Friday, December 18, 2015

My Home Town is a Queer Haven

I just got back from a visit to Rock Island, my first in about 10 years.

The gay scene was gone.

When I was living in West Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, I flew back twice a year, at Christmastime and during the summer, and spent a lot of time in the local gay scene.

1. Three gay bars, including JR's, a disco that covered half a city block.
2. A club that featured male strippers.
3. An adult bookstore that sold gay magazines.
4. Outdoor cruising at the levee.

In 1995, my parents retired and moved to Indianapolis, about a five hour drive from the Quad Cities, to be closer to my sister and her family.  So I spent most of my Christmas and summer visits there, and drove out to the Quad Cities for brief overnights, to see my brother and Dick, my friend from high school, and his partner Jack.

 Not a lot of time for gay bars, or nightlife of any sort.

Then Dick and Jack moved to Denver.

And problems with weather and cars and other traveling intervened, and I didn't visit Rock Island at all for ten years, until last weekend, in December 2015.

I didn't recognize much.

My old college had a new Student Union.

Downtown was an entertainment district with nightclubs, theaters, art galleries, restaurants, and casinos that I had never heard of.

I didn't even recognize my old house -- I had to check the address to make sure.

I reconnected with some of my old high school friends.  How had they managed to get so much older than me?

And the gay scene:
1. The gay bars were now two straight bars and an Italian restaurant.
2. The adult bookstore: an antique store.
3. The male strippers: a comedy club.
4. The levee: a landscaped jogging and biking path along the Mississippi.

What happened?  Was Rock Island back in a 1950s closet?  Had all the gay people packed up and moved to Chicago?

Time to get on Grindr, and get some local guys into my hotel room to find out.

I wanted someone gay, out, and in his late 20s, who would know about Rock Island's gay scene, or lack thereof.

No one bi, straight, on the downlow, married but looking.

Not Brad, a 60 year old who hadn't cruised since the 1980s.

Not Curtis, a newly-out 20-year old college boys.

Ok, maybe we could get together for a couple of hours tomorrow, before I left town.  

But for tonight, I chose Dylan, age 28, with black hair, dark eyes, and a  smooth, muscular physique.  But more important, he was a life long resident of the Quad Cities, gay, and out.

I met him at a coffee shop around the corner from my hotel.

A straight coffee shop, full of heterosexual couples!

"Last year The Advocate named us one of the 15 queerest cities in the United States," Dylan told me.  "We have had anti-discrimination protections for 17 years, we have a gay alderman, an annual Pridefest, and a lot of gay-run businesses."

"But...no gay bars, no adult bookstores, no cruising places."

"I get my porn and cruise online, and I go out to the bars to have fun and dance with my friends.  Some are gay, some are straight, some are queer.  Why should I exclude my straight bros?"

"Well, if 10% of the population is gay, and you're in a bar with 100 people, your chances of finding someone to dance with are limited."


He gave me one of those pitying glances twinks get when talking to someone hopelessly out of touch. "Why couldn't I dance with a straight guy? Or a girl?  It's just dancing."

"Ok, but what about dating?  How can you find a boyfriend in that crowd?"

"That's what hookup apps are for."  He put his hand on mine under the table, then pulled it onto the table top.

We were holding hands in plain sight of everyone in a straight coffee shop!

You can't go home again.

Oh, the hookup?  Very nice, very passionate, uncut average beneath the belt.

We exchanged phone numbers.  I could use more gay friends in Rock Island.  I may be coming back more often.

See also: Spending the Night with Todd

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