” Germaine repeated, trying out the phrase himself, as if to understand it better once it had filtered through his own mouth. “I think that’s probably true.” Germaine rolled his shoulders under his skin-tight Prada sweater as he said this, and both of them laughed.

“Are you gay?” Germaine asked Clay.

“Ah, no,” Clay replied. “Surely that’s obvious.”

“Do I look gay to you?”

“Of course you do.” Richard laughed, and then Domenic laughed at him.

“As an actor, I always play straight men. Always. I’ve been in quite a few films now; some of the early ones were Italian swords-and-sandals films. Ludicrous as it sounds, that’s a very straight genre.”

“I don’t know… I think there was probably a lot of wanking to Spartacus, back in the day,” said Domenic.

“Isn’t that the film with Tony Curtis talking to Victor Mature about snails?” Richard asked.

“Do you like snails, boy?” intoned Domenic in a theatrical baritone.

“Depends on the day, I suppose,” I replied as I shot a look at Germaine.

“The tattoos, the muscles, the short hair, they’re all features of performance,” Germaine told Clay. I cringed inwardly, wondering how that would go down. “No offence, of course,” he said.

“None taken,” Clay replied.

“If there’s one thing I suspected as a gay man and came to believe as an actor,” said Germaine, “it’s that identity is fluid.” With that, Germaine took his straw between his lips and, holding Clay’s eye, began to suck. Clay laughed.

“The other thing I learned working in a gay club is that gay men will try to assert themselves over straight men by intimidating them sexually.” Germaine smiled, squeezing the straw from between his thick, sensuous lips.

“Anyone would think the two of you were flirting,” said Domenic.

Domenic is one of those people who believes every macho man has a frustrated queen trapped inside him, trying desperately to get out. As a result, he can’t resist playing the gay cupid. The image of Clay and Germaine fucking leapt into my head; they looked like two crocodiles, snout to tail, dragging each other into a death roll of ecstasy.

“No harm in a bit of flirting,” said Clay.

“That’s what you think,” said Germaine. “What kind of fighting do you do?”

“Mixed martial arts. Ultimate fighting.”

“That’s the one in the cage, isn’t it?”

“Most of the time. Sometimes it’s in a ring, but more and more it’s in a cage.”

“That sport really confuses me,” said Germaine. “All those big, sweaty men wrestling all over each other. It’s like if there’s violence involved, then they have permission to touch each other in a really intimate way.”

“Man, that’s how you know you’re not gay,” said Clay, emphatically. “I hate it when you’re wrestling and you end up with your face in someone’s sweaty armpit.” Clay lifted his glass as if to take a drink, and then, possessed of an idea, waved his glass at Germaine. “That’s the other thing. As a kid, all my experience of women was through pornography,” said Clay.

“You too?” asked Richard, sarcastically.

“The thing about pornography,” said Clay, not breaking stride, “is that it makes you think sex is a visual thing. The biggest shock about being with a woman for the first time, in my late teens, was the taste and the smell.”

“I think that’s true,” said Domenic. “The thing that really used to hit me, as a teenager, was the smell of the change-rooms in winter. You know when you pile in to the change rooms for P.E. and there’s that smell of wet wool, mud, and… boy?”

“Was that a turn-on?” asked Clay.

“There were a lot of blow-jobs given out in those change-rooms,” said Domenic, giving me the eye.

“Really?” asked Clay, turning to me. I shrugged and smiled weakly.

“Are you gay?” asked Germaine. I had no answer, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of the two of them.

“He’s done an awful lot of experimenting,” answered Domenic.

“Have you really?” asked Clay, sounding shocked. “Does that mean…?” he put his hands on his chest as his eyes widened.

“Well, you know…”

“I thought my gaydar was pretty good,” said Clay.

Germaine smiled as he lifted the straw from his glass and took an open-mouthed swig. “Performance,” he said, chewing on the ice.   

 

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