Last weekend, I had the opportunity to shoot photos at Mainstreet, the (by Maine standards) big gay club down in Ogunquit, Maine, which itself is a gay tourist destination. I had an awesome time, and caught some good shots, but it was also an... enlightening evening.
The truth is that I have just about zero experience in gay and queer clubs. I went to college in the western part of Massachusetts, and since then have lived in rural Vermont, rural New Hampshire, and rural Maine. Only now, over a decade after leaving college, do we live someplace where things happen.
Combine that with my socially stigmatizing disability, and the fact that I partnered off young, and it's not hard to see how a gay club could be an unfamiliar world for me. Hell, I only went to my first gay bar about two years ago, and it wasn't all that positive an experience.
Without my camera and a job to do, I know I would have felt terribly awkward at Mainstreet, which is entirely my own bullshit, of course. The truth is that there is some expectation that, as a gay man, I should know what to do with myself in that environment; in no small part a legacy of the way gay identity and culture in America is so heavily driven by the experience of urban members of our community.
It wasn't until I was in the midst of working that evening that I realized how much a lack of social contact with gay men in particular, was something that I need in my life and don't tend to get.
For all that I'm subsumed in a culture of sex and freedom in my day job, just being in a place where I was surrounded by men dancing and being unabashedly flirtatious with other men filled an emotional need that I didn't know I had.
Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of women being flirtatious and dancing with each other too, but I'm pretty used to that. Not to mention plenty of presumably heterosexual women, who were also a welcome and fun presence. But at its heart, there was the feeling that this was a gay club with a masculine flavor.
Emotional and sexual relationships between men in the the pansexual BDSM community, which is the world I tend to travel in in my work and social life, are welcome and acknowledged, but still very much in the minority. And relationships/play between cis men in particular are even more rare.
Much the same can be said of the school and town where I went to college, while most of the towns I've lived in since have been quietly tolerant, but not what one would call "welcoming." It wasn't until I was editing my photos that it occurred to me that in the 34 years up until shooting the party at Mainstreet, I probably hadn't ever been around so many gay men at once.
I don't know if they'll have me back as a photographer, and I wish I could say that I was sure I would go without a job to do - but I honestly don't know.
The truth is that I feel like I have missed out on some important part of what it means to be a gay guy in America in 2014, and that knowledge leaves me feeling deeply unsure of myself and my place in the world I share with my LGBT siblings.