Monday, May 24, 2004

A Gay Old Time in Seattle

I just returned from Seattle, where I was attending an educational conference. During my stay I was able to explore a little of the downtown area. Last year I was in nearby Olympia, Washington and had very little time to see downtown Seattle, but I fell in love with it anyway. The people were friendly and relaxed and the weather happened to be beautiful and warm. (This year the weather ranged from chilly to warm, with sunshine and rain sharing time.) Although Seattle suffers somewhat from having the same chain-stores that every other major city has (Gap, Macys, etc.), you can easily escape the corporate businesses for a slice of Seattle life and local ownership. Starbucks are much more prolific than churches in the South; you can find one every few feet, even in the community neighborhoods, but they don't overwhelm it.

One of my favorite aspects of Seattle is that the gay population is evident. Actually, a totally remarkable aspect of Seattle is, as a colleague put it, the crazy homeless black man walks right beside the professional upper-class white woman and she doesn't clutch her purse. Seattle is home to a true diversity of people and everybody seems quite ok with the arrangement. The only required fashion statement seems to be a backpack.

But, as I said, the gay community is out and evident in every part of the city. Having lived in or near Atlanta for several years, I'm used to seeing gays heavily populating a city. Charlotte, NC, where I live now, has a small but proud gay population that isn't very evident. Gay sightings here tend to be limited to Targets, Garden Ridge, and grocery stores (surprise, surprise). Even then, you need to be fmaily or have well developed 'dar to usually recognize these queers. In Seattle, it's much different than even Atlanta. I saw more gay couples holding hands walking down the street, and not just in the "gay section" of downtown, than I did straight people. And nobody gave them funny stares; no heads turned, no whispering lips.

I obtained a map of "gay Seattle" from a Seattle gay bookstore, Beyond The Closet, a nice little bookstore with some great deals. So, using the map, I set off in search of said bookstore, as well as another bookstore on the map. Mostly, I just wanted to see the gaytto .

My search took me up a steep hill on Pike street (a fairly fitting name for a street leading into the gay area of town) which brought me first to the Seattle Eagle, a leather bar. I probably would have passed on by it without even noticing it has it not been for a large crowd gathered outside, and a police contingent. Not wanting to pass through what I thought was a fight, I started to cross over the street until I saw another crowd. The crowd that stopped my crossing held signs that said "God hates fags" and "Thank God for 9/11" (I'm not sure what that had to do with God hating fags; I guess we died too in the Towers.) Looked like the Fred Phelps gang was in town. I chose to stay on my side of the street and passed through, what I then realized were, the Eagle patrons angrily shouting back. Nobody was accomplishing anything, but it made for an interesting welcome committee.

I found Beyond the Closet and made a few purchases. I continued on into a lesbian sex toy shop (Toys in Babeland). I didn't stay long; I didn't want to be evicted by a lesbian, but who could resist a window display of dozens of dildos waving at you? I peeked in some other local vendors and made my way to a couple other bookstores. The sun came out and the day seemed about perfect as I walked amid locals eating or drinking outside by alternative shops and cafes that nobody else has ever heard of (no Starbucks here although still plenty of coffee shops).

My gay adventure didn't quite end there. On the plane trip home, a woman in her late 50's/early 60's easily sat beside me, her husband on the other side. She sat without speaking a word. I was reading Fast Food Nation and wearing an Evergreen College t-shirt (which has a rather phallic looking clam on it, their mascot the Geoduck) so I don't know if my apparent liberalism discouraged her from speaking. Her husband sat on her other side. She wore numerous gold braclets on each arm and large gold earrings. She smelled faintly of that heavy sweet parfume smell older women smell like no matter what time of day it is.

She pulled out a workbook, "When Godly People do Ungodly Things: Arming Yourself in the Age of Seduction." A little checking on Amazon reveals this to be a book; this woman was clearly working on the companion reader's supplement. "Week One"'s course of the study included "Background on Satan" and Day Three:"Sexual Orientation Bondage."

Oh boy. The truly perverse side of me wanted to lean over and demand to see Chapter Three. The question, "Oh, are you into bondage too? Guys in chaps are hot, huh?" wanted to slip past my lips. I demured instead, hoping that if she happened to strike up a conversation that I would find myself with an opportunity to articulate a reasonable and sensitive perspective this woman was undoubtably unfamiliar with. She never said a word the whole time. In silent (or not so silent, I can't tell how loud my earbuds are to others) protest, I listened to the cast recording of Naked Boys singing on my ipod.

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