Gay bar scene one of community, fun and inclusivity for all

Patrons start to file into the club. Once inside, they are greeted with remixed tracks that emit from all around the dance floor, providing the soundtrack for the night. A stage can be spotted front and center. This will soon be the focal point of the night, but for now the entertainment is backstage, prepping themselves for the audience.

Backstage, it’s another ballgame. Pick out the wig. Highlight cheekbones and nose. Fill bra. Gauze-wrap and tuck everything away. Slip into short dress. Pull on high heeled knee highs. After all of the fine tuning, the transformation from Ryan Gilliam to Ivanna P’cock is complete.

Gilliam, a journalism major and member of the Pride Alliance, sees drag as a form of exhibitionism. He enjoys being able to put the other side of him out there for everyone to see, and performing, being in Pride Alliance and going to bars like Club Marcella, Funky Monkey and Cathode Ray has provided Gilliam with a sense of unity within the community.

Gilliam first performed in drag in the spring semester of 2011. Club Marcella was hosting trial rounds for their “College Warz” competition in the the Buffalo State Social Hall. Full of nerves, Ivanna gathered herself, walked out on stage and tried her best to remember the choreographed routine. She danced and lip-synced, all the time propelled by the encouragement of friends. Following her debut at school, she was sent through to perform at Marcella.

Drag shows are a staple of gay nightlife. Marcella hosts drag shows on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and every first Sunday of the month.

Frank Chambers, or DJ Frankie C, is no stranger to drag shows. He was a DJ  for Marcella’s drag shows for six years, and he currently is a DJ at Funky Monkey on Saturday nights.

Chambers started DJing in 1996, and was with Marcella when they opened their Buffalo location in 1995. He has been able to see the gay community’s transition to acceptance first-hand.

“I remember opening night in August 1995 when the mayor of Buffalo showed up to support us,” he said. “I think we felt a sense of belonging for the first time.”

Club Marcella manager Richard Lindner has found Buffalo gay bars and clubs to be some of the most inclusive of any.

“Buffalo is a lot more accepting than other places in the country that I’ve been to,” he said. “You can go to a bar in New York City and you’re not likely to find a mix of gay and straight, male and female at that club.”

Lindner says the only difference between gay and straight nightlife is the absence of stigma. Gay bars offer an atmosphere free of what he refers to as the “straight jock mentality,” where people feel the need to prove that they are straight.

“We’ve had Buffalo Sabres there, Buffalo Bills there, politicians there, famous movie people there,” Lindner said. “They weren’t there because it was a gay bar. They were they because it was a place to have good time.”

Gay bars are known for their dance environment, and Chambers loves providing the sounds that get people moving.

“When I DJ, I forget about everything trivial and I get into a mindset that can’t be disturbed,” he said. “I’m energized. The best feeling is playing a track that I remixed and seeing the crowd go wild.”

Although confident at work, Chambers tends to be shy and reserved outside the DJ booth.

“I think it has to do with being gay and having to hide it when I was young,” he said. “I think someone develops a kind of dual personality growing up because we are so used to lying about our sexuality.”

Although those like Chambers and Lindner have paved the way to greater acceptance, Gilliam believes there is a ways to go. The best way to close the gap and demystify something is to talk about it.

“I think it’s the whole exposure thing,” he said. “I think people are always like, ‘Oh, it’s your business, you should keep it to yourself.’ You shouldn’t. If you’re gonna make a big deal about someone being different than you, then you should actually get to know who they are and what it is.”

“Diversity” isn’t the only “d”-word you can associate with the gay bar and drag scenes. For those 21 and over, drink specials can be found in a wealth of places.

On Thursday nights, Marcella’s well drinks and domestic beers are $2.75. Funky Monkey has a Fish Bowl Friday special where fish bowl drinks are $5.00 from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Cathode Rays has two-for-one drink specials after 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

With Halloween quickly approaching, after-dark fun will not be hard to find. Marcella is hosting a “Blood Ball” on Oct. 26 and costume contests on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.  

Gay bars and clubs are not exclusively attended by those of homosexual orientation though, nor is that the intention. Everybody is welcome, and those who have not been to one need not feel intimidated. Gilliam’s advice for straight people going to a gay bar is quite simple.

“Just be yourself,” he said. “Gay people are the same as straight people.”


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Twitter: @WulffSamantha