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Gay Bar: Why We Went Out

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Lin notes sniffily that youngsters these days are not only fluid in gender but also in terms of their sense of community, and generally do not have a need to gravitate towards gay-only places and spaces (of which many in their day were racist, misogynist, classist, exclusionary and just generally pretty fucking awful on so many fronts, so who can blame them). Lin's book is an attempt to piece together the past, present, and future of spaces that have - for better or worse - been gay. I really valued how candidly and explicitly he describes his experiences and what a positive example this gives of how sex is a part of Lin's own evolving sense of being a gay man and how an open long term relationship can work. At the bar in London, the guys just shuffled him around and pushed him down onto his knees asking him to suck someone because his was the biggest one there while somebody commented that the place reeked of the smell of penis.

All of this is captured wonderfully in a quote from Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar: Why We Went Out: “I was under the impression I was always late to the party, but in fact, I may not have been invited. Lin has clearly thought a lot about the idea of himself in these spaces, which is partially the point of a memoir like this, and by extension relates to how all gay people might experience gay bars, but it also ends up reading as remarkably self-involved at moments. Lin also focuses a tad too much for me on gay bars as cruising spots, gay identity being predicated on the sex act (even if this is a bit critiqued by a twenty-something he meets later on who rejects anal for its necessitating too much "administrative work"). There is a sense of indifference that jars with my experience of ordinary, workaday gay London, where people dress casually and are fallible.He has contributed to the Times Literary Supplement, the Yale Review , the Guardian, the Face, the White Review and GQ Style. But there are moments when he reveals some historical facts that are important, such as the impact of AIDS, the police raids, gentrification, and diversity issues.

I went out to bars,” declares Jeremy Atherton Lin late in this florid, lurid, powerfully brainy memoir of gay gallivanting, “to be literary.

Nowhere is this perhaps truer than in a gay bar, where the dewy-eyed youngster wandering in from some rural idyll to ‘find himself’ is simply regarded by the lurking old predators as fresh meat, as opposed to an acolyte to which the Torch of Gay Knowledge™ can be, er, gaily passed. Obviously, such topics are more appropriate for an NYT article and might not be able to frame a whole book, but I still felt like I got more out of this one article than Lin's whole book. As long as humans survive, there will be social spaces, and they will contain hierarchies negotiated in terms of power and exclusion.

While sex positivity is something that is something that has always been attributed to the gay community, it’s important to remember how narrow that community has viewed beauty and attractiveness: White, cisgender, masculine. Atherton Lin emphasizes his membership in communities of people making similar choices, for similar reasons. He invokes the term ‘homonormative’ to distinguish the fact that this is definitely not his POV: Lin is observant, critical, fun-loving, and literary (his writing has a wonderfully, knowingly pretentious flourish—some may find his voice irksome, I personally related. But the overall impression is a world that is careless and easy, irreverent, and in itself a clichee of gay masculinity: here we are, we're ready to get dirty, we don't need to feel, we're teenagers high on rebellion and sex. An impressive array of quotes, ideas and intellectual sparring from commentators, authors, academics (and one suspects just hangers-on) litter the text like glitter on a queen’s boa.Jeremy Atherton Lin’s beautiful, lyrical memoir, “Gay Bar: Why We Went Out,” cloaks this lived history in that learned history, examining an objective subject — gay bars — to create a highly subjective object: a book about his life, flensed down to just the bits that made it past the bouncer. Gay Bar memorializes raunch, sex, friendship, and adventure; it tells the story of a shifting identity trying to find grounding in physical spaces that are themselves equally as shifting.

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