Every couple of months or so, I go through a pretty exhausting existential crisis. I analyze the whats and wheres of life, trying to answer the unanswerable questions. You know, just like every other over-analytical twentysomething on the planet. Naturally, like the masochist I am, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of my most recent quarter-life crisis on a not-so-distant past Saturday night. I had been thinking a lot about Chicago: what’s made me stay, what would make me go, just why the hell it means to be who I am where I am.
Thank God I remained in true twentysomething form and had the sense to hide my big questions under booze. I was dressed to the nines: my girl, sporting a pompadour on one arm, a handful of incredible friends within the other’s reach. Tonight is not the night for answers, I told myself. Just shut up, stop thinking, go drink and have fun.
That’s when I found myself in Chicago’s premier Country Western, line-dancing gay bar.
All of a sudden, I was surrounded by a scene unlike anything I had ever before witnessed in my life. My friends and I, beers in hand, stood in awe in the heart of a bustling crowd: big burly men who wore chaps and plaid shirts, cowboy hats and steel-toed boots. And when Shania Twain’s “Breathe” came over the speakers, you can bet that every last one of them was slow-dancing arm-in-arm in the middle of the floor. It was the queered-up, watered-down version of Nebraska, as I imagined, with all the perks and none of the setbacks of your neighborhood Bumblefuck, Nowhere, bar.
It was one of the most euphoric experiences of my life, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.
We stuck around only long enough to watch a couple perfectly choreographed routines, make a couple of friends, and take our leave. It was only a couple hours, three drinks and two gay bars later – it hit me: the Oh-So-Gay Corral may claim to be the premiere bar of its kind, but it is in no way unique in our fair city of Chicago. For every bar catering to the gay cowboys of this town, there’s a bar catering to the hipster dykes, leather daddies, drag kings, “straight” businessmen; there are steam rooms, reading rooms, art galleries, theatres, salons; there’s an oasis, an outlet, or a classroom for everyone, so long as you know just where to look.
Little did I know when I stumbled drunkenly into that Saturday night, I would find the answer to my big question. Why Chicago? The secret’s in a sea of plaid shirts, fashion mullets, sunglasses at night, suits looking for discretion: because no matter how I grow and change, I’ve got a community that suits my every need.
Why Chicago? Why, because I am queer and so is it. And good luck to find anywhere else like it in the world.
But if you don’t want to take my word for it, take a gander at Ol’ Blue Eyes through a queer lens: