I was floating through the dark streets of San Francisco before I ended up on Folsom Street just before midnight. It was so vacant, it felt like I was the only person around. I’d hit pockets of civilization every so often, like a bar or restaurant, and hear the sound of a drunken cheer. Then I’d find myself alone again, next to an auto shop or unmarked warehouse. Contemplating my situation with Ernan, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this what autonomy feels like?
It was the first night of Folsom Street Fair weekend, and I decided to celebrate by heading to Brüt at Beatbox on 11th Street. When I arrived, the streets were full of men waiting to get in the club: leather folk, muscle men, circuit boys and twinks in gear. I ran into an acquaintance of mine from Toronto who invited me to join them in line. He was there with some locals, and they were intrigued that I was also from Toronto. “What do you call someone from Toronto?” one of them asked. “A Torontonian,” I said. He laughed like he could hardly believe it.
It didn’t take long to get inside, but by the time I checked my clothes, I’d lost the group — I was alone again. I grabbed a pint of beer and went to the middle of the dancefloor, nestling myself between the leather and flesh so I wouldn’t feel lonely. The room was perspiring with all sorts of testosterone. Techno music banged, the club lights throbbed and the boys jumped up and down — and after I downed a few drinks, I was jumping like a madman too.
I noticed my Toronto friend Aaron go-go dancing up on the stage. He’d mentioned that he was going to be in San Francisco for Folsom, but I didn’t think he’d be dancing at Beatbox. I watched him for a minute, noticing how his toned body flexed beneath his leather gear with each move he made. When I went up to say hello, he got on his knees and hugged me.
I had first met Aaron at the Black Eagle back in Toronto. He go-go danced there on occasion, but he also worked at an ad agency close to my work and we’d have lunch a few times. He’d recently come out of a long term relationship, and it seemed like he was making the most of his freedom. He was proof that there was no shame in being alone.
As it often happens when you’re surrounded by drunk people in a bar, I started to mingle with strangers. They’d invite me to dance with their friends, introducing me, rubbing my chest or patting my ass and asking me where I was from — it was fraternal. We had a level of camaraderie because we were all the same under the purple club lights, just bits and blurs of leather and flesh. When I looked around at these people, I knew this was my place. My sexuality, I was coming to realize, was the biggest piece of my identity. DH was right: the leather folk are the most sincere people in the community, and they were my people.
Autonomy doesn’t need to be lonely.
When I went to get another drink at the bar, this kid in his mid-20s approached me. He said that his friend who I was dancing with earlier — I really had no idea who he was talking about, it was hard to keep track — wanted to buy me a drink. “He really likes you,” he said. “But he has a boyfriend so he can’t do anything. Come and dance with us.”
He re-introduced me to his friend. His name was Phil and he was from LA, but had also lived in Toronto for several years. Kyle, the kid from the bar, was also from LA. “He’s my best friend, and my mentor too. He really likes you,” Kyle said. Phil was double his age and was apparently a renowned surgeon; Kyle was in med school. Before long, Phil’s boyfriend appeared and the two began making out. I took the opportunity to quietly slink away with Kyle.
“He does really like you,” Kyle assured me. He made me give him my number and promised that we’d hang out again before the end of the weekend.