Houston, we have a problem
It is officially the most wonderful time of year. Well, for some of us, anyway. The holidays can be a stressful time for the LGBTQ community. Gathering with family that sometimes don’t support your political views, the risk of outing yourself and the pressure to find that absolute perfect gift for someone are just a few of the stressors that come with the holiday season. A lot of the holiday stressors have one theme in common — family.
Chosen families have long played a central role in our community. They come in the form of mentors, friends, partners and sometimes even your actual blood relatives. For those of us who have the privilege of having people in our lives that accept us no matter who we love or what we look like (myself included), we should remember that not everyone has the same opportunities. For a lot of queer people, they first find that loving family in a gay bar. Even those who do have an accepting family home (these being the ones I share a story with) may feel that, while the world has moved forward and the gayborhood may no longer the only place you can find acceptance, they still feel alienated until they find that same chosen family. After all, few outside of the community can prepare you on how to navigate what it means to be queer, or how to find that sense of community with people like you.
My homo away from home (of course I had to slip that joke in here), is Redwing Bar & Grill. For those of you who don’t know, it is a karaoke spot and one of the only gay bars in the heart of North Park. While I never had a formal coming out experience (wearing my rainbow flag high whether I wanted to or not may have been part of it), I still struggled with my identity. Despite this struggle, I knew one thing for sure when I walked through that door only a few months after I turned 21 and heard someone singing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston — I was home. Though it may make me a cliché, I must admit that Whitney shaped my acceptance of myself.
After a shot of liquid courage (that may or may not have been Fireball), I sang “No Scrubs” by TLC (I’m making myself sick just typing this sentence out). Needless to say, I butchered the song and TLC probably would sue me if they heard me. Regina/Ricky Styles, one of the karaoke hosts read me for filth, of course. It’s not because I sang horribly, but because the microphone was too close to my mouth and he said something along the lines of, “It’s not a dick, don’t put it too close to your face.” It was then that I knew that I had to come back. They didn’t judge me for being myself, and even as I got read for the shame that I brought to TLC’s magnum opus, they affirmed for me that I was home. Each time I came back, I slowly got to know the staff that works there, and they’ve all come to accept that when they see me walk through those doors. I’m going to sing the greatest song of our generation, “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley.
One of my absolute favorite bartenders in all of San Diego happens to work at this bar, Tim Kelly. Tim is undoubtedly one of the most sarcastic people I have ever met in my life, but that’s what makes him so endearing. A lot of people say that their bartenders are like their therapists. Someone that will listen to their problems and treat them like they matter (if you pay them, naturally). I can say that the people that work at Redwing are so much more than just listeners. They engage you and push you to be authentic when you’re there. People like Tim and Regina are able to draw you in and make you feel that you have a sense of belonging when you’re sharing space with them. That’s what makes it feel like home.
When you are questioning your whole sense of self, a room full of people just existing can help you realize that you belong. This is just one way that I can sum up how a place that was once strange to me nonetheless helped me accept a part of myself that I didn’t understand.
Guide to Nightlife this December:
- December Nights in Balboa Park
Friday, Dec. 6,. 3-11 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 7,, noon to 11 p.m.
- Taste ‘N’ Tinis – Thursday, Dec 12
- San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus – ‘Jingle’
Saturday, Dec. 7, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 8, 3 p.m.
- Welfare Wednesday (Every Wednesday, 9 p.m.-close)