Toronto
3 min

Lesbian behind bars

Will that be shaken or stirred?

Credit: Xtra files

Easily 50, the man stumbled up to the bar and ordered a half-pint of Canadian and a half-pint of Guinness – both for himself. His perfectly white fake teeth and the beat-up boom box he was holding caught my attention. Confused, he leered, “I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. Whichever it is you’re a beautiful creature!”



No one in the gay village ever confuses my gender. But it’s something I dealt with regularly working at a straight bar. I admit, I didn’t fully know what I was getting into when I took the job, as far as putting myself in the spotlight for homophobic scrutiny. I was in no position to be picky; I was barely 19, fresh out of bartending school and didn’t think it made a difference if a martini was shaken or stirred.



When I find myself in new straight environments, I don’t hide that I’m gay, but I don’t come out and say it either. And I was happy I didn’t advertise my sexual orientation at first, because after only a couple of weeks of working there, the owner’s daughter came in for her usual – a free sex on the beach in a pint glass with a dash of amaretto and two wedges of lime – and started talking to me about how disgusting gay people and their lifestyles are. When she was around, I became uptight and wondered if the job was worth it.



Yes, I mixed drinks for a lot of homophobes, and for the heterosexist people in the crowd, too.



When my girlfriend Vanessa would come to see me at the bar, I was often tempted to go up on stage and announce to everyone I was a lesbian and that the beautiful woman who had just walked in was my girl. Instead, Vanessa would sit alone and sip her Pinot Grigio excruciatingly slowly until I had a free second to talk to her. To the customer who didn’t open his alcohol-glazed eyes, it might have looked like she was straight, available and looking to score, instead of there to keep me company and take me home at the end of the night.



One night it was irony at its best when, over a pint of Keith’s, a customer sat at the bar and told me his frustrations about getting rejected by “that hot girl sitting over there,” who happened to be the very unavailable Vanessa. I did what a bartender does. I just listened.



It was the regular gay and gay-friendly clientele that kept me going, not to mention the fact that the money was better than any of my friends were racking up at their summer jobs.



It wasn’t long after starting to work there that I told the regulars I knew would be cool with it that I was gay and that Vanessa was not just my roommate. And in response, along with a lot of “my great aunt’s best friend’s dog’s previous owner is a lesbian” from the heteros (which was their convoluted way of telling me they were okay with it), a handful of gay people started coming out to me. Some, I pretty much knew about already, but others were pleasant surprises.



There was one guy in particular, Michael, whom my gaydar hadn’t picked up on at all. He would come in for dinner almost every night. Since he was the bar’s only regular dinner customer, I knew it couldn’t be the food he kept coming back for.



One night, Michael was drinking his usual Smirnoff Ice and picking at his dinner when I caught him drooling over the night’s entertainment: a singer/songwriter in his mid-20s, who had that clean-cut, well-dressed look to him. Michael and I spent a good part of the night trying to figure out whether this guitar-strumming Gap ad was a friend of Dorothy’s. It was times like these that made me love my job.



I’ve been in too many situations where I’ve been mistaken for a guy, or where people have been rude to me because of my butch appearance. I’ve often had a lot of trouble coping. But bartending in a straight bar instilled a new confidence in me. The bar was a safe environment where I had a constant support network. True, it had a multitude of open-minded, gay and gay-friendly people, but it had a lot of homophobic and ignorant ones, too. Being in a position of power in this milieu helped me gain the self-assurance not to get personally offended by crude remarks about my gender and sexual identity and deal with stupidity calmly and assertively.



I smirked as the white toothed, boom-box toting man stumbled back to his table. And when the inevitable creature call came for another beer, I cut him off. He wasn’t a good tipper anyway.