I think just about every gay man, at the height of their bar star years, has looked disdainfully on those LGBT couples who have bought a house out in the suburbs and don’t go out as much anymore. "How dare they not support the bars?" "Do they think they’re straight or something?" "It must be terribly boring stuck in suburban hell." Although Steve and I have never said these things ourselves, nearly 6 years ago we were guilty of agreeing with two individuals who went on this rant.
But as Steve and I find ourselves settling comfortably into this once criticized lifestyle, I realize that perspective makes a huge difference.
I spent over 6 years of my life living in a 4th floor condo in Downtown Calgary; Steve, much longer than that. It was a time when I was finishing up my Master’s degree at the University of Calgary, and we were in the process of growing GayCalgary Magazine into a household name, so we didn’t have a whole lot of extra money at our disposal, and renting was our only option. It was convenient for us because we could walk just about everywhere we needed to go, so we could even spare ourselves the expense of owning a car. For us and many others, living the urban lifestyle meant we had easy access to the action of Calgary’s nightlife – in fact, it’s my understanding that many gay men plan their lives this way intentionally.
The only problem, as I realize now in hindsight, was that we were in hell.
Even though we were lucky enough to be situated in one of the older but more spacious downtown condos (around 1,200 sq. ft. for a decent price when split between the two of us), we were constantly struggling to fit our lives into it. We were not just restricted by physical room, but by the fact we were renters and we were sharing the building with 31 others suites. There were many things we were not happy with that we had to accept we couldn’t change.
Personally, I felt like we were living in a cave because our condo was on the southeast side of the building and hardly got any sunlight. I felt completely disconnected from the outdoors when I was at home, and there were days of working on the magazine that I swear I didn’t even see daylight. I wondered if our cats would ever know what it was like to play outside in the grass, not just look out from our balcony.
Meanwhile, Steve was constantly butting heads with our Condo board because he often didn’t agree with the approach they took to maintaining the building, and didn’t like the fact that decisions they made haphazardly could have an inconvenient impact on us and others – that essentially, our fate could rest in their hands.
Our original plan had been to buy our condo if and when the price returned from outer space back to within our threshold, but before that could happen, we reached the end of our patience with our building. We were anticipating our rent to be jacked up obscenely, thanks to multiple cash calls for major repairs that were all coming due at the same time. We knew we wouldn’t find another condo of comparable size for a better price - in fact some people wanted the same amount of money for half the square footage or less!
After investigating our lack of options for downtown condos, we went out on a limb and started looking at houses. It was very eye opening to find that there were decent houses out there for roughly the same price as what was being asked for our suite, and apples to apples, the suite paled in comparison. The price was a bit intimidating - I never thought we would be able to afford anything like that on our modest income, but to our surprise, we discovered it actually was possible. As it turned out, our monthly mortgage payments would be cheaper than our rent! So after finding the right house, we took a big scary step forward – one that lead us finally to start taking on the gamut of responsibilities of adult life.
Moving into our new place was a challenge, particularly thanks to the logistical problems of living on the 4th floor and having to bring everything down in the elevator. It was October, cold, with snow on the ground and fog in the air. We initially rented a cargo van for 24 hours, but 48 hours later with only 3 hours of sleep in between, we finally finished moving everything. It was easily the most miserable 2 days of our lives, the last twist of the knife before we could finally wipe our hands clean of our urban prison. As we did our final walkthrough of the empty suite, it was hard not to get sentimental about all the memories we had there...but it has been nearly 3 years now and we’ve never looked back.
Over the next few months, the idea that we owned our new place slowly sunk in. In the condo, the property belonged to someone else, and any permanent fixtures we might have wanted to add to improve the suite would have been theirs, whether they felt inclined to compensate us for it or not. So we were used to only doing the bare minimum to keep our place livable.
Now, in our own house, it was worthwhile for us to invest our time, effort, and money to make improvements. I went from being a helpless, hands-off kind of guy to a surprisingly efficient do-it-yourselfer, taking on things I had seen my parents do as a kid, but that I never realized I myself was mature enough to accomplish on my own. The "glass ceiling" had been removed and I was finally able to do the growing that I was so completely ready for.
It really made a difference that I wasn’t playing in the sandbox anymore, that now I was playing for keeps. It gave me this feeling of ownership, permanence and security; it was a solid foundation that I could build on and feel like it was mine, that I could bank it at the end of the day, and that I wasn’t just using it on loan from someone else who could take it away on a whim. It made me try harder and care more about it than I could ever have done if it wasn’t mine.
Another particularly profound feeling for me was to know that we own a piece of the earth. I didn’t realize how much I had missed the ground after living up on the 4th storey for so long. It isn’t a huge piece of land, but it is ours to take care of. Being reunited with it gave me this almost spiritual feeling of being connected and in harmony with the world for the first time since I had moved out of my parent’s place – like I was finally a part of it, responsible for it, living symbiotically with it rather than as a tourist, isolated from it and unable to repay it for my existence.
After experiencing all of this, I realized how hollow my days of living in a downtown concrete tower truly were. Certainly, some people might be able to make the urban lifestyle work for them, but for us who have a strong appreciation for nature it was purgatory, a pit of despair.
And ironically, going out to the bars was our primary escape from that misery. It didn’t get us closer to nature, but it was a change of scenery, and a way to mix things up a bit in our lives. It was the only way we knew how to feel connected with the world. I realize that, at the time, the only thing we felt we could build on was our business and our reputation in the community, struggling to make a name for ourselves and to be popular – and I realize how fearful we were that one wrong move could undo all of that effort. When it came to concentrating so hard on social standing, there was no solid foundation to build on, nothing for us to bank at the end of the day. I definitely don’t miss that feeling of insecurity. Sure, going out was fun and exciting, but all of it was transient, a sandbox for life until we found what we were truly looking for.
So, if I had to explain to my younger self why so many people rarely return to the bars once they’ve put down roots, I would have to offer some insight on why some people party in the first place. Simply put, it is because they are looking for something. They are horny and they need to get laid, they are lonely and they need to find love, they are isolated and they need human contact and a sense of belonging, they are insecure and they need to feel good about themselves, they are angry and they need to punish themselves or take it out on others, they have a problem and they need to find someone who can help them, they are sad or stressed and they need to distract themselves from their troubles, they are bored and they need something to do, they are stuck in a rut and they need something or someone to shake them out of it...the list goes on, and we’ve gone through some of them ourselves. The alcohol (and not so legal substances that some choose to take) helps people shed their armour and leave themselves open for these things to happen. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes you can let in a whole bunch of unwanted things in the process.
So, once you’ve found what you’re looking for, once you’re truly happy and feeling fulfilled in your daytime life, your motivations to go out to the bar are reduced dramatically. Not going out is a pretty inane thing to blame and criticize people for, when it’s the result of filling the wants and needs they were once out at the bar trying to satisfy. And when you feel like you’re on a solid foundation, you may not want to shed your armour and leave yourself vulnerable to unwanted things which could disrupt that.
For us, we finally feel like we can go out to the bar because we want to, not because we need to. It’s still good to have a change of scenery, and a way to mix things up. We still like to go out for special events that interest us (and our readers), and it’s still good common ground to meet and socialize with friends. But it’s not as urgent as it once was; we don’t feel like we might be missing any sort of golden opportunity by not being out at the bar in every moment of our spare time. And for all the effort we have put into making our home suit us, sometimes we don’t need to get away from it at all.
So are we really trapping ourselves in a suburban "straight person’s" hell? To dance my life away in the dark and never find what I’m looking for – that seems more like hell to me.
Over the May long weekend we decided to head out to Wayne, Alberta, just south of Drumheller, to check out the Ghost Town LGBT Campout. We had an article on it in the April edition and they weren’t kidding – we really did have to cross over several single-lane wooden bridges to get there. I’ve always found the scenery of the Badlands to be both beautiful and baffling, and as we discovered, the campout was nestled in a little a river valley campground, oddly situated right beside a quaint rural biker bar and restaurant.
With an announcement on Facebook giving only a few days notice of their closing, Calgary lost another one of its LGBT bars. In this announcement, Jason Wheeler, owner of FAB Bar, cited unfavorable lease renegotiations as the reason for his decision to shut down the bar after 5 years in operation. The space has been a longtime hangout for the LGBT community, dating back even further through its former incarnation, Money Pennies. FAB threw their final goodbye party on Saturday, May 26th before shutting down the next day. "THANK YOU! Your support and loyalty has been humbling and heartwarming, we love and will miss all of you!" said Jason.
There are some major events in June that you should mark your calendars for, if you haven’t already:
Edmonton Pride is upon us almost immediately after this magazine starts hitting the stands, but hopefully you already knew that from their ads in the last edition. Lumped in with the well attended parade and street festival are other major independent events, such as PURE Pride. If you can’t stay the whole week, see our article on page 37 or use our Edmonton Pride Guide section on page 2 to formulate your plan of attack!
Lethbridge Pride happens the week afterward, and though it’s a smaller event, it is still worth a visit to the windy city. See the article on page 12 for details.
On the last Saturday of May, ARGRA held their final dance of the season before the Rodeo. Now comes the largest, most anticipated and internationally attended yearly LGBT event of Alberta. Save the dates for the long weekend at the end of June! See our article on page 20 for more information, and our ARGRA Rodeo Mini Guide section on pages 31 to 34.