Well, it was my chance for an obligatory pint of Guinness. I know when I return from my trip to Dublin, that’s what every will ask about. As if it’s not readily available in Canada. I suppose I could have gone to a pub—people will ask about that, too—but I’m a quirky vegetarian and pub food looked greasy and uninspiring. So I decided to consume my Guinness at The George, a Dublin gay bar.
It was a convenient stop. I’d gone to see the musical “Once” on Friday night—the perfect show to see in Dublin—and the theatre was right around the corner. Still, it took some prodding. Go on. Step inside. You can do this. (I have the same conversation with myself whenever I have to get a blood test.)
I did it. I paid the cover, wandered nervously into a dimly lit bar and quickly fled to the upstairs area. I stepped up to the bar—no line—and got my Guinness. I sipped. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. (I’m a Chardonnay guy.)
I sipped again. And again.
At this rate, I’d be finished in twenty minutes and then the inevitable would happen: I’d flee. When I’m all alone, I’m a one-drink bar guy.
Slow down, you lush. You’re the new guy here. Let the locals see you.
I headed back downstairs and perched on a stool. Clinging tightly to my glass, I dared to look around. Hello again, junior high. The dance floor was empty. Small clusters of girls danced together, showing off moves they’d practiced in their bedrooms. The guys chatted in pairs. An older single guy—my age—neared. I’d glimpsed him when I first entered. It hadn’t been a matter of interest. I simply needed reassurance that I wasn’t the only loner in the place. He looked at me for a moment, offering his best poker face. I couldn’t help notice a resemblance to Liam Neeson. Only homely. He walked on. Probably made a similar assessment of me—Carrot Top, only homelier.
It’s easy to feel the self-esteem slide when you’re all alone in a gay bar on Friday night. Some things never change.
After the Orlando shootings and during Pride celebrations, there was a lot of talk about gay bars being a safe hub, a place where we can be ourselves. I get that in theory, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been myself in one. With a group of friends, I’m gaiety on steroids, laughing too loudly, sending out vibes that I’m having soooo much fun, doing what I can to cover up feelings of unworthiness amongst hotter men in muscle-flaunting apparel. On my own, I fight the tendency to be dismissive, rejecting people before they reject me. I try to smile but it’s harder to fake a good time when solo. I can’t prove it, but I think an involuntary sneers surfaces on my face whenever anyone nears. It arises from fear of interaction.
It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend or even a hookup when I decided to check out The George. My sole objective was to have a conversation with a gay Dubliner just to get a sense of the city and whether I could fit in here. And have that obligatory beer.
I sipped again and focused on the music. Relax your shoulders. Move a little on your stool. Feel the beat.
Even Kylie Minogue.
Some things haven’t changed. The gays love the divas.
By the time Selina Gomez was killing 'em with kindness, I’d let go of any hope of conversation with a charming Irish man. Or even a brash, drunken lad. I’d put away my defensive sneers. I accepted my role as the creepy fiftysomething (“young” 50s, but those words don’t go together in a gay bar). I let the music take over, if only for another song or two. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins.
I realized I was clutching my glass with both hands, holding it close the way a fearful child grips a teddy bear. Comfort me. Shield me. And that’s when I noticed the Guinness was gone. I’d managed to stick around for almost a whole hour. My mind interprets this as an achievement. I’d given it a try. The gay bar. And the Guinness. I got up, dutifully returning my glass to the bar to make it clear that my nesting ground was now free. I walked on and out, into night air, through the ambling crowds of weekend partiers spilling out from Temple Bar and back to the quiet alongside the River Liffey, ready for the long walk back to my hotel, a trek only made longer by my complete inability to master the layout of this city. It’s another chance to see more of Dublin than I’d ever intended.