It’s a year since the publication of this collection of stories, essays, anecdotes and poetry…Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars…and I still feel a glow inside that my story was accepted…especially as the project was spearheaded by two authors I admire, S. Renée Bess and Lee Lynch. (Also thrilled that the book won a Goldie this year!)
I set my story in London, 1968. I was neither there nor old enough to enter a bar then. I drew the story out from my wife’s anecdotes of moving to London from Scotland in the 1960s and her efforts to find other lesbians.
However, one part of the story comes from a direct experience. The main character finds out about the Gateways club from a hairdresser. This idea came from the time we were visiting my parents in Victoria on Vancouver Island. I decided I needed a haircut and couldn’t wait until I got home. The young man cutting my hair was quite obviously gay so I didn’t hesitate to ask him if there were any gay clubs in town. (Bear in mind, this was some time ago – pre-Google.)
He told me there was one, called BJs (now called Paparazzi, I believe). So my wife and I went out for dinner one evening and I’m sure my parents wondered why we were so long. They knew the restaurant we’d gone to and it wasn’t known for slow service. The club wasn’t very busy when we got there and we did feel a bit awkward. I know we talked to a woman who was sitting on her own and we danced to a few songs.
That was in the early 1990s and while writing the story it struck me that it was just as hard then to get information about gay life as it had been thirty years earlier.
My contribution to Our Happy Hours is called ‘Gateway to Heaven’. In this excerpt, my character is gathering her courage to take the next step on her journey to find a place where she belongs.
She licked her lips and then rested her head on the wall. Could she really go through with this? Maybe she should have gone to see the play instead.
The clothes she’d bought on her Saturday excursion to Carnaby Street were a loose fit. She hadn’t been able to try them on, telling the salesman they were for her brother. At least she knew how to knot her tie; her old school one, but no one here would recognise it. The tie was in her jacket pocket. Tom, the hairdresser who had told her about this place, had told her to wait until she was inside the club to put it on.
Her aunt hadn’t been pleased when she spent her first week’s wages on a short haircut, unimpressed that it was the look favoured by Twiggy, now a famous model. “You don’t want to look like that stick insect. Oh, your beautiful hair. You must let it grow back before your mother sees you.”
She had no intention of letting it grow too long again. Now with it slicked back, she hoped it gave her the image she was trying to achieve. All the doubts that had assailed her during the week attacked at once, keeping her rooted to the spot. Would she be able to talk to anyone, ask anyone to dance? These city women wouldn’t be interested in a country hick like her. Did she look the part? What if they didn’t let her in? Did she look gay enough?
Taking that next step can be hard at any point in one’s life. My fictional story and the many contributions within this collection speak of many such moments of taking the plunge and being finally able to discover and enjoy the safe spaces in which we can be ourselves. May we never let anyone take that away.
Buy this book and tell your friends about it. Proceeds from sales go to supporting two LGBTQ youth organisations.
List of contributors (in order of appearance in the book):
Ann Aptaker, Dontá Morrison, Rae Theodore, James Schwartz, Jennifer Morales, Cheryl Head, Heather Jane, Beth Burnett, Cindy Rizzo, Stephen Reigns, Clay Kerrigan, Earlon Sterling, Sallyanne Monti, Karen DiPrima, S. Renee Bess, Richard Natale, Mercedes Lewis, Martha Miller, Liz McMullen, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Penny Mickelbury, Johnny Townsend, Merril Mushroom, Brian Heyburn, Lee Lynch, Joan Nestle, Ian Cassidy, Angela Garrigan, Nahshon Anderson Fuentes, Ardy Tibby, Katharine E. K. Duckett, Rachel E. Bailey, Darryl Denning, Lisa Carlson, Katherine V. Forrest, Jen Silver, Shelley Thrasher, Kitty Kat, Jamie Anderson, Shawn Marie Bryan, Ann Laughlin, JP Howard, L. K. Early, Patrick Coulton, Michael Ward, Karin Kallmaker and Bonnie J. Morris.